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Taking Care Not To Offend

Acts 21:25-26
'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.’ 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. (NIVUK)

Paul had come to Jerusalem with his team (Acts 21:17). The Lord had already told him, and others, that he would face great difficulties and imprisonment for the sake of the gospel; and that he would take the message of Jesus to kings (Acts 9:15-16). But he did not know how God's plan would be worked out (Acts 20:22-23). The elders in the Jerusalem church had advised him to take four Jesus-believing Jews to the temple and join them in purification rites – a demonstration that he was not condemning Jewish customs and hopefully refuting the lies which had been spread about his ministry (Acts 21:21-24).

The elders also told Paul that they had advised Gentile believers to respect the key Jewish traditions, not to eat meat offered to idols, meat from animals which had not been bled to death; and to remain sexually pure. The elders wanted to defuse the ferment of opposition against the church, which had come and gone in waves ever since Paul himself was persecuting the churches (Acts 8:1).

So Paul went along with the plan, submitting himself to the local church leadership and trusting himself to the Lord. A part of the purification rite was that the participants had to tell the priests in advance when the seven-day period of self-discipline would end. On that day, sacrifices had to be made and money had to be given to the temple funds (Numbers 6:1-21). But it was public information, also providing the time when Paul's enemies would be free to move against him (Acts 21:27-28).

There is no point in offending people when you can be at peace with them. Romans 12:18 says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Hebrews 12:14 says, "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." There are times when telling the truth will precipitate a hostile reaction, but that is all part of the gospel proclamation (Matthew 23:1-39); but God's servant should not start a quarrel (2 Timothy 2:24-26). He should seek peace wherever possible (1 Peter 3:8-12). So, consider if you are taking care not to offend, even if the route to your goal might be so much shorter if you forced your way through (James 3:17-18) – not by compromising truth but by choosing to demonstrate grace.

God of grace. Thank You for the humble example of Jesus and the apostles who chose to trust themselves to Your mercy and not be hostile to individuals, even though truth often provoked a hostile response. Forgive me for either failing to speak the truth in order to avoid criticism, or failing to take care not to offend others. Please renew my heart so that I will accept Your wisdom to be peace-loving and a peacemaker. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams