Scripture Reading:  Acts 21:17-26

“And when they heard it, they glorified God.  And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.  They are all jealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.”  (Acts 21:20,21)

When Paul returned to Jerusalem, the Christians there were glad to see him (v. 17).  Paul found James and the elders and told them about the things God had been doing among the Gentiles (vs. 18-20).  They rejoiced and glorified God when they heard Paul’s report.

However, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem told Paul that a rumor had been spread among the believing Jews there that Paul was teaching Jewish converts to forsake their ancestral customs, such as circumcision (v. 21).  Of course, this was not true; Paul did not object to Jewish believers voluntarily following Old Testament ceremonial laws (see 16:3).  The matter had been settled at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).  Jews were not forbidden to continue following certain of the Old Testament customs and Gentiles were not forced to submit to them in order to be included in the fellowship of believers.

These leaders wanted Paul to demonstrate his position that Jews were not prohibited from keeping their traditions as long as they were not considered a requirement for salvation.  So they asked Paul to participate in  Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6:1-21).  This would prove to the Jewish believers that Paul was not demanding Jewish converts to give up some of their ancestral customs.  Paul agreed and purified himself according to the vow. (v. 26).

The gospel did not require Paul to do this.  In fact, the gospel made it very clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.  Nothing is to be added to faith in Christ.  But Paul wanted to have an effective ministry among the Jews as well.  He wrote these words to the Corinthians:  “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:22,23).

We must never compromise the essential message of the gospel, but we must be sensitive to the customs of people in order to reach them.  We must be willing to become all things to all people in order to be effective witnesses of Jesus Christ to them.  This requires a cultural sensitivity and at the same time a strong commitment not to add requirements to the basic message of the gospel for salvation.

Lord Jesus, give me discernment as I seek to be a faithful witness to others.  Keep me from ever compromising the simplicity of the gospel message and give me discernment as I seek to share it with others.  Let me be willing to become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.


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