Friday, June 29, 2012

Not Everything is an Issue

We read in Matthew 17:27 "However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself."  Many commentators use this passage to address paying civil taxes but actually this tax has nothing to do with paying taxes to the state but that isn't to say there aren't some applications to make.  Actually the tax here began back in Moses' day.  All adult men paid a tax to help support the Tabernacle construction.  There is no biblical mandate for this to continue after the first tax but by Jesus' day it was the custom to pay it for the Temple upkeep.

What is important to understand is that this tax was even then voluntary but socially assumed.  It was as much a cultural custom as it was religious, but for sure it was not commanded in the Bible.  The point I want to make here is that Jesus pays it not because God's Word expressly commands him to but because he didn't wish to offend those around him who he was trying to minister to.

I suppose that the majority of people and even Christians tend to live more by the customs of the culture around them than they do the Bible many times.  Our greater danger is usually to compromise with the world more than standing firm in the Word of God regardless of what people think of us.  This is a problem for sure.  But some tend to the other extreme.  Many of us stand against any and everything that isn't expressly commanded in Scripture and see it as compromising if we participate in some custom or activity that perhaps an unsaved person or culture came up with, not because the Bible forbids it but because it isn't found in the Bible.  And so they find a fight on every hill and a reason to condemn just about any and everything simply because it can't be found in the Bible.  Many times they spend a lot of time telling other Christians that they ought not be doing this or that and are mysteriously absent when such things are being done by other saints; I suppose in "protest".

It seems Jesus offers us some moderation here.  He was not under any obligation to participate in the unbiblical customs but he does so and he tells his disciples to do so as to not needlessly offend the world for a reason that had nothing to do with him or the gospel.  Paying the tax simply was neither here nor there; it didn't make a difference one way or the other so why make a big deal over it.

Yes, we are to live by the commands of Scripture and if it means living differently from those around us then our love for the Lord causes us to gladly be considered odd by the world.  But when the Bible doesn't deal with something or considers it a non issue then I believe it is best for us to not make an issue over it as well.  There are plenty of hills to take a stand on without offending people for no good reason.  May God give us wisdom to be able to tell the difference.

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