Give 'Em Some Grace


Ryan Hayden Acts

Take your Bibles with me again and turn to Acts 21. Acts 21. We are going to pick up where we left off this morning. We are going to read the story and I’m going to briefly summarize what I spent a lot of time talking about this morning and then we are going to jump into the application of it.

I’m not going to read the whole passage again. But let’s read verses 16-16

There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge. And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.

Let me remind you again what we saw this morning:

Paul was bringing a gift to Jerusalem to help the poor jewish believers there. When he got there, he gave the gift and reported on his ministry. The elders rejoiced with him, but then said that Paul was in a little bit of trouble because there were many, many Christians in the church who were still zealous jews and the jews heard a rumor that Paul was teaching jews they didn’t have to be jewish anymore.

That rumor was false. Paul didn’t teach that. Not yet. But that didn’t stop people from repeating it.

So the elders told Paul he had to go to the temple with four guys who were doing a jewish vow and he had to stay with them through the whole process and then pay for their sacrifices. This way the jews would see Paul being a good jew and the controversy would go away.

So even though the critics were wrong, and even though the whole thing was wrong, Paul ate some humble pie and went to the Temple. Inside the temple, a group of jews grabbed Paul said a bunch of untrue things about him and then started beating him to death, the only thing that saved Paul from being killed was being arrested by Roman soldiers and he would be under Roman arrest until he died.

Like I said this morning, the amazing thing about this story was Paul’s humility. He was right all along, but he didn’t defend himself. He was attacked by people he was coming to help and he never bit back. He never got proud. He never showed his ego. He went the second mile to be a peacemaker.

But there are some other aspects to this story that I wanted to open up this morning but I didn’t have time. So I’m going to give you two points tonight and they are all going to points of application based on

What it teaches us:

So that’s the story. But what I really want to get to is what it means because I think this story still speaks to us today, even though our situation is very, very different. So I’m going to give you two points of application this morning and then we’ll close.

The first lesson I want us to learn is:

A. When it comes to standards, we should give each other a lot of grace and the benefit of the doubt.

Remember, Paul was in Jerusalem and the problem group there were jews. They were Christians, but they hadn’t given up the jewish way of life. They were still trying to live according to the jewish law and they wanted everyone to live according to the jewish law.

This group of people was actually a huge pain in Paul’s side for his whole ministry. The whole book of Galatians, and a bunch of 2 Corinthians is dealing with this group. Even some of the apostles seemed to end up in this group sometimes. Paul had to confront Peter for being a hypocrite about this.

Now, put your thinking cap on with me for a second. Try to empathize with the jewish Christians in Paul’s day. Most of them lived for at least some time before Christ. For part of their life - the Old Testament was the Bible. The law was their life. It was their identity. It was supposed to be.

Then Jesus comes and boom - the law no longer applies anymore. They aren’t under the law, they are under grace. Gentile believers don’t even have to worry about the law anymore. So all of the things that they had lived by, their applications of God’s principles, were swept away and they had a really, really hard time with it. Can you empathize with them?

There is actually a several chapters of the New Testament written about this very problem. I mean, it was one of the central problems of the early church. It was a struggle. I think it’s a struggle we see here in Acts 21.

What’s at the heart of this struggle? I think it’s this: how we live out the principles of God’s word. If we are going to put a word on it it’s “standards.”

Listen folks - we have these eternal principles here in God’s word. They should be shaping our lives. They shouldn’t just be things we give an abstract nod to. They should change the way that we live, the way that we talk, the way that we dress, the things we watch and listen to, the way that we communicate with the world around us, they should affect the way that we think. Everything. ** If you aren’t taking concrete action on the word of God - you are missing the point.**

Listen, I wish as a pastor we could just say “now everyone love each other” or “be good Christians” and that would be that, but in the real world, we have to take the teachings of the scripture and make rules. As a father, I can’t just post the ten commandments on the wall and say “I’m not going to tell my kid not to cross a busy street because that isn’t in the Bible.” I’m going to have to make some rules. In my own life, I have to have some guidelines on how I’m going to live.

If I’m not taking the principles of scripture and actually trying to live them, what’s the point of reading them. I’m supposed to be a doer of the word, not a hearer only. Right? Right?

But here is where it get’s messy: What if my application of the scriptures differs from your application of the scriptures?

I’ll give a couple easy examples: there are a few passages of scripture in the New Testament that talk about a ladies hair. They say a lady should have long hair and some say that a ladies hair needs to be covered. So, there are a wide range of applications of that:

  • You have some folks, like the amish and mennonites whose ladies almost never cut their hair and always wear a head covering.
  • You have some folks, like the apostolics, whose ladies don’t wear a head covering but they almost never cut their hair.
  • You have some folks, like orthodox presbyterians, who believe that ladies should wear a head covering in church, but who don’t make a big deal about how long a ladies hair is so long as they don’t have a crew cut.
  • Then you have most baptists, who don’t make a big deal of this at all except to say that ladies shouldn’t have super short boy haircuts and that the verses about head coverings dealt with their specific culture.

Ok. So one principle - four totally different applications of that principle.

I’ll give you another example. How about the whole pants/dress thing. You’ve got a few verses in the Old Testament law that say that women shouldn’t wear that which pertains to a man, and you have verses in the New Testament that talk about modest apparel. When it comes to applying that:

  • You have people who believe ladies should only wear dresses.
  • You have people who think that ladies should be careful to cover their bodies and dress in a way that is feminine but don’t draw a line on dresses.
  • You have people who think that but who think that ladies should probably always wear dresses in church.
  • You have people who don’t care at all and think the whole thing doesn’t apply.

I’d bet that there are people in our church that have all four of those views. In fact, I know there are. There are families in this church that are stricter about this than I am and there are families in this church that are far, far les strict than me.

We could make examples about this about anything:

  • The shows we watch.
  • The music we listen to.
  • How many times a week we go to church.
  • The types of preachers we will listen to and befriend.
  • Tithing.
  • What we wear to church.
  • What we will and will not do on Sunday.

I could go on and on and on. So how do we handle the differences?

In our story, the jewish couldn’t handle the differences. It was a big problem. They wanted everyone to live by their rules. They thought Paul was teaching people to not live by their rules and they were ready to go off on him for it.

So how do we handle it? The point is:

When it comes to standards, we should give each other a lot of grace and the benefit of the doubt.

Now, let me give you some scripture on this. Not just grabbing from this story, but let’s go to a whole chapter on this. Turn to Romans 14 with me. I want to take the time to read the whole chapter. Let’s read it together.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

This is talking about applying the Bible. It’s talking about making rules for yourself. What do you do if other people make different rules than you do? What if they are stricter? What if they are looser?

There are three principles in this chapter I want you to get ahold of:

The first principle found in verse 4. Look at that verse again:

Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Do you know what the first principle is:

Mind your own business.

That’s what those verses are saying. Your fellow believers aren’t living for you they are living for God. They are his servants and if they come to different conclusions than you - whether stricter or looser, that’s between them and God. So Mind your own business.

The second principle is found in verse 5. Look at the end of verse 5 it says:

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

The second principle is

Know why you are doing what you are doing.

You should mind your own business for others, but you should be able to answer the why biblically for yourself. Listen: “Because Pastor said so” isn’t a good enough answer. You should be able to go to the Bible and give a biblical explanation for what you do.

The third principles is actually found in verse 3. Look at verse 3:

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

The third principle is

Accept the differences, love each other as brothers and refuse to judge.

Look, there are people in here that take stricter stances than me and there are people in here that take looser stances than me. But we’ve all been received of God. We are all brothers. We don’t have to fight about it. We don’t have to police each other all the time. We don’t have to all be a bunch of mindless cookie-cutter drones. It’s ok if we have different standards on stuff.

It’s not my place to mock people who have “higher” standards than me and it’s not my place to condemn people who have “lower” standards than me. We should be able to all get along in the church house. We should be glad to call each other brothers and sisters who have all been received of God. It doesn’t have to be a fight all the time.

So that’s the first point, I actually had planned four but I’m just going to give you two. Back to our story.

So these Jewish Christians couldn’t handle people who were applying scripture differently than they were. Ok, and they started believing and spreading this false rumor about the apostle Paul. Catch this, when Paul went into town, he was actually being lambasted as a liberal preacher.

I can just hear it:

  • You won’t believe what I heard Paul said in his last message. He’s going liberal!
  • He’s a compromiser!
  • He’s going down!
  • Look at his lean - look at the direction he’s going!
  • He doesn’t even believe the Bible any more!

And they sharpened their teeth and were ready to dig into him.

Meanwhile - nothing they said about him was true. Nothing.
Meanwhile - he was on his way to bring them an offering that he’d spent years preparing. Meanwhile - he’s in another country getting the tar beaten out of him for preaching the gospel.

Let me read you something a Christian newspaper wrote about a young preacher:

His style is that of the vulgar colloquial, varied by rant ... All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled. Common sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes.

A famous Baptist pastor said this about that same preacher:

"I have — most solemnly have — my doubts as the Divine reality of his conversion"

The newspapers wrote articles and made cartoons about him. Christians all over the place piled on about him and talked about how liberal he was and how he was going to make a mocker of Christianity. Do you know who that young preacher was? It was Charles Spurgeon.

In the 1860s a group of Christian missionaries in China wrote a paper mocking “the pigtail mission.” That’s what they called China Inland Mission because Hudson Taylor insisted that the men who ministered with him dress like Chinese and adopt Chinese customs. They were mocked brutally for it and were warned against by many pastors.

Do you get the point? Let me give you the principle:

B. When it comes to preachers, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn them as liberal.

Paul came and they called him a liberal preacher. Spurgeon came and they called him a liberal pastor and even questioned if he was saved. Hudson Taylor came and they called him a liberal missionary. Jesus came and they said he was a glutton and a winebibber.

Church - people don’t have a very good track record when it comes to labelling preachers.

Look - there are pastors, even people in our town who do things I don’t agree with. If I know without a shadow of a doubt that they are doing something awful - I’ll warn you about it. But I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to jump to conclusions.

Listen church, write this down, it’s far better to let a guilty person go innocent than to punish an innocent person as guilty. That’s a biblical principle. That was built into the Old Testament law.

it’s far better to let a guilty person go innocent than to punish an innocent person as guilty.

Do you think these jewish Christians made it into heaven and God said “Oh congratulations, you kept everyone straight. Good for you.” Or do you think they were ashamed and probably are still ashamed for spreading half-true things about one of God’s choice servants?

Which one do you want to be?

I’m not here to police other preachers - neither are you. I’m not here to play Nostradamus about where their church is going to be in ten years and neither are you.

So let’s wrap this up. Let me tell you what I think is the one overarching principle of this whole thing:

Just give people grace. Give people grace. Treat them like you would want to be treated. Mind your own business, love each other, and serve God.

Let’s stand for invitation and prayer.