Giving Up for the Gospel (Acts 16:1-3)

Figure 1: I Have a Right to do This!

A few years ago my boys President and Chancellor came into my room with earrings. Over the years they have often asked if I am willing to pierce my ears; the answer has always been no. And the reasons have always been the same. However, this time they were able to convince me to don the ornaments. And so, after a few moments I did it. And then, to the surprise of my wife, I posted pictures on Facebook.

Before the day ended the post got a few likes, a few compliments, and a few emojis indicating that my decision was unexpected. But there were a number of my friends that were completely silent. Perhaps some were wondering what I was thinking and how I could transgress clearly stated commands not to have piercings. Some believers are outspoken in being against a Christian man having a pierced ear. That say that it is a sign of slavery based on passages like Deuteronomy 15:16-17 and Exodus 21:5-6. (These passages are laws concerning what to do when a slave who is free to leave decides to stay with their master; in each passage the ear is pierced with an awl as part of a public decision to stay.) And then there are some who are just against the idea of a man wearing what has commonly been associated with women’s apparel. They say that an earring is effeminate and therefore wrong. They have verses to go with their position as well (e.g., Deuteronomy 22:5). Finally, there are more than a few people who just don’t think it is right. They don’t have any biblical support for their cantankerously expressed convictions. But it “jus’ ain’t right!”

In response I would like to point out a few things. First, Christians are not under the old covenant. We are, by the Spirit, in Christ and thus not under the law (Galatians 3:10; 4:21; 5:18). The commands concerning piercings were part of the old covenant; those commands have been superseded by a better covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). Second, there is no Old Testament prohibition on men wearing earrings. It was actually common for both men and women to wear them:

  • The Household and Company Wear Earrings (Genesis 35:1-4)
  • The Sons Wear Earrings (Exodus 32:1-2)
  • Men and Women Bring Earrings (Exodus 35:20-22)
  • Ishmaelites Wear Earrings (Judges 8:24-25)

earring – An ornament worn on the earlobe by Israelite men, women, and even “sons and daughters” (Exod. 32:2–3). (Myers, 1987, p. 298)

earring, ērʹring: An ornamental pendant of some kind hanging from the ears has been worn by both sexes in oriental lands from the earliest times. Among the Greeks and Romans, as with western peoples in general, its use was confined to females. The ears in the statue of the Medicean Venus are pierced and probably were originally ornamented with earrings. It is clear, however, that among the Hebrews and related oriental peoples earrings were worn by both sexes. Abraham’s servant “put the earring upon [Rebekah’s] face, and the bracelets upon her hands” (Gen 24:47 AV ), in accordance with custom, evidently, but it is implied that it was customary for men also to wear earrings, in that the relatives and friends of Job “every one [gave him] an earring of gold” (Job 42:11 AV ). (Eager, 1915, p. 887)

So then, what is the modern problem with a man wearing an earring? It depends on where you are. In the West many modern Christians project their own cultural biases on the masses and trying to pass it off as part of Christianity. Wearing or not wearing an earring has nothing to do with Christianity. The old has passed away and a new covenant of grace based on the work of Christ has replaced it.

Third, I am not a Jew; I am a Gentile. (Although, based on words from my father I am of Jewish decent, I cannot be regarded as a Jew since my mother is not a Jewess.) As a Gentile I am under no obligation to be circumcised or to go back to the vast array of laws given by Moses (Acts 15:23-29). [When the question of what is required to be right with God became a dispute the church in Antioch sent a delegation to Jerusalem to get a verdict. The decision rendered by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem says that I am to stay away from idols, from blood, from things strangled, from sexual immorality, and from things offered to idols (Acts 15:23-29). They never mentioned piercings. It says that if I do that I “will do well.”] Fourth, the day the picture was taken was 1 April 2017. Get it?

While I am free to get an earring… I did not get my ear pierced and do not plan to. My reasons are logical and biblical. First, why pierce my ear if I can get the same effect with magnets? The earring seen in the picture is being held in place by a magnet on the other side of my earlobe. Second, while I have the right to do this I cannot let my rights become an impediment to being a witness. All things are permissible for me. But not all things are profitable. Is it lawful for me to wear an earring? Yes! I have the right to wear an earring. But is it following mindset of Jesus to claim that right at the expense of being effective in sharing the gospel (Acts 1:8; Philippians 2:5-8)? The real question is, “Should wearing the earring be placed above having credibility with those who don’t really understand the issue?” Paul says no!

23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NKJV)

In this letter to the church in Corinth he says that believers should not get caught up in their own cares, absorbed in their own agenda, or preoccupied with their own priorities. “Let no one seek his own.” Instead, Paul says that they should “seek” or look for ways to care for others and that they should work for the well-being of others. “[B]ut each one [seek] the other’s well-being.” Before that he says, using himself as an example, it is not a matter of what is lawful. “All things are lawful for me.” Christ’s work has moved us out from under the law. But not everything that is lawful for him will be found to be helpful in loving his brethren and leading others to him. “[N]ot all things are helpful.”

It is parochial and perhaps legalistic to only look at whether or not something is lawful. Such a perspective on relating to Christ and his people puts my focus on what I can get away with and not how to honor him and help others.

I do not sport tattoos and I do not have piercings. But my decision to refrain from these body modifications is not based on a conviction rooted in some old covenant command. Even though it might be cool with some it would limit my ability to preach Christ among other groups. Wearing the earring does not promote the coming of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 10:23) and would definitely make it difficult if not impossible to share life-changing truth with some people. While I may be able to defend my position I cannot defend the decision to place my rights above the welfare of those who don’t know the Lord and the scruples of weaker brethren that do understand the issue (Romans 14:1-3).

More important than my rights is a right regard for those Christ would redeem and those He has redeemed. More important than my rights is the mission to make Him known and love His people.

In the endeavor to effectively promote the gospel it is of paramount importance that the promoter not prioritize his or her own preferences above the needs of the people being reached. When we can we must aim to accommodate the audience in order that at last they might accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. This may mean living meager, avoiding meat, or not having an earring. At times it may mean letting go of things we like so that that we are better suited to lead people to Jesus.

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NKJV)

It seems that the vast majority of people in the United States are chiefly concerned with their own rights. Sometimes it seems that everyone is ready to claim the promises made to them in the Bill of Rights. And they have no problem expressing their disdain for anyone or anything that would limit their rights. At the time this post is being created our nation is beset by all-about-me thinking. Meanwhile, when have we heard people or leaders talk seriously about their responsibilities and the citizen’s obligation to live sacrificially for the good of the nation? What about the Bill of Responsibilities? We currently live in a nation of unprecedented freedoms. Those freedoms were purchased with the blood of people who were willing to set aside their own interests for the good of all. As the nation reels with the consequences of egocentricity the church falters with the same problem: people are more concerned with their rights in Christ than their responsibilities to Him and others. Jesus followers are increasingly focused on finding their own happiness and fighting for their personal rights. Community has become merely a word added to the name of a local church to make it more socially appealing. True concern for Christ and His community evaporates quickly when we don’t like the preaching style, the praise band, the condescending comments of a legalist in the fellowship, or the push to help with youth or finances. But listen to Paul, friends. Listen seriously to someone who has served effectively! He says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19). He knows his rights. But he has imposed limitations on himself in order to help people with what matters most – faith in Jesus. People who have this perspective are rare.

reaching the world with grace

Figure 2: Bring the Grace of the Gospel to the World

Putting Timothy’s Sacrifice in Perspective
(Acts 16:1–5, NKJV) — 1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.
Paul and Silas have come to Derbe and Lystra with the goal of strengthening the churches planted on the previous missionary journey (Acts 16:1). Luke, the historian sharing this account, says look. He says, “Take notice of what they found there.” The and behold (καὶ ἰδοὺ) is reminiscent of the phrase as it is used in Luke’s gospel. In that work he used and behold ten times (NKJV) to call his reader to look intently at what is recorded (NKJV, Luke 1:31; 2:9, 25; 7:37; 8:41; 9:30, 39; 10:25; 13:11; 14:2). It is a summons to see a big meaning, an important detail for the narrative, or truth that must not be overlooked and that has importance to the reader. What is it that Luke would have the reader to notice? Timothy (Τιμόθεος – precious to God). He says, in effect, this is the backstory of a well-known young man who had the privilege of being a protege and then partner with Paul. It answers the question of why he was selected.

He is of mixed heritage being the offspring of Jewess and a Greek. Jesus followers in Lystra and Iconium continuously spoke well of him (Acts 16:2). (The verb ἐμαρτυρεῖτο is the imperfect of μαρτυρέω – to bear witness or testify about.) Paul took special interest in Timothy and wanted to have him go on with him. Why? What did Paul see in Timothy that caused him to want Timothy in their company?

Could Paul have known this so soon after meeting the young man? Probably not. (There are some that would be in Paul’s company and later fall away from his fellowship and following the Lord. Based on the way that their names are used in letters it was not immediately apparent to Paul that they would eventually apostatize. A notable example is Demas. He is mentioned in Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14, and finally 2 Timothy 4:10. His name starts in the middle of the list and moves to the back.) But Timothy has a good testimony with the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2). If Paul were visiting today would your reputation among the people in your fellowship and nearby churches cause him to consider taking you along? Before you answer look at the next verse.

Paul circumcised Timothy. Ouch! But why was he circumcised if salvation is not accomplished through the law. It was not question of his salvation. It was his suitability for ministry to other Jews. The decision to ask the young man to be circumcised was based on (1) his ethnic identity and (2) the type of ministry that he was being asked to join – it was to the Jew first and the Greek also (Luke 2:30; Romans 1:16; 2:9; Acts 3:26). Because Timothy’s mother is a Jewess he is regarded as being a Jew himself.

According to later rabbinic law, a child born of a Jewish mother and a Greek father was considered to be Jewish. The marriage of a Jewish woman to a non-Jew was considered a nonlegal marriage; and in all instances of nonlegal marriages, the lineage of the child was reckoned through the mother. (Polhill, 1992, p.343)

This is not a matter of salvation but of credibility – of ethos. As a Jew Timothy would have no credibility in bringing the gospel to other Jews if he were not circumcised. “You want to talk to me about receiving Jesus as Messiah and you, a Jew, didn’t even receive the message of Moses.”

But Timothy’s willingness to be circumcised is altogether foreign to our my-rights-centered way of thinking. We are quick to quote the bill the rights but less inclined to recite the bill of responsibilities. We are fast and furious to remind anyone asking us to be inconvenienced of what we are entitled to. Paul was set apart in his ability to differentiate between the principles of following Jesus and his particular experience. He was unusual in his uncanny skill for identifying what could be conceded in the effort to reach others and what could not be compromised. His mindset is unlike that of the typical Pharisee.

More important than my rights is a right regard for those Christ would redeem and those He has redeemed. More important than my rights is the mission to make Him known and love His people.

In the endeavor to effectively promote the gospel it is of paramount importance that the promoter not prioritize his or her own preferences above the needs of the people being reached. When we can we must aim to accommodate the audience in order that at last they might accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. This may mean living meager, avoiding meat, or not having an earring. At times it may mean letting go of things we like so that that we are better suited to lead people to Jesus.

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NKJV)

People who have this perspective are rare. That vast majority of people in the United States are chiefly concerned with their rights. Sometimes it seems that everyone is ready to claim the promises made to them in the Bill of Rights. And they have no problem expressing their disdain for anyone or anything that would limit their rights. At the time this post is being created our nation is beset by all-about-me thinking. Meanwhile, when have we heard people or leaders talk seriously about their responsibilities and the citizen’s obligation to live sacrificially for the good of the nation? What about the Bill of Responsibilities? We currently live in a nation of unprecedented freedoms. Those freedoms were purchased with the blood of people who were willing to set aside their own interests for the good of all. As the nation reels with the consequences of egocentricity the church falters with the same problem: people are more concerned with their rights in Christ than their responsibilities to Him and others. Jesus followers are increasingly focused on finding their own happiness and fighting for their personal rights. Community has become merely a word added to the name of a local church to make it more socially appealing. True concern for Christ and His community evaporates quickly when we don’t like the preaching style, the praise band, the condescending comments of a legalist in the fellowship, or the push to help with youth or finances. But listen to Paul, friends. Listen seriously to someone who has served effectively! He says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19). He knows his rights. But he has imposed limitations on himself in order to help people with what matters most – faith in Jesus. Again, people who have this perspective are rare.

Later the rugged church planter and apostle would write this about the young man to the church in Philippi:

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. (Philippians 2:19–22, NKJV)

Timothy is willing to give up some of himself, literally, in order that he would be more effective in helping others have eternal life. And some of us are looking at the need for a circumcision. How? We are needing to cut something that is a sensitive area, a sacrifice, but that makes us less suitable for being sent.

Could I Be Better? by Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.
Lord, as I read this letter
I’m asking, “Could I be better?”
If my ministry is going to be optimized
Lord, do I need to be circumcised?
Tell me, Jesus, I need to know
Are there things or people that need to go?
Are there things or people that need to go?
To be more like this Timothy
To be the best that I could be
To be more useful to You today
Lord, what needs to be cut away?

 

In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.

Recommendations

  • Prayerfully Review – Regularly review the things that you regard as important to ask if any of them are making you less effective in leading others to Jesus?
  • Prayerfully Remove – Let go of anything that is hurting your witness, hampering your suitability for reaching other people, and hindering your reach.

New Testament Commentary on Timothy

Mentions of Timothy in the New Testament Regarded as a Faithful Son (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Timothy 1:2)

  • Carries the Message, the Manners, and the Mission of Paul (1 Corinthians 4:17, NKJV) 17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.
  • Capable of Pastoring (2 Timothy 1:2, NKJV) 2 To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Recognized as a Coworker (Romans 16:21; 1 Cor 16:10; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 19:22)

  • Distinguished Co-Laborer (Romans 16:21, NKJV) 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.
  • Deserving Respect (1 Corinthians 16:10, NKJV) 10 And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.
  • Honored with Position in Letter Opening (Philippians 1:1, NKJV) 1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
  • Trusted Fellow Laborer (1 Thessalonians 3:2, NKJV) 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,

References

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Myers, A. C. (1987). Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Eager, G. B. (1915). Earring. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

About the author

Roderick was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. His early years were filled with learning about Jesus through the local church; his grandfather was a pastor and his grandmother always encouraged him to love and serve the Lord. Although he was brought up in a Christian home it was not until his second year in college that he made a decision to place the treasure of his trust in Jesus Christ.

Since that time Roderick has been on the adventure of learning from Jesus and helping others to learn about him. Roderick and his wife Darlene reside in Texas. They have six boys, two grandchildren, and a strange border collie.