Monday 22 August, 2016

Acts 21:17–26

17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters gave us a warm welcome. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James. All the elders were there. 19 Paul greeted them. Then he reported everything God had done among the Gentiles through his work. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they spoke to Paul. “Brother,” they said, “you see that thousands of Jews have become believers. All of them try very hard to obey the law. 21 They have been told that you teach Jews to turn away from the Law of Moses. You teach this to the Jews who live among the Gentiles. They think that you teach those Jews not to circumcise their children. They think that you teach them to give up our Jewish ways. 22 What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a promise to God. 24 Take them with you. Join them in the Jewish practice that makes people pure and ‘clean.’ Pay their expenses so they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that these reports about you are not true in any way. They will know that you yourself obey the law. 25 We have already given written directions to the believers who are not Jews. They must not eat food that has been offered to statues of gods. They must not drink blood. They must not eat the meat of animals that have been choked to death. And they must not commit sexual sins.” 26 The next day Paul took the men with him. They all made themselves pure and “clean” in the usual way. Then Paul went to the temple. There he reported the date when the days of cleansing would end. At that time the proper offering would be made for each of them.

Paul arrives in Jerusalem and is warmly greeted by James and the elders, and they rejoice together at what God has been doing amongst the Gentiles through him. There are also many Jewish believers, which would have pleased Paul enormously, however, it seems that the Jewish believers were upset with him. Paul understands that the purification rites are no longer necessary because salvation is by grace, not works. But he follows his stated principle from Corinthians where he says “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law…… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Cor 9: 20

In Romans 14:13 Paul says “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”

Paul is following both of these principles here. He is always trying to witness to people for their salvation, and he is trying to not offend other believers by his actions.

Lord, please help me to not be a stumbling block for anyone else’s faith, but to encourage others by my actions.

Written by Megan Cornell

1 (reply)
  1. Justin Ware says:

    Thanks so much Megan for sharing your wise insights into these “purification rights.” I have often wondered what the vow was that Paul had taken and I reflect on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:33-37 where he says not to take vows but to simply let your yes be yes and your no be no.

    It is intriguing how something as simple as a public demonstration of Paul’s values and beliefs can have so many complex interactions and have such an impact on the people around him.

    I was recently at a funeral and there were some elements of the service that had been carefully and deliberately planned, seemed to anger some of the people who attended. I heard someone saying afterwards “it’s just not right to do that at a funeral”

    I wonder how many times my own well-reasoned but under-considered words and actions have offended others and become a stumbling block for others.

    On the other side of the same coin, I am aware that Jesus often sought out to offend the Pharisees to highlight the flaws in their religious structure.

    Lord, give me wisdom in this area. In the modern domains of marriage, parenting, politics and religion, it is so easy to offend others, and so challenging to be bold in communicating the principles that the Bible shows as leading to life, especially when these principles are counter-cultural.

[comments section is closed]