Word@Work, Let God's Word energise your working day!

Dangerous Talk

Acts 21:21-24
They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. (NIVUK)

When Paul and his team arrived in Jerusalem, they described in great detail what God had done among the Gentiles during the missionary journeys (Acts 21:17-19). After hearing that, the elders in Jerusalem reported how thousands of traditionally devout Jews had also believed in Jesus (Acts 21:20). However there was a problem. The jealous and defensive religious leaders had been spreading false rumours about Paul's teaching, saying that Paul had forbidden Jewish believers to continue with their traditional rituals.

That was causing a real disturbance among the new converts. They lived in a tradition-impregnated city, in families that were bound together by those religious activities. Temple and synagogue leaders demanded observance of the religious rites as an essential part of belonging to God. They could not understand that those practices could never create a person's relationship with God; only trusting in Jesus can do that. Paul's preaching was not about tearing up the Law, which could never deliver a personal bond with the Lord (Hebrews 10:1); instead, the apostle preached Christ and allowed the redundant old covenant imagery to fade into the background.

However, in order to reassure the Jewish believers and to quench the dangerous talk of those who opposed Paul, the elders proposed that Paul should take four of these new Christians to the Temple for a purification ceremony. This included a Nazirite vow with shaven heads and costly offerings, made at the Temple at the end of the vow. The suggestion that Paul should pay their expenses was presumably because they could not afford the sums involved. In practice this tactic made no difference to the religious hostility; but Paul submitted himself to the elders in that place, trusting the Lord to overrule.

It is difficult to know what to do with envious hearts, lying tongues and threatening actions – especially when it threatens the unity of the church. It is wise to accept the guidance of the church elders. In Jerusalem, Paul had no other guidance for moving forward except to follow the elders' advice - even though he was an apostle. When danger looms, remember that the church elders have a responsibility to guard the flock (Acts 20:28); and the flock has a responsibility to obey their elders because they are accountable for them (Hebrews 13:17). Follow that principle and the Lord will overrule if He chooses. Ignore that principle and you will find yourself in a more dangerous individualistic isolation (Titus 3:10).

All-knowing God. Thank You for giving elders the responsibility to guide Your church. Forgive me for failing to honour and obey them as I should, trusting You to overrule as You choose; or for failing to give wise counsel to those for whom I am responsible. Please help me to understand how to deal with dangerous situations, which threaten Your church, with the help of those people who are accountable for my spiritual welfare. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Bible Book: 

© Dr Paul Adams