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Pray for those you speak with about your faith, whether Christians or not. Ask God to open your eyes to truly understand your audience, so that he may speak through you right to their hearts.
Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters(A) received us warmly.(B) 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James,(C) and all the elders(D) were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles(E) through his ministry.(F)
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous(G) for the law.(H) 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses,(I) telling them not to circumcise their children(J) or live according to our customs.(K) 22 What shall 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 vow.(L) 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites(M) and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved.(N) Then everyone 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.”(O)
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.(P)
In Jerusalem, Paul met James and the original elders to give an account of his journey. Paul related one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry (v 19). Note Luke’s careful language here: God was the author of the work, the Gentiles were the fortunate recipients, and the ministry was done through Paul. What an ethos: God first, others next, then us. But Paul was no longer among the Gentiles: he was in Jerusalem. This was an unfriendly cultural context. Even newly converted Jewish believers were suspicious of Paul. So, the elders asked Paul to show respect for their Temple culture, and purify himself, so that all would know Paul lived an orderly life, keeping the Law.
This last phrase must have rankled Paul a bit, having written so eloquently about how we Christians are set free from the Law. But that was not the argument for that moment or that context. Paul acquiesced to their request – out of respect for the culture, and out of respect for the elders. Paul was respectful and culturally astute in Jerusalem.
Pray that God would grant you eyes to see and ears to hear the culture in which you live, so that you can present Jesus Christ winsomely to those around you.
The journey to Jerusalem is finished (v 17)! Once again, we note the welcome from the believers. On the next day, Paul and his companions visit James, who appears to be the leader of the believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:13–21), and the news that Gentiles are coming to faith in Jesus causes the elders to praise God (v 20).
The Jerusalem leaders reciprocate with the news that ‘thousands of Jews’ have become believers, but these remain ‘zealous for the law’. The problem is that the rumour mill suggests that Paul has been teaching Jews to give up on their traditions in terms of circumcision and to abandon the law. Hence, the Jewish leaders suggest a course of action to dispel these rumours by demonstrating that Paul has not abandoned his Jewish heritage. Paul agrees. It is clear from his letters (eg 1 Cor 12–14; Eph 4:3) not only that the unity of the church is of paramount importance but that he was prepared to become ‘like one under the law … so as to win those under the law’ (1 Cor 9:20). Of course, this was not an absolute. Paul would never have denied that salvation was through Jesus in order to win Jews, but he was prepared to compromise where such things did not conflict with the message of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and exalted.
What is of paramount importance to you? The unity of Christ’s church, or your way of doing things? Paul’s flexibility in this passage teaches us that while we can never compromise the message of salvation, the unity of the church should be of far greater importance to us than is often the case. Would we have agreed to the Jerusalem leaders’ plan, or have refused to do so, on the basis that it was not necessary? Perhaps we all need to become a little more flexible. That might just transform the church!Julie Robb
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