The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
Acts 16:1-5 tells of one of the most confusing events in the New Testament. When Paul meets Timothy, from the area of Derbe and Lystra, he finds a young man who is boldly and accurately teaching the Gospel. Timothy has a Jewish mother and a Greek father. He has not been circumcised as a Jew. Even while teaching the decision of the leaders in Jerusalem, that it was not necessary to convert to Judaism in order to be a Christian, Paul arranges for Timothy to be circumcised “because of the Jews.” The two become traveling companions and continue teaching about the decision from Jerusalem. This has the effect of strengthening the churches. More people end up believing in Jesus.
What’s going on here? Is Paul speaking out of both sides of his mouth? Is he a hypocrite who accepts the decision from Jerusalem in principle but not in practice? In fact, he is much more consistent than that. Paul’s actions show a regard for the conscience of the Jews in the area. They have a strong cultural heritage and would find it much more difficult to be taught by someone who doesn’t appear to accept such an important part of their heritage. The Jews all know that you enter the covenant by circumcision. This is non-negotiable. If Timothy wishes to speak of the same God who promised to bless all the nations through the child of Abraham, as a child of a Jewish mother, he should be circumcised. This adds to his credibility.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 9 Paul explains that his freedom in Christ allows him to do what is culturally appropriate for the cultures he wishes to visit. He takes all the means of offense out of the way, at least as far as it is possible. This is precisely what he is doing with Timothy. Circumcision or uncircumcision is nothing. But the ability to communicate effectively to a Jewish audience is something. To reach to that community, Timothy submits to circumcision.
There are ways in which we can each identify with our majority culture, or the minority culture we intend to reach. Many of those ways involve dress, diet, customs of speech, etc. Each person gets to decide what would be most advantageous to those in the community. By God’s grace, we can bring the Gospel freely, downplaying some of the differences which would only serve to hinder the true message of forgiveness in Christ.
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