Monday, March 5, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 21:15-26

After the long journey of collecting funds to help the persecuted Christians in Jerusalem, Paul and his company finally return to Jerusalem. (v.15-16) The Christians there were extremely glad to see Paul and received him and his company warmly(v.17), although the environment in Jerusalem would have been a tense one.

At this time, assassins were murdering Jewish aristocrats suspected of having strong connections with Gentiles, and Paul's mission had largely been to Gentiles. A zealous Jewish nationalism was the dominating cultural paradigm and there was great hatred and real danger for any Jew who had friends from other cultures. (See IVP Bible Background Commentary, Keener. pg. 386)

Paul related to James and the other Jerusalem church leaders what God had done through his ministry overseas. (If you go back through our look at Paul's life in Acts up until this point, you'll be reminded that it's an amazing story!) Specifically, Paul detailed what God had done for the Gentiles through his missionary work. (v.18-19)

When the church leaders heard about it all, they "glorified" God. This somewhat "churchy" word means to give high importance to something or someone. When God is "glorified", he is being recognized for how amazing and wonderful he is and is given high honor and priority as a result. (v.20)

As we touched on last time, I think it's especially difficult for many of us geeks to step outside of our comfort zones and choose to expend ourselves for other people. But as we see in Paul's life, a willingness to spend our energy in service to God and on behalf of others results in lives that are changed forever. And secondarily, our lives provide others with more reasons to "glorify" God, embracing him and the immensely significant role he intended us for.

But there was still at least one problem Paul and the church leaders had to deal with. There were thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who believed in Christ, and they were also zealous for the customs that were a part of their unique Jewish heritage. Many of them were under the impression that Paul, also a Jew, had been going around teaching Gentiles to throw everything Moses taught out the window, as though he had no respect for his own heritage. (v.21) Due to the cultural climate in Jerusalem, this would be dangerous for Paul and also potentially damaging to his ability to teach in Jerusalem.

Now, this view of Paul was partially true, in that Paul did not believe that non-Jews should be burdened with laws and customs intended for Jews. And rightly so. He took a stance on this issue before, refusing to force his Greek companion Titus to be circumcised just to please some Jews who were not genuine followers of Christ. (Galatians 2:3-5) But Paul's teaching on this controversial issue led to a misunderstanding of what his position really was.

To compensate for this, the church leaders had Paul go with a group of men who had taken a Jewish ceremonial vow requiring a purification ritual and temple sacrifices. Paul was to undergo the ritual as well and pay for the animals to be sacrificed for the other men, as a strong sign of support for this Jewish ceremony. (v.22-26)

Many Christians have, with often good intentions, tried to "shepherd" geeks away from their geekiness to live a more "normal" Christian lifestyle. (The classic example of "Christians Vs. Dungeons and Dragons" comes to mind.) If you've been following these "In Search Of Truth" posts for awhile, you know I believe we have incredible freedom as geeks, regarding what we enjoy and the geeky things we pursue. But this freedom should not be used carelessly. As Paul demonstrates, our freedom should be exercised with sensitivity toward others, with the highest priority given to serving and loving God while loving and leading others to truth.

Paul's act of conformity wasn't a compromise of the Christ-given freedom he had from the Jewish law, however. The leaders were not asking Paul or anyone else to advocate legalism. In fact, the church leaders sent a letter to the Gentile believers instructing them only to avoid a few key areas (in addition to following Christ's teachings) that could lead to self-destructive behavior and turning away from God.

For Greeks in particular, idols, consuming blood or strangled animals, and sexual immorality were all associated with pagan rituals. Greeks were immersed in pagan culture, and so this seems to be a warning to stay away from activities and sins that would tempt them to return to the worship of false gods.

This is good advice for us geeks today. If there is some kind of geeky activity that stimulates in us a tendency to sin or make God a lower priority, we should draw the line then and there. At that point we should determine to either learn to enjoy that thing in a more limited capacity, take a break from it until we more effectively get our priorities in line with God's, or remove it from our lives altogether.

Next- A Prophecy Fulfilled, Paul In Danger

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