Why Take Obligations Seriously?
AMONG the obligations that many people today fail to take seriously is that of paying taxes. Failure to meet one’s tax obligations is known as “tax evasion.” According to a former tax official, “tax-evasion is becoming socially acceptable. Lots of people think it’s a fun crime.”
Apparently ever so many people today are trying to prove Benjamin Franklin wrong when he said: “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Among the more glaring examples of such was a former vice-president of one of America’s leading steel corporations. For twenty-three years he did not even file a tax return; a neglect that cost him $70,000 in back taxes, penalties and fines. Even more notorious was none other than the former head United States Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the nation’s chief tax collector. He failed to report $160,000 of his income, for which he was fined $15,000 and given a five-year prison term.
There is laxity in assuming one’s obligations in every sphere of human relations—taxes are but one area. Thus a popular American ‘home and garden’ magazine complained that today nobody cares, nobody takes obligations seriously: “We look to our own ease and profit. . . . Services are deteriorating. It’s hard to find a repairman who will do a good job the first time. . . . Expensive new products lose knobs and buttons like cheap toys. Waiters act as if they’re doing you a favor to serve you. Sales people gossip while you wait. Doctors’ offices schedule appointments . . . as if your time is worth nothing. . . . Airlines misdirect thousands of bags.”
Among other examples that might be cited is failure of marriage partners to take their obligations seriously. Even more widespread, people in general grossly neglect their obligations toward their Creator, Jehovah God.—Job 35:10, 11.
There are various reasons why so many fail to take their obligations seriously. For instance, when it comes to God, the obvious answer is, because of a lack of faith. The attitude of ever so many is that God is dead, or God does not see or care, or God is not going to do anything about it.—Ezek. 8:12; 2 Thess. 3:2.
When it comes to other obligations, many attempt to rationalize. Thus many rationalize their failure to pay taxes on the basis that the income-tax laws often favor the rich, or because tax money is paid to rich farmers for not growing crops. When having a hard time to make ends meet, a father may feel that cheating on taxes is the lesser of two evils. Then again, a philandering husband may rationalize his cheating on obligations to his wife on the basis that she is lazy or does not appreciate him.
Why should we take our obligations toward God and our fellowman seriously? First of all, because God exists. The very universe is proof of his existence. He sees all; “there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” And as his Word warns: “The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men their sins also become manifest later.”—Heb. 4:13; 1 Tim. 5:24.
We should take our obligations seriously because it is the right, just and fair, the honest thing to do. We cannot escape the implications of the Golden Rule, that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us. To have clear consciences, to have self-respect, we must put forth sincere efforts to live by what we know is right. There is satisfaction, there is a feeling of strength when we have overcome the temptation to cheat the government, or our mates or our neighbor. The one living up to his obligations is as bold as a lion, but the one who fails to do so is like the sneaking hyena.—Prov. 28:1.
And further, there is always the likelihood of one’s being found out. In that case there may be fines and even imprisonment to endure, not to say anything of shameful exposure. The very fear of such consequences should serve as a deterrent.
Parents in particular have a responsibility along this line, both to inculcate in their offspring the need of taking obligations seriously and to practice the same themselves. Even before school age, children can be taught to accept the responsibility of taking care of their personal needs and to make a habit of being orderly, as in the putting away of their toys.
As they grow older they can be taught to do things for others, help their younger brothers and sisters, help mother with her housework or help father with the chores he has to do around the home. They should be taught to be dependable, to follow through with what they promise or agree to do. They should also be taught to accept the obligation of being accountable for their actions. They should be taught to accept the consequences of their own shortcomings and not to try to invent excuses or blame others. All such discipline will help them to take their obligations seriously once they are on their own.
Without a doubt, the most concerned of all about taking their obligations seriously should be dedicated Christian ministers. Having obligated themselves to do God’s will, they are especially accountable to Him. They have the obligation of paying back Caesar’s things to Caesar but God’s things to God. (Mark 12:17) Included in paying back Caesar’s things is the paying of taxes. Paying back God’s things to God includes taking seriously their commission to witness to God’s name and kingdom. (Isa. 43:10-12; Matt. 24:14) It also includes taking seriously their obligation to lead upright, clean, Christian lives. And it includes taking seriously their obligation to assemble with fellow Christians for the purpose of mutual encouragement.—Gal. 5:22, 23; Heb. 10:24, 25.
Why take obligations seriously? In short, because God requires it. Because it is the right thing, the wise thing, yes, the most rewarding thing to do.