Acts 21:20b-26 – Submit & Accommodate the Weak – Part II
1) PAUL’S RESPONSE TO JAMES’ REQUEST
Acts 21:26 – Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
What Paul did:
As we discussed last week, Paul purified himself and paid for the sacrifices of four men who were completing their Nazarite vow. (To see what this entailed, please refer back to Part I of this lesson).
We determined that James was asking Paul to oblige the ceremonial law not a moral law.
We noted that Paul taught all were free from the constraints of the law:
Galatians 3:23-25 – Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
Nevertheless, we saw that he obliged James’ request anyway.
Because of this, we want to explore what motivated Paul to do these things.
And we want to find answers to the following questions:
Paul certainly knew he didn’t really need purifying, so why did he agree to do so?
Wouldn’t Paul’s participation in a blood sacrifice devalue the work of Christ on the cross and confuse Gentile converts?
Did Paul actually “live in observance of the law” as James stated?
2) WHY HE DID IT – ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE – THE “FOR THEM” REASON
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Titus 3:9 – But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
Paul makes clear that he will oblige a group’s idiosyncrasies if it allows him to more effectively share the Gospel. (Obviously, he draws the line at violating God’s moral law).
Paul also makes clear that bickering over the law is a waste of time.
In his pragmatism, he teaches Titus that no good can come from trying to change the behavior of those Jewish believers whose affections are wrapped up in the ceremonial law.
But there is an even more significant underlying problem associated with those that Paul is talking about above.
In 1 Corinthians 9:22, from our verses above, Paul tells us that “to the weak I became weak”.
In my opinion, this is Paul’s summary description of all those he described in verses 19 through 21.
The weak in faith:
Romans 14:1-2 – As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.
Romans 15:1 – We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
1 Corinthians 8:6-13 – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Paul knew that there was a inverse relationship between a weak faith and our freedom in Christ.
Those that were weak in faith were more likely hold on to the customs and ceremonies that guided their lives before Christ.
Paul tell us that those who “have knowledge” (who understand their freedom in Christ) are to be aware of this and accommodate the weak.
The Jewish believers he was accommodating were weak in faith as evidenced by their love of the ceremonial law.
The freedom they had in Christ from this law had eluded them.
How has the freedom we have in Christ eluded us because of weak faith?
But Paul, in his genius, takes the implications for the weak even further.
He teaches us that their zeal can be misplaced.
The weak in faith are zealous for the wrong things:
Luke describes the Jews in our main text as:
Acts 21:22 – “…zealous for the law.”
In the case of these Jewish believers, we see that they were zealous for the law.
Understanding what we have learned about the actions of those that are weak in faith, it is clear that we can say that a weak faith allowed a zeal for the ceremonial law to flourish.
And so Paul became as one under the law and participated in all that James asked of him to accommodate not only their weak faith but their misplaced zeal that flowed from that.
Unbeknownst to us, how have we let our weak faith lead us to be zealous for the wrong things?
Misplaced zeal can be spiritual growth killer.
The source of misplaced zeal for the unbeliever:
Romans 10:2-3 – For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
For the unbeliever, self-righteousness in any form informs a misplaced zeal.
And it can be a hindrance to salvation.
The source of misplaced zeal for the believer:
1 Corinthians 8:7 – “…through former association with idols…”
Acts 21:21 – “…according to our customs.”
Romans 14:2 – “…eats only vegetables…”
For the believer, “cultural baggage” informs our misplaced zeal.
By cultural baggage, I mean the patterns of thoughts and behaviors in our culture that, by their very nature, hurt our ability to interact with God’s truth in a biblically responsive manner – Paul’s examples are association with idols; our customs; our dietary restrictions; etc.
From our text, we see that the cultural baggage for the Jewish believers was the ceremonial law.
In just a moment, we will explore what our cultural baggage might be.
Cultural baggage, symptomatic of weak faith and the foundation of our misplaced zeal, can influence the believer in detrimental ways.
It can cloud our spiritual judgment AND, in conjunction with our weak faith, lead us to be zealous for the wrong things and hinder our spiritual growth.
I think it is important here to further explore the detrimental effects of cultural baggage on both the Jewish believers in our text and in our own lives.
Be aware of cultural baggage:
How did the cultural baggage of the ceremonial law in verse 22 inhibit the growth of the Jewish believer?
In our lesson text today, we can clearly see it was a source of tension with those believers who were past it – Paul.
We also can see that it enabled them to be easily mislead by those spreading rumors about Paul –verse 21.
It also clouded their view of Paul and his gentile ministry, which limited their ability to receive teaching from Paul.
And by teaching, I mean that those weak in faith and clinging to cultural baggage are in a place where “spiritual meat” is not an option.
They are limited to milk because of the freedom in Christ they have yet to fully come to comprehend.
What cultural baggage do we have as Americans that can hinder are spiritual growth?
If you are stuck in neutral in your walk with Christ, it may be because of the cultural baggage you have never given any thought to.
With respect to our Christian work, our biggest cultural baggage is our individualist culture.
Below is a list of the differences between an individualist culture (ours) and a collectivist culture (the one in which the Bible was written).
As you go through the list, examine how much of what an individualist culture stands for is counter to the principles that we are taught in the Bible.
Individualism vs Collectivism Cultures
One of the minuses an Individualistic world view brings to bear on our Christian walk is that we mistakenly create our own individual form of Christian faith.
We filter everything we learn from God’s word through our Individualistic “faith filter” and adapt it to our circumstances.
This causes us problems on two fronts: We have a problem with a surrender and submission to letting Biblical truth transform our lives; and we have a problem with Church Authority, especially when it is at odds with “my faith”.
With regards to Biblical truth, we hear the truth of God’s word and process it (warp it) through our “faith filter” with the end result being a faith that is often at best self-centered and at worst unbiblical.
This is one reason why, in my opinion, there is a such a huge disconnect between what the power of the word of God and the spiritual immaturity of the average American believer.
A classic example of this is, “I have prayed about it and the Lord has given me a peace about not doing “x”.” When “x” is an issue that we are commanded to do by the Bible and therefore needs no further word from God.
With regards to church authority, we see man or men who have Biblical authority over us as just individuals (see above list) in their own right who have no more authority over us than some stranger.
POI – We are guilty of sin collectively, not just individually, because of our relationship to Adam.
And this leads us into the 2nd reason Paul obliged James request.
A reason that, because of our individualist culture, is very difficult for us to practice – submission
We will delve into this next week.