Verse: Acts 21:20-25
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
Once again, people are spreading lies about Paul. They are expanding the truth to make him look bad, and serve their purposes. They were acting like they cared about the truth, but in reality it was a power play. Just like with Jesus, they were angry and jealous that people were following Paul.
So how do we read this and apply it to our lives? For me it helps to see that when people misunderstand or misrepresent me because of my faith, it isn't just me. I really struggle with this personally. I want people to like me. But the truth is, if I follow Jesus people will disagree with me, misunderstand me, and even misrepresent me. This doesn't mean I should be a jerk though. It isn't a license to be mean, to be arrogant, or to be stupid. Paul was none of those things. Having people be upset with me because I'm a jerk about my faith isn't a badge of honor.
Peter tells us that "if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed." He tells us to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." But he says to do this with "gentleness and respect." Then he goes on twice to tell us we shouldn't suffer "for doing evil." (1 Peter 3)
So, like Jesus, and like Paul, we will suffer in some form for our beliefs. But our response to that suffering should be a response of gentleness and love. In the Acts passage above the elders ask Paul to go out of his way to try and make amends with these people who were lying about him. And he does! He doesn't get angry or blast them on Twitter—no—he moves towards them in love even as they continue to revile him.
And that's the last thing, sometimes even after our best efforts to bring peace, people will still malign us. The crowd eventually tries to kill Paul. But even after that, in the next chapter, Paul doesn't hate them. He preaches the Truth to them in an effort to save them.
There is this belief in our culture that we need to defeat our "enemies." And we define enemies as anyone who argues for a different perspective on any deeply held belief. As we read this passage, let's reflect on how differently Christians are called to treat their "enemies." It's a good heart-check. How do I treat those who are mean to me? How do I treat those who disagree with me?
Lord help me to look on those who disagree with me with your love and grace. And to learn to see them like you see them.