The next day [after arriving in Jerusalem] Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were present. After greeting them, Paul gave a detailed account of the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry.
After hearing this, they praised God. And then they said, "You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the law of Moses very seriously. But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They've heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.
"Here's what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumors are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws.
"As for the Gentile believers, they should do what we already told them in a letter: They should abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality."
— Acts 21:18-25 NLT
For more than four decades, I have had a hard time with the actions of James and the Jerusalem church leaders. Paul had come with representatives of the Gentile churches bringing a monetary gift for poor Christians in Jerusalem.* Paul's goal was to unite the Jewish and Gentile Christians. Rather than the leaders in Jerusalem focusing on this objective, they seemed to be more worried about appearances and rumors. The readings over this next month will show that James' and the Jerusalem elders' plan backfired. Paul was arrested and nearly died several times. The Holy Spirit ultimately triumphed through Paul's unfolding journey of imprisonments, trials, a shipwreck, and arrival in Rome, where he was kept under house arrest (Acts 28:16). What spiritual message do I take away from this confusing mess? How should I feel spiritually about the political maneuvering by the Jerusalem church leaders and the consequences Paul endured? For me, there are at least two significant messages:
- Critics are seldom pleased by capitulation and compromise. We should speak the truth back to critics and face the consequences of the truth rather than trying to finesse our critics into thinking more highly of us. The problems arise from the details, and there are many more details in the finesse and compromise way of doing things than in just speaking the truth.
- Paul's statement in Romans 8:28-29 is absolute truth. God does work his will out through us and for our good if we love him and live for his good purposes. The result of Spirit's work is always for our eternal good, but just as Jesus faced the cross, we also may face one, too. The goal is that God's will is done!
Father, the events in today's verses have convicted me once again about the problems when I have tried to win the favor of my critics through finesse and compromise. I can't remember a single time when your will and way were more important to me in these situations than hoping people would like me and not criticize me unfairly or treat me so harshly. Father, forgive me. Please, pour wisdom, courage, and love into my heart through the Holy Spirit. I want my life to be an example of someone who loves you and is committed to living for your purposes and not my own. In Jesus' name, I ask this. Amen.