Acts 21:15–25 (NKJV)
15 And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.Acts 21:15-25
17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Paul makes his way back to Jerusalem with many he had met along the missionary journey, and with his team. He is well-received by brothers in the Christian faith, and met with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. They rejoiced over the souls that had been saved and the churches established. However, they had heard rumblings among Jewish Christians who felt that Paul had completely abandoned his Jewish beliefs and was teaching Gentiles to do so as well. James encouraged him to take a vow, shave his head, and take others with him who would do the same at the feast time. This was not unusual to expect of a Jew at a feast time. The feeling was that this would be an olive branch of sorts to the Jews in Jerusalem. It would prove that Paul still walked orderly and kept the law. The Jerusalem church would still honor the agreement from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, but James was simply trying to help Paul avoid confrontation.
While James was offering some wise advice, the question arises in one’s mind as to the validity of the request and the presumed response of Paul. Paul would take the advice of James, and longed to keep peace with the Jews. However, should he be required to live by the rules and regulations of the Jewish faith when the Spirit had shown that these pious laws were not necessary in light of the sacrifice of Christ? What should we do when confronted with what could be considered legalism? Biblical teaching offers the admonition that we should not knowingly offend those with more traditional sensitivities. Don’t let you liberty become a stumbling block to others. At the same time, though, it should not happen that the traditions and personal convictions of others should cause an individual to live in a super-Biblical set of restrictions because someone else feels comfortable there. We need to find a place of agreement and work together in that place. Be who you are and live your convictions. Don’t flaunt them, and where possible, do not offend. Paul spoke of becoming all things to all men that he might at least win some. You still may get ostracized. You may still be labeled. Do what you can to keep the peace. God can handle the rest. In other words, “Play nice, Paul.” In so doing, you may win multitudes, and all God’s people can stand hand in hand.