Year 2 Day 80
Read - Acts 21v17-26
Message - Scott Woodburn
There is mixed opinion about today's passage. As some look at it they see Paul as a culturally sensitive and wise man doing his best to present the Gospel to Jew and Gentile alike. Others aren't so charitable and they see Paul's actions as a rotten compromise. What's the story?
Paul arrived in Jerusalem and was received gladly (v17) indeed as he told of the Gospel work among the Gentiles his audience glorified God (v20). In turn the news in Jerusalem was positive as many thousands of Jews had come to believe in Christ (v20). Wonderful! So far so good! But...but...there’s always a but!
Many of these Jewish Christians had heard that Paul was urging Gentile Christians to leave Moses behind. They'd heard that Paul was anti circumcision and that Jewish customs were being consigned to the history books. Paul had arrived in Jerusalem to bring financial help from Gentile Christians but there was a real danger the situation would unravel as the Jew-Gentile tension would explode.
To ease the tension James had an idea. Four men were under a vow (perhaps a Nazarite vow from Numbers 6) and James thought that if Paul joined these men in their vow it would show his critics that Paul was living in observance of the law (v24). This seemed like a good idea to the Apostle and he joined the men in their vow (v26).
Like we’ve said, some see Paul here as a wise and gentle compromiser, doing his best to bring peace to the church. Others see Paul making a massive mistake and settling for peace instead of war. The late great James Montgomery Boice once said “This, what Paul did here, was hypocrisy. It was compromise. He was going to offer a sacrifice? In front of the very priests who had killed, who had crucified Jesus? It is a turning of his back on the sufficiency of Christ.”
I’ll leave you to read the passage and make up your own mind. Do we see a call to moderation and compromise or do we see Paul wilting in the face of opposition? For my own part I’m somewhere in between. I can imagine Paul’s concern for church unity and the salvation of the Jews. Equally I think Boice isn’t wrong in highlighting Paul’s perceived hypocrisy.
Whatever our take on these verses I’m still very sympathetic towards Paul. Each one of us will sometimes find ourselves in a place with a decision to make. We wrestle with it before Almighty God and weigh up the pros and cons of each decision. We consider how our decision will be perceived by our friends and our enemies. We imagine the response of the wider church and community. Then, when we’ve finished wrestling, we make what we think is the best decision only to find criticism and scorn on all sides! We can’t win! We can’t do right for doing wrong!
The Apostle wasn’t a perfect man and I think we see the reality of that as he arrives in Jerusalem. Yet I am deeply thankful for God raising up such a man as Paul. He preached Christ and Him crucified and the church owes much to the foundational ministry of the both the prophets and the Apostles.
Brothers and sisters, we will make good and bad decisions. Sometimes we will hear praise and other times scorn. I encourage you by saying that the Lord is sovereign over the mistakes we make and His plans aren’t thwarted when we mess up. I remind you that the Lord is gracious to those who fall and I tell you again that the Lord brings order from chaos and good from evil.
Was Paul right? In this instance, I don’t think so, but thankfully the Lord always is.
Q85 What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin? To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.