Matthew 17:24-27 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.”
And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
Acts 16:3b And [Paul] took [Timothy] and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
Some of the jewels found in God’s word are instances where Jesus did something profound, and then we find leaders of the New Testament church doing the same thing. Sometimes we forget that Jesus is our Great Example, not just God-in-flesh who does things we cannot.
One occurrence addresses the issue of giving offense. Jesus begins what we might call a deep theological discussion with Peter on the issue of the believer’s freedom and its relationship to the demands of government and society. On reading that the first time, we might think that the talk would veer into a rather dense doctrinal or mystical dialogue on the spiritual identity of God’s people and how they are set apart from the world.
Yet while Jesus fully recognized that His followers enjoyed a level of relationship with Almighty God that set them apart, His surprising direction completed His instruction: Go do an action that would prevent the community of non-believers from being offended. In this case, Jesus even performed a miracle—or gave Peter some divinely inspired revelation about the fish—that took care of any possible offense by respecting the law of the land.
During the years of the early church, Paul shows us the same principle in action. Timothy, who had a Jewish mother and Gentile father, didn’t need to be circumcised to become a full-fledged Christian believer. But as he was ministering to Jews at the time, Paul didn’t want to put any kind of stumbling block in the way of the gospel just to make a point. Later, in Romans 14 (above), he emphasizes the importance of determining not to put any kind of stumbling block in another believer’s way.
What a great contrast to current thinking, which puts individual rights above love and grace. How quick we are to assert our “liberties” and even—God forbid!—to think we’re operating in the power of the Holy Spirit by doing so. Jesus and Paul thought otherwise, and demonstrated that true freedom in the Holy Spirit is being sensitive to possible offense and free enough to know that as sons of God, we are at liberty to lay down our rights for love.
Prayer: Father, thank You that You have made us Your people, and that we have a special relationship with You. Help me to see that You have made me Yours and made me free. May I use that freedom to resolve to always keep the door open for Your truth and saving grace.