Sermon in a nutshell: “To keep the law or not?” (Acts 16:1-5)
The Bible contains truth. However, sometimes the Bible expresses the truth in a contradictory way! We read in the book of Acts chapter 15 that circumcision was not the essential requirement to be a Christian. That was the decision of the Jerusalem Council. So, the first century church did not ask the members to have circumcision.
Now in Acts 16:1-5 we just read that Paul had Timothy circumcised! Between chapter 15 and 16 we have two contradictory rules. Hamlet would say, “To be circumcised or not to be, that is the question!” However, in the Bible, that was not the question. “How to reach out to people where they are?” was the ultimate question. Paul says in Galatians 5:6 that “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
Paul explains this principle in more detail in the 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23: “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
Let us compare Galatians 2:2-5 with Acts 16: 3. Paul did not yield to the pressure of the Jewish leaders to have Titus to be circumcised. However, Paul voluntarily had Timothy to be circumcised. Why?
Galatians 2:2-5: “I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.”
Acts 16:3: “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
Titus was a Greek and Paul wanted to evangelize the Greeks. So, Paul was flexible to reach out to the Greeks. Timothy was a Jew even though his father was a Greek. So, Paul allowed Timothy to be circumcised to reach out to the Jews. As Paul confessed in the 1 Corinthians 9, he was willing to bend the rules and laws of this world to give eternal life to everybody he met.
The passion to save lives that are falling to the eternal death is the central concern for Paul. If we want to save lives doing CPR, we would risk breaking a couple of ribs of the fallen person. The most important thing for a person is his or her life!
In this light, we should ask these questions to ourselves:
- Am I willing to give up my favorite style of music to reach out other people?
- Am I willing to accept those whose life styles are different than mine to save their lives?
- Am I willing to live with others whose hair styles and dress codes are weird to me?
If you answer all these questions affirmatively, you have the heart of a missionary. If two thirds of our congregation has the hearts of the missionaries, we are ready to reach out to the people who are not in our church. That is what Paul aimed at. I pray that we should receive the Holy Spirit who can open our hearts and minds and doors so that people outside of our church can also experience this eternal life that we know and have.