Sometimes, especially in the environment we face today, Christians think they must be on guard to defend every right and every principle against encroachment by our secular society. But in this, as in all things, we need to apply godly wisdom.
Matt 17:24-27 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
It’s interesting to me that when Peter was asked if his Teacher would pay the temple tax, he knew the answer. Apparently, Jesus had never discussed this issue with His disciples, since when Peter came into the house, the Lord took the occasion to explain why He would pay the tax. So, it must have been that Peter simply knew his Lord well enough to know how Jesus would handle such a situation, even though Jesus had not yet explained it to him.
Jesus took care to not offend the authorities in the matter of taxes. He made clear to Peter that He, the Son of the One who owned the temple, was not bound to pay taxes for it. He could have stood on His rights as an acknowledged prophet of God and refused to pay.
But Jesus was looking at the bigger picture. Even though by rights He could claim exemption, this was not a relevant battle for Him to fight. He did not want to give the authorities an opening to claim that He engaged in the purely human and selfish effort of trying to avoid paying due taxes. The reputation of His ministry was at stake. Refusing to pay the temple tax would have hindered rather than helped advance that ministry.
By this episode, the Lord teaches us that we don’t have to fight every battle. Sometimes it is more important to not offend people than to make them acknowledge our rights. The apostle Paul was willing to become all things to all people that he might win them to Christ, and it is that spirit that the Lord is demonstrating here. What’s more important – our prerogatives or our ministry?
As a matter of principle Jesus did not need to pay that tax. As a matter of ministry priorities, He did.