As Christians, with different values and ways of thinking from the world, it is unavoidable that we will come into conflict with others, simply because what we believe is different from what the world believes.
Simply by believing as we do, we will offend people.
Nevertheless, there is a difference between offending people because of what you believe, and going out of your way to offend people.
One is unavoidable. One is sinful.
In this story, Jesus was in Capernaum, and the tax-collectors for the temple came by and asked Peter, “Does your teacher pay the temple tax?”
Peter, probably flustered, blurted out, “Of course he does.”
Later Jesus asked Peter, “Who does a king exact taxes from? His children, or from others.”
Peter, of course, answered, “From others.”
So Jesus told him, “Then the children are exempt.”
In other words, as God’s Son, he wasn’t under obligation to pay the temple tax.
But then Jesus said,
But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. 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. (27)
Jesus could have stood on his rights and said, “There’s no way that I’m going to pay the tax,” thus upsetting the tax collectors. But instead he paid the tax.
I think there are two applications we can make from this in terms of not offending people unnecessarily.
First, sometimes we need to give up our “rights” as Christians for the sake of others.
I remember when I was a high school or college student hanging out with other Christians at a camp, and some of the Christians were playing cards. They weren’t gambling. They were just playing ordinary games. But it upset one of the Christians who felt any kind of card-playing was wrong. We could have argued with her or ridiculed her beliefs. Or we could have simply ignored her, stood on our rights, and kept on playing. But in order to avoid offending her, we stopped. To unnecessarily antagonize her would have hurt her, not to mention be sinful.
Second, though it may be inevitable that we offend unbelievers by what we believe, we can still show that we care for them.
I know of Christians that have made it clear to the gay community that they believe that lifestyle is sinful. But at the same time, they work compassionately to help the gays who have been infected by AIDS.
My pastor’s wife’s parents are not Christians. And when they got married, they could have said to her parents, “There is no way we’re having anything to do with Buddhist ceremonies, and if you don’t like it, that’s just too bad. Deal with it!”
But instead, they told her parents, “We’re not going to be involved in any Buddhist ceremonies, or offering incense, or anything like that. But we will help clean the house and serve food after the ceremonies are over.”
In both cases, we see Christians stating their beliefs clearly, and yet showing love.
Let us not confuse offending people because of what we believe, with going out of our way to be offensive. We’ll offend enough people just by following Christ. We do not need to offend more by taking an offensive attitude on top of that.