“On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
The word “offended” gets thrown around a lot today. Sometimes, it’s by people who are proud to be offended, showing that their heightened sensibilities are more in tune to how the world should work. Sometimes, it’s by people who are proud to do the offending, believing they are crusaders of truth and those too weak to handle it need to hear what they say regardless of how they feel about it. Sometimes, it’s a blogger who is too lazy to come up with an original idea, I mean, making an important commentary on how people interact today.
Whatever the case is, Jesus gives an example here of how to handle the possibility of offending someone. Jesus and Peter were headed towards the Temple and needed to pay the customary tax. When Peter goes to Jesus to talk about how they will pay the tax, Jesus sidesteps Peter and talks about whether the tax is just or not (he was pretty clearly against it).
Jesus had spoken often about the practices of his day. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees for all manner of things they did wrong. Jesus was even unafraid to rebuke his disciples, at one point calling Peter “Satan” for a wrong thought he had. So what Jesus says next is not from weakness, fear or intimidation.
Jesus told Peter they didn’t want to offend the temple workers. In his eyes, this fight was not worth having. Jesus wanted Peter to know what was really right and wrong, but this fight was not big enough to have with the temple workers.
This picture of Jesus is kind of surprising. Many evoke the name of Jesus to bring up “the plain truth” regardless of how people take it. Those who preach Jesus can often find pride in offending others because it, in their minds, shows they are preaching the real Gospel. But here, Jesus was not into offending people just for the sake of offending them. When the Gospel offends, that’s one thing, but when we offend with smaller matters and allow people to deflect Jesus before we get to the Gospel, we do a great disservice.
I firmly believe that in evangelism (or even discipleship for that matter), our goal is always to move the needle just a little bit. If people are like a gas tank that can be filled with Jesus, we want people to be a little more full than they were when we met them. Sometimes, God opens the door for you to fill the tank entirely, and we should be grateful and ready when He does. But often, we’re only going to take a few steps with people. We’ll only push the needle forward a little bit, and that’s okay.
To do this, however, we have to prioritize the things that matter most. Pushing the needle forward in someone’s life often means accepting many areas where their views don’t align to Jesus. As a Youth Pastor, I can think of students I discipled where I didn’t worry about their views on their parents, friends, or school at first because their view of Jesus was off. To push the needle forward, I needed to accept there was other work to be done that couldn’t be done right now. That was fine with me. As people view Jesus more clearly, they will then come to view everything else more clearly.
While this article can’t be an exhaustive list of what issues can be left aside for later, it can ask you that question: what issues are you possibly offending others with that are hindering their view of Jesus? I’m not saying preach a watered-down Gospel; I’m saying preach the Gospel first and let that fix the other issues a person has. Jesus did not flip tables everywhere he went, he looked to not offend where he could. Let’s follow his example and make sure the only hill we’re dying on is the hill Jesus died on, too.