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Acts 18:18 - Homilies By R. Tuck

St. Paul's personal relations with Judaism.

"Having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow." For the various explanations of this allusion which have been offered, reference must be made to the Exegetical portion of this Commentary. For some reason, which St. Paul regarded as sufficient, he had allowed his hair to grow for a time, and now, the time of the vow being nearly expired, he had his hair cut (not shaved) before starting on his journey into Syria. The point to which we bend attention, as suggesting suitable lessons for us, is that, being a born Jew, St. Paul found himself bound by rules and ceremonials which he did not feel justified in pressing upon his Gentile converts. This may give a seeming inconsistency to St. Paul's conduct, but it really reveals the nobility of his spirit, and the self-mastery and self-rule which he had won. We should carefully distinguish between the limitations under which a good man and wise teacher may please to confine his own personal conduct, and the freedom from such personal limitations which he may enjoin in his public teachings. As an illustration, reference may be made to such matters as card-playing and going to theatres. The Christian teacher who feels that no rule on such matters can be laid down, is quite consistent with such teaching if he pleases to put himself under rule, and will neither play cards nor attend theatres. And this was the position of St. Paul. He felt that personally he did not wish to break off the familiar Jewish bonds of his lifetime; but while he personally met all Jewish claims, he resolutely championed the freedom of the Gentile Christians from all such restrictions and limitations. Impress that the details of a man's conduct are fully within his own management, and that in our public relations we can only deal with principles, leaving all direct applications to the judgment and conscience of the individual. Still, it should be noticed that the apparent diversity between St. Paul's personal conduct and public teachings gave his enemies a seemingly fair ground of accusation. We remark that—

I. A MAN 'S PERSONAL LIFE MUST BE CONSISTENT WITH HIS PUBLIC TEACHINGS . Two things we demand of a public teacher:

The force behind a man must be the force of the man himself. We mast know him, and have adequate assurance that the things he speaks have a living power upon himself. We properly require something more than consistency; we ask for a harmony between words and works which wilt show that each are set to the same keynote. if St. Paul's enemies were right, and his Judaical practices were out of harmony with his public teachings, then they pluck the life and power from his teaching. Impress that still all public teaching is ineffective which is beyond the personal attain-merit of the speaker. He can only utter it as intellectual knowledge or as current sentiment. A man only speaks with power when he tells what he has himself "tasted and handled and felt of the Word of life."

II. A MAN 'S PRIVATE LIFE MAY BE RULED BY CONSIDERATIONS WHICH HE DOES NOT FEEL BOUND TO PRESS ON OTHERS . This is the point suggested by our text, and a simple illustration will show us St. Paul's position. A Christian teacher nowadays may be personally impressed with the examples of David and Daniel, and may feel that to adopt a rule of praying three times a day will be of direct service to his spiritual life. But he may feel that he has no right to press his rule upon his congregation as a binding one for all. He commends the duty of prayer, but he puts himself under limitations which are for himself alone. Many Christian people make intellectual and spiritual advances, which we might think would give them a large freedom in conduct, and yet the fact is that, to the end of their days, they voluntarily keep up their old habits and practices, preferring to set themselves within what they find to be well-ordered limitations. In such cases it is rather an over-severe consistency than anything like inconsistency which we find. Modern evil rather goes in the direction of over-demand of personal liberty as new aspects of Divine truth gain prominence. There is too little of Pauline self-regulation on the Christian principles.

III. A MAN 'S PERSONAL LIMITATIONS NEED NOT CONFUTE HIS PUBLIC TEACHINGS . They may be matters of dispute, on which the Church is divided. He need not make his decisions, for the ordering of his own private life, keep him from the public utterance of the great principles and duties. The readiest illustration of this point may be taken from the use of fermented drinks. A Christian teacher may decide that it is necessary for his well-being that he should use such drinks regularly and moderately. Now, such a man is not debarred by his own personal habit from publicly dealing with the great social evil of drunkenness. He can in no way be charged with inconsistency, since the matter is one of personal limitation, and not one of scriptural principle. St. Paul claimed the right to preach as a Gentile, and to limit himself by Jewish rules, if it pleased him to do so.—R.T.

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