Adapting for the sake of our testimony.

Adapting for the sake of our Testimony

Matthew 17:24-27

“but lest we be a snare to them…give it to them for me and you.”

 

            The event of the Temple Tax is both unusual and has perplexed commentators and misused by some who want to avoid paying taxes to civil authorities.  The events begin with the temple tax collectors approaching Peter and asking him to pay the required tax for the temple.  It is important to note that these were not the civil authorities representing the government. Instead, these were religious leaders who went about to collect the religiously imposed tax for the temple's upkeep. The two-drachma, which was a half-shekel, amounted to two day’s wages for a typical day laborer.  All Israelite males were required by the Jewish religious law to pay the tax annually.  Coming to Peter, they asked if Jesus was going to pay the temple tax. They phrase the question so that they expect an affirmative answer.  

            In response to their question, Peter comes to Jesus to ask if Jesus desired to pay the tax.  Instead of giving him an immediate answer, Jesus responds with a short parable that raises the question of whether or not he and his followers should have to pay the tax.  Since the temple tax was a Jewish, religious tax rather than a governmental tax imposed by the Romans, Jesus' response does not conflict with Jesus’ command in Matthew 22:15-22 or Romans 13:1-7.  In response to Peter, Jesus clarifies that since God did not ordain it, Jesus is under no obligation to pay for the tax.  While Jesus affirmed and fulfilled the Old Testament law, he continually confronted the legalistic rules of the Jewish leaders. 

            Having affirmed that they were not under obligation, Jesus makes a surprising statement.  He tells Peter to catch a fish, and in its mouth will be the required coins.  So, what is the point of this story, and how does this relate to us today?  

            In the story, two important lessons are highlighted.  First, Jesus, as the son of God, has no obligation to man’s rules and regulations.  However, if he refused to pay the tax, the implication would be that he rejected the temple and what it stood for.  Throughout the gospels, he clarifies that he did no such thing.  Although the Law did not require the tax, Jesus did not want to give any impression that he was against the Law and the temple.

            The second important lesson we see in verse 27 is when he states that Peter should pay the tax so that “we may not offend them.”  In other words, Jesus informs Peter that part of our testimony is maintaining a positive relationship with others, even those who reject him.  While we are free from people’s legalistic requirements, we are to still operate with an attitude of love and grace to make our testimony acceptable to them.  Paul points out the same thing when he writes that we are free from the law, but we are not to use our freedom if it causes another person to stumble.  For the sake of our witness, we should forgo our rights so that others might be impacted by our message.  

            This brings us to the importance of living in a way that provides opportunities to share the gospel.  While the gospel may be inherently offensive to some, we are not to act in an offensive manner to others.  Instead, we are to willingly set aside our rights and privileges so that we might have the opportunity to have a positive witness.  In a gospel-driven life, our focus is not on our rights but how our lives and actions impact others.  If we create barriers to people in the exercise of our rights, it is better to set aside those rights to build relationships with them.  We are to always live with the gospel in our focus and be willing to adapt to the situation to share the gospel without hindrance.  We are not to compromise the gospel or faith to gain acceptance of others, but we can set aside our freedoms and personal rights to reach others for Christ.  

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