Scripture: Acts 15:36-16:5
Key verse: (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.
Reflection: Was Paul inconsistent? The entire letter to the Galatians is an argument about why Gentile believers do NOT have to be circumcised in order to be disciples of Jesus. Paul wrote that letter to affirm the freedom we have in Christ that we are no longer slaves to the law. Circumcision, the mark of Jewish identity for a male, was not necessary for non-Jews who chose to follow Jesus. Paul became angry that anyone would say otherwise. He wrote “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
Then here in the book of Acts we learn that Paul took his young friend Timothy to be circumcised before they embarked on a missionary journey among Jewish people. What?!? I believe that Paul wanted Timothy to be circumcised because Paul loved Timothy and Paul loved the Jews they would meet on their journey. Paul knew that Timothy would be more easily accepted if he was circumcised. And Paul knew that if Timothy wasn’t circumcised, the Jews would likely be concerned about Timothy’s presence in their midst and unable to hear or understand what Paul was preaching to them.
Here is the analogy that I experience: If a congregation asks me what guest preachers should be required to wear, I would staunchly defend that the preacher can wear whatever she or he chooses. Blue jeans and a t-shirt, a colorful dress or a dark suit, a clergy robe. The clothes the preacher wears are NOT an issue. On the other hand, if a young pastor asks me about what to wear when they preach as a guest in our congregation, I guide them to dress in a way that fits in. Why? Love. I know the clothes aren’t important but I also know that the preacher will face less difficulty if she fits in and I know the members of the congregation, like all humans, will be distracted if the preacher wears something odd or flamboyant.
The only thing that counts is faith working through love. Love is relational and contextual and sometimes will even look inconsistent. Loving two different people (two children in a family? Two co-workers? Two friends?) may mean treating them differently. Try living out love today.
Prayer: O God, in Jesus Christ you show us your great love for us and for all of creation. Help us to love one another. Make love our law, rather than rules or opinions or cultural norms. Teach us to be gracious just as you have been gracious with us. Through Christ we pray. Amen.
Author: Millie Snyder
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].