Keeping the Peace
Intro: Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Paul refers to God as the “God of all peace.” If the only peace people get from you is a piece of your mind, then maybe this message is for you. Regardless, we all need peace w/ God, others, and ourselves. In our text Paul’s actions promote peace in the church. He was high profile, but what about us? What influence do we have on peace among members of the body of Christ?
Prop: Our words and actions have a direct impact on the unity of the church.
Interrogative: In light of this, what can we do to promote peace in God’s family?
TS: Let’s take a look at some simple keys for keeping the peace.
I. We Keep the Peace by Praising God for His Work among Us (Acts 21:16-20a)
16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. 17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers 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.
-Praise fosters peace. We often talk about some of the other benefits of praise (it results in joy, it gives credit where it is due, praise lifts us above our circumstances, and so on). We could talk a lot about the many benefits of praise, but let’s just focus in on this one area. Praise helps promote peace among believers. Praise is the natural positive expression that comes from a believer when they see God at work around them. How does this affect the relationships Christians have with one another?
-Well, one way to look at it is to ask what praise is incompatible with. James comments on this in his letter to the Christians scattered around the Gentile world. Here is what he says about our words and our hearts: 9 ”With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:9-12).
-If we have a heart full of praise, then the things that are inconsistent with praise should never come out of our mouths. What is inconsistent with praise? Gossip, slander, complaining, cursing others, as James said. If we are tearing down someone else, rather than building them up, then we are spewing salt water, not fresh water. We are not making a contribution to peace, but to strife and disappointment.
-In our text, the Jewish elders were happy to hear that the gospel had effectively reached large numbers of Gentiles. They were so thrilled about God’s work among the Gentiles that they began praising the Lord, thanking Him for His free gift of forgiveness and grace that was far-reaching enough to set pagans free from their dark ways of living.
-Unfortunately, there were still some Jews who were not thrilled with the idea of Gentiles being saved without keeping the Law of Moses. It was some of these Jews who never stopped trying to make trouble for Paul, and for churches everywhere. See, they had made God’s grace “their” thing rather than God’s thing. V.19 says that Paul reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. It is important that we remember whose work it is, and who really makes it happen. The more we recognize it as God’s work among us, the more our hearts and mouths will be filled with praise for Him. And the more we praise Him together, the more peace and harmony there will be in the body of Christ.
-TS: So, let’s keep praising the Lord together for His work among us. Not just to keep the peace, but because praise is the right and natural thing for a believer to do. Another way we keep the peace ties in with humility. Sometimes we think we’ve got everything figured out, so we don’t really listen to what the Lord is saying to us through other believers. It takes humility to realize that other believers might actually have some wise counsel for us to follow.
II. We Keep the Peace by Listening to other Believers (Acts 21:20b-23a)
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.
-Thousands of Jewish believers now lived in the Jerusalem area. They were still devout followers of the Law of Moses, but they did not rely on the Law for their salvation. They had placed their trust in Jesus (Yeshua ha Mashiach), and were trusting Him for their forgiveness and right standing with God. Unfortunately, there were still some Jews who had it out for Paul and were telling these believers that Paul was forsaking the Jewish way of life and teaching other Jews to do the same. It was a lie, but it was still damaging to Paul and his ministry among Jews. Paul continued to honor the Law of Moses. Paul was not “anti-Law.” The only time he appears to oppose the Law is when the interpretation or application of it conflicts with the good news about Jesus.
-So, the accusation that Paul was teaching all Jews who lived among Gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses was completely false. Paul encouraged Jews to remain Jews and Gentiles to remain Gentiles. In fact, back in Acts 16, Paul had his young Jewish friend, Timothy, circumcised, so as not to needlessly offend the Jews living in that area. That did not mean that Timothy was saved by circumcision or keeping the Law. It just meant that he was Jewish and was able to live like a Jew. On another occasion, Paul refused to have Titus circumcised because Titus had no interest in circumcision. He was a Gentile, and did not need to become a Jew (see Galatians 2).
-Well, this whole Jew vs. Gentile conflict frequently troubled the early church, and in our text these church leaders discuss it with Paul. Basically, they tell Paul that the believing Jews have been misinformed about him, and that the peace and unity of the church is at stake. In light of this problem, they ask Paul to listen and do what they tell him. Paul humbles himself before them and listens to what they have to say. Please note that there is no mention of the apostles here. V.18 says James (the half brother of Jesus) and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were there. James certainly had some clout, having grown up with Jesus as his older brother. However, he was not one of the twelve apostles and does not appear to have received such a powerful encounter and calling, like Paul did. Paul could have resisted their counsel, challenging their authority and telling the Jews to just deal with it. But Paul loved the Church and was willing to do whatever it took to promote peace and unity within it.
-It wasn’t a huge stretch for Paul to involve himself in Jewish purification rituals and to help these Jewish men fulfill their Nazirite vows. Again, Paul was Jewish and did what Jews did. However, what these elders were asking Paul to do was no small thing.
-TS: That leads us to the final point.
III. We Keep the Peace by Making Personal Sacrifices for the Good of All (Acts 21:23b-26)
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 everybody 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.
-It is not about us being right and others being wrong. Paul certainly had the freedom to say, “No! Let them think what they want. I’m not taking some silly vow just to prove my allegiance to Jewish Law. I already know and love the Law Giver, so why should I have to prove anything about the Law?”
-Well, Paul did care about the Law of Moses. He says that the Law is good, not evil. And as a Jew, Paul followed the Law, unless there was a conflict between it and what God was calling Him to do. It was okay for Paul to be Jewish and to adhere to the traditions and customs he had inherited due to his ethnicity.
-If you are a Jew, God wants you to be a Jew, and love Him passionately in the way a Jew might worship. If you are a Gentile, God wants you to love Him passionately in the way a Gentile might worship. When we receive the good news about Jesus, God does not ask us to stop being who we were born to be. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about this: 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
-So, what personal sacrifice did Paul make here? Doing what a Jew would do was not a sacrifice to him. It was who he was. However, there is every indication that Paul personally paid for these 4 other men to complete their vows. When Paul came to Jerusalem, it is likely that he and his companions brought a sizable offering they had collected from several other churches along the way. There is no indication that Paul used any of this to pay for these vows. So, how much did this cost him personally? I cannot give you an exact figure, but those who took a Nazirite vow normally did so for a month, and then offered three animals (a male & female lamb, and a ram). In addition they offered a grain offering, a drink offering, and a basket of bread. It may have been the equivalent of a few hundred dollars per person. Would you be willing to part with $600-$800 to preserve the peace with other believers? Sure, you can’t buy peace, but if you needed to do something costly in order to promote unity in the body of Christ, would you be willing to do it?
-Paul was more than willing to make this personal sacrifice and more for the sake of peace and unity among the followers of Jesus. Maybe you don’t have $800 to promote peace among the followers of Jesus. But I would venture to guess that there is something you can do. You can be a peacemaker to those in your circle of influence. You can be a team player instead of trying to be the Lone Ranger. You can pray for peace and unity among the Christians you know. You can avoid gossip at all costs. You can defend the reputations of other believers when you hear them being slandered or gossiped about. It may require a personal sacrifice. You may sacrifice your approval rating from some when you oppose what they are saying about someone else. You may sacrifice time, energy, and resources, as you [Click] “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
-Let me restate the main thought of the message: Our words and actions have a direct impact on the unity of the church. If we desire to live in a way that honors God, then we’d better place a very high premium on promoting unity within His church. It’s not about me. It’s about Christ in me and you. It’s about Christ in us, changing our selfish natures to loving ones. It’s about Christ in us, teaching us not to repay evil with evil, but to move in the opposite spirit and show genuine kindness – even to those who wrong us. I know that sounds kind of radical, but it’s another of Paul’s words to the church, and is found in Romans 12:16-18, and we will close with this: 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Conclusion: We can live at peace by Praising God for His Work among Us. We can live at peace by Listening to other Believers. We can live at peace by Making Personal Sacrifices for the Good of All.
-St. Francis of Assissi wrote these words as a prayer:
Lord make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there’s despair let me sow hope
Where there is darkness light
Where there is sadness let me sow joy
Lord grant that I not seek so much to be consoled, as to console
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life
Lord make me an instrument of Your peace
I hope that becomes your prayer today. God doesn’t require uniformity, but He does want unity and peace in His family. Let’s all do everything we can to let the peace of God guard not only our hearts and minds, but our words and our deeds, as we keep the peace in the family of God. Let’s pray.