Question: When to judge and when not to judge weaker Christians?
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him,
“You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;
21 “but they have been informed about you
that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,
saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
22 “What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.
23 “Therefore do what we tell you:
We have four men who have taken a vow.
24 “Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
25 “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.
This is one of the most difficult passages in the book of Acts. To keep peace in the Jerusalem church, Paul is participating in what appears to be a Nazarite Vow. Not only was he asked to participate with them, but he was asked to help pay for their expenses. Numbers 6 gives the laws regarding the Nazarite Vow. At the end of the vow they were to supply offerings. Therefore, it appears Paul was helping to provide for these offerings. Now one of these offerings was a sin offering.
Paul knew that our sins are atoned by the sacrifice of Jesus, so how can his conscience allow him to be apart of this Nazarite vow, especially the sin offering?
What are his actions saying to the Jewish believers?
What are his actions saying to the Jewish non-believers?
I have really struggled over this passage. I tried to put myself in Paul’s shoes.
Would I do the same thing for the sake of keeping the peace?
And then an even greater questions emerged in my mind, if Paul is teaching us to overlook these Jewish ceremonies that even question the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, then what else should we overlook?
Should we overlook moral and sin issues to keep the peace?
Should we overlook the worship of false god’s to keep the peace?
What about overlooking ceremony?
Paul is clear that if a brother is a believer in Jesus, but still follows his ceremonies, such as, Jewish dietary laws, Jewish Holidays, and Jewish Sabbaths, then that “weaker brother ” should not be judged by the stronger brothers. Therefore, I can only conclude that in this passage in Acts, Paul is being very patient with his weaker brothers who are still holding to these sacrifices even though they believe in Jesus. Mathew Henry said it best when he said that in Paul’s day, the law was dead, but it was not yet buried. Paul must of figured that these weaker brothers would eventually see that the sacrifices under the law were only shadows of the substance of Christ’s sacrifice, and that they would eventually stop the ceremonial practices of the law. Also, Paul may have known that the fulfillment of the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem would be soon thus causing these sacrificial practices to end.
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.
2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.
4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.
21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
I live in the Midwest, so I just don’t know any Jewish Christians in which I could apply the above verses. However, I will try to make an application about my Catholic friend, Tim. Many years ago Tim asked me to be in his Catholic wedding. Tim and Angie are a great couple, and I’m sorry I have lost contact with them over the years. I accepted Tim’s invitation to be a part of his wedding. I do disagree with Catholic doctrine on many points. To start, I do not believe that marriage is a sacrament that is meritorious for Salvation. I don’t believe in their ideas of transubstantiation during their Lord’s Supper/Mass. I also don’t believe in their prayers for the dead. Nor do I believe in bowing to statues. But I do believe we share a common belief in the Trinity – we believe in the same God. So I accepted, and I was honored to be in Tim and Angie’s wedding. Being a non Catholic, I was not allowed to take part in their Lord’s supper. This was helpful to me because I didn’t want to partake of their wafer knowing what they believed about it. Before the wedding, Tim asked me if I could do the prayers for the dead during the ceremony. I thought about it, but I told Tim, I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that, I don’t believe that we are to pray for the dead. Tim was very gracious to me, and he instead had me read some scriptures during the ceremony. So for me, it worked out that I could participate in their wedding ceremony without violating my own conscience. I suppose I can find fault in myself for participating near so many things that I felt were unbiblical in their ceremony, but I felt the good by participating outweighed the bad of rejecting the invitation for Christ’s name to be glorified. Maybe Paul was feeling the same thing in his situation???
What about overlooking continued sin?
Paul showed patience with Jewish believer’s ceremonies, food, and holidays. He even said not to judge one another regarding keeping them or not keeping them. However, Paul was clear that the church is to judge immorality. See the language below. This passage teaches clearly to not overlook sin in the church.
1 Corinthians 5
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!
2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
What about overlooking other gods?
Another area in which Paul does not show patience is in the worshipping of other gods or even the appearance of worshipping other gods or idols. In America, this doesn’t have much application, but in India, idol worship is still practiced. As thousands of Hindus are becoming Christians, the passage below is still very current.
1 Corinthians 10
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?
20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake;
26 for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.”
27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.”
29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?
30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,
33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
All of these passages have been very difficult for me to understand. I am looking forward to tackling them again in future blog posts.
God bless, Bob
Additional references below.
13 ‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
14 ‘And he shall present his offering to the LORD: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering,
15 ‘a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.
16 ‘Then the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering;
17 ‘and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering.
18 ‘Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.
19 ‘And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair,
20 ‘and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine.’
21 “This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the LORD the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.”