Thursday, May 16, 2013

Clearing Up Misconceptions

Today is the fourth day of our nineteenth week, reading the Bible through in a year together.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Samuel 1-2; 1 Chronicles 11; Act 21; Psalms 96, 106

In Acts 21, we read about Paul clearing up misconceptions about his ministry and teaching.

17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Was it true that Paul was teaching Jews that they should forsake their Jewish identity if they received Jesus as the Messiah?  Certainly not!  Paul was more Jewish than many of the Jews to whom he ministered.  He had a rich Jewish heritage, was a student of the famous teacher Gamaliel, and was zealous for the law.  But his teachings that Christ gives us freedom from the bondage to the law had confused people.  Paul believed that for Jews to keep the law was good, but bondage to the law was a problem.  Further, he taught that Gentiles did not have to adopt Jewish practices in order to become Christian.  So misconceptions about his ministry arose among many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

So the brothers encouraged Paul to clear up the misconception by showing his loyalty to Jewish tradition.  He did this by paying for the haircuts of four young men who took a Nazarite vow.  (Click on this article to read about one man who made a contemporary Nazarite vow.  Interesting.)

Sometimes, you have to go out of your way in order to clear up misconceptions.  Even when you think that people are being silly or misinformed or even ridiculous.  The unity of the body of Christ is so valuable that we need to keep it even if it means we have to go to extraordinary measures.  Jesus tells us not to become a stumbling block to "little ones" (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42).  Clearly, the Lord was referring to children, but I believe He also meant those who are immature in their faith.  Paul argued that we shouldn't allow our freedom to impede someone else's weak understanding.  “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says:     

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Today I wonder--is there any place in your life that has caused misconceptions and barriers to someone else's faith?  Don't let your freedom become a stumbling block to others.  Take the time to clear up any misconceptions that people might have.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:3, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

A Nazarite Haircutting Ceremony

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