By Matt Capps
In our current cultural landscape it seems almost impossible not to offend someone, doesn’t it? I’ve heard it said that we live in an age of outrage. Now, on the one hand, we must not be cavalier about our beliefs. At the same time, we should not shrink back in proclaiming the truth according to God’s Word. We know all too well that many of the doctrines that Christians hold with a tight fist are countercultural and offensive to some. The question is, are there ways to advocate for our beliefs with confidence while demonstrating compassion? How can we demonstrate what we might call, convictional kindness? The gospel is offensive enough—do we need to be?
In Acts 16 the apostle Paul provides us with a master’s course on laying aside the nonessentials so as to not build an unnecessary wall around the essential message of Jesus Christ. In this chapter we are introduced to Timothy, who was born the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile Father. Timothy was to accompany Paul into Lystra as a missionary, but there was a problem. Timothy had not been circumcised, and for the Jewish people in that community this would have been a difficult cultural marker to overlook. Paul has made it clear in his other writings, namely Galatians, that circumcision would not have been necessary for Timothy to be accepted by God. After all, one is accepted by God through Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone. However, for Timothy to be accepted by those in the synagogues of Lystra who needed the gospel, it seemed reasonable to have him circumcised.
In other words, Paul and Timothy wanted to remove this unnecessary hindrance for their mission work. The example of Paul and Timothy in this passage is a moving demonstration of the principle we find in Jesus’s second great commandment: to love others in the same way that we would want to be loved (Matthew 22:39). Timothy was willing to set aside anything in order to remove barriers to people hearing about the grace of God.
The question we should all ask ourselves is what nonessentials we are willing to lay down to demonstrate a priority of the mission over our own preferences. Perhaps it is our political views. Perhaps it is your preferences in matters that are culturally sensitive where the Bible leaves room for freedom. Perhaps, it is simply going the extra mile to make it clear that you love someone else more than you love your own comforts. I do think God honors such self-sacrificing actions. After all, when Paul and Timothy set aside their hindrances for the mission, God blessed their efforts. For the text tells us that “…the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).