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.” (Acts 21:20–21)
Following his greeting to James and the Jerusalem church elders, the Apostle Paul related to them all the things God had done through him among the Gentiles in his ministry (Acts 21:19). It was also at this time that Paul probably presented the gifts from the Gentile churches (Romans 15:25-28; I Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4).
When the church leaders heard all that Paul had shared, they glorified the Lord. In other words, they gave God the praise and the honor. That is as it should be: then and now.
It was also then that the elders brought up a serious matter concerning Paul’s life and the overall unity of the church. The elders said to the apostle, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law.”
From the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 Jews were converted to the Gospel (Acts 2:1-41), many more Jews trusted Christ as their Savior and Lord. Like all believers in Christ, but especially the Jews, they sought to keep and obey God’s law.
Unfortunately, rumors spread throughout the Jerusalem church that Paul did not encourage the Gentile believers to keep the law of God. The fact was that the Jerusalem Council freed Gentile Christians from a strict observance to the Mosaic Law except in behavior that was particularly offensive to the Jews (Acts 15). While the council did not give strict instructions to Gentiles to obey the law, they also did not order the Jews to abandon the law.
The elders continued by saying, “and they (the Jews) 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.” Paul endeavored to be a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles (I Corinthians 9:19-23). He never instructed the Jews to abandon the Mosaic Law. It is interesting to observe that the elders apparently did little or nothing to stem the flood of these rumors.
The Jewish Christians wanted more from Paul. They wanted Gentile believers in Christ circumcised and also for them to follow other Mosaic customs. As previously noted, this Paul and the church leadership, would not do. Consequentially, Jewish Christians were angry with Paul and unconverted Jews were enraged.
How often are pastors, and church elders, accused of preaching and teaching something they do not, and did not, proclaim? How often are other believers? The rumor mill plagued the church in Paul’s day, and does so also in our own.
How may believers in Christ stop rumors from spreading in their own church? First, don’t repeat gossip. Do not do so even under the guise of sharing a prayer request. Also, don’t jump to conclusions. This is easy to do and hard to resist, but resist we must. Finally, do not concern yourself about a situation which does not directly affect you. If you must use your tongue, do so in the discipline of private prayer and not in public gossip.
Soli deo Gloria!