On the first day that the Apostle Paul arrived in Jerusalem, all went well. For him, it was too bad that he stayed longer than one day. With day two, things began to go downhill. When he met with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, Paul shared how God was blessing his ministry for which they all rejoiced. But then came the bad news. Thousands of Jews who had believed on Jesus Christ and who were zealous of keeping the Mosaic Law, had been told that Paul was teaching the Jews to forsake Moses. This was a report that had some truth to it but was misleading. Paul did not require the Gentiles to keep the Law, nor was he requiring the Jews who had trusted Christ to observe the Law. He was not though, telling the Jewish believers to forsake the Law.
The leaders in Jerusalem were afraid that when these believers in the city heard that Paul was in town, trouble would be on hand. Consequently they devised a plan to make Paul look good in the people’s eyes. There were four men who had taken a Nazarite vow and were unable to fulfill it. The Mosaic Law required a time of purification to be followed with a sacrifice for each man. The leaders urged Paul to pay for the sacrifices of these men, an act that was viewed by Jewish people as a tremendous gesture of love toward people and honoring to the Law. Paul agreed to do so. Good ends do not justify poor means, nor do bad ends invalidate good means. But this turned out poorly for Paul. And I believe that in this case, he and the leaders of the Jerusalem church were wrong in doing what they did.
The Book of Acts is a history book of the transition time from life under the Mosaic Law to life under the rule of God’s grace. Certainly no one expected that on the Day of Pentecost the believers would fully understand that the Law had been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and the keeping of it was no longer necessary. But 29 years had passed since then. You would think in that time they might have gotten a handle on the situation.
By the time this situation came about, Paul had written the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians. Both of these books of the Bible had a strong message of the Law’s fulfillment and how it no longer had rule in the believer’s life. When people received Paul’s writings, they received it as the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). If the people recognized Paul’s writings as having the authority of God, certainly Paul understood that what he wrote was the same. Why didn’t he just preach the Word? (2 Timothy 4:2).
What the Jerusalem believers needed was to grow in grace and knowledge of God. Being coddled and allowed to continue in their zeal for the Law was not good. It was as if these 29 year-old believers were walking around with spiritual pacifiers. The pacifier is fine for an infant, but certainly not for an adult. The problem was that no one wanted to take it away for if they did, a temper tantrum would probably have occurred. Sometimes, you just need to suck it up and do what is right.
Because Paul tried to avoid preaching the truth in order not to offend, he ended up having to suffer the consequences. When the Jerusalem Christians saw Paul in the Temple, they thought he had brought in some Greeks who had no business being there according to the Law. Paul was hauled off to jail and eventually to Rome for imprisonment. If only he had preached the truth. But wait! Before I get too sanctimonious, there are a lot of tough decisions we all must make from day to day. And generally speaking, most people try not to offend others in their choices if it is not necessary. So when you have a decision to make and there does not seem to be a “good” option, choose truth. Even if you need to suffer for it, it will be worth it.