For those of us who are following Jesus in this world, we don’t need to fight every single battle.
Sadly, there have been too many stories of late about prominent figures who have been rocked by scandal. And as we’ve learned, all it takes is one scandal to effectively undo a lifetime of work. The English word “scandal” comes from the Greek word scandalizo which literally means “to cause someone to stumble.” The word only appears 29 times in the New Testament, but 14 of those occurrences are in Matthew’s gospel. Here are just a few examples:
Matthew 5:29 – If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.
Matthew 18:6 – If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Matthew 11:6 – And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
This last verse helps to explain Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:24-27. In the passage, Peter is asked by some religious leaders whether or not Jesus paid the Temple tax. This tax amounted to two days’ wages and was paid by most Jews everywhere to support the work of the Temple. The rabbis were exempt from paying the tax. However, Jesus was not an officially recognized rabbi, so he and his followers would have been expected to pay the tax. Jesus answers the dilemma in typical fashion; with a question. “From whom do kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” It is clear that Jesus understands himself (and likely his followers) to be exempt from paying the tax. It wouldn’t make much sense for the Son of God to be required to pay a tax on God’s house.
But in verse 27, Jesus agrees to pay the tax “so that we may not cause offense.” He uses that familiar word “scandalizo.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus isn’t above “causing offense” when appropriate (Matthew 13:21; 13:57; and 15:21 use the same word), but he also uses wisdom in choosing his battles. This was not an issue that was worth causing a scandal. Jesus was not willing to compromise his greater mission on this particular issue.
It seems that there is some wisdom for us in these words as well. For those of us who are following Jesus in this world, we don’t need to fight every single battle. We need not put our greater mission and testimony at risk with unnecessary scandal. Like Jesus, sometimes it is just better to submit if it means not causing someone else to stumble on your account.