January 12, 2020
Pastor Ricky Smith
I need to confess something. I’ve had an issue from time to time with road rage.
This is the way it normally pans out of my life: Going home, there is a four-way stop on Fortson Road, where everybody other than me loses their minds. They forget the rules of the game.
For instance, didn’t we learn when we read the driver’s manual who goes in what order? And so, I’m sitting there, and there is that awkwardness where nobody is going. (I’m sure you’re not this way, but I’m confessing.) While I’m sitting there and no one is going, I can just fell it start to swell in me, and I may want to call people names. I may want to look at this person and say, “What are you thinking?”
Finally I just go. And then at the same time I decide to go, they decide to go. Then, bad things almost happen, and sometimes one may say even bad things… Am I the only one who has ever done that? Thank you. I’m not alone.
Here is what I know: We tend to have those moments of “road rage”, as we call it, when we come to an intersection. Maybe it’s a four-way stop. Or a lot of times, it’s like when you are going down the interstate, going slightly over the speed limit, and then this other lane merges in, and you want to say, “What are you thinking? This is my lane.”
Generally, we have those moments of rage, friction and frustration when two roads intersect with one another. This morning, when we look in Acts chapter 21, we’re going to see that two roads collide. One road is the road of traction, where Paul has just seen Jesus’ church start to grow and grow and grow, and it will intersect with the tradition of the church that we see in Jerusalem.
And when those roads intersect, let’s see what happens. We’re jumping back in; it’s been since the end of November that we tapped the brakes on Acts. Let me remind you of where we are. Paul has been following the leadership of the Lord, and he has been proclaiming the Gospel all throughout the Gentile regions. Most recently, in chapters 18, 19, and 20, he has been on a journey back to Jerusalem. He has been revisiting these cities where he has established churches.
He’s not only encouraging them, but he is actually collecting an offering to take back to Jerusalem. In verses 19 and 20, there were even these very emotional goodbyes that he had with the church. Many of them (mostly all of them) ended in prayer, on their knees and in tears because they were saying, “This is the last time we are going to see you.”
And so, here he goes on his journey, and he has finally made it to Jerusalem. I think Paul may or may not have been surprised by what he saw, but I think ultimately, we see and are reminded of Paul’s commitment to follow Jesus more than anything.
If you’ll notice in the sermon notes, what used to be called Discussion Questions, now uses the phrase Deep Dive. The purpose of that is for you to meet with some folks throughout the week and to talk about some things that we have learned today. And you also notice this new section called the Springboard. These questions pertain to what we will preach on next week.
So there’s an opportunity if you want to start having conversations with your family in Family Worship this week. There is a jump start into what we will discuss next week.
I. Faithful in Fellowship
The first thing I want you to write down today is that we find Paul in verses 15 through 17 is faithful in his fellowship. Let’s read together verses 15 through 17 of Acts chapter 21:
After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly.
Now, let’s time out. What did we just read? Mnason. Here we see this guy from Cyprus, and it identifies him as an early disciple. I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but if you rewind all the way back to Acts chapter 11, you see that there were several people from Caesarea and Cyprus who came to faith in Christ. So, it is probable that Mnason came to faith in Christ back in Acts chapter 11, and he has been faithfully following after Jesus since then.
So, now he is in Jerusalem, and what I think is noteworthy is that Paul and some of the disciples who are with him come, and when they get to Jerusalem, they go to Mnason’s house. The word there is that it says he should lodge. If we want to understand it in the original language, basically that means more than just laying a cot down for somebody coming overnight. It is an intentional hosting and entertaining. Why does that even matter? I think this is important.
Parents, you’ve got your child who wants to have a friend come over and spend the night. There is some level of hosting that happens then, but it’s generally like, “Hey, the chips are in the pantry. Put a cot on the floor. You guys stay in the room, and don’t wake me up.” That’s generally how that goes.
That’s not the attitude. In fact, the attitude here is like rolling out the red carpet. This is when family is coming to stay for a while. Maybe you just did this over the holidays. You’ve got folks coming, and you’re dusting off the good china, or you’re actually washing the sheets and getting them ready for your guests. The idea is that you are going out of your way to serve them well.
That’s the language here, and that’s important. This is why I think this matters: Since Acts chapter two and the establishment of the church, the church has been known, or should be known, for its love and service. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve got this if you need it,” or, “Sure! take it!” It’s this idea of sharing liberally and freely with one another. It’s a marker and the way the church should conduct itself.
When I read this passage and began to study, I was reminded of my dad. He grew up really, really poor, and his birthday was three days after Christmas. The first time in his life he ever had a birthday party, he threw it for himself when he was 30. He said, “I want a birthday party. I’ll just throw one for myself.”
I will never forget this day. My mom had planned, because he had warned her he was having a birthday party. So, we had invited some family and friends over. No big deal. We were having burgers and hot dogs. Why? Because that’s cheap and easy. Well, Dad was the deacon chairman at our church, and he had a responsibility that night to stand up at the end of service, pray, and dismiss everybody.
So, Dad gets up in front of everybody and says, “You know what? Today is my 30th birthday. I’ve never had a party. You are all invited to my house.” My mom’s mouth did the same thing that many of yours just did. She was like “What?” Our church wasn’t huge. We probably had a couple hundred people in the room. But, I’m not exaggerating; our house growing up was 950 square feet, and everybody came. Have you seen sardines packed in the can? That was my house.
But I remember that night like it was yesterday. My dad was happy to be flipping hot dogs for all these people who were coming over to our house, and they were everywhere. That’s another level of hosting. Now, I am not inviting you all to my house today, nor am I saying that you should do that. What I am saying is this: Hospitality is a hallmark of Jesus’ church, and how we practice hospitality, how we love, how we serve, how we share, should be a distinguishable marker for Jesus’ church.
Hospitality is a hallmark of Jesus’ church
So, maybe you just ask this question of yourself: Does our following Jesus move us to share with others what we have? Another writer (Peter, to be specific) unpacks it this way:
1 Peter 4:8-10
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
So, not only am I to share, give, and practice hospitality, I have to do it with a good attitude. It’s not, “Do we have to use our grocery money to feed them again?” No! Do it with love and hospitality. That’s not really the main focus of today’s sermon, but I couldn’t just skip over that without acknowledging some things that perhaps we need to evaluate and practice. So, invite somebody over for dinner this week, maybe.
Here’s the second point where I really want to spend the focus of our time: friction in fellowship. I want to read a few verses together and come back and make observations, one after another, if I may. Verses 18 through 22 of Acts 21 says this:
II. Friction in Fellowship
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 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. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Okay, let’s rewind. I want to make some observations verse by verse here, because there is so much going on that we just read. Think back to verse 18. We see and we must note the distinction with James’ position in leading the church.There’s a contrast if you compare the way the church structured and grew in the Gentile areas in Asia, where Paul had established churches. It looked a little different in Jerusalem.
There, it was more of a formal structure. In fact, some would say that James was the first bishop of the church. We even saw this back in Acts chapter 15. You can read that later or go back and listen to that sermon where James, even among the elders, elevates and says, “Okay, let me tell you what we’re going to do.” And he becomes this spokesperson, this leader of the church.
I think there is a helpful recognition for us. If we want to get nerdy for a little bit, it’s out of that example in Scripture that historically, in the church, we elevated this office of pastor. There is somebody given this position of oversight. And so, this is part of where that comes from.
In verse 19, notice what Paul does. Paul comes in and begins to report to them. This is a pattern we saw back in Acts 14. We’ve seen it all throughout, where Paul comes, and he is faithful to give a report of all that God has been doing. Imagine if you are sitting around the campfire hearing Paul share his war stories. “Yeah, I got bitten by a snake, and then I got shipwrecked and was thrown in prison. Then, these guys wanted to kill me, and they got me out of the mob just in time…”
And you’re like, “Well, I prayed yesterday.” I mean, you get that feeling, right? I mean, imagine the stories that Paul could share and how you may just sit in awe of what he has witnessed and experienced. But when we take that and we translate it into our lives, we have that same thing. I mean, we all have a story, and my prayer is that, woven into the story of your life is how the Gospel has changed you and the difference that Jesus has made in your life and how it influences and impacts your relationships, behavior, attitude, and all those things. In fact, in my LifeGroup, we’re going through the Fruit of the Spirit, and it’s painful, just thinking, how do I need to be more patient?
When we tell our story, what we need to understand is, our story may be, “Yeah, I came to faith as a child, and I’ve been faithfully following Jesus ever since.” And your story, if that’s it, is no less significant than the person whose story is, “I killed 18 people. I was in prison for 85 years. I met Jesus, got out, established 16 orphanages. I feed a million people every day, and I preached to masses.”
I’m giving you those extremes to help you understand, it doesn’t matter what your story is. The central character of the story should be Jesus. What difference has He made in your life? And when you share your story (and I pray that you will share it often), how do you elevate Him in that? When you do, I think what we will see is the response like we see here in verse 20. There was a worshipful response.
Notice, when Paul shared his story and he reported to James and the elders, they glorified God. That means their lens didn’t focus on Paul. Their lens focused on Jesus. “Wow! God has been so good! God has been so faithful! God has been providing and sustaining and working miracles!” They were in awe of what He had done, and they glorified God as a response.
They even refer to him as brother. It’s like, “We’re on the same team. We’re on the same mission. We’re working toward the same thing. We’re serving the same God.” And their response, I think, is so helpful and one that we should also model. It’s beautiful.
But notice also in verse 20. Maybe it’s motivated out of care. Maybe it’s motivated out of concern, but James and the elders say, “Oh, but I just need you to know that there are a lot of people around here zealous for what they believe and who may have some issues with you being home.”
Look at what he says in verse 20. “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.’”
What does that mean? That means they are dedicated. They are enthusiastically adherent. It could be (I don’t know this) that these were some of the Judaizers who had been following Paul around for decades, trying to stir up trouble. It could be that these were somehow attached to a sect called the Essenes, who were really strict.
But here’s where the zealous heart goes: The zealous heart, in general, looks down on others. “If they’re not just like me…” Now, I may have just started stepping on toes, and if so, I’m sorry. But, it may be that even some of us, from time to time, can be zealous, saying things like, “Hey, if you don’t think just like me, something’s wrong with you.” You see the potential danger there. You see where we might be headed toward an intersection of friction.
This may provide some insight into the attitude over the years that has developed all the division and denominations in Jesus’ church at large. But, I think at a minimum, it is a warning signal for us when we may tend to over-prioritize tradition and allow it to impact our fellowship. The danger comes when you and I become more enthusiastic about rules than our relationships.
I think we have to be guarded when we look across the scope of Jesus’ church. Now, this applies to those of us who are a part of Calvary Baptist Church, but let’s just think broader for a minute. It could be our Methodist brothers, our Presbyterian brothers, or whoever. Sometimes in our zealousness, we can condemn people who are chasing after Jesus because they are not like us. And just imagine the negative impact that has on the non-believers in our world when they see Jesus’s church fighting amongst itself. You see the slippery slope that could take us down.
So here we are. Notice what happened in verse 21. They dropped this statement: “They have been told about you that you teach…” Some of your translations may say, “They have heard…” Next week, we’re going to dive into that because this idea will come up again next week. We’re going to talk about the danger of when we see something, develop emotions, and act in response to it. There is danger in how we may leap from what we’ve seen and heard, because what’s happening here when they begin to unpack what they have heard is just not true.
And so, people are jumping to conclusions on partial information, and we see the friction that developed, because it (heads up on what’s coming in a couple of weeks) gets worse for Paul, the more he steps into this encounter.
Now, what is the accusation they have heard? They have been told that Paul teaches all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to their customs. The reality is, Paul never said that. In fact, here’s what Paul did preach: Paul did preach that your circumcision, which is this outward statement of covenant, is not what gets you into Heaven.
“For by grace, you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not by works, so that you can’t boast [or brag] about it.” That’s what Paul preached. So, he didn’t preach that circumcision was a requirement. In fact, when he intersected with Timothy, he even made Timothy go get circumcised because he was from a Jewish family.
So here, Paul is being warned, and I know I just threw a lot out at you that you can go back and read later or catch up with us next week. The point is, for this discussion, Paul is being criticized for what people have heard him say, that he didn’t say or teach. And the warning there for us, in short, is that Paul saw one status in Christ as transcending the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Being in Christ neither required the Gentile to become a Jew, nor did it require that Jew to cease being a Jew.
What does that matter? Let’s go back to our road rage story. We have two roads intersecting here. Paul has seen the church explode as God was blessing it, and he is following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Now he comes into Jerusalem where it is wrapped (understandably so) in the tradition of Judaism. It’s still morphing out of this Jewish culture, so it looks a little different. Friction can result when traction intersects tradition, and it is in that intersection that we may have friction.
Friction can result when traction intersects tradition
Now you say, “What difference does that make for you and me?” This is what this looks like in today’s culture in our world, where we may use language like, “Well, we’ve never done it that way before.” When I make that statement, what am I say? Tradition is intersecting traction. Or, “But we’ve always done it like this.” Okay, good. So tradition may be intersecting traction, and friction starts to come.
It’s not always bad. Sometimes that friction should be a check to come back in line and honor what we’ve done. Sometimes that friction may expose someone’s heart, not being willing to listen to what the Spirit may be saying. Friction is not always bad. We just need to be aware of what is likely to cause it when traction and tradition meet one another.
III. Follow for the Sake of Fellowship
So, what does Paul do? His response is fascinating. Notice that he follows for the sake of fellowship.
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. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
Those things were in that letter all the way back in Acts 15:26. It would be fascinating to do a study of on a Nazarite vow and what was involved, but that’s not the focus. The focus is, I think, in the heart of Paul and his willingness to say, “Okay, I’ll do that. Do I have to do that? No. Does it change my relationship with Jesus? No. But for the sake of fellowship, I’ll do it.”
See, Paul’s public action was an intended statement to cut right through the rumors that had been spread about him and his teaching, and Paul was committed to operate out of love. He understood what Jesus taught in John 13:35. “This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” But what does that love look like?
All the way back to Mnason, sometimes love looks like hospitality. Sometimes love looks like service. Sometimes love looks like acts of kindness. Other times, love is how we respond in a tense friction and our willingness to keep peace. Paul had this mission statement. We see it in 1 Corinthians 9:20:
1 Corinthians 9:20
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
I would submit to you this morning that Paul acted in obedience and in accordance with this request from James and the elders not to pacify Christian Jews, but to win unconverted Jews to Jesus by showing his submissive heart, showing his love and support.
Did he compromise? I mean, some would say that he compromised here. Okay, let’s just run with that thought for a minute. When in your life is compromise acceptable? Well, if it’s for the sake of keeping peace, it’s probably worth considering. I think this is the moment we have to evaluate.
When we are challenged, or forced, to compromise, we need to ask the question: Am I compromising something that is essential to the Gospel, or am I compromising something that is not essential? If you’ve walked through the new members class here, you know that we would say this: On the essentials, we have to be in unity. On the nonessentials, we can love through that. It’s so we can compromise on some of that stuff.
Okay, let’s get specific.This [the Bible] is the authoritative, perfect, written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. That sword, I will die on, and so should you. This is a sword worth falling over. Is it ESV or KJV or NIV? Okay, now we’ve jumped into the nonessential category. That’s not worth falling on the sword for. Do you see the difference?
So, in some areas, I can’t compromise, and in others, I can, for the sake of keeping peace. He’s trying to live that out here. Paul was willing to commit himself to the ways of the Lord, going as a Jew all the way back to what was written in Numbers chapter six. Why? Ultimately, he was going to be steadfast to obey the commands of God, even when he knew that this was going to lead him toward a path of pain. That pain will reveal itself more and more over the next few weeks.
Unity in fellowship is a priority
Ultimately, Paul understood this: Unity in our fellowship is a priority. Unity in our fellowship as a church is a priority. Unity in Jesus’ church is a priority. I would go so far as to say, when the public world sees Jesus’ church arguing with each other on social media, we’re not helping our cause a whole lot. They may be drawn toward unity, but instead, they see division. Why would they want anything to do with that? Hospitality is the hallmark of Jesus’ church. Unity in the fellowship is a priority.
- I commit to make Jesus the King of my life.
- I choose to show love by practicing hospitality.
- I will show love to other believers, even when they have a different opinion.
Use the following questions to go deeper into what you learned today with family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors this week.
- Read Acts 2:42-47. The early church is noted for their community and hospitality. What does this look like in today’s context, and how have you experienced biblical community and hospitality?
- Acts 21:21 describes friction that occurs when people act based on what they have heard. How do rumors and gossip disrupt unity in the church, and how can we better practice principles described in Matthew 18 to counteract this conduct?
- In Acts 21:23-26, Paul was willing to submit to the church’s authority for the sake of promoting unity and fellowship. How does this translate to church life today when we may need to keep the peace without compromising truths that are essential?
Family Worship is a great time to jump into next week’s sermon. Use these questions as a guide.
Showing hospitality is a really big deal. It is a characteristic that Jesus loves to see in people who follow Him. Read 1 Peter 4:8-10 and discuss the following questions:
A. What does hospitality mean, and when have you seen it shown in your house?
B. Verses 8 and 9 suggest that love and hospitality are connected. Why do you think this is important?
C. If we show kindness and hospitality to someone, but with a grumbling attitude, does that please God? Why, or why not?
D. How can we as individuals in this family better serve each other, as well as people God puts in our path this week?