"'We’re worried about what will happen when they discover you’re in town. There’s bound to be trouble. So here is what we want you to do. There are four men from our company who have taken a vow involving ritual purification, but have no money to pay the expenses. Join these men in their vows and pay their expenses. Then it will become obvious to everyone that there is nothing to the rumours going around about you and that you are in fact scrupulous in your reverence for the laws of Moses.
"'In asking you to do this, we're not going back on our agreement regarding Gentiles who have become believers. We continue to hold fast to what we wrote in that letter, namely, to be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; to avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians; to guard the morality of sex and marriage.'
"So Paul did it -- took the men, joined them in their vows, and paid their way. The next day he went to the temple to make it official and stay there until the proper sacrifices had been offered and completed for each of them." Acts 21:25-26 (The Message).
Really, Paul! A few days before, you spoke such noble words. You were not concerned about your safety -- you only wanted to be obedient to the Lord. And now this! Vows! Sacrifice! Was this what God wanted you to do or was this just human wisdom and bad advice? Look at the outcome. Did it work for you?
Paul was just as human as we are and, in a moment of fear, tried to duck out of what he knew was coming. By associating himself with men who were still following old ways, was he compromising on the very thing he was so earnest about defending? Since Jesus was an all-sufficient Saviour, what place did vows and sacrifice have in his life any longer, especially as he was simply going along with others and not acting out of his own conviction?
It is easy to have noble intentions when we are not in the thick of difficult or dangerous circumstances. We know what we would say or do but, when it comes to the moment, it takes great courage to carry out our resolve and not to cower and back down. Have you noticed how easy it is to rehearse in your mind what you would say or do, for example, when you have to confront someone with a confession of guilt, or with the truth? When the time comes, and you are in a face-to-face situation, your courage fails and all the things you wanted to say evaporate from your mind like the morning mist!
Perhaps Paul was eager to concur because his fellow believers were far more aware of the danger of his situation than he was. For a moment he had forgotten that his life was in the hands of God, and that he still had a purpose to serve, even in the circumstances that lay ahead for him.
The Holy Spirit had forewarned him to prepare him so that he would not be caught off guard. A little deception to put his old adversaries off the scent was not going to change God's plan for him. Whether his plan worked or not, Paul was a marked man, not marked by men but by God because He wanted him to testify to His grace in Rome also. Paul may not have liked the process that got him there, but God needed him in the very precincts of the palace itself so that the message of Jesus would not only be spoken but lived out in the presence of the highest authorities in the land.
What might have looked like a tragedy in his eyes was a triumph and an honour for a man like Paul. Once he got his perspective right, he would rise to the occasion, correct his wobble, and become exactly what his Master intended for him to be -- a beacon of hope for Rome also, and a source of knowledge, strength and comfort for the recipients of the letters he was able to write at his leisure, right down to the present.
"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone, that I am in chains for Christ, Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV).
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