Year 2 Day 57
Read - Acts 18v18-23
Message - Scott Woodburn
Todays passage is easily skipped when we read through Acts 18. We read names and places and travel places and can quite rapidly move to the next "good" part of the story. Yet as we slow down we can't help but notice something strange. Paul arrives at Cenchreae and cuts his hair "for he was under a vow." (v18). Mmmmmmm...interesting...what is going on with Paul and his hair?
If you've ever read the book of Numbers then perhaps you remember the vow of the Nazirite in chapter six. The one making such a vow would stay away from wine and strong drink. He would let his hair grow and not touch it with a razor. He would stay away from the dead and essentially devote himself to the Lord before ending the vow by shaving the hair from his body.
So did Paul make a Nazirite vow? I don't think so. If this had been such a vow then Paul would have been bound to take his shaved hair to Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice there. Paul doesn't do this so I suspect we shouldn't take this cryptic verse to mean that Paul had taken the vow of the Nazirite.
So what then? I believe that what we see here is Paul cutting his hair to signify the end of a personal vow that he had made to the Lord. In the reformed faith we speak of oaths and vows. An oath involves both men and God, usually when a person makes a promise to another and takes God as a witness. A vow on the other hand is a promise made directly to God.
The Lord Jesus warns us against taking empty and foolish oaths and vows (Matthew 5v33-37) but it is appropriate on certain occasions to vow seriously unto the Lord. Perhaps Paul took this vow as an act of thanksgiving for the Lord's protection? We can't be sure but we can be confident that the Apostle took such an act incredibly seriously.
Is it appropriate for us to take such a vow? On certain occasions, yes but firstly be aware of what a vow is not. We do not use vows as a way to "butter up" God. For example "Lord if you answer my prayers I promise I'll go back to church." Such a vow should not leave your lips. The Lord is not a toy to be played with or manipulated. Instead a vow comes from a thankful and contrite heart. For example "Lord God I have come to realise that I have grown lazy in prayer. I promise for the next month that I will pray each day before breakfast." or "Father you have moved powerfully in my life. I vow that for the next week I will fast each day until dinner and spend the saved time in praise."
Such vows are not to be heralded. They are not reason for you to boast to your friends. You have promised to the Lord, so take your vows seriously and perform what you have promised. Do not act under the gaze of man but instead carry out your promises before the gaze of God alone.
"When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?" (Ecclesiastes 5v4-6)
Q65 What is forbidden in the fifth commandment? The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations.