Is There Ever a Time to Compromise? Bonus: Can A Male Give Birth? #220
Hello friends and happy Monday to you! Our passages today almost boil down to All Jeremiah, all the time, but there are some other chapters too. We begin with Judges 17, Jeremiah 30-31, Mark 16 and Acts 21. There are SO many things we could cover today. One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard – and a very challenging one – is Paris Reidhead’s Ten Shekels and a Shirt, which came from Judges 17. Here’s the link. Please listen to it: With Mark 16 we could talk about the resurrection OR the longer ending of Mark, but I am holding off on that because we just recently had a big discussion of textual criticism, and I don’t want to overburden you guys with that. From the Jeremiah reading, we could talk about the promise of the New Covenant – one of the most hopeful passages of Scripture in the Bible:
31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”[l]—the Lord’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin. Jeremiah 31:31-34
Instead, we are going to tackle a strange topic that I’ve never really taught much about, but is raised by a most interesting occurrence in our Acts 21 passage. Before we get into today’s readings, I’d like to share with you an interesting experience from a reading a couple of days ago. Most nights we gather the family to read a chapter of the Bible before bedtime, and I just pick a chapter from the current Bible reading plan. This means I get to read at least one passage twice – once the night before when I record the podcast, and then once the next night to the family. It is funny how you miss things on the first reading, and I missed this wonderful nugget from Acts 20 on the first reading:
22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. Acts 20:22-24
The takeaway is that sometimes we need to go over a passage – read it or hear it – more than once. It’s a little like metal detecting – my new pandemic hobby. If you only go over a spot once, or go too fast – sometimes you miss a great treasure.
So – to our focus question: Is it ever okay to compromise? Most listening would say absolutely not. My answer is a little more nuanced. Is it okay to compromise on the core doctrines and clear teachings of the Bible? Absolutely not! Is it okay to compromise on the sins and behaviors that the New Testament says will eternally separate Christians from God? Absolutely not – compromise in such a situation is not only personally dangerous, but you run the risk of leading others into dangerous places and suffering eternally for such. Is it okay to compromise when your wife wants to eat at Albert’s House of Asparagus, and you’d prefer Steve’s Sizzling Steaks? You bet it is – and you should. We must hold to the clearly revealed truths of Scripture with integrity, tenacity and boldness. But there are other areas – like a big one we will see today in Acts 21 – where there is room to have differing convictions. Let’s read Acts 21, and see if you can see the possible source of conflict in the passage. You might miss it, because the potential conflict is handled with such grace, that no conflict happens at all, though I suspect that one person compromised their opinions in order to avoid conflict.
Did you catch it…or, rather, I should say: Did you catch THEM? There are at least two situations in Acts 21 that could have become big conflicts, that didn’t. First, Paul was persuaded by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. All of his friends tried to convince him not to go, and the prophet Agabus – who was known to be a very accurate and truthful prophet – warned Paul about the heavy consequences of going to Jerusalem – a prophecy that ended up being true. Paul nevertheless persisted in his plan to go to Jerusalem, and though his companions clearly disagreed, they dropped the issue, saying, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21:14) So Paul goes to Jerusalem, nearly causes a riot (well, his silly opponents nearly caused a riot) and got himself arrested. So – WHO was RIGHT? Was Paul correct that the Holy Spirit was compelling him to go to Jerusalem, or were Agabus and company correct that going to Jerusalem would lead to great trouble and tribulation? And the somewhat unexpected answer is: The Bible never tells us who was right. Maybe both sides were correct – probably so! But notice how they handled it: They didn’t divide over the issue, and they didn’t press the issue into a great conflict.
Perhaps Paul had learned a bit from his ‘sharp disagreement’ with Barnabas over John Mark. John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey for reasons never explained, but apparently Paul didn’t appreciate his leaving. When it was time for the second missionary journey, Barnabas the literal son of encouragement wanted to take nephew John Mark along again, and give him a second chance, but Paul simply would not agree. They had such a sharp disagreement that they split up – the greatest ministry duo in history up until that point went their separate ways! Who was right in that dispute? Was Paul right to not take along a young companion who might not be trusted when the going gets tough, or was Barnabas right to offer a second chance to somebody who was likely young and made an immature decision? The Bible never tells us…but we do know they separated over the issue. We see a second potential conflict avoided in Acts 21 when Paul and his team come to Jerusalem and meet James and the leaders of the church there. Paul shares about what God has done among the Gentiles, and James rejoices, but then makes a very odd request of Paul:
20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands 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 are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs. 22 So what is to be done?[c] They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that[ they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Acts 21:20-25
Should those new converts be zealous for the law? It is a good question. I’ve said before that Gentiles – those neither born in Israel, or born to ethnic Jewish parents – are not obligated to follow the law, which is the decision reached by the first Jewish council earlier in Acts. Were converted Jews who had been raised under the Old Testament their whole lives obligated to follow the law? That is a thornier question. Certainly salvation is NOT by works for anybody, whether Jew nor Gentile…salvation is by grace through faith…but should Jewish Christians still keep the law? That is debatable…and I suspect Paul would have answered that question negatively, and yet here James asks him to do something that essentially amounts to placating the Jewish believers….and Paul apparently does it without any complaint whatsoever! Did Paul compromise in a sinful way? (Cabin alert: the host has turned on the speculation light, please buckle your seatbelts and prepare for turbulence) I don’t think he sinned at all, though he might have done something that compromised his opinion. Did you catch the nuance there? I speculate/suspect that Paul might have struggled with James’ request, but he did it anyway, and with no apparent complaint. Why? And the answer is that he was asked to…and doing what he was asked ideally should have led to peace and unity.
(I note here that Paul’s being in the temple led to a riot of sorts, and Paul getting arrested. Reasonable men may differ, but I think a careful reading of the text indicates that this riot was not caused by Paul fulfilling James’ request, but by Paul being in the temple, and being seen with a Gentile earlier, and some Jews erroneously assuming that Paul had brought the Gentile into the temple.)
I have opinions on a lot of things, and so do you. May our opinions NEVER get in the way of unity in the Body of Christ. We must never compromise the Word of God, but there are areas where the perfectly God-pleasing thing to do isn’t always crystal clear in the Word of God. I’ll give you an example: A friend of mine and I once were the camp worship leader and speaker for a youth group who came to a camp we worked at, and God moved powerfully in a gathering with that youth group, and several of the kids turned to Jesus, and wanted to be baptized that week at the camp in the swimming pool. (By their youth pastor) It was a clear move of God and it was amazing, and we were all excited about the baptism service. Unfortunately, the senior pastor denied permission to allow the youth pastor to baptize the kids at the camp, which me and my partner sort of felt like quenched a mighty move of God, and it hit us – and the youth minister – very hard. WHO WAS RIGHT? And the proper biblical answer is: WHO KNOWS?! The Bible doesn’t tell us what to do in that situation. I believed adamantly at the time that the most Holy Spirit-pleasing thing to do was to baptize those kids, but the senior pastor of that church – the one who had responsibility and human authority over those kids believed different. That was nothing to come into conflict over, and we didn’t, but I am afraid that I complained about that situation pretty strongly – especially to my ministry partner, and I am convicted that such a response was wrong.
This article and podcast is getting very long, so allow me to close with some important Scripture and an exhortation. The exhortation is to be very careful to not divide/argue/grumble/complain/accuse other believers over your personal opinions or your personal convictions. I’m not talking about clear commands in the Word of God, I am talking about doubtful/disputable matters (mentioned in Romans 14) like: Should Christians dance? Should Christians sing modern worship songs? Should Christians sing worship songs out of X movement? Should Christians drink a cup of wine in the privacy of their home once or twice a week? Should Christians be on social media? Etc, etc, etc.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:1-4
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19
Stand firm in the Word of truth, but hold your personal convictions loosely and:
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3