What the Bible says about Diplomacy
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Peter appears concerned that Jesus would not be esteemed a good Jew if He did not pay the tax. Not wanting to bring dishonor and danger on Him, he acknowledges Jesus' liability to pay the taxes as if He were a mere son of Israel. His reply implies that Jesus had paid the tax and would continue to do as every devout Jew should.
When Peter enters the house, Jesus immediately asks him about taxation: "From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" This demonstration of Christ's knowing what Peter had discussed elsewhere proves to the disciple that His divine omniscience is not limited by distance.
Peter answers the question with the only possible answer, "From strangers," and Jesus replies, "Then the sons are free." He refers to Peter and Himself as both sons of the Father, the Sovereign of the Temple, and therefore, free from the tax. However, rather than cause offense, Jesus arranges for the money to be found in a most miraculous way.
Technically, Peter errs about the legality of taxing the Son of God, but Jesus uses the principle of not needlessly offending a brother (Luke 17:1-2) to positively express His divinity and spiritual power: He performs a miracle. Christ is so considerate that He would rather pay any amount, however unjust or objectionable, than endanger God's work by unnecessarily provoking negative comments that would hurt its credibility, saying, "lest we offend them" (Matthew 17:27). His example should inspire us for when we feel slighted or taken advantage of (Romans 14:21-22).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: The Coin in the Fish's Mouth
What should we do when we think we see a problem? God is very clear on the procedure. Matthew 18:15 says we should go to our brother, alone, privately. Discuss the concern with him and him alone. These steps work to correct problems that sometimes occur—if they are followed. We know what to do, but we do not always practice what we know.
Our focus should always be on solving the problem, not just talking about it, condemning it, or gossiping about it. Get as few people involved in the matter as possible—in fact, no one else needs to know about it unless it escalates. Concentrate on the matter at hand and do not bring up bygones. Do not burn any bridges or threaten the other with ultimatums. Remember that you are trying to gain your brother, not lose him!
Matthew 18:15 instructs us to deal honestly with a brother over an offense, and not to tell it to others. This is also a great challenge. When irritated or offended, the first thing we want to do is to talk about it! We want to receive encouragement, comfort, understanding, or just get it off our chests. It is critical, though, for us to temper our honesty with the loving attributes of God's Spirit, and solve our differences with words that heal, encourage, and enable greater affection to grow. Honesty may at times require forgiveness and forbearance that neglect and lying might let slide by.
How do we go about this? We find another church member, or two if necessary, and we ask them to become involved. They should be members who are not gossip-mongers and whose word is reliable. An unbiased person is best in many ways. However, on the other hand, it is wise to have a person who to some extent agrees about the offense. Perhaps he has been offended in a similar way by the same offender in the past.
This is where it can become tricky. Be very careful! Do not be hasty! It should not be our intention to start a war over this. Nor do we want to split the "protective island" of our congregation into two opposing camps. Neither do we want to be accused of gossip.
At the very beginning of the first step, we should have advised the offender that we were bringing this to him in accordance with Jesus' instructions in Matthew 18. If Step Number One does not work, then we should tell him again that, according to Jesus' command, we need to take it to Step Number Two, and that we wish to involve another person or persons. Be gentle! Be diplomatic!
Islands and Offenses
If we read between the lines, Paul may be saying, "You people are better than I am in your devotion to spiritual things."
Instead of "religious," the King James Version uses the word "superstitious," which has undergone what linguists call "semantic drift." In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative association as it has now.
From the context of the account in Acts 17, it becomes quite clear that the apostle Paul was not, as some Protestant theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. If that were the case, the philosophers of Athens, who vastly outnumbered him, could have made short work out of this smart aleck. Obviously, from their attention to his speech, they did not think of him this way.
David F. Maas
Godly Tact and Diplomacy
If we were to read between the lines, Paul might be saying, "You Athenians are to be commended for your devotion to spiritual things." The King James' rendering of "religious" as "superstitious" exposes the latter word as having undergone what linguists call semantic drift. In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative connotation as it does now.
From the context of this account, it is plain that the apostle Paul was not, as some theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. The men of Athens, who vastly outnumbered Paul and loved a good philosophical debate, could have made short work out of any know-it-all smart aleck. The apostle Paul was thus lavish in his compliments.
Throughout his ministry, he frequently resorted to diplomatic language. At one point, he acknowledged a cultural debt both to the Greeks and to barbarians (Romans 1:14). In addition to complimenting strangers, Paul continually sought out similarities he shared between him and other groups. In a conflict in which both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were breathing fire down his neck, Paul masterfully ingratiated himself to the Pharisees, reminding them that he and they shared the same view on the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8). Paul, to the right people, let it be known that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-29).
We also need to find common ground, not only with people in the other groups of the church of God, but with the world at large, emphasizing (like mountains) the things we agree upon and de-emphasizing (like molehills) the things we disagree upon.
In the process of finding common ground, we dare not compromise our core values or syncretize them with the world. We should instead practice more of what one late church of God minister counseled, "You don't have to tell all you know." Oftentimes, keeping our traps shut is the most diplomatic behavior of all (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Lamentations 3:28-29; Amos 5:13).
David F. Maas
How to Conduct Ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ
The apostle Paul was fully aware that others studied and imitated his example, so he was very careful about how he appeared to the members of the church. I Corinthians 8:9-13 contains a fine example of his circumspect living.
The overall subject of this passage is meat offered to idols. After sacrificing an animal in the temples, the pagan priests often sold the surplus meat to local merchants, who included it along with other meat at his stall in the marketplace. Some felt that meat was meat, and since there is only one true God, the meat offered to a man-made image was perfectly fine to eat. Others who were new in the faith or more sensitive to issues of spiritual contamination, believed that to eat such meat placed them in fellowship with—and they were thus defiled by—the false god, a demon, to which it had been offered.
Verse 10 shows that some Christians would even eat meat in the pagan temple! The new or sensitive Christian, seeing this—and perhaps having recently rejected that false religion—would suffer a weakening of his conscience or his faith. In an extreme case, he might even return to his paganism and be lost (verse 11)!
Paul, however, provides the correct example in verses 12-13. Notice the apostle's starting point: Such a sin against a brother in Christ is a sin against Christ Himself! It is that serious! However "legal" eating the meat might be under God's law, the more important point is that the effect of one's actions on a brother's character takes precedence. Paul's conclusion, then, is that he would never even give the appearance of sin if it would harm a brother in the faith.
Is this not the love of God in action? God's love manifests itself in thoughts, words, and deeds of care and concern for our brethren (I John 4:7-11, 21-5:1). It should be our motivation in walking circumspectly, setting a right example and never giving even a hint of evil in our way of life. If we do these things, to our amazement we will prove to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Abstaining From Evil
Does this mean that Paul would compromise with God's law under special circumstances? Absolutely not! Does he endorse "situation ethics"? Absolutely not! Does Paul embrace syncretism? Absolutely not!
Paul understands that we need to guard and protect jealously certain core beliefs such as God's laws and statutes, which we hold as non-negotiable. But we find a rather wide variety of marginal beliefs (such as choice of music, automobile, food, clothing, etc.) upon which we can compromise without sin.
The apostle Paul had a keen sense of what part of his belief structure was negotiable and what was not. He had the knack to make things that he and other people agreed upon to seem like mountains and those he and others disagreed upon seem like molehills.
In I Corinthians 6:12, He expresses the realization that just because something was lawful does not mean it is the thing to do—especially if it will offend someone. In Romans 14, Paul sets some guidelines on dealing with marginal issues. If becoming a vegetarian or a teetotaler for a day proves the price of peace and not offending, he considers it a small price to pay.
David F. Maas
Godly Tact and DiplomacyRelated Topics: All things are lawful for me | Compromise | Compromise with Principles | Compromise with World | Compromising with God's Law | Conscience, Sensitivity to | Diplomacy | Godly Diplomacy | Lawful not always Expedient | Offending a Brother | Offending People | Offense | Offenses | Paul's Diplomacy | Paul, Diplomacy of | Sensitivity to Conscience | Situation Ethics | Syncretism | Vegetarianism
The apostle Paul, despite his cautions to Timothy (see II Timothy 2:23; I Timothy 6:3-5), realized at one point that if he did not challenge the foolish challenges of his enemies (concerning his apostolic authority and methods), naïve members of the Corinthian congregation might believe them. His lengthy answer spans II Corinthians 11 and 12.
Obviously, Paul felt extremely uncomfortable about answering these allegations, as is evidenced by his self-effacing reference to himself as a fool, but he also realized that his silence would have tacitly endorsed the charges. Likewise, our Savior, when confronted about His identity and credentials, knew the timing was right to put the gainsaying Pharisees in their place (John 8:52-58).
As one minister said, "If you are going to preach a warning message, you had better be mindful of your exit strategies, or be prepared to die on that hill of battle." There certainly are times when diplomacy fails and silence is no longer appropriate. Our society is replete with foolish teachings, ideas, theories, and misconceptions—both secular and religious—and under the right circumstances, they should be confronted and shown to be false, lest they be accepted as factual.
As maturing Christians, we must learn to discern when it is proper to answer a fool according to his folly (in the manner his foolishness deserves), and when it is a bad idea to answer a fool according to his folly (lowering ourselves to his undignified level). The right exercise of God's Spirit in us, which Paul calls "the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16), provides the potential to have and use this ability.
David F. Maas
To Answer a Fool—or Not
Find more Bible verses about Diplomacy: