Paul went to Jerusalem to hand the gifts from the gentile churches to the Jews. And he, “declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry” (Acts 21:9). This was a great opportunity for the Jewish believers there to see what God has done through Paul. And this proved to them that they were wrong in listening to the reports of his enemies that accused him of breaking the law of Moses.
The advice of the Jerusalem church
But instead of uniting in an effort to defend Paul, James and the elders gave him an advice. Their council showed that they still believed that Paul is mostly responsible for the existing prejudice between Jews and gentiles. And they attempted to make a compromise by counseling him to do something which they thought would eliminate all misunderstanding.
“And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.
Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 21:20-25).
The Jewish believers hoped that Paul, by following what they suggested, will disprove the false accusations about him. And they comforted him that the decision of the former council concerning the Gentile converts and the ceremonial law, still was in effect. But their advice was not consistent with that decision. The Scriptures don’t record that Paul’s action was sanctioned by God. This decision was the fruit of fear. For they knew that by not keeping the ceremonial law, Christians would bring upon themselves the anger of the Jews and expose themselves to persecution by the Sanhedrin. And they wanted to avoid that.
Paul’s decision leads to his imprisonment and death
Paul agreed to carry on the advice for he felt that if he could win the Jews to the truth he would remove a great hindrance to the spreading of the gospel in the world. But instead of achieving the desired goal, his efforts only brought in a crisis. And it hindered his preaching, deprived the church of its strongest evangelist, and caused grief to the believers. Those who advised Paul to take this course didn’t foresee the great danger he would face. For after that incident, Paul was captured, imprisoned by the Romans, and tried.
But the Lord in His great mercy protected Paul from the murderous crowds in the temple courts (Acts 21), before the Sanhedrin council, in the fortress, and He manifested Himself to His faithful child in an answer to a prayer for guidance: “The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11). Thus, the Lord promised Paul help in the few coming years before his final death as a martyr.
In His service,