Addition and Subtraction
It was a cool, clear morning.
A wind was blowing off the Sea of Galilee.
Peter was standing on the porch, smelling the water, letting the breeze sweep over his face.
How many of you enjoy standing on the shore of the ocean facing the wind?
On days like this in Capernaum, Peter missed fishing. Soon he was lost in thought about the "big one" that didn't get away.
All of a sudden, his pleasant daydream was abruptly interrupted by two official-looking gentlemen who suddenly appeared on the porch next to him. Peter thought they looked like drachma collectors.
For those of you uncertain whether "drachma" is flora or fauna, it is neither. The word literally means "fistfuls"-- of money, that is. The drachma collectors were out gathering the temple tax which every adult, male, Jew was required to pay.
This morning the drachma collectors had a specific target. That target was Jesus, Peter's master.
So just as Peter was standing there, wishing he were fishing, the drachma collectors presented him with a trick question.
Let's turn to that question, found in the gospel of Matthew 17:24 was:
"Doesn't your master pay the temple tax?"
Peter, being a little short on legal and accounting advice, considered only the obvious implications of such a question. One who dodges taxes is dishonest. Perhaps disloyal.
Maybe there is a greater moral question here? Taxes to support the temple inject religious questions. So perhaps one who dodges temple taxes does not adhere to the highest religious standards. At the very minimum a tax dodger is cheap.
Let's read Peter's answer in Matthew 17:25 "Yes," of course, my master pays the temple tax.
Peter is like me. I'm full of opinions about how my money should be spent. But money questions for me are all hypothetical questions because I don't control my money. Do you know the standard marriage vows have this phrase, "I pledge my troth?" Do you know what a "troth" is?
When I was 23 I didn't. I asked my wife-to-be what it was that I was pledging. She said, "Darling, troth means treasure." Who would know?
Like Peter, I don't have any money.
Because Peter was like me in that regard, he had to walk into the house to get the temple tax money. There he found, to his amazement, that the drachma collectors were not the only ones interested in discussing taxes with him.
Let's read Matthew 17:25:
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak, "What do you think, Simon" He asked, "from whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes -- from their own sons or from others?" (NIV)
What was this? April 15? Everyone wants to talk about taxes?
Consider Jesus' question? Now, is this a moral issue?
Peter began to think his answer might have been a little hasty. He had already confessed that he believed that Jesus was the Son of the Living God ( Matthew 16:16). He knew that the temple was God's sanctuary among men. He knew that sons were normally exempt from taxation by their fathers.
This problem could give him a headache. Suddenly, more than ever, he felt he would rather be fishing.
Let me ask you friends. How many of you think the question of taxation had become a moral issue?
If Christ is the Son of God, then He should not pay the temple tax, right?
For Him to pay the tax would be to acknowledge that He was not the Son
Let's find out how Christ resolved the problem. Matthew 17:27 records Christ saying:
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.
OFFEND THEM??!! Is this how we decide what to do? Forget principles? Worry about whether anyone is offended? Friends, is Jesus a compromiser? Is He "wishy-washy" when it comes to sin? Is He getting "soft" on sin?
Of course not! Jesus is deadly serious about sin! He was tortured and He died because of our sin. The problem of sin has got to be at the top of the list for God the Father and God the Son, for the Father gave up His Son to a painful death because of it!
So, what do we conclude here?
I think this story begins to open our eyes to two very important principles of the Christian life - and that is something called "Christian liberty" and the related subject of not giving offense.
When I was dating my wife to be, she lived a little more than an hour away from me. I would drive up to her place Sabbath morning, go to church with her and then spend the afternoon and evening with her.
I would then drive back home.
Her father always thought I was a little weird. No surprise to you, right?
One reason why he thought I was unusual was that I drove a foreign sports car. No surprise to there either, right?
I owed something called a "Triumph Spitfire." In Michigan, these were kind of rare cars.
This was a convertible - good.
It had real wire wheels - good.
Real knock off hubs, like racers- good.
But it was real small. Only two seats.
I mean small.
Small is OK if all the other cars on the road are small. But this was probably 1970. If you know the history of cars, the decades of the late 60's and early 70's brought us the biggest cars Detriot ever built. The gas crisis would not come until the end of the 70's.
So here I am, driving this little car with all of these huge cars on the road.
Worse, was the way I drove the car. For some reason, the twenty miles of the two lane road leading from the house of my future wife to the freeway usually seemed to be foggy at night.
I have never liked to drive real slow. So what I would do in the fog was to drive 50-55 mph right down the middle of the road. I could see maybe 30 feet ahead of me in the fog, so I would line my car up on the center lane and drive there.
At this point, you may have concluded that in my younger days I was brain damaged. Maybe.
I had a theory. Here's my theory. My little Spitfire was one of the best cornering cars on the road. If, in the fog, I came upon a car in my own lane going very slowly, I would quickly whip into the passing lane. If I came upon a car coming towards me in the passing lane, I would whip into my own lane.
That's the theory. Anyone see any problem with my theory? Pretty good idea, huh?
What, someone sees something wrong? The problem living in Washington, D.C. is that there is too much traffic. Thankfully, there was not much traffic there and I survived.
The "hole" in my theory, as you noticed, is "What if I came across a car in my lane going slowly and at the same time a car coming in the opposite lane?" That would likely be a fatal problem.
When Jesus was faced with the issue of paying the temple tax, He paid it by performing a miracle. Christ did not compromise the underlying principle: His position as the Son of God.
I can see a good church brother or sister saying: "Jesus, you should never pay the temple tax. That would be sinful."
Was it a moral issue, a sin for me to drive down the middle of the road at a relatively high speed in the fog?
I freely admit it was stupid. I probably should have had my brain examined, but, short of killing someone it was not a moral issue.
Turn with me to Deuteronomy 4:1-2. In verse 1 God says Israel listen to what I am about to tell you about my decrees and laws. "Follow them so you may live."
Friends, obeying God is a matter of life and death. Then God continues:
"2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you."
When I talk to believers they generally focus on this idea of obedience. "If God said it, I'm going to do it." I love people like that.
*But did you notice the other side of the coin in Deuteronomy? God says, "If I didn't command it, it is not a moral issue - and don't make it one." If I didn't command it, the matter is not a moral issue and do not make it one."
Friends, the first point I want to make to you this morning is that you must separate good ideas from the commands of God. Just because something involves s a good idea, doesn't make it a matter of sin.
Jesus clearly showed us it was not a sin for Him to pay the temple tax.
It might be controversial.
It might make some wonder about whether Jesus was God.
But it was not sin.
Avoiding driving down the middle of the road in fog is an excellent idea, but it's not a question of sin!
We are a church with 27 fundamental beliefs. Believe you me, there was a big debate over the idea of having any sort of "creed" much less 27 of them. Having all of these "fundamental" beliefs carries this danger that we convert good ideas, smart ideas, solid ideas, into moral issues.
God tells us that just because something is a good idea, doesn't make it a moral issue.
Turn with me to Romans 14. Let's read verses 1-4. Did you notice who has the strong faith according to Paul? The guy who eats anything!
I've been a vegetable eater for almost 40 years!
I'm the "weak in faith guy" according to Paul.
If you ask me, "Is being a vegetarian a good idea?" I'll tell you, "Yes." My younger brother, who has eaten meat all of those years, nearly died a couple of months ago from a heart problem. I'm still running around.
After that, my brother just decided not to eat meat any longer, because it was a good idea.
In Matthew 15 Jesus got into a dispute with the Jewish leaders over principles taught by men and principles required by God. Let's read Matthew 15:10-12.
As you can see, the Pharisees were offended and Peter was a little concerned about Jesus was saying. (Maybe some of you are a little concerned today about what I am saying.)
Let's read on: Matthew 15:15-20. My mother told me that washing my hands before I ate was a "good idea." I agree, but it is not a moral issue.
Friends, there is not a single text in the Bible that tells us to be vegetarians.
Not a single text in the Bible that tells us not to be fat.
Not a single text in the Bible that tells us to exercise.
Not a single text in the Bible that tells us to wear our seat belts.
Not a single text in the Bible that tells us we must drive a Mercedes Benz or a Volvo or some other car designed to be safe.
If you want to live, these are all EXCELLENT ideas.
But if anyone tells you these are required by God they have violated Deuteronomy - by adding to what God has said - just a surely as someone violated Deuteronomy by telling people it was OK to lie, steal, forget the Sabbath or commit adultery.
The command goes both ways: don't add to what I said and don't subtract from it. And Paul tells us, if we have any doubts, that on disputable issues we should not be judging each other.
A number of years ago in this church, we had a Pastor who said it was sin to drive a BMW. My recollection was that he said you could not go to heaven and own a BMW. My thought was in heaven I'll fly, so I guess I won't need a BMW.
The problem was we had a member of the church who owned a BMW.
After the sermon she came to me and said, "Bruce, do you believe I can't go to heaven if I own a BMW?" I said, "Yes, I believe that. Leave your sin behind you and give me your car keys quick."
Seriously, I said, "No." My guess was our Pastor did not really believe that either. Maybe a slip of the tongue or something. So I went up to the Pastor with the BMW owner in tow and said something like, "You didn't actually mean people cannot own BMW's did you?" (Nod, nod, see who is standing beside me.)
He said, "Yes, that is exactly what I meant."
I should mention that thereafter that BMW owner has stopped by to visit our church once in the last 15 years!
Friends, the sin that day came from the pulpit - not the brand of the car driven to church.
The Bible does not prescribe what kind of car you drive. It doesn't talk about the brand of sandals or shoes or horse or wagon or chariot.
Instead, the Bible talks about money. It talks about money a lot.
You've seen my cars. I drive some of the most expensive production cars in the world - when they were new.
Now I'm going to sound like Sy Symms: if you bought your car new, you paid too much. You paid more than I did - even if the car you bought was the most miserable compact car. A car that may be as dangerous to your health as smoking.
You may not know the tow truck guy or your mechanic guy as well as I do. You may not have a wallet full of emergency rescue cards like I do, but you paid more money for your car.
God tells us don't start making up rules and then tell others it is sin if you don't follow my rules.
That brings us to my second point on this subject. Turn with me again to Romans 14:1 & 13. Read. (I want you to notice again v. 1, because it says we are dealing with "disputable" issues.)
When I said the sin came from the pulpit in my BMW story, this is what I was talking about. It was "disputable matter" (14:1) and that pastor put a big fat stumbling block in front of the owner of the BMW.
When Jesus said He did not want to offend the Dracma collectors, this is what He was talking about.
Friends, if a principle can be debated, don't offend anyone by telling them it is a sin.
If it is sin, God will convict their heart on it.
Paul and Jesus say "We want a "no offense" zone" here in church.
If you've been offended here by someone on a disputable subject, then I apologize to you today.
Giving offense and putting up stumbling blocks is a two-way street.
Just in case you meat eaters were getting real comfortable, this coin has two sides to it according to Paul. Read Romans 14:15, 20-21.
If you are one of those strong in faith meat eaters, don't do it in front of me. Don't brag about your steaks in front of me. Don't bring them to the fellowship dinner or the church picnic. Why, because you may damage my faith. [Note to the reader: if it is not already obvious, I am a vegetarian for health reasons only. I am not "offended" by meat-eating, but am just using Paul's example.]
Friends, if you are one of those who thinks everything is OK, Paul says "take it easy on those who don't. Don't offend them. Don't make a stumbling block for them.
Read Romans 14:22. I call it "sanctified hypocrisy" and I practice what I preach.
Do you see dear friends? If you are in the condemning group, God says "Don't be condemning others on disputable issues."
Hey, and if you are in the "I'll do what I want group," God says "Don't be doing it in front of the condemners."
God has a policy, for disputable matters, that sounds like "Don't condemn, don't tell." Why? Romans 14:15 tells us it is a matter of love and verse 17 tells us it promotes righteousness, peace and joy.
Practice "Christian liberty"
Practice making the church a "no offense zone."