28 May 2011

Acts 16:1-10

"As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem." (v. 4)


Today's passage from Acts can be troublesome. The previous chapter has outlined the debate of the Council in Jerusalem about the question of the need for circumcision in order for gentiles to be part of the faith community. The Council made a clear ruling that such a barrier is unnecessary and sent Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas with a letter to the various churches to share this news. Paul and Barnabas have fallen out and now Paul travels with Silas and continues this work. So having witnessed a wise and careful settling of this divisive matter and seen good leadership that ensures Church unity, Paul and his companions argue and part company. So quickly do human relationships founder!

To add to the complexity of the passage, we are introduced to Timothy - son of a Christian Jewish woman and a Greek father. Paul is impressed by the young man and wants to take him on his travels. He then takes an extraordinary decision - he has Timothy circumcised, the passage again emphasising his Greek father. How strange that he should do this at the same time as carrying the letter from the Council setting out how unnecessary this was - what would prompt such an odd action? Was Paul not entirely comfortable with the Council's decision? It seems unlikely that they would have entrusted him with the task of taking the letter and also he had been one who had argued against the need for circumcision. So was it a pragmatic decision, Paul believing that Timothy would only be taken seriously by those who had a strong Jewish faith within the Christian community? It is difficult to understand these conflicting threads. What is clear is that in their journey together Paul and Timothy were guided by the Holy Spirit, to the point where Paul receives a vision that he is needed in Macedonia, and so that is where they head next on their missionary adventure.

To Ponder

How do you respond if the Church makes a decision you disagree with?

Is it possible to know when God's Spirit is prompting you to choose a particular direction? Can you remember a time when you have been convinced that God is leading you? What happened?

Bible notes author

The Revd Micky Youngson

The Revd Michaela Youngson is Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church. She has served as a presbyter in circuits in Lancashire and London, as well as having been Secretary of Pastoral Care and Spirituality in the Connexional Team.