The Apostle Paul: Attempting to Avoid a Church Split.

22 “What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” (Acts 21:22–24)

False rumors have the capacity to inflame people’s emotions within a church. If emotions run high enough, the result can be a church split. I have witnessed such splits. They are never pretty and they can result in a long-lasting impact affecting not only individuals, but also a community.

Paul, James and the Jerusalem church elders were concerned about such a church split occurring within the believing community in Jerusalem. They were afraid the church would divide along ethnic lines. Knowing that people would soon learn that Paul was in town, the church leaders knew they had to act fast.

The elders proposed to Paul that he demonstrate his piety as a law-abiding Jew. They said, “23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” Such a public display of his integrity towards God’s Word would be more effective, they reasoned, than any verbal explanation.

The elders reasoning involved four Jewish Christians. Apparently, they had taken Nazarite vows (Numbers 6). Unfortunately, they could afford the cost of the animals to sacrifice when the vows are concluded. The elders encouraged Paul to pay those expenses. This would be viewed by people as an act of piety.

Since Paul had also been with Gentiles, the elders additionally proposed that Paul join the aforementioned four in ceremonial purification rites. The elders were convinced this would put an end to any questions concerning Paul’s commitment to the Mosaic Law. Unfortunately, as we will soon see this would not be the case.

Church splits are hard to avoid if gossip and false rumors are allowed to persist within a local church. Resolve to not spread gossip or false rumors and to not listen to any. When a conversation begins to become gossip, leave immediately. Do not partake of gossip in any way.

Soli deo Gloria!      

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