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; 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.Acts 21:20-21
Many have misread this and concluded that Paul set aside Moses and the Law, that he did reject circumcision as of no value. That charge was false. Paul never taught a Jew to abandon Moses, or not to circumcise his children. What he strongly taught was that the Gentiles should not be made subject to these Jewish provisions. He would not allow them to come under the Jewish Law and insisted that they did not have to follow any of these Jewish provisions. But he did not set aside the ritual for the Jews.
Rather, he pointed out to them that this was all symbolic, and that it was all pointing toward Christ. The very rituals they were performing and the sacrifices they were offering were all telling them of Jesus. Jesus' coming had fulfilled, and filled out, the picture that the Old Testament sacrifices had drawn. Thus, in the very process of carrying them out, the Jews were simply retelling themselves of the coming of the Lord Jesus.
These observances were very much like the Lord's table is for us today. When we take communion, we are dealing with symbols. There is a sense in which those symbols are telling again the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Doing this does not make us any better, but it reminds us. This was the function of these Jewish rituals. They were reminders of what the Lord Jesus had come to do. All through the book of Acts we see Jewish Christians going into the temple and offering sacrifices, just as the Lord himself had done. There is no suggestion that they should have stopped, or that it was wrong for them to do this. Until God took the sacrifices away they were permitted this means of expression. The sacrifices ended when the temple was finally destroyed in A.D. 70, when the words of Jesus were fulfilled and Roman armies came and laid siege to the city (Matthew 24:6ff). The city was taken and the Jews were carried away captive, exactly as the Lord Jesus said. But that was several years still in the future from this point in history.
Paul's practice was that when he was with the Jews, he became as a Jew; when he was with the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile; and when he was with the weak, he limited himself and became as weak as they so that he might reach them on their level. He was simply declaring again the freedom he had in Christ. He was free — free to live as a Gentile among the Gentiles, free to live as a Jew among the Jews, free from the Law, but free also to keep the Law if there were certain advantages to be gained by so doing.
Thank, you, Father, for the freedom you give me to become all things to all men, so that more might be won for you. Give me wisdom as I seek to practice this with those around me.
Learning the distinguishing principles between Law and grace will free us to discreetly demonstrate them to others. Are we dedicated to learning these Truths so that we may freely and responsibly apply them to our relationships?