This post gets awkward really quick. Sorry about that.
I’ve been pondering something that I think has huge implications for people living cross-culturally. For some it changes everything. For others it’s business as usual.
I was recently asked to teach from Acts 16. It’s a chapter that teachers and preachers have been getting excited about for centuries. Paul and Silas in prison . . . you know the one.
It’s the singing hymns in shackles at midnight — big earthquake — doors fly open — chains fall off — trembling guard and his whole house find Jesus chapter.
That’ll preach all day long.
But that’s not what jumped out at me this time.
The part that jumped was odd because it’s a section that I’ve trained my brain to skip over. You know what I mean, right? There are certain bits of Scripture that our minds naturally gravitate towards (namely Divine prison breaks) but there are others that we shoot through and hope that no one notices.
I warned you. Awkward.
Timothy shows up for the first time in this chapter (before the jail scene). He’s young and green but he gets it. He’s a rising superstar in this brand new Jesus following movement and Paul wants to take him on the road.
His mother was Jewish. His father was Greek.
Do I have to spell this out for you?
Concerning circumcision . . . Timothy was un.
Here’s the big ironic kicker. The message that Paul was headed out to share was that the Church big whigs had convened and made some really important decisions . . . specifically?
Circumcision would NOT be required for new believers.
Phew! Big sigh of relief right?
You would think. But verse 3 says this:
“Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
I’m sorry what?!!
Paul circumcised Timothy so they could go share the message that circumcision was NOT required.
Simply put, the people they were sharing with didn’t get it yet — and fair enough — they were rooted deeply in over 2000 years of tradition which was built on some pretty strong words right from the mouth of God. Words like, “Any uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17).
Not a lot of leeway there.
On a timeline of theology Acts 16 falls between that and words that would come later like, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing,” (1 Corinthians 7).
If the argument (as is usually the case) is reduced to theological rights or wrongs, dos or don’ts, shoulds or shouldn’ts, then Timothy would have a pretty strong case for protest (and frankly who would blame him?).
Theologically speaking, this is not a required sacrifice.
But he makes it . . . not out of religious obligation but out of willingness to see through the lenses of people whose paradigm has not been shifted just yet.
There is something really good about unrequired sacrifice.
Entitlement gets traded for a bigger picture. Selfishness is surrendered. Complaining doesn’t even make sense. Being right ceases to be the highest value. Good things happen.
Jesus knew something about the brains and the hearts of His people when He said stuff like, “go an extra mile and give them your coat when they ask for your shirt. Forgive more than anyone would expect, stay married longer and do good things to people who do bad things to you.” (personal paraphrase)
The final note of this part of the story says “the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (vs 5). I think it would be a jump to say that the growth of the church was a direct result of Timothy’s . . . um . . . surgery. However, it seems clear that those meetings could have gone much differently had he been unwilling to lay down his rightful claim to a “Back off dude! I didn’t sign on for this!”
Just something awkward and beautiful to ponder when you catch yourself (like I do) feeling shortchanged, cheated, left out and frustrated because this life overseas sometimes feels like it has taken so much.