“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
–Acts 20:18-25 (ESV)
While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
–Acts 21:10-12 (ESV)
Several days ago, in my blog post about my second conversation with Pastor Randy on D. Thomas Lancaster’s Galatians book, I discussed the possibility that Paul may have lied to the Jews in Jerusalem about teaching the diaspora Jews to not circumcise their sons and not follow the Torah of Moses. Was Paul afraid for his life and out of that fear, would he have lied or “bent the truth” about any portion of his mission in order to save himself?
I gave my opinion, based on my general understanding of Paul, that he would not have lied and he would have unflinchingly told the truth about his activities among the diaspora Jews and God-fearing Gentile believers, regardless of the consequences. I found the concrete proof (blame my failing middle-age memory for not recalling these verses earlier) in the passages of scripture I quoted above. Not only would he face many hardships to serve the Master, but he had a pretty good idea that once he entered Jerusalem, he might not be leaving again alive.
But he went to Jerusalem anyway, even after repeated warnings not to go. And once he was in Jerusalem and his adversaries among the Jewish people began to respond to the false rumors about him, he followed the advice of James and the elders to quickly reassure the Jewish population, including the believing Jews who were zealous for the Torah, that he had not forsaken the customs of their fathers, the Law of Moses, and was not teaching other Jews to abandon the Torah.
What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 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 (ESV)
Later passages in Acts 21 and beyond tell us that the rumors continued and the prophesied troubles of Paul that were a consequence of his entering Jerusalem all came to pass. But Paul went to Jerusalem with high hopes:
Paul wanted to present these [God-fearing Gentile] men to the apostles and Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He hoped that the character and quality of the delegates would silence his critics and set all fears to rest about the type of disciple he raised in the Diaspora.
One of those Gentile disciples that Paul wanted to present to the apostles was probably Trophimus the Ephesian, the man some Jews from Asia thought Paul had taken into the Temple, defiling the Holy Place. Again, this wasn’t true, but as Winston Churchill once said, “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Apparently that was true nearly 2,000 years before Churchill was born and I don’t doubt that it’s true today. The sad outcome is that Paul stood condemned before the Jewish population of Jerusalem based on a fabric of lies that whipped the crowds into a frenzied riot.
But Paul knew he would face hard trials before they actually happened and nevertheless, went ahead into Jerusalem to accept whatever God had planned for him.
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
–Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)
The dedication of Paul to God was remarkable, but then again, a disciple always seeks to emulate the life of his Master, even unto death.
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
–John 10:16-18 (ESV)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
–John 15:13 (ESV)
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
–Luke 22:42 (ESV)
Paul also emulated his Master by being a “good shepherd” to his own flock, and as such, Paul strived to make provisions for their continuation and guidance under other “good shepherds.”
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
–Acts 20:8-35 (ESV)
Paul knew the dangers that the believing Jews and Gentiles in the diaspora were facing, particularly if Paul would no longer be alive or at least not be free to continue to visit them and support them with his letters. So he, like Moses before him, gave them a warning to watch out for apostasy and for “wolves” who would come in and surely lead them astray. He also very likely knew, just as Moses did, that apostasy was inevitable.
For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”
–Deuteronomy 31:29 (ESV)
In his letter to the mixed congregation of believing Jews and Gentiles in Rome, he tried exceedingly hard to give the same warning.
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
–Romans 11:11-12 (ESV)
Read the entire chapter for the full argument, but it seems apparent to me that Paul was urging the Jewish and Gentile disciples to regard each other as equal before God in salvation and access, working as different parts with different functions and responsibilities, but all operating in a single body:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
–Romans 12:4-5 (ESV)
So, in what he knew was his final journey to Jerusalem and possibly the last journey of his life, Paul encouraged the “shepherds” placed over the Master’s flocks, to “feed the sheep.”
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
–John 21:15-17 (ESV)
Other passages in the letters of Paul testify to his disregard for his own safety and even his life in the service of the Master. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10, 6:4-10, Philippians 1:19-26, 2:17, 3:8, and 2 Timothy 4:6.
No, Paul did not lie, bend the truth, or misrepresent any of his actions in order to protect himself. The Paul we see in Acts 21 is the genuine Paul, who was given a hard task by his Master and Lord, and fulfilled it with remarkable courage in the face of overwhelming hardships. He never told the diaspora Jews to not follow the Torah of Moses or the traditions. He never encouraged Jews to not circumcise their sons. He never taught anyone against the Jewish people, against the Temple, or against the Law.
Even when he knew that disaster awaited him in Jerusalem, he did not fail, he did not shirk his responsibilities, but instead, continued to follow where Jesus the Nazarene led him.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
–Matthew 16:21-28 (ESV)
Should such a time come in our lives when the Master asks us to pick up our cross and follow him, to offer more of ourselves than we would like to give, even including our lives, may we remain as steadfast in our mission as Paul, the Jew from Tarsus, the good shepherd.