In Matthew 17 Jesus informed his disciples that because they are sons of God they are, therefore, exempt from the temple tax. Nevertheless, they should pay it in so as not to give offense to them (v 27). Jesus’s followers will live among the Jews in Jerusalem for another 40 years. The temple will remain, and the tax will be required of them. If they, insisting on their freedom, refuse to pay, one of the consequences would be that in the eyes of Jews, the Christians would be repudiating all Judaism. They would be deemed a sect that denies the law of God. Once this got around, it would function as stumbling block to the gospel. That’s the literal meaning of the word Jesus uses—stumbling block. This is when Christians and churches put up an unnecessary offense or barrier to the gospel. So, Jesus required them to paid the tax so as not to put a barrier to believing the gospel.
Jesus is arch-offender. He is call a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense in 1 Peter 2. At the center of his message is the cross, which confronts all men with the reality of sin and hell and a holy God who will not forgive unless our sins are atoned for. The gospel is inherently offensive to sinners. So why does Jesus care here not to give offense?
Well there is necessary and unnecessary offense. The problem with giving unnecessary offense is that it throws up barriers to other people believing the gospel. And that is the best-case scenario. At worst such barriers amount to additions to the gospel.
This is a key principle in Matthew 17, but also in Romans 14, Galatians 2, and 1 Corinthians 8-10.
Paul states it emphatically in 1 Corinthians 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. We should not take this command lightly.
The principle can be stated in the following way: followers of Christ are to surrender our rights and privileges, preferences, and tastes for the sake of the gospel. Or to put it bit more sharply, there are matters that do not matter, and we must be willing to forgo these for the sake of the gospel’s progress in a person’s life. This is biblical! Yet it is the case that we Christians hold on to these practices like they were straight from heaven. This is not because we can find biblical support for them (though we often try). Rather we make matters of liberty absolute because we have become attached to them at a deep level. And further, we fear what will happen if we should change or lose them.
Nevertheless, despite however much our hearts cherish them or fear change, the fact remains, they are not necessary, and if they are a stumbling block to others, then they must be modified or removed because they are giving unnecessary offence.
So, are we giving unnecessary offense in our walk before others and in our church life? Every Christian and every church must seriously consider this question.