“And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” (Acts 18:18) This is possibly one of the most intriguing verses in the book of Acts. Setting it in context will help greatly with understanding it. According to verse 11, Paul had spent 18 months in the city of Corinth, beginning his ministry in the Jewish synagogue, but then beginning a church right next door when he was no longer received by the Jews. At the end of his time in Corinth, the Jews tried to bring Paul before Gallio, the deputy of the region. Their charge was that Paul was teaching people to worship God against the law. Apparently, the law being referred to was the law of Moses, not civil law, because Gallio responded that he would not hear the case if it were a matter of “their law.” After this incident, Luke records that Paul “tarried there yet a good while,” and then departed after he had shaved. The reason for his shaving was not his everyday personal grooming habits, but he had taken a vow. Apparently this was a Nazarite vow which generally lasted for a period of 30 days where a Jewish man would not cut his hair. If this be the case, then the time of him taking the vow would be the time when the Jews were accusing him of violating Jewish law. Why the vow? After all, Paul was now a Christian and Jewish law was not in force over him?
In determining whether to do something or not to do something, there are 3 questions that we should ask ourselves that will guide us into a right determination. The first question deals with legalities or morality. Is what I am contemplating doing something that I am obligated by God to do or prohibited by God from doing. In that it is the will of God to obey every law of man (as long as it obviously does not violate the law of God) obedience to civil government is ultimately then, obedience to God. It is a simple matter then that if the action considered is an ungodly act, there is no need to further consider doing it. As for Paul, there was no law compelling him to take a Nazarite vow, but neither was a law prohibiting it.
The second question is a matter of necessity and its answer may not be as black and white as the first. The question may be stated in this manner: Must I engage in a particular action in order to accomplish a desired goal or are the others ways in which the goal can be obtained? Sometimes there is only one way of doing things (of course that is “my way”). But most of the time there are multiple ways of accomplishing a desired goal. The question then may simply be a matter of which is the best way. But multiple factors may go into determining “best” so your best may not be my best. For Paul, there was n necessity of taking a Nazarite vow, but I believe that he believed it was the best testimony he could have before the Jews in his defense of their accusations.
This brings me to the third question. What will I or others profit from doing this activity? This question is also a difficult question to answer at times. Sometimes the profit of participating in an activity is not immediate and/or immediately recognizable. In similar fashion, any ill effects of an action may not occur immediately. If we do not perceive that there will be a benefit to doing something, we will tend not to do it. But if the benefit is not immediate and we decide not to participate, we may regret our actions later. for Paul, it does not appear that there was a great benefit in reference to the Jews, but at least he could have peace in his own soul, knowing that he had tried as best as he was able to testify to them.
In answering these three questions, I believe you will have a faithful guide in deciding, should I or shouldn’t I?