Saturday, April 6, 2013

Primum Non Nocere

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?”” – Matthew 17:24

There are many ways that we can love our neighbors as Jesus loved them. There are acts of service, such as mowing their lawn while they work.  There are gifts of love, such as taking the sick a home cooked meal.  But one of the ways we often neglect is to give over our will to their ways so that we don’t offend them. 
Let’s take a test.  I’ll give you a situation and decide the action that shows the most love.

1.      You’re eating dinner with a friend who is a vegetarian.  She believes we shouldn’t kill animals for our own survival.  You understand God’s word, which says “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”(Genesis 9:3)  So when you order, do you get the big juicy steak you’ve been craving?

2.      You’re going to a church where the women only wear dresses due to their religious beliefs, based on Deuteronomy 22:5, which says “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God. But it’s the dead of winter, and you don’t want to leave your legs uncovered.  Do you wear pants?

3.      You’ve made friends with a man at work.  After several conversations about family, he reveals that he is gay and living with his partner.  Do you correct him with God’s word that says homosexuality is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27) or do you accept his lifestyle choice so you don’t risk offending him?

In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus and his disciples were in Capernaum, and He went to the temple.  At the temple were tax collectors who collected the “temple tax”.  This was a tax paid voluntarily, separate from the payment of tithes, to help sustain the temple worship costs.  The wood for burning offerings, flour, oil, and so forth would be purchased from the temple tax.  Each person paid half a shekel. 
But when Jesus came to the temple, he didn’t leave his temple tax with the tax collector, who then asked Peter “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” Peter then went to Jesus, but before he could speak Jesus, acting on the spiritual gift of knowledge, said “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”  Simon Peter said, “From strangers.” Then Jesus spoke and said “Then the sons are free. 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.”

Jesus, being the son of God, who was worshipped in the temple, was like the son of a king receiving taxes.  The king did not tax his own sons.  Likewise, Jesus should not have to pay a temple tax.  But Jesus complied, saying “lest we offend them”.
Jesus paying the tax or refusing to pay the tax would not be sin.  It was voluntary.  But if he did not pay the tax, the beliefs of those who saw it would color their opinions of him.  He would have offended them, placing a stumbling block on the path to their believing in Him.

One of the fundamental principles of the medical field is “primum non nocere”, which is Latin for “first, do no harm”. This is a principal Christians should adopt, but only after understanding where harm lies.  Harm lies in not showing true love. 
If you’re eating dinner with a friend who is a vegetarian, and would be offended by your big juicy steak, it’s no sin for you to eat a vegetarian meal, and no sin to her rejecting meat.  God has no law that we must eat meat.  Eat the vegetarian burger, the big salad, or just order what she’s having.  Do no harm.

If you’re going to a church where the fellowship would be hindered by your usual attire of pants, wear a dress.  Neither is sinful to you, but it is to them.  Show love by dressing in a manner not to put a stumbling block between you and your friend.  Do no harm.
But when you find a friend living in sin without knowledge of sin, love does not overlook it.  First, do no harm.  Harm lies in not showing true love, and God is that true love.  All truth can be spoken in love.  Not speaking up is sin.  Galatians 6:1 tells us Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”  We are called to correct others, but note that it is done in “a spirit of gentleness”, not in anger and rage and wrath.  The passage goes on to say that we each must bear our own sin burden, and that “if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself”.  None of us is without sin, and we can all benefit from correction that brings us closer to God.

In Romans 1:18-32 we read of God giving over those who reject His laws toward sexual immorality to a ‘debased mind’. He stops struggling with them, and gives up on them.  But the passage begins in verses 18-19 says, For the wrath of God [His anger and His justice] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness [not speaking what they know to be true], because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.”  By keeping silent, you do yourself and your friend harm. 
We sometimes forget that before Jesus instructed us to love your neighbor as yourself”, He gave the first command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.(Mark 12:29-31)  Our allegiance has to first be to God.  We cannot suppress the truth and believe we have pleased Him by keeping His command to love your neighbor as yourself”.   We are to be salt and light.  Salt not only flavors what it’s put on, but it heals wounds.  Light not only shines through the darkness, but it shows the right way.

Primum non nocere. First do no harm to God, and then your neighbor.  Of all the ways you can “love your neighbor as yourself”, none is of as great a value as assuring you don’t lay down stumbling blocks as you lead them closer to God, who is Love.

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