“When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.” Acts 21.20-26
Paul was living between two worlds. He had seen a variety of cults, traditions and people on his previous three missionary journeys. He was the bridge between the Christians who were once Jews and the new Christians who were gentiles (and even in that there were many differences.)
Now Paul finds himself back in the Mecca (pun intended) of Jewish life, thought and religion. These folks were not messing around, nor are they today as they remain persistent in prayer at the Western Wall in modern day Jerusalem. These people were hard core followers of the Law of Moses and of God. Although they had missed the point of the Law, they were committed none the less. Those who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah were going about life, but continuing to persecute those who followed him. And they were certainly not fans of Paul, once one of their own, now playing for the other team as their starting QB!
Even though thousands of Jews had believed, there were hundreds of thousands remaining in the city. Paul came to encourage the believers and also to give witness to Jesus and the Way. The problem with Paul entering the Temple courts what that the Jews believed he had completely abandoned the faith. He had not — Jesus came not to eradicate the Law but to fulfill it. Paul was still a practicing Jew.
One writer puts it this way — “The gospel was more important to him than his Jewish heritage. Although, as a Christian, he was no longer under obligation to follow the Jewish Law, he would do so if that would give him the opportunity to share the gospel with other Jews. When with the Gentiles, Paul adapted to their practices. “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Corinthians 9:20–21).“ (https://www.gotquestions.org/was-Paul-a-Jew.html)
In order to remain open and accessible to potential believers, Paul obeyed the Jewish purification rites, taking four men with him who shaved their heads into the Temple. This allowed those who saw him to know he still adhered to the Law of Moses. As 1 Corinthians 9.20 says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew…as to win those under the law.”
So what does this have to do with us? With me, a fourth generation Texan, a Methodist, a faithful follower of Christ? It means I can become accessible to all people — I can take time to talk to the homeless man in Starbucks, to listen to the student in the seminary, to encourage the youth at summer camp so that I might win some for Christ. I can become his hands and feet, a witness filled with compassion, so that others might find hope in Jesus.
Who is Christ asking you to bear witness to for his glory? How can you communicate his love to the lost? Where is Jesus sending you this day?
“O Lord God, you are good. Thank you for your patience, I need it! I am far from obedient but I am trying and I desire to be. I want to live for you, so to be filled with your Spirit and to portray your likeness. Come now, Lord Jesus, help me find my strength in you. Guide me along paths of righteousness for your names sake. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen