Acts 21:17-26 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
In order to preserve unity within the Church, Paul lays down his liberty and submits to a purity vow at the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul’s example shows us that we shouldn’t simply say, “I don’t have to do that” or “I’m not required to do that.” We should, however, ask, “How can I best build up my brothers and sisters in Christ?” or “How can we best work together to make Jesus known?” Jesus tells us in John 13:35 that all people will know that we belong to Him if we love one another. Love beckons us to lay down our personal liberties in order to serve.
Yet there’s something else going on in this passage, just underneath the surface: the relationship between a Christian and the Law of God. If we are going to be faithful to Jesus and not waste our lives, we need to know what the Law can and can’t do, and what God did. First, the Law can guide and reveal, but it cannot strengthen you to obey or make you clean from the sins you’ve committed. It can guide you like a map, but it cannot empower you like fuel; it can reveal your sin like a mirror, but it cannot make you clean like soap. This is why we have to understand the Gospel—the good news of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us (Matthew 5:17-18), in order that we could be counted righteous through faith in Him and empowered to obey God out of joy. In addition to His perfectly righteous life, Jesus took our uncleanliness on Himself, being condemned in our place for our sins (Romans 8:3-4). Now, through faith in Jesus, we can be guided by God’s Law and empowered by God’s Gospel. We can see our sin through the Law of God and be cleaned up by the Gospel of God.
1. Study through Acts 21:17-26 together. What stands out to you and why?
Jesus tells us in John 13:35 that all people will know that we belong to Him if we love one another. Love beckons us to lay down our personal liberties in order to serve.
2. Can you think of any real-life examples of Christians laying down their liberties in order to serve others?
3. What can the Law of God do? Explain.
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
4. What can’t the Law of God do? Explain. How does Romans 8:3-4 shed light on what the Law can and can’t do? What is it exactly that Paul says God has done?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
5. What do you think Jesus means in Matthew 5:17-18? What does that mean for how a Christian should view and submit to the Law?
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
6. How does Romans 4:2-5 help us see how we can and cannot be justified (made righteous/clean before God)?
To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
To hear His pardoning voice,
Transforms a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
Then all my servile works were done,
A righteousness to raise
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
– William Cowper (1731–1800), in Love Constraining to Obedience
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