Journal Acts 21 (all references are from the ESV; changes in punctuation are mine)
Scripture: “On the following day, Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders (of Jerusalem) were present. After greeting them, he (Paul) related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they (the elders) heard it, they glorified God!
(Changing the subject) And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who believed. They are all zealous for the law and 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.
What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you: We have four men under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus, all will know that there is nothing in what they (the Jews) have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”” Acts 21:18-24
Observation: How do I feel about reporting my progress to others and then take direction from leadership that may (or may not) go against the grain, conviction-wise.
Analysis: The background above is blanketed with the prophetic word that this is NOT a good idea for Paul to be there. I think it is important that it is remembered; Paul certainly is remembering.
Paul, under the authority of the Council at Jerusalem (lack of a better descriptor), is reporting all the things occurred while traveling to the various churches and locales where believers were; preaching topics, probably; signs and wonders maybe; conversion and baptism counts most likely; rejections and oppositions and the nature of them perhaps, and others.
Still overall, James and the elders give a mighty “thumbs up” and glorified God. I don’t know what “glorified God” looks like in this case, but I would like to hope it was sincere, heartfelt, and praiseworthy stuff—a pause in the meeting that lasted more than a “well done, thank you Jesus, and let’s move on—we only have 30 minutes left to get through the agenda.”
Side note: I am increasingly aware of the “tyranny of the clock” in my life, especially when it pertains to Jesus and meetings. Paul was not bound by the clock. Review Acts 20:7-12 where Paul talked until daybreak, even after a fellow fell from the window, died, and was revived—Paul kept on talking because he had something to pass along to the attendees. Some probably excused themselves (“I have to get home, work tomorrow…”) but enough hung around attentively to keep Paul engaged.
The report was done, and the subject was changed: Paul is being counseled to do “eye-service” to the Jewish community. Did this rub against the grain of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel? Maybe not, but why not?
If I intently look at the life of Paul reported up to this point and beyond, I must see the following:
- Paul was powerful, but humble. He knew whom he served intimately and just not through feelings, but knowledgeable convictions.
- Paul wasn’t just street smart concerning the Scriptures, he actively and daily embraced them.
- Paul knew what he knew, but also there was a good dose of mystery he didn’t know. But, at the same time, in these unknown “mysteries”, solid principles bracketed them. I can call them the “hands of God” and fall back on those principles in faith until God sees fit to reveal them to me. I think Paul was comfortable with the theological phrase: “I don’t know.”
- Paul was ok to take direction from authorities. All authorities are appointed by God—therefore…
Why didn’t the elders go tell the local church to figuratively “pound sand?” What they were looking for is not what the Gospel indicates? Where is the effort to teach new testament doctrines?
Beats me. Best I can tell is that they haven’t gotten there yet. Sustainable revolutions are done a piece at a time, I guess.
Later, it is seen that Paul completes the directives proposed, and…. got arrested anyway. It didn’t make a difference; the nay-sayers got their man.
But, from the vantage point of the future looking backward, we are aware that the purposes of God were carried out and successful. Praise His Name.
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for being who you are. You give us this historical perspective so that we don’t repeat mistakes; we become aware of how you work and are not surprised that the curve ball I perceive is really a fast ball down the middle.
Make me grow in awareness of Your ways, O Lord.
Ricky Two Shoes