20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.
Depending on your perspective of how we as Christians should respond to Mosaic Law, you will read this passage differently. At first it may seem like Paul is giving in to popular demand just to appease the converted Jews. On the contrary, he was clearing up some elements of his teachings that had gotten twisted. In Matthew 5, Jesus addresses this very issue:
16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Also, in Romans 7, Paul explains that even as a Christian, following the Law isn’t a bad or contradictory thing: 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
God’s Holy Law did not become unholy when Jesus was crucified and rose again. In fact, He set us free to practice the Law wholly because with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are now able to live in it. Before Jesus, it was more of a curse because we could not live within the confines of the Law, but now we can because of His fulfilling it. So, as we read today’s passage from Acts, let us not think of it as Paul giving in to societal pressure; rather it is a demonstration of how good the Law really is. As he explained in 1 Corinthians 9:
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
The point is that we are not obligated to follow the law to be righteous, but are free and empowered to live righteously which ultimately is what the Law was designed to outline: righteous living. So the constant question of what food is correct to eat, if we should be circumcised, even what clothes we wear should all be done from the freedom of our hearts He has given us. The Law is no longer a stumbling block; it is an outline of righteous living. Paul said that he did all things for the sake of the Gospel so that he may become a partaker of it. This means that the Gospel empowers us to live free of sin in all things. To clarify, this isn’t to say we are free to live in sin, but free to live without the bondage of sin in all things.
We shouldn’t comply with it because we feel obligated, but because we are free to do it! Just like we should walk and run because we have the freedom to use our legs, it would be a shame if we rolled around in a wheel chair our whole lives, wouldn’t it? So then with the power of the Holy Spirit we should love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves, for these two things, Jesus said, are upon which the whole Law hangs. To say it another way, without Christ we are obligated to live under the Law in order to prove ourselves righteous. With Christ, we are no longer obligated but free to live within the boundaries of the Law to understand and experience its blessing.