Our girls were PK’s—pastor’s kids—for fourteen years of their growing-up years. Trina was eight and Emily was five when we accepted our first call to ministry. The church in which we served was a part of a conservative, northern-Indiana community. We tried hard to say “yes” to our girls whenever possible. It’s much more fun to say “yes” as a parent, isn’t it? But on those occasions when we had to say “no,” we tried not to use that despicable excuse, “…because your Dad is the pastor.” Unfortunately, as our girls grew into those teenage years, they developed a hearing impairment called PK-itis, which makes all rules sound as if they’re somehow related to their father’s profession. Rules such as: no jeans or shorts for Sunday morning worship, mandatory youth group attendance, and no R-rated movies, seemed like unreasonable demands from an over-holy pastoral-parental unit. We tried to explain that we would have enforced these rules whether their father was a pastor or not. But PK-itis set it. They didn’t believe it.
Now, I look back on those days and ponder…We were sincere—truly making those rules without any consideration of my husband’s pastoral status. We dressed in our best as a sacrifice of praise. We felt youth activities were as foundational for their spiritual well-being as small group fellowships were for ours. And we held to the same movie standard we required of our girls. But rules are tricky…and thus the pondering. The more rules we created, the more I worried about how our lives measured up to a “good” pastor’s family. The rules themselves became a measuring stick for success as parents, as a family. It can become an insidious spiral, these rules and motives of the heart. I think Paul would agree…
Acts 21:17-20 – “When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 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.’” (emphasis added)
Do you get the idea that the elders were distracted from what was REALLY important? They received Paul and his companions, sort of listened to his report, gave compulsory praise to God, and then got to their REAL issue—the contentious Jews and the law. Imagine how Paul felt. He’d been persecuted, beaten, left for dead; he had great success and some failure for the gospel. I’m guessing he’d hoped for a little encouragement from those in leadership…and they brushed him off to talk about what seemed to be their REAL concern—the Jews. Compulsory attention to my concern is an insult when the bulk of the conversation revolves around your underlying agenda. Or turn it back on ourselves…do I give my full attention when someone pours out their heart to me? Do I whole-heartedly rejoice or cry with them?
Acts 21:21-25 – “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. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 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.” (emphasis added)
Evidently the Jewish “believers” in Jerusalem ruled the roost, and the leadership seemed willing to appease them at any cost. They suggested Paul take a vow, a public display of holiness—genuine or insincere—didn’t matter. Then, they gave Paul a list of rules for the Gentiles to follow. More public displays of holiness—genuine or insincere—did it matter? It’s important to consider our “vows” before we take them. Are we following the “rules” of salvation because we’ve counted the cost and willingly choose to obey? Or are we following man’s rules—to appease others or because it’s a habit?
Acts 21:26 – “The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.” (emphasis added)
Why didn’t Paul protest? Why didn’t he challenge the church leaders’ motive? He certainly wasn’t shy. He didn’t seem averse to conflict! There could’ve been many reasons he didn’t protest, of course, but I choose to believe that Paul chose to take the vow because he meant it. When our outward display—a so-called law or rule—matches our inner conviction, it becomes an act worship. It’s all about attitude. Paul could have refused, and it would have become conflict. (Conflict isn’t necessarily bad when it’s handled correctly, but in this case, he chose not to rock the proverbial boat.) Paul could have bitterly complied, and it would have been hypocrisy. But—I hope—Paul took the vow to heart, and it was worship.
- Lord, work in my heart so that every act of obedience is worship—not hypocrisy. Only You can see my motivation. Only You can see the true reason for my expressions of worship. May my life always reflect the inward discipline You’re working in me. I want to be faithful, authentic, and focused on what is important to You.