“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” (Matthew 17:27, NKJV).
Although Jesus had just explained that they were actually exempt from the temple tax, He tells Peter, “Lest we offend them.” In other words, lest our testimony be diminished in their eyes; lest they should be able to point to us on the street and say, “Thieves! They don’t pay the temple tax!”
The Apostle Paul said it this way: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23, NKJV). Yes, there are things that may be permissible in our Christian walk, but we must still consider the potential impact on those around us.
Let me give you an example of this. The man who led me to the Lord began by coming to my door week after week, sharing the Gospel and telling me about how he used to be a drunk, a womanizer, and a gambler. Although I outwardly resisted his words, I could not deny that this man stood before me as a life completely transformed by the grace of God. It was something I had to reckon with. I even offered him a beer one time in order to test him. You see, if he had taken it, or if I had gone to his house and seen him with a glass of alcohol at his table, I might not be a Christian today. I would have assumed that he was a man just like me who had simply added religion to his life. Sure, he could have argued, “But it’s just a little thing!” However, in my opinion, things were black or white. If he were truly a new creation, as he explained Christians were, old things should have passed away. There was no middle ground as far as I was concerned.
And so to this day, I recognize the significance of Jesus’ words when He said, “Lest we offend them.”
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.
In Daniel 3 we are given a powerful example of the power of praise during a time of affliction in the story of the three Hebrew children, whom King Nebuchadnezzar threw into the fiery furnace. These men weren’t being tested to see if they had faith; the fact is, their faith was what put them there. Clearly the Lord was after something else. Think about it: The heathen Babylonians weren’t influenced by these men’s prayers or preaching. They weren’t impressed by their wisdom and knowledge or by their holy living. No, the impact on Babylon came when the people looked into the furnace and saw these three men rejoicing, praising God in their most trying hour (see Daniel 3:24-30).
Jesus appeared in that furnace, and I believe His first words to the Hebrew children were, “Brethren, rise up now, for your bonds are loosed. Let this heathen government and godless people see you rejoicing and praising your God in your hour of affliction.”
The men did just that, and Scripture says Nebuchadnezzar was “astonished” at the sight. He rose up in haste, crying, “What’s going on here? We cast three men into this furnace, but now there are four and all their bonds are gone! Look, they’re singing and praising that fourth Man” (see Daniel 3:24-25).
That is the impact our praises bring during our trials. So, how have you been reacting in your hour of affliction? Are you drinking from the cup of trembling, feeling weak, with no power to resist the enemy? It’s time to shake off the heavy bands and lift up holy hands in praise to your Redeemer. You are free, no matter what your trial. Rejoice and be glad, knowing that the fourth Man is in the furnace with you. Christ will reveal Himself in your trial, and the fire is going to burn off all the cords that bind you.
Most likely you are not being tested but trained!
“If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17–18).The apostle Paul is saying that in light of the glory that awaits him, what is his trial in comparison?
Likewise, he wants us to turn our eyes from our present sufferings and focus on what is coming, which will change everything. One minute into our new home in eternity, Paul says, we won’t remember what came before. His point is to start praising now, rejoicing over the joy that awaits us. “By him [Jesus] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
God has chosen those “refined . . . not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). The people to whom Isaiah offered this vision of a new world had just endured the fury of a raging enemy. Now they were reeling from their tribulation, bound by fear and weariness. They felt that God had forsaken them, and they were afraid of what the future held.
So what word did God send them? It’s the same word he gives his people today: “Wake up! You are not undone, as you think. The Lord, your strength, is still with you. So, get up out of the dust of discouragement, and sit down in the heavenly place I have promised you. You have not lost your righteousness, so put on your robe. Shake yourself, talk to yourself, give yourself a lecture. And tell the flesh and the devil, ‘I am more than a conqueror through him who saved me’” (Isaiah 52:1–3, paraphrased).
“And I will . . . refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zechariah 13:9).
How did God get the children of Israel out of Egypt? He had to put them in a furnace of suffering to bring them to the point that they cried, “Enough of this! I don’t want to be here anymore.” Then, when the time came for God to say, “Go,” they were ready to uproot and move into His Promised Land.
God help us to get disengaged from the materialistic spirit of this age, and to transfer our every affection to the New Jerusalem.
Isaiah prophesied that the world God was creating is a place of praise, where the inhabitants rejoice. “Be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isaiah 65:18). The Hebrew word for create in this verse means “to bring into being.” Do you see what Isaiah is saying? God is creating not only a new world, but also a special people. He’s bringing into existence a bride who hasn’t just been weaned from this world, but has learned to praise her way through trials.
The fact is, our present sufferings comprise a school of worship. And all the ways we’re learning to praise Jesus, especially in our trials, are training for that glorious day. What does this mean for Christians who live with constant fret and worry? How can those who live as if God were dead suddenly know how to praise their way through a trial?
How we react in our present trial is very important. When Israel was in their hour of great suffering, they gave up hope. They decided they couldn’t take any more, so they simply sat down in the dust. Here were God’s people, with rock-solid promises, yet they sat there with a chain around their necks.
Likewise today, some Christians give up at this point. They don’t abandon their faith, but they stop pursuing Jesus with their whole hearts, thinking, “I can’t live under this kind of intensity. It seems the closer I get to Christ, the more I suffer.” They wonder how Paul could say, “I . . . rejoice in my sufferings” (Colossians 1:23–24).
Here is exactly how Paul could make such a claim: he had been taken up into heaven, and he saw the glory that awaits us. Because of what he saw, Paul was able to embrace his trials and afflictions in this life, learning to praise God through every ordeal. He was determined to learn gladness of heart no matter what his situation, and he began practicing praise in preparation for the world to come.
Abraham passed a great test of faith when, in obedience to God, he offered his son as a sacrifice. Yet, even more than his tested faith, Abraham was weaned from this earth—a fact proven when he offered up Isaac. He had faith that there was a purpose greater than the one he could see. Here was a man truly in the world but not of it, seeing his citizenship in another world.
Now consider what Hebrews says of Christ: “[He] suffered without the gate” (13:12). Jesus suffered as an outsider—always on the outside of formal religion, outside of accepted society. Yet Christ was also “outside” in the sense of having no place here on earth to even lay His head. In everything Jesus did, He always looked to heaven.
Like our Savior and our forefather Abraham, “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (13:14). We live and work on this earth, but we are aliens here; our true homeland is in the New Jerusalem. Thus, Hebrews urges, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (13:13). Until we also are “outside” the camp—outside this world’s lusts and materialism—we won’t be where our Bridegroom is.
I live in a nice home and drive a nice car. But I continually guard against such material things ever taking hold of my heart. The fact is, you can have a mighty faith and still not long for Christ. “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not [love], I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Sadly, as I look around today, I see multitudes of believing Christians who have great faith, but have no longing to be with Jesus. Instead, they’ve set their eyes on the things of this world and how to obtain them. I find that such people don’t want to hear about focusing on heaven or being weaned from this world. To them, such a message means an interruption from the “good life” they enjoy here.
Thank God, He has a wonderful way of pushing us outside the gate. He tells us, in essence, “If I’m going to give My Son to you in marriage, there can be no other attraction in your life. I want to be sure you’re not lusting for something or someone other than Christ. Your most exciting dream, the deepest pull on your heart, has to be a desire to be with Christ.”