Wednesday, April 29

Needless offense

Scripture: 2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 13, Psalm 68, Matthew 17

Matthew 17:27  “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Observation

In this interesting story, Peter is asked if Jesus paid the Temple tax of 2 drachma (half a shekel) that was required annually of every Jewish male over 20.  Peter said yes, without asking Jesus.  Then Jesus gave Peter a parable: do kings collect taxes from their own family or from others?  Peter knew the answer: from others.  Jesus replied that the children are exempt.  

Then this statement: “But so that we may not cause offense…”. The Greek word for offense is skandalizo, which means to make someone stumble, to trip someone up.  

Jesus is the Son of God, and as such, was exempt from paying the Temple tax for His Father’s house.  This simple story is another statement of who Jesus is—and who we are in Him.  He is God’s Son, and we are also the Father’s children.  

But while exempt, Jesus didn’t want to trip anyone up, to needlessly offend.  There are times when we are free, but must curtail our freedom for the sake of others.  

When Matthew wrote his gospel, it is likely that Jewish Christians were facing a difficult decision about a tax.  Barclay suggests that Matthew wrote after 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed, and the Roman emperor still required the Temple tax, but now it went to support a Roman temple and god.  If so, Barclay reasons, Matthew was telling the Jewish Christians that it was ok to pay the tax to avoid needless offense.  The details are uncertain but Matthew had something like this in mind when he included this story.

Application

There are many situations that we face where we have rights or freedom to do certain things, but we forego those to avoid needless offense.  We do this for two reasons:

Personally, we want to avoid persecution, opposition or trouble, if possible.  I’m not suggesting that we run from trouble.  But we certainly don’t go looking for it either.  Obviously, if we can avoid it, that’s best.  When it’s unavoidable, we happily take our lumps (see 1 Peter).

Missionally, we want to avoid needlessly offending others, and making it more difficult for them to come to Jesus.  Someone said to me, “I want to remove every obstacle, every stumbling block that might keep someone from Jesus, except for the scandal of the cross.”  Knowing when to compromise requires some judgment on our part.  And we won’t all agree—and need to be kind and allow people to live out their conscience.

Prayer: Lord, give me wisdom and discernment to know when to forego my rights to avoid needlessly offending others, and when to stand my ground…for the sake of the gospel.