Paul willingly participated in purification rites along with four other men who were fulfilling their vows to become Nazarites. He also paid all their expenses. He did that to ease the tension among the Jews in Jerusalem
The questions that have to be answered here are: Do I need to defend myself and explain my actions to anyone? Is it better to be right than to be accepted? How far am I willing to go to promote the love of Jesus and the unity of the Spirit within the church?
In his letter, Paul said to the Ephesians – “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle: be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. .” Ephesians 4: 1-3
“Make every effort.” How much of an effort am I willing to make to maintain the spirit of unity in the church? Where do I draw the line? How high are my walls? How thick is my pride? How rigid is my doctrine? How important is Jesus’ command to love one another and what am I willing to do about it?
Back in Acts 21, the Jerusalem Elders tell Paul they expect certain things from the Gentile believers as well.
Acts 21:25 – “As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them about our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
First, the church leaders in Jerusalem ask Paul to do something he doesn’t believe in. Join in the purification rites. Now they’re asking all the Gentile believers not to do something they do believe in. Don’t eat meat from certain animals and discontinue your life of sexual immorality.
Let’s take a look at what Paul did.
Acts 21:26 – “”The next day 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.”
Paul had made it very clear that his goal and his purpose in life was to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him, the task of “testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24) He had been preaching to “both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21)
Participating in those purification rites and paying the expenses of the other men was Paul’s way of saying, If I have to go through some kind of traditional ritual to get them to listen to me and turn to God in repentant faith in Jesus, I’ll do it.
Consider Jesus who, in Philippians 2:6-7, “was God, but He emptied Himself” of all His rights as God and “made Himself nothing. Took on human form and became a slave.”
Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:19-22 “Though I am free and belong to no[AB1] man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… to those not having the Law I became like one not having the Law … so as to win those not having the Law… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Paul did not participate in those purification rites to make himself acceptable to the people who didn’t like him. He didn’t “become like a Jew” to “fit in” or to be loved. He did it to be effective for Jesus. He did it so that they would turn to God in repentance and have faith in Jesus. He did it so that by all possible means, some might be saved.
Paul devoted his entire life to winning people to Christ. He never compromised his faith, but it wasn’t worth it to Paul to keep his precious doctrines intact at the risk of closing the door on thousands of people who needed to hear the good news of God’s grace.
The purpose of love and unity in the church is for the world can see Jesus in the church and know we’re His disciples.
1 Corinthians 9:23 – “ I do this all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in tis blessings.” That’s the prize Paul had his eyes on; sharing in the blessings of the Gospel; the blessings of rejoicing with the angels in heaven every time one sinner on earth came to accept Jesus as his Savior; the blessing of being surrounded in heaven someday by the many souls he had influenced for Christ as he gave his life for the Kingdom of God.
This is one of those situations where we’ll get criticized by someone regardless of what we decide to do. So, begore we do it, we’d better be clear and certain about our motives for doing it. Our ultimate goal must be in agreement with the Word of God and focused on pointing people to Christ.
Lord willing, next week, we’ll try to make more sense about what happened as a result of Paul’s experience in Jerusalem. Sue and I are approaching the final stages of our move to Pennsylvania. This may cause some “hick-ups” or disruptions to this blog. I apologize in advance for any confusion this may cause, but please be patient. Hang in there with me and stay in God’s Word with Pastor Buj.