17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Paul has now made it to Jerusalem. He is greeted warmly and gets to spend time telling of all that God has done amongst the Gentiles. Notice, as our author has done in previous passages, Luke emphasizes the work of God through people. It is not Paul that led so many people to follow Jesus, it is God working through Paul.
While James and the elders of the Jerusalem church are excited about the many converts, they also have concerns for Paul. They explain that the Jewish Christians are still very committed to the law (the many rules, customs, and rituals in place meant to help one be obedient to God). There are ominous charges against Paul stating that he has been dissuading Jewish followers of Christ from observing the law. There is no record of this in our accounts of Paul, though this issue would have undoubtedly come up as the Gentiles joined with Jewish Christians in the churches outside Jerusalem. The reader can assume that because Paul went to such great lengths to demonstrate observance of the law, even having Timothy circumcised, that these are unfounded rumors. But to make sure that there is no doubt about Paul’s loyalty to his Jewish heritage (as well as to Jesus), the Jerusalem elders encourage Paul to participate in a rite of purification. Paul does not hesitate to do so, demonstrating once again his commitment to do whatever is asked of him for the cause of Jesus Christ.
We will find out if this proves to be enough as we continue reading in the days to come. But for now, I wonder if I would be as willing to go to the great lengths Paul did. He had proven himself over and over again. And now, back amongst his people, he has to fight against rumors about him again. I think I might just throw my hands up at this point and say, “Whatever I do is not enough!” Paul had to feel some frustration at being put on trial over and over again. But Luke tells us nothing of it. Only that Paul is obedient to do anything and everything it takes to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul never failed to take the high road. He continually overcame himself, his pains, desires, and frustrations to follow the path God had laid out for him. How do you react when your integrity, words, actions, mistakes, or truths, are put on trial?
Dear God, I desire to live fully into who you call me to be. Show me the steps to take every day. Give me wisdom to discern your ways and courage to follow. Let me be a light in the world drawing others to you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.