Paul the Apostle – Wayne Barber/Part 12
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|Paul had a message that he not only preached, but he had a message that he lived before others. This is what I want you to see more than anything else. His message was the message of the life-changing grace of God. By the way he lived, you see how he was definitely changed by that very message.|
Ephesians 1:1; Acts 21:15-26
Paul: The Messenger – Part 1
Turn with me to Acts 21. Paul has basically concluded his third missionary journey. We are going to begin a new adventure with him. We are going to start looking at verse 15 and go down through verse 26. We have seen Paul, the man. We have seen Paul, the missionary. Now we are going to begin looking at Paul, the messenger. Paul had a message that he not only preached, but he had a message that he lived before others. This is what I want you to see more than anything else. His message was the message of the life-changing grace of God. By the way he lived, you see how he was definitely changed by that very message.
Remember Ephesians 1:1? That is what we are introducing by all this study. It says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” That word “apostle” means “one sent forth with a message.” Oh, he had a message at one time in his life. He was a savage wolf putting everybody under the Law. But God met him on the Damascus Road, changed his message, put a new song in his life and now he is on a different adventure altogether. He is not only preaching it, he is living it before others. God has instructed him to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome.
In the last study we saw the Holy Spirit witnessing to his spirit. It’s going to be bad with bonds and afflictions. Paul just kept right on. We also saw the disciples worried about his safety. When he got to Tyre, they said, “Listen, we are witnessing out of the Spirit. It is going to be bad.” Paul climbed on the boat and kept right on going. We saw him when he came to Caesarea. The prophet Agabus came down and warned about him being seized and put into chains. Paul says in verse 13 of chapter 21, “What are you doing weeping and breaking my heart?” The men had gathered around him. Luke was included in all of this. “For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent.” We acquiesced. We just said, “Alright, so be it,” “remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’”
Verse 15 now takes us to that city. Paul finally arrives where God has told him to go. Remember, you are never going to see what God wants you to see, you are never going to a part of what God wants you to be a part of, until you learn to start accommodating yourselves to the will of God in your life. God has a purpose for you, for me and for our church just like He had for Paul, but we’ve got to be surrendered. We’ve got to be willing to cooperate fully with all that He does.
In verse 15 he finally arrives where God has instructed him. It says, “And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem.” Back in 19:21, God had told him to go here. This is not something he came up with in a committee meeting thinking they needed the message of grace. It says in verse 21, “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit.” In other words, the Spirit had spoken to him. He took what he said and placed it deep inside of his heart, which set his direction. He said to go to Jerusalem. At the end of the verse he says, “After I have been there, I must also go to Rome.”
In Acts 23:11, the Lord Jesus comforts him after he had made his stand in Jerusalem. He said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Paul is doing this because God has instructed him to do it. This was not a matter of a committee meeting. This was a matter of God, the Holy Spirit, working on a surrendered man’s heart. That’s how missions take place. Whether it is across the street or around the world, God wants to use us. However, we must be willing to accommodate ourselves to Him.
Well, this visit was not his first one to Jerusalem. It was going to prove to be the most difficult, however. One of the things that Luke, who writes Acts, does not record is the fact that part of his reasoning for going to Jerusalem was to take a gift, a contribution, that had been taken up by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to the suffering people there in Judea. That was not his only reason. It was a side venture that he was taking as he went to Jerusalem. Look at Romans 15:25, and you will see this. Remember, Romans was written in February of AD 57. We believe this journey took place in May of AD 57. Romans 15:25-27 says, “but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.” So Paul had taken a collection from the Gentile churches over to Judea. That was part of his reason for going.
However, in Acts Luke does not even bring that up. I believe that is because Luke is just so overwhelmed by the fact that Paul even goes to Jerusalem. Luke is the one who penned the gospel in Luke 9:51, which says that Jesus Himself set His face resolutely towards Jerusalem. If anyone knew the problems that Paul would have in Jerusalem, Luke knew. Luke was there when the Lord Jesus was crucified. Therefore, here in Acts he only mentions the fact that Paul went to Jerusalem. You see, Jerusalem was the place where grace confronted law. Law was deeply seated in Jerusalem. The message of grace that Paul preached was about to find a barrier and a real frustration as he gets to Jerusalem. They had no patience there. Even the Christian Jews had no patience for Paul’s message of grace to the Gentile believers. Paul knows that. I have a deep-seated conviction that is why John Mark left him. I believe John, who came out of Jerusalem, was like the rest of them. He could not handle Paul’s preaching of absolute grace to the Gentile believers. He was brought up a different way. So he checked out and went home.
There is something for all of us to remember. Once Paul became a believer and began preaching the message of grace, home was never the same. You see, Jerusalem was where he grew up. Look over in Acts 22:3. He gives his testimony before the people there that bring him before the Romans. These are Jews he is defending himself in front of, and it says in verse 3, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.” Paul had been raised up in Jerusalem. Why was it he sensed that it would be hostile for him to go back home? Because the Paul who had been raised under the teachings of the Law had been transformed by the message of grace in his life. Now he was going back to people he knew. He knew how they believed, and he knew how he felt.
I want to ask you a question. How many of you when you came to know the Lord Jesus saw a conflict arise in your family? I wonder how many of us found conflict when we came to know Jesus Christ? We understand what Paul was thinking. He was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, knowing this was where he was raised. He also knew they were not going to receive his message.
Well, things are about to get hot. Paul’s message is deeply imbedded in him. We want to see him now as a messenger, not just as one who preached the message of grace, but one who has been changed by the message of grace. I want you to see the attitude of this messenger as he goes into Jerusalem. This is what really spoke to my heart. I told my son I wrestled with this passage for almost six hours. I could not seem to grasp what was the seed truth that God wanted me to bring forth. I can figure out all the details; anybody with a mind can do that. I’ve got a little bit of one. I wanted to know, what was the message God really wanted. The more I stayed with it, and the more I stayed with it, and the more I stayed with it, the more I began to realize what God was saying. I am so excited. I’m even more fired up about this study than I was in the last study. I want to show you the attitude of a messenger, a real messenger, of the message of grace. I want you to see the transformed attitude he had.
You tell your children, “Son, you are saved by grace. You are changed by grace, and you live by grace.” Remember, grace is God’s transforming power. Are you living it before the people you are telling it to? The key to having a message transferred to others is not just in telling them. It’s in modeling it in front of them.
There are three things I want you to see about Paul’s transformed attitude. First of all, his attitude was one that was contagious. Look at verses 15-16. Have you heard about the fellow who had a boy named Johnny? One day little Johnny was told by his mama to clean up his room. Well, he wouldn’t do it. For days it went on that way. Finally, one morning he got up and did what his mother told him. She went into his room to check it out. I mean, he cleaned up the room. He found out there was actually carpet on the floor. He found out the color of that carpet. He found toys he had been looking for years for. He thought it was Christmas. Man, he was finding things that he had misplaced. It had all been stacked two feet high. He had been spanked every single day since he had been born because he wouldn’t clean up his room. Finally, one day he decided to clean up his room. I want to show you how attitude is contagious. Man, he was so proud. He left one toy out on the floor to play with, one that he hadn’t seen in years. About that time, his mother walked in. Well, his mama had a bad day. I mean, a bad, bad day. So, the mama walked in, looked over and saw the fact that his toy is laying out there on the floor. She looked at him and said, “Johnny, why in the world can’t you clean up your room?” Immediately the attitude of that little boy began to change. I mean, he had worked so hard on it all day long.
The father came home from work and wondered where his supper. The mother had been cleaning up the house instead of cooking supper. You talk about an attitude as being passed from one to another. Little Johnny sat there and man, his whole attitude had changed. After the mama walked out, he looked over in the corner and there was the old cat. The cat was laying over in the corner, and the little boy walked over. He was afraid to say anything to his daddy or anybody else. He walked over, grabbed that cat, opened up the window and said, “Get out of my life.” He threw that cat out in the alley. They said that night they had the worst cat fight in that neighborhood that they had in years. It all started with somebody’s attitude that was passed to another and passed to another.
Paul’s attitude was contagious. You can see this in verse 15. “And after these days [Watch carefully. What’s the next word?] we got ready and started on our way up to [Where?] Jerusalem.” Now, you’ve got to understand what we studied last time. If you don’t put all these scriptures together, it makes no sense. What had “we” been doing back in the earlier verses? “We,” Luke included, had been trying to talk Paul out of doing what God had put on his heart. As a matter of fact, “we” got to the point that “we” began to weep, and Paul said, “What are you doing trying to break my heart? Listen, I need to go on and do what God has told me to do.” “We” had tried to talk him out of it. It’s so similar to John 11 when the disciples did the same thing to Jesus.
They are trying to talk him out of it, but then they realized he is not going to be moved. He is not going to change. Then the contagious attitude of Paul, “I am going to obey the Lord Jesus Christ,” spread over those men. They got up, got around him and went with him into Jerusalem.
Now, there is something here that you can overlook if you are not careful. Look at verse 16. “And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us [they were also trying to talk Paul out of going up to Jerusalem], taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge.” Now be careful here. It says, “taking us” to this disciple.” You immediately think that he lives over in Jerusalem, and they are going over to where he lives in Jerusalem to stay with him. Or maybe he lives outside of Jerusalem, and they are going to spend the night with him. That’s not the Greek there. The Greek doesn’t say, “take us to him,” it says “bringing along with us this man.” In other words, they brought him along.
Now he is an old-timer. This will bless your heart if you will hang in there with me. Here’s the apostle Paul. He said, “I am going to where God told me to go.” Here are the people of Caesarea who tried to talk him out of it. “We are going with you. We are going with you.” That attitude seems to be so contagious. Here is an old-timer who says, “Hey, man. Count me in. I’ve got a house over in Jerusalem. Come on, let me go with you.” He goes to Jerusalem with them, and that’s where they stay when they get to Jerusalem.
There are four things we know about this old-timer. First of all, his name. I’m not going to try that again. Secondly, he is from Cyprus. Who else is was from Cyprus that we have studied? Thirdly, he is an old-timer. The word “long-standing” is actually the word for ancient. Now you get the idea here. Think with me. He’s old. I don’t know what old is to them, but he is old. I mean, he is over the hill. Here is an old-timer. He’s been a disciple for a long time. They go get him and bring him along with them and take him over to Jerusalem. The fourth thing we know about him is he has a house in Jerusalem.
You know, a chill just bumps on me thinking about this old timer. He has been a disciple for the Lord Jesus all this time, and all of a sudden one day, the apostle Paul comes in, and he finds out what is going on. Evidently, he was in the crowd and knew what was happening, and he has a house over in Jerusalem. He may have been one of them that tried to talk Paul out of doing what God had before him. Paul would not be talked out of it, so all of them jump on the band wagon with Paul. I can just see him now. “Come on guys, let me go with you.” Instead of retiring, he refires. I mean, he just gets excited about doing the will of God in his life.
There was a lady that came to me in one church that I pastored. First of all, she told me one day, “You are the first preacher that’s ever taught me that the Holy Spirit of God lives inside of me.” She was 84 years old! She had sat in a Southern Baptist Church all of her life and didn’t even know that the Holy Spirit of God dwells in the hearts and lives of people who receive the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve never seen anybody get any more excited in all of my days.
She was the funniest little lady. I’d ride by her house, and I’d wave at her. She was so old, she wouldn’t turn around and wave back at me. She did not want to start an ugly rumor in the town. Eight-four years old! I said, “Why didn’t you wave at me?” She said, “I don’t want to start rumors in this town.” One day nobody came to pick her up at the church. I said, “Hey, you just live right around the corner from me. Let me take you home.” “No, sir. Your wife is not with you, and we are not going to start any talk around this place.” Eighty-four years old!
She came to me one day and said, “Would you teach me how to study my Bible?” I began to show her how to get into the Word of God. Man, I would look for her every Sunday because she just beamed. Eighty-four! Man, life to her was better than it had ever been before! She came up to me one day during the invitation and what she said just broke my heart. I was waiting for the young couples to come down. It was just one of those moving times in a service. Instead of the young people coming, instead of all the young couples, this little old 84 year old lady struggled out of her seat, and came down to me. She put her arms around me and said, “Brother Wayne, I don’t know what I can do. I am so old, but I want to tell you, if you think of anything, will you please let me know. I am just abandoned to do whatever God wants me to do in these last days on this earth.”
I want to ask you something, friend. Are you living the kind of life that causes even the old people to get excited about Jesus? Are you living the kind of life that is so contagious that people around you want to get on the bandwagon? They don’t want to miss what God is doing. That is the message of grace. You can tell people until you fall over on the floor that you don’t get to heaven by obeying the Law. You get to heaven by grace. By grace are you saved through faith. But I want to tell you, you will never show them anything different until you start being changed by that same message. When they start seeing somebody who they knew really couldn’t before, start living that way all of a sudden, they know it is not because of them. It is because of Christ living in them. They begin to realize, “You know what? There is something to this.” That attitude begins to get contagious. That old negative, “Don’t go, Paul, don’t go,” just changes, automatically changes. “I’m going.” “Okay, buddy, we are going with you.”
That’s the whole contagious message a man has with grace. It is not what you preach. It’s how you live before others. I guess that does more damage in my spirit than anything else. I know that my reputation is what you think I am; my character is what my wife knows that I am. I can act it before you. But listen, she knows the valleys I walk through. She knows the hurts and weaknesses I have in my life. She knows better than anybody else whether or not the message of grace has changed me. I’ve got to live it that way. My kids know the same thing.
Folks, listen. Who do we think we are kidding? You can tell your kids to live a certain way, and if you are not living it in front of them, you haven’t modeled anything about grace. Grace is God’s transforming power. It not only changes you on the inside, it changes your attitude. It will make it contagious to where people around you are going to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter to me either what’s going to happen. If he is willing to go, I am willing to go.” They get right in there with what God is up to in their own life. An old-timer got turned around because of the contagious attitude of Paul’s message of grace.
Secondly, his attitude was not only one that was contagious, it was one that was humble. Look at verses 17-20a. “And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” The word “received” there really doesn’t require “gladly” after it. There are two words for “received.” The word used here is the Greek word decomai. It is the word that means “to receive with eagerness.”
There is another word for received that means “ah, I’ll take it.” Let me explain the difference to you. I am in a store shopping for someone. I make the mistake of telling the clerk who I’m trying to buy a gift for. I don’t know it, but that person is in the same store on the other side of the counter. He hears everything I’m saying. He says, “Wayne is buying me a gift?” He follows me around. I don’t know this. He is real good at hiding himself. He comes around and sees me pay for it. Now that’s what grabs him. He can’t really see what it is because some people are in the way, but he hears how much it costs, $200! The lady at the counter asks, “When are you going to take it to him?” “I think I’ll drop by unexpectedly this afternoon about 2:00.” It is about 11:00 at that time. Boy, he just vanishes right out of the place. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, he is gone, and he gets home.
What does he do? Nothing the rest of the day. He gets a chair, sits it behind his front door, right there in the foyer, and waits on me to come at 2:00. When 2:00 rolls around, I walk up to the door. As I am about ready to knock, he opens the door, and I about fall all the way into the foyer. I say, “Well, I didn’t know you were here.” “Oh, yeah. Been here most of the day.” “Well, I have a gift for you.” “You do? Let me see it?” He takes the gift. He receives it, but he receives it with eagerness. He is looking forward to seeing what it is. That is the word decomai.
As a matter of fact, over in Acts 17:11-12, when Paul goes into Berea, it talked about the same thing. They were more “noble-minded.” The word means they had more class than the other churches he was at because they received the word, the same word, with great eagerness. He didn’t have to put that extra phrase in there because that’s what the word implies. The word “gladly” is a beautiful Greek word. It means “gladly.” You don’t need it. They received us with gladness, with eagerness, with joy.
Now, let’s move on. Paul was such a contagious person. Let’s look in verse 18. “And now the following day Paul went in with us to James [Remember James? He is the head elder in the church at Jerusalem] and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them.” I want you to note here what he says to them, because it is very, very important. You see, they received him also, just as eagerly and with as much gladness as did the brethren when he first got there. We don’t know who those brethren are in verse 17. They are probably some very dear friends, those that had come to know the Lord Jesus through the message of grace. They are certainly not in the same category as the ones we are going to look at. They certainly were close to Paul.
The elders of the church, the leadership, receive him and receive him gladly. “And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles [How?] through his ministry.” That’s a very, very important point. Sometimes we read that and skip right over it.
Listen, there were days in which he did something. Go back and read Philippians 3 sometime and look at his pedigree and what he used to say. He didn’t used to say, “God did” anything. He used to say, “I did it. I was a Pharisee. I lived according to the Law.” God’s message of grace had now transformed him, even in his old attitude towards himself. He doesn’t say that anymore. He says, “I want to share the things that God, not me, has done through me and through the ministry that God has given to me.” That’s the key. The secret of humility is when God gets the glory and you don’t. No wonder they rejoiced with him. Look at the result of it in verse 20: “And when they heard it,” What did they hear? What God had done, not what Paul had done. They did what do? “they began glorifying God.”
I’ve about come to the conclusion that people are not impressed with what man can do except in America. I honestly believe that. All that seems to be in the magazines I get from mission organizations and denominations is “What we have done. What we have done. What Southern Baptists have done. What Presbyterians have done.” That’s nothing more than the height of that old flesh. It is not what anybody has done. It is what the Lord Jesus has been allowed to do through that individual who has become a conduit. Then God could use him to carry out His own ministry. The humility was marked in Paul by the fact he took no credit or glory for anything that had taken place. He only shared what God had done in and through him.
I have a prayer for our church that we will never rejoice over that which man has done. We will only rejoice over what God has done through those humble enough to allow Him to do it. Marilyn Lazlo, the missionary to Papua New Guinea, was in our church recently. I want to tell you, folks, that still rings in my mind. I can’t get away from it. I was so impressed. I saw her sitting in the pew, and it just overwhelmed me to realize that little lady just said “yes” to God. She was scared to death of bugs and snakes, and that’s all they’ve got down there. She went all the way down to Papua New Guinea. When I saw those natives up on the platform. Oh, I know I’ve brought it up before; I’ll probably bring it up again because it just done something to my mind that won’t go away. The essence of humility was, she didn’t stand up and say, “Look at what I have done.” She was overwhelmed with the fact of what God had been allowed to do by her proper response to do what He told her to do. That’s the key.
Paul’s attitude was not only contagious. Paul’s attitude was humble. That’s a transformed attitude. That’s what grace does in an individual’s life. That’s a message that we preach, but folks, listen; if it’s not in our life, everybody around you knows it. Who do you work with? Who do you live with? Who do you run with? How are they affected by your lifestyle? How are they affected by your attitude? Is the fact that they don’t see it modeled in your life the reason they don’t want to hear what you have to say? We’ve been transformed. We are just uniquely different. It’s absolutely contagious. We even cause older folks to get refired and want to go on and do what God wants them to do for Jesus. Not only that, we are humble in the fact that we don’t give credit or glory to ourselves. We give it to Him.
There is one more thing about his attitude. This was the hardest point. It took me forever to figure out what was going on. Not only was his attitude one that was contagious and not only was his attitude one that was humble, but his attitude was one that was submissive. That’s very, very important. If you study Paul’s life before he became a believer you won’t see a whole lot of submission in him. Buddy, he had the bull by the horns, and he was going to do what he thought right. Absolutely nobody was going to get in his way. Now, you’ve got a different man transformed by the grace of God. He’s still just as zealous to do the will of God, but now he is transformed in his whole attitude and manner as to how he approaches all of that.
There is a huge problem that is going to face Paul. The elders are going to break it to him here in this passage. It seems, verse 20 tells us, that there have been a number of Jews come to know Christ. They glorified God for the Gentiles that had come to know the Lord. Then it says, “and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands,’” the word “thousands” there means “tens of thousands.” It’s a Greek idiom which means “a great number.” I guess they were like we are today. “How many did you have in church yesterday?” “Oh, about ten thousand, ministerially speaking.” “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.” In other words they were saying, “There are a great number of your fellow people, Paul.” Remember Paul said in Romans he had a burden to see his own people come to know Christ. They glorified the Gentiles coming to know Christ.
Now Paul in his self certainly was glorifying that his own fellow kinsmen were coming to know Christ. But now, watch: “and they are all zealous for the Law.” Uh-oh! This is going to be a stumbling-block for some of you if you don’t walk through it carefully. The word “zealous” is a Greek word zelotes. The word refers to one who is eagerly desirous of something. It comes from the word for “fire, fiery.” I mean they were fired up about the Law. That would be a good way to put it. These were believing Jews who were still fired up about the Law. Now, the question comes. How in the world can they be believers, transformed by grace, and still be zealous for the Law? I’ve got a real profound answer: I don’t know!
How many people do you know who are believers and are so legalistic they could squeak when they walk? How many people do you know like that? Listen, they walk around carrying a note pad trying to find out whose hair is over their ears. They are trying to find out what woman wore slacks to church tonight. They are trying to find out what you did this past week. Did you watch a video movie in your house? Put that down and check it five times. Have you been to a movie theater? Put that down. That’s all they live for. Rules, rules, rules. Are they Christians? I believe most of them are. Well, how can they be believers and still be up under the Law? Friend, the message of grace doesn’t completely transform you. If it did, in the sense of forever, we would just be taken out of here the moment you get saved. There’s a sanctifying experience going on here. It takes a while for that message to continue to work in our lives. There are changes that need to be made 50 years down the road and 80 years down the road.
These are young Christians we’re talking about here in Acts. They still are fired up about the Law. Now, evidently we don’t understand a whole lot about their culture, or how they felt about the Law, or how they felt about their own race. We talk about blacks and whites. We talk about the people over in Yugoslavia trying to ethnically cleanse their country of the Muslims and we think, “How horrible!” It’s the same thing in Jerusalem. They had the same prejudices. They didn’t want to get near a Gentile. They were still zealous for the Law. They were still somebody in God’s sight. Were they Christians? Hey, listen, you can take a baby Christian any day, and he is still somewhat tied up under that old Law of bondage. There were many Jewish believers who had come to know Christ, but they were still zealous for the Law.
Now, here is the problem? They don’t have a whole lot of regard for Paul and his message of grace, especially to the Gentiles. In verse 21, these elders are very concerned. This shows some of the misconceptions these people had about Paul. Verse 21 says, “and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” Now, let’s stop a minute. What does this tell you? Rumor and word of mouth. They don’t know what Paul has said. They have just heard from other people what Paul has said.
What are the two misconceptions? The first one is that Paul was teaching all the Jews who were among the Gentiles to forsake Moses. I challenge you. Bring me your Bible and show me where Paul says to forsake Moses. That’s not what Paul said. Paul never one time said that. What Paul did say was this, “If you are going to go back and obey the Law, keep on building it up. But not a single one of those works of what you call righteousness has anything to do with your entering the kingdom of God.” That’s what he said. He said in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are not saved by works. We are saved by what? Grace, “lest any man should boast.”
A religious Pharisee walks up and says, “Wait a minute. I got this box on my head of all the deeds that I’ve done for Christ. You mean, all this big old box on my head that I’ve had to hire this guy to help support doesn’t count?” That’s exactly right. Jesus said one day, “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You can’t be good enough to get into the kingdom of heaven. Paul never said, “Forsake the Law of Moses.” God didn’t destroy it, He fulfilled it. You come to the one it points to. The Law was only there to be a tutor to lead people to grace.
Therefore, they already had misquoted him due to the rumor that was circling around. In Philippians 3:1-11, we see that Paul says real righteousness comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith means obedient surrender to Him. He said, “That’s the only way I want to be found. I’ve got a pedigree, but it doesn’t mean anything. I just want to be found obeying Him.” That’s the first misconception they had. Here were Jewish believers, who are still legalistic with bondage plus, who had a misconception about Paul.
The second misconception was this. They said people had told them that Paul was teaching them not to circumcise their children and to not walk according to the customs. No sir. Paul did not say that. Paul did say that circumcision means nothing when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. It is not a righteous act. Unless God decides to do it some other way, it cannot come by a simple mechanical way of obedience. What Paul said was this. He said the true circumcision is not of the flesh, but it is where? Of the what? It is of the heart. That is what he said. See how a rumor can always distort something.
I wonder right now how many people there are you don’t like in the Christian circles because you have heard what people said they said. You’ve never heard it for yourself. More things get started that way. I’m one that loves to jump in the middle of it. I’ve had to be corrected so many times. I am about to learn. I don’t how many times I have said something about somebody in the ministry, and somebody has walked up and said, “Did you hear him say that?” “No, but I know the guy that did. He’s a good guy.” Whoop-to-do! That is the way it spreads, just like that. That’s exactly what happened in Jerusalem. These folks had misconceptions about what Paul was doing. Whoever told them did a good job. They didn’t want to have anything to do with Paul.
Now watch verse 22. “‘What, then, is to be done?’“ The elders are concerned. Man, they have glorified the Lord for what God has done through Paul. “They will certainly hear that you have come.” They are thinking, “We are going to have a confrontation here that is needless and senseless.” Look what they do. “Therefore, do this that we tell you.” Now they are telling Paul to do something that is going to appear to contradict the very message that he preaches? How is he going to handle that? I’ve got to see this for myself. Watch. “‘We have four men who are under a vow.” It was a Nazirite vow. You say, “How do you know?” Well, if you’ll take your Bible and turn to Numbers 6:13-21, I’ll show you. You see, when you are under a Nazirite vow, you can’t shave your head. Verse 13 says, “Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall bring the offering to the doorway of the tent of meeting.” That’s the Tabernacle. Verse 14 continues, “And he shall present the offering to the Lord; one male lamb a year old without defect.” I’m going to come back to that. Verse 16 says, “Then the priest shall present them before the Lord and shall offer his sin offering and his burnt offering. He shall also offer the lamb.” Verse 18 reads, “The Nazirite shall then shave his dedicated head [that’s a good way to say it] at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and take the dedicated hair of his head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice as a peace offerings.”
Now turn back to Acts 21:24. It says, “take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads.” That’s how you know it was a Nazirite vow. In other words, it is very clear. Here were four men, and they were under a Nazirite vow. They had not shaved their heads, but they needed to complete the vow. They needed to offer the required sacrifice to be able to go on and shave off the hair that had been grown during the time they were under that vow. Well, evidently they were unable to afford the sacrifice that it took to be able to do that. If you will look at the text again, verse 24, the elders tell Paul to pay their expenses so that they can shave their heads.
What is he saying? In other words, they didn’t have enough money to go out and buy these animals for sacrifices. Numbers 6 helps us understand this. They said, “Paul, you go purchase four male lambs because there are four men. Get four ewe lambs a year old and four rams. All of this is a peace offering. Then go get four baskets of unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, an unleavened wafer spread with oil, along with their grain offering and then get libations. That is their drink offering. Paul, they don’t have any money. Paul, you go pay their expenses. Go on now to the Temple. We’ve got a plan here that’s going to make it a little bit easier when it comes to having to deal with these people. It is going to make it a little easier for you.”
Well, evidently Paul understood all of this. Their Law allowed for somebody to do that. As a matter of fact, the priests of the Old Testament could pay the sacrifice if someone who was poor and did not have an animal to bring. He had been under a Nazirite vow, but he couldn’t get those things for himself. Now, here is the question. They say, “purify yourself along with them.” Now wait a minute. Hold it. Here is a man whose message is grace. Why does he need to purify himself? You have to remember he is dealing with people who are still hung up in all that bondage.
It reminds me of when I spoke at a particular place one time that is very strongly legalistic. As a matter of fact, I did two things wrong that day. First of all, I forgot to get a haircut. It was back when I wore my hair over my ears pretty long. Secondly, I used the New American Standard Version. These were people who believed that if the King James Version was good enough for Paul and Peter, it must be good enough for us in these days. I got there and I thought, “Now, am I going to just walk in and be arrogant because I disagree?” The Holy Spirit put on my heart to get a brush that I had in the car and comb my hair back up over my ears. It didn’t matter how long it is, but don’t let it touch your ear. So I combed it back up over my ears. Then I memorized the passage from the King James Version. I went in with the New American Standard, but I quoted it out of the King James. I used Romans 12:1. It was real hard. I preached the message. When I left there, I forgot that I had done that to my hair and when I saw Diana, she looked at me and just broke into laughter. She said, “What did you do to your hair?” Well, I had to explain to her. I said, “This is why I did it to my hair.”
This is what he is doing right here. Paul doesn’t need to purify himself. He has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. That’s the very foundation of the message of grace. Then why is he going to the Temple to do it? He is doing it because of the weaker brethren he doesn’t want to cause to stumble. He’s doing it because of the advice of those elders. Now he will not have to have a needless, senseless confrontation with people who have already been saved anyway.
So he does exactly what they tell him to do. Why would he have to purify himself? I mean, what Law is he under? He has been in a Gentile country, and Numbers 9 tells you when you’ve been in a foreign country, you have to be purified before you can partake of the feast. Remember why he is here? He is here for the Feast of Pentecost. Therefore, he goes in to qualify. The Jews who are suspect of him have heard a rumor about him and are going to see him in there. They are going to say, “Well, I’ll be. There’s Paul going in there. Look what he is doing?” You see, automatically they are disarmed in their criticism of a man who has the message of grace. I want to tell you another thing that will rock your theology. Acts 18:18 tells us Paul himself was under a Nazirite vow and had to shave his head when he went down to Cenchrea.
Well, what did Paul do? What is his attitude towards all this? I mean, you are talking about a man that’s quite on his own. Look at verse 26: “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.”
Now I challenge you to do something. You take Paul’s life before he got converted. You try to find something that was contagious in a righteous way to get people to want to love God. No, the only thing contagious about him was the fear whenever he came into a city because he persecuted believers everywhere he would go. Now, you even find an old-timer wanting to get into the show. He said, “Man, I’ve got a house in Jerusalem. Let’s go.” He goes with the group. That’s the transformed attitude of Paul. Do you find anything humble about Paul before he became a believer? He was the most arrogant individual who ever lived on the face of this earth. He thought he had the whole thing figured out. All of a sudden, God hits him with the message of grace and changes him. He never talks about what he does from that point on. He only talks about what God was allowed to do through him. Go back and study his life before and see if you can find one submissive bone in his body. Paul was a man calling his own shots. Now he is willing to listen to his peers and avoid a senseless confrontation. Before he got changed by the message of grace, he would have relished having that confrontation. He avoided the confrontation so his message could reach more and more and more.
Why would he bother with people who had already been saved? Well, they are under the Law. Hey, listen folks. Go on and be legalistic. Let’s go on and get the ones who haven’t been saved. That’s where his heart was. He wanted to get the message out. So in the meantime, he’ll just avoid the confrontations. He was a living model of what he preached. Paul, the messenger. You’ve got to see it in his attitude before you ever hear it from his lips. He was a man changed by the message of grace.
Conclusions: Does your attitude encourage even the old in the faith? When you are around older people, do they just want to go back and get their Bibles out and do something? Do they just want to obey God? Are they tired of takings trips? Secondly, does your attitude give glory to God and cause others to glorify Him? Thirdly, does your attitude allow you to flex and submit to other spiritual peers?