| There are a few things I don't like to do. I'm not particularly fond of doing dishes or laundry. I don't really enjoy yard work very much. You could say I am not much of a fan of cleaning out our cat's litter box. I don't like to do these things and yet, I regularly find myself doing them. Why???
Often, I do them because they need to be done. Chores and housework don't do themselves. However, that isn't the primary reason I do them. Primarily, I do them because I love my wife and family more than I dislike doing those things. If I don't carry my weight around the house, then someone else (probably my wife) is going to get stuck shouldering the extra workload. As her husband, my desire is to make her life easier, not harder, because I love her and that love fuels a desire in me to sacrificially serve her. So, I do things that I don't enjoy doing to make her life easier.
But what if someone else asked me to do those same things? What if it was someone I didn't know very well? What if it was someone I didn't like? Or someone who was unkind to me? Would I still be motivated to do those sacrificial acts of service then??? If I'm honest, probably not.
In this week's lesson from Acts 21, the Apostle Paul faced that same dilemma. People who had treated him harshly, told lies and spread rumors about him in an attempt to discredit him and his ministry, people who were, for all intents and purposes, his enemies were once again busy stirring up trouble in Jerusalem. In an attempt to refute their claims and appease their objections, James, one of the leaders of the early Church in Jerusalem, recommended that Paul participate in some of the Jewish ceremonial purification rituals that he was otherwise not obligated to undergo. In addition, he was to also pay the associated expenses for himself and four other men. All of this simply to prove he was a good, law abiding Jew.
As Cody pointed out in his sermon, after all Paul had been through up until this point and the pressure he was likely under due to the persecution that had been prophesied to soon befall him, this request must have felt like a huge slap in the face. Yet, despite that, Paul agreed. In fact, scripture doesn't give us any evidence that there was even any debate or objection raised. He simply did what he was asked. Again, the question is, "Why???"
The passage doesn't give us much insight into Paul's motivation for obedience here, however we can learn much about his mindset from the letters he wrote to instruct other believers. A few key themes run throughout them. First, Paul deeply loved the Lord. Jesus had converted Paul from a violent oppressor of the Gospel, to a faithful and devoted preacher of it. It was his affection for Christ and the deep roots of thankfulness to him through the Gospel that served to drive everything that Paul did. Furthermore, his love for Jesus spilled over into love for others. Just like the master he served, Paul loved people, even when they were unlovable.
Paul's love for Jesus was followed closely by his devotion to the Gospel. Paul took seriously the commission he had received from Christ to share the Gospel with others. He wasn't prepared to let anything, even his own needs, desires, and comforts, hinder his witness to them. Paul knew the offensive nature of the Gospel message and he was willing to do whatever was necessary to fertilize the soil of his hearer's hearts before planting Gospel truth. In other words, he did what he could to meet people where they were at. He didn't shrink back from proclaiming truth (it's important that we see that), but he was careful to preach to people, not at them. It's a subtle, but incredibly important difference.
There are many more motivations we could point to. Paul's desire for unity, his obedience to scripture, his efforts to model maturity to others...the list could go on and on. The point is, Paul's desire to glorify Christ with his life, because of his deep love for his Lord and Savior, radically transformed him. Paul was "all in" or "sold out" for Jesus (you can choose your favorite cliche). The question we need to ask is...are we???
Are we willing to suffer discomfort and the risk of rejection for the sake of sharing the Gospel? Are we willing to do the often thankless work of ministry so that people who don't deserve it (just like us) can experience God's grace? Are we willing to sacrifice our wants, needs, and desires, simply because we love Jesus and we want to walk in obedience to him? I pray that we are. I pray that I am.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 49 - It's Complicated
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Why does James ask Paul to participate with the men who took a vow?
2. Does Paul have to observe the law?
3. Why are the Jews persecuting Paul?