Summary: Cooperation is necessary for the protection of unity in the church.
Paul was a great statesman for the faith. When we think of Paul we normally think of a man of unwavering faith, firm resolve, and unshakeable courage. One virtue which may not come to mind as quickly is Paul’s humility, gentleness and willingness to abase himself for the sake of the gospel. All of Paul’s accomplishments, knowledge and miraculous ministry could have gone to his head, but it did not. In fact Paul had a very humble self image as we see by the way he referred to himself.
• I am the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9)
• Who am less than the least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8)
• I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)
In our text this morning we see a prime example of his willingness to cooperate and compromise in order to keep the church from being torn over a sensitive issue.
The account begins when Paul and company arrive in Jerusalem. Let’s look first at his welcome reception.
I. Paul’s Welcome Reception (17-20a)
A. The Jerusalem brethren received him gladly (17)
1. Possibly meeting in the home of Mnason or James.
2. Mnason’s Greek name suggests he was a Hellenistic Jew and would have felt more comfortable with Paul’s Gentile traveling companions.
B. Paul humbly reports God’s powerful work among the Gentiles (18-19)
1. Significant change in leadership in the Jerusalem church. When it began it was ruled by the apostles. The mention of James and the elders signals that the growth of the church had made multiple local spiritual leaders a necessity. (18)
2. Paul relates one by one the things God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. (19)
3. He does not boast, but attributes the work to God. Paul humbly gives all the credit to God.
C. The elders’ joyful response (20a)
1. Paul’s humble attitude prompted an appropriate response.
a. They glorified God.
2. We must always give God the credit.
a. Humility in leadership can be achieved if one learns to view his role as a simple service to others. Indeed, this is the very essence of leadership: giving energy, not receiving it. And perhaps the surest way to ensure such an outward flow of energy is to think of oneself always as serving one’s subordinates. Finally, and (provided you have the faith) most helpful of all: See God as the doer. Give him the credit for any good that you do. Offer your work as a service to Him
(SOURCE: J. Donald Walters. The Art of Leadership. New York: MJF Books, 1987. p65-66.)
II. The Elders’ Concern For the Unity of the Church (20b-22)
A. The elders’ praise to God is mixed with concern.
1. Many Jewish believers were zealots for the Law of Moses. Why were many still hanging on to the customs and rituals of the O.T.?
a. Because those customs and rituals had been established by God. Coming to Christ would have given them even more zeal for the customs they grew up with since they now understood their true meaning.
b. The apostles and other leaders in the Jerusalem church did not oppose the continuation of these practices.
c. God himself was tolerant during this period of transition. Eventually the Gentile church would become predominant.
B. The Elders recount to Paul the rumor among the zealous Jews. (21)
1. These were more than rumors.
a. “are informed” – We get our English word catechism from this Greek word. People were being indoctrinated by the Judaizers.
2. These rumors were false.
a. Paul never opposed circumcision for Jewish believers.
1. Timothy (Acts 16:1-3)
b. If Paul taught others not to observe others not to keep the traditions why did he take a Nazarite vow? (Acts 18:18)
C. False or not the threat had to be dealt with. (22)
1. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem could not be kept secret.
2. There would be an uprising if the situation was not dealt with properly.
III. Paul Responds by Cooperating With the Church Leaders (23-26)
A. A compromise is suggested (23-24)
1. Pay the expenses of four men who had a vow of Nazariteship.
2. “purify thyself” – To be made ceremonially clean. Paul would probably have been considered ceremonially unclean by the zealous Jews because of his contact with Gentiles.
3. “be at charges” – lit. “to expend”, i.e., to incur cost. Paul is asked to pay the cost for the four men to have their heads shaved and probably the sacrifices that went along with it at the end of their vow.
4. Even though Paul knew he did not have to keep the ceremonial law to be right with God, to do so would be a gesture toward the Jews and would go a long way toward dispelling rumors.