Dear Student of the Word,
It's been a few weeks, so it is definitely time for another installment from our Acts study series. In this part, we see how Paul came to Jerusalem where the leaders prevailed upon him to do something to prove his love and loyalty to the traditions of the Jews. Quite frankly, this whole episode confuses me, for Paul was doing exactly what the believing Jews accused him of doing: preaching against the way of life of legalistic Jews. Of course, the plan did not work and Paul was soon in the midst of a riot, only to be saved by the Roman guards. Paul's course was then set to go to Rome to appeal to Caesar. This week I wrote in part two of this seven-part series:
Study Twenty-Seven, Part Two
24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
21:24 – It seems that the leaders advised Paul to finance the purification rites for some men who were finishing a Nazirite vow (see Numbers 6:1-7). Paul himself had undertaken such a vow (see Acts 18:18), but this vow had not been for “public relations.” The leaders were trying to bolster Paul’s image among the Jewish believers who already did not like him by having him publicly identify with men who were taking such a vow.
This whole plan is confusing. Paul was adamantly opposed to the Law as a source of grace or right standing with God. No doubt that Paul still maintained many of the Jewish customs since that was part of his heritage and lifestyle. But Paul did not live in “obedience to the law” as the leaders wanted the people to believe. This is perhaps why the Jerusalem church had become insignificant by the time that Paul arrived there for this meeting. They were more concerned with pleasing the Jewish believers than they were in spreading the gospel beyond Israel, or so it seems to me.
And where was Paul in all this? What was he thinking? Perhaps he wanted to work with the elders and agreed to their plan out of deference. Yet he had to have reservations. Maybe this taught Paul a lesson and helped formulate his strong denunciations of the Law as a source of righteousness that we find in some of his letters written after this incident. Yet, his denunciations were strong even before this flawed plan. We know that Paul had much love for his people and was willing to do almost anything to see them come to Christ, but not to preserve their Jewish customs.
21:25 – Here the council of leaders affirmed their decision to send a letter to the Gentiles, which we discussed in the study that covered Acts 15. The Council acknowledged that the Gentiles did not have to follow the Law, but then advised Paul to appear friendly toward the Law for the sake of the church in Jerusalem.
Leadership is a tough job, however, and we have the benefit of looking back and bringing judgment against these men. They all gave their lives for the sake of the gospel and were undoubtedly under tremendous cultural pressure in Jerusalem, which to this day still has a difficult spiritual atmosphere in which to work or minister.
21:26 – Paul did follow the plan. He went to the Temple, gave notice of the duration for their Nazirite vow and publicly identified with their attempts to be purified through the rituals at the Temple. Paul was willing to pay money into a Temple system that he knew was a bankrupt system. Paul was operating in a very charged atmosphere and it must have been difficult to sort out all the issues and think correctly.
What lessons can you take from this story? Have you compromised what you believed for the sake of “public relations”? Have you tried to placate a critic who will not be placated? If so, you may know by now that these attempts don’t work! You must stand up for what you believe, no matter how intense the pressure. But I also know that this is easier said than done. Do the best you can and if you fail, learn from it and move on.
As always, I welcome your comments to this week's study. For additional Bible studies, check out my website archive, which contains a complete collection of all my verse-by-verse New Testament studies, along with the unpublished volume of The Faith Files.
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