Misunderstanding (Acts 21:20-26)

Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” (Acts 21:20–21, AV)

Years ago, I started a small consulting business in the printing and paper converting business. I set the corporation up with two officers, my wife and me. I held the position of the president and treasurer. My wife was the secretary. One day It got out as a cute little joke that I was sleeping with my secretary. Well, of course, my wife was technically my secretary. However, the little joke got outside the circle of those who knew the full details in our church. Some were shocked, thinking that I was being unfaithful to my wife. It became a bit embarrassing and I had to go to extensive measures to clear up the misunderstanding. Once I explained the joke, everyone settled down and things went back to normal.

Misunderstandings often occur. Many of these happen when people see or overhear things. Often, they misconstrue what they hear or see. In these cases, extraordinary actions become necessary. This is the situation that Paul faced when he returned to Jerusalem.

It was the time of the feast of Pentecost. There were many Jews in the city for the feast. Paul met with the church leaders in Jerusalem and reported what God had done through his ministry in the Gentile regions. There were many Jews in the city who became believers in Jesus and there were a large number who did not believe. However, the ones in the city who were believers had heard that Paul taught the Jews who were in the Gentile regions to forsake the law of Moses. Yet, this was not the case.

It is true that Jesus taught that circumcision and following the Jewish customs was inconsequential as far as the faith was concerned. He preached that justification was by faith alone and not by legalistic obedience to the law. However, he did not teach the Jews that they must not circumcise their sons or disregard the Jewish customs. Yet, this is what many of the Jewish believers understood.

To resolve this problem, the Jerusalem church leaders advised Paul to join with four men who were under a Nazarite vow (Num 6:13-17) and go through the rite of purification with them and pay their expenses (v22-25). Paul, himself, was under such a vow (Acts 18:18) so it was appropriate for him, as a Jewish believer, to join these four men. The church leaders believed this would demonstrate to the many Jewish believers that Paul did not teach Jewish believers to forsake the teachings of the Scriptures. Paul did as the leaders requested (v26).

The main point there is that often we will see that people will jump to conclusions about what we do and often these conclusions may be incorrect. They are misunderstandings. When we identify such misunderstandings, it is vital to take the appropriate actions to clarify things. To leave them unchecked may lead to a further broadening of the misunderstanding to larger groups of people and have possible devastating effects. In setting the record straight, it is not about being defensive of one’s position. It is about clarifying one’s actions and demonstrating a Christian walk that reflects highly upon who one is as a child of the living God.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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