HUMILITY GLORIFIES GOD AND PROMOTES UNITY – MORE LESSONS ON A SPIRIT-LED LIFE FROM PAUL'S LIFE AND EXAMPLE
As we continue to study the historical events of the beginning and rapid growth of the church seen in Acts, we are seeking to learn faith lessons from the life examples of Peter, Paul and others. These events are not doctrinal truths as seen in the epistles so we must seek to discern what the Spirit wants to teach us through these men and women of faith. Commentators disagree on this particular section of Scripture, some saying that Paul was right and others saying he was wrong to accommodate the request of James and the elders to participate in a Jewish custom to demonstrate that he was not against Jewish believers continuing to observe OT Jewish customs as long as they knew that salvation came only through faith in Jesus Christ. The key text is in verses 20-26:
"You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed (i.e., Jews that are saved), and they are all zealous for the Law (Jewish Christians who still practiced Jewish religious customs – Nazarite vow here); 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the custom (this was not true about Paul; see Rom. 14:1-15:13; Acts 16:3). 22 What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them."
In this lesson we see three examples of Paul's humility before God and man. But before we look at these three acts of humility we need to remember why Paul had even come to Jerusalem, to a place he knew he was hated by unbelieving Jews and, as we will see here, even some of the saved Jews hated him because they believed the lie that he was teaching Christian Jews not to keep the law (v. 21). He came to bring the collection of money from a number of the Gentile churches to give to the church in Jerusalem as they were in the midst of famine and poverty. (See 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Acts 24:17; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; 9:1-2) Although this is not mentioned in chapter 21 Paul refers to this in Acts 24:17-18: "After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God. 18 My accusers saw me in the Temple as I was completing a purification ceremony."
Now let's observe Paul's three examples of humility:
1) "After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us (Luke was with Paul here) gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God." In Paul's humility, he spoke of what God had done and God got all the glory. He does this several times in his ministry reports: "When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles." (Acts 14:27) 12 "All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles." (Acts 15:12) Peter also always gave credit to what God had done and later in his epistle he tells us to do the same: "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:11)
2) "Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. "
["The Jewish economy was not yet destroyed; nor had God as yet signified that the whole of its observances were done away. He continued to tolerate that dispensation, which was to be in a certain measure in force till the destruction of Jerusalem; and from that period it was impossible for them to observe their own ritual. Thus God abolished the Mosaic dispensation, by rendering, in the course of his providence, the observance of it impossible. Verse 21. "Thou teachest-to forsake Moses, &c." – From any thing that appears in the course of this book to the contrary, this information was incorrect: we do not find Paul preaching thus to the Jews. It is true that, in his epistles, some of which had been written before this time, he showed that circumcision and uncircumcision were equally unavailable for the salvation of the soul, and that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified; but he had not yet said to any Jew, forsake Moses, and do not circumcise your children. He told them that Jesus Christ had delivered them from the yoke of the law; but they had, as yet, liberty to wear that yoke, if they pleased. He had shown them that their ceremonies were useless but not destructive; that they were only dangerous when they depended on them for salvation. This is the sum of what Paul had taught on this subject." http://www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarkeact21.htm]
In his humility Paul submitted to the leaders and elders of the Jerusalem church. There is a pattern in the Trinity of Unity, Diversity, Equality, Leadership and Submission that is the source of true Biblical authority for spiritual leaders. Thus we must be under God's authority through God-given leaders or we cannot exercise spiritual authority ourselves. Spiritual authority flows through the channel of humility and submission as seen in Jesus. "Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19) There is a Divine organizational chart, if you will, seen in the Trinity that is to be reflected in marriage (Ephesians 5:21-22), parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-2), and in the body of Christ (Hebrews 13:17). "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3. See Luke 7:1-10 for an example of the flow of spiritual authority through faith and submission to Jesus.) Paul's humility before God and man manifested itself in spiritual authority in his life and ministry. Jesus was the most humble Man that ever walked the earth and the One that God used and exalted over all. "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:8-11) "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time." (1 Peter 5:6)
3) "When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, "Away with him!" 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I say something to you?" And he said, "Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?" 39 But Paul said, "I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people." In his humility Paul had so much trust in God that he remained unruffled in the very midst of a violent mob that was beating him and trying to kill him (v.31-32). And instead of trying to defend his innocence to the commander, he humbly asked if he could speak to him (v. 37).
This is so much like our Lord when the crowd turned against Him and He went through the trials, the beatings, and even the crucifixion with such humility and trust in God His Father. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:19-23)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. "After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done." Most of us are not called to do amazing things for God (a la Paul) but we are all called to faithful obedience day by day. How often do you think or say "look what the Lord has done" and recall or share one by one what God did for you and/or through you?
2. In his humility Paul submitted to the leaders and elders of the Jerusalem church. Paul's humility before God and man manifested itself in spiritual authority in his life and ministry. From the example of Paul and more so the Lord Jesus, how does spiritual authority/power relate to humility?
3. In his humility Paul had so much trust in God that he remained unruffled in the very midst of a violent mob that was beating him and trying to kill him. "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:19-23) Where has God called you to trust Him in painful and maybe even unjust suffering? How does this exhortation from Peter help you do that?