In Matthew 17:24–27, after Jesus arrived in Capernaum, the temple tax collectors asked Peter, "Doesn't your teacher pay the tax?" The religious authorities collected two drachmas, half a shekel (approximately two days' wages), annually from every Jewish man for the upkeep of the temple. The money was regarded as being given to God because the Lord had commanded Moses that each Jewish male who was twenty years old or older must pay the Lord a ransom for his life (Ex. 30:11–16; 38:26; 2 Chron. 24:5). Knowing that his Master obeyed the Law, Peter told the collectors, "Yes, my Teacher does pay the tax."
Then Peter immediately went to discuss the matter with Jesus. However, before he could say a word, Jesus questioned, "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from strangers?" "From strangers," replied Peter. "‘Then the sons are exempt,' Jesus said to him" (Matt. 17:26, NIV).
In other words, a king did not demand that his own sons, the heirs to his throne, pay tribute to him. Instead, the people of conquered nations typically paid tribute to the king. In saying this, Jesus was noting that He was exempt from paying the tax for two reasons: (1) as the Son of God, He did not need to pay tribute to His Father, and (2) as the perfect, sinless God-Man, He had no need to ransom or redeem His life.
However, since Jesus did not wish to offend the tax collectors or give them reason to think that Jewish males did not have to pay this tribute to God, He instructed Peter to go catch a fish. "‘Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours'" (v. 27, NIV).
Jesus could have simply opened his empty hand and miraculously made the money appear. Instead, He allowed Peter to play a crucial role in the miracle. By doing so, He brought to life an important principle, which the apostle Paul later stated: Give "no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited" (2 Cor. 6:3, NASB). "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God" (1 Cor. 10:31–32, NASB). Romans 13:7 adds, "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (NASB).
Although our words often affect others positively or negatively, our actions more powerfully impact them. Leviticus 19:14 says, "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD" (NIV). Although this passage speaks of those who are physically blind or deaf, we could also apply it to unbelievers who are spiritually blind and deaf.
What actions would cause unbelievers to stumble?
Verses 13–18 list spreading slander, seeking revenge, bearing a grudge, defrauding our neighbor, showing partiality to the poor or favoring the great, holding back the wages of a hired person overnight, hating a person in our heart, and perverting justice. By our example, we encourage unbelievers to accept Christ or to turn away from Him.
Romans 14:13 urges us not to put obstacles or stumbling blocks in front of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul states, "Be careful . . . that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Cor. 8:9, NIV).
How can we avoid causing our fellow believers to stumble? "Stop passing judgment on one another . . . . Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (Rom. 14:13, 19, NIV). We who are stronger in the faith should be patient with those who are weaker and try to encourage them and build them up in the Lord. Following Paul's example, we should do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men (2 Cor. 8:21, NIV).
If Jesus went out of His way to avoid causing someone to stumble, how much more should we endure minor inconveniences to prevent others from stumbling and to uplift our fellow Christians.
Howard W. Stevens