“However, so that we do not offend them (cause them to stumble) go …” (Matthew 17:27)
In the Book of I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul told us that we should restrict our own freedoms, in order not to make others stumble. Jesus gives us an example in this passage of what this looks like in real life.
The disciple Peter had been asked if Jesus paid the tax for the temple. He told his questioner that He did, but was evidently troubled about it at heart when he went back to Jesus. The Lord spoke to him first and asked if kings of the earth taxed their own sons. Peter said that no, they taxed strangers. Jesus responded, “Then the sons are exempt.” His impliciation here is that since He is the Son of God, He should be exempt from the Temple tax. He had the “right” not to pay it. But His next words teach us an important lesson:
“However, so that we do not offend them, go ….”. Jesus told Peter to get the coin from the mouth of the fish he would catch and to use it to pay the tax. Under God, He was free not to pay that tax; but in order not to make other people stumble, He would.
This is a lesson that many of us need today, when claiming ones “rights” is such an important part of modern life. But Jesus was not quick to claim His “right” not to pay the tax. Instead He paid it, to keep others from stumbling. Other people were more important than exercising His “rights.” We should follow in our Lord’s steps with this same attitude:
— This may apply to personal habits like drinking. You may feel that you are “free” to drink alcohol or participate in other activities, but if doing so would make others stumble, and might close the door to your ability to minister to a number of people, you should refrain. Your “right” to a certain thing is not as important as other people, and your ministry to them.
— Some Christians may need to “put up” with traditions in their churches that they feel they are free from, but they will submit to them in order to keep other people in the church from stumbling, and to keep the door of ministry open to them.
There are myriads of possible applications. The point is: if we follow Jesus’ example, we will often find ourselves restricting our own “freedoms” in order not to cause others to stumble, or give them a point of accusation, and to keep our door of ministry to as many people as possible, open. Other people are more important than our own rights.