Paul Visits James
17When we arrived in Jerusalem, the Lord's followers gladly welcomed us. 18Paul went with us to see James the next day, and all the church leaders were present. 19Paul greeted them and told how God had used him to help the Gentiles. 20Everyone who heard this praised God and said to Paul:
My friend, you can see how many tens of thousands of our people have become followers! And all of them are eager to obey the Law of Moses. 21But they have been told that you are teaching those who live among the Gentiles to disobey this Law. They claim that you are telling them not to circumcise their sons or to follow our customs.
22What should we do now that our people have heard you are here? 23 Please do what we ask, because four of our men have made special promises to God. 24Join with them and prepare yourself for the ceremony that goes with the promises. Pay the cost for their heads to be shaved. Then everyone will learn that the reports about you are not true. They will know you do obey the Law of Moses.
25 Some while ago we told the Gentile followers what we think they should do. We instructed them not to eat anything offered to idols. They were told not to eat any meat with blood still in it or the meat of an animal that has been strangled. They were also told not to commit any terrible sexual sins.
26The next day Paul took the four men with him and got himself ready at the same time they did. Then he went into the temple and told when the final ceremony would take place and when an offering would be made for each of them.
Paul did everything humanly possible to maintain unity between Christians of Jewish origin and those who were of pagan (Gentile) origin. He respected each group and laboured unceasingly for toleration between both groups. In practical terms, that meant not asking Jews to live as Gentiles or Gentiles to live like Jews.
Paul’s active participation in this Jewish purification ritual was a gesture of conciliation, nothing more! Paul made it very clear that he wasn’t living under the law of Moses but rather under the law of Christ. This whole incident beautifully illustrates one of the great principles of Paul’s ministry: he lived as a Jew among the Jews in order that he might win Jews to Christ. Likewise, he lived like the Gentiles when among the Gentiles with the goal of winning them to the Lord.
One could be tempted to believe that Paul was seriously compromising his faith, but that would be so far from the truth! The concession made here by Paul was purely and solely in the realm of practice. In other words, it was all about the form and NOT about substance or principle! Absolutely nothing was sacrificed concerning doctrine or moral principles.
When he could, Paul respected the cultural environment and belief system of the people around him, but never once did he break, compromise or sacrifice God’s standard or what he called, “the law of Christ.”
What then, can I learn from the way Paul lived and practised his faith? Would I be able to discern the work of God in a Christian tradition different from mine, understanding that it is faith in the work of Christ that unites us?
Lord, I thank you for the great diversity that exists within your Church! I want to spend myself for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ. I ask for forgiveness for all the times that I have wrongly judged other believers – believers who love God as much as I do and are as sincere as I am! I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.