One of the things I have done since finishing 2 years of NT Greek is to attempt to read some of the Greek NT each day with the aid of a handy dictionary which gives each word that appears less than 50 times in the NT for each verse. Some books don’t have too many of these words, but others have lots. Acts is one which has lots. I’m told by people who know about these things that Luke’s Greek is (together with Hebrews) the most “correct” in the NT – which means that it contains lots of more complex constructions. Amongst other things this means that my reading of Acts is sometimes painfully slow as I piece it together bit by bit.
This means I notice more, and seems to have the effect of pulling my attention away from the high drama miracles to the more mundane. One thing I’ve noticed is that Acts has a lot of information about Paul’s journeys. There is lots about getting on and off boats, meeting up with believers, and moving on to new places. Paul spent a lot of time travelling, and a lot of time staying with people. There is a massive network of relationships described in Luke’s accounts of Paul’s journeys.
Today I reached Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. He was warned by various people not to go to Jerusalem – indeed his arrest was prophesied – but Paul was clear that he had to get to Jerusalem. Paul had organised a collection from the (relatively) wealthy Gentile churches for the poorer Jerusalem church to assist during a famine. Not only was this a good thing to do, it was also a visible demonstation of unity between Jew and Gentile. On top of this it could also be seen as a kind of fulfilment of OT prophecies about the wealth of the nations going up to Jerusalem.
When Paul reached Jerusalem and met the Jerusalem church they asked for a visible sign that Paul took the Law seriously, so that those believers who were “zealous for the law” could be reassured. Paul had to purify himself along with 4 men (Jewish Christians) under a vow, and pay for their vow in the temple. He did this (living out 1 Corinthians 9-10 in the process – “all things to all men”) – but was spotted in the temple by some Jews from “Asia” (modern Turkey).
Ironically these Jews respond in a very similar way to the pagans of Ephesus (one of the chief cities of Asia) and raise a riot against Paul, as follows.
Acts 21:27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.
The phrase that caught my eye was “they supposed”. They didn’t know. They had no evidence. They simply supposed. And a riot resulted. It’s easy to suppose. In church life it is easy to “suppose” motives and reasons where a completely different set actually exist. If we don’t know the full story then jumping to conclusions is dangerous and stupid. In some situations it can ruin lives.
Sometimes we know. Sometimes we have to act. Sometimes a riot is needed. But sometimes we have added two and two and made 5. In those cases we should stop and suspend judgement. I think that we should be willing to suspend judgement on some situations and people. Especially when those people and situations are remote from us, and have little direct impact we should be willing to let others closer decide. This suspending judgement can be quite hard, but I think it is well worth attempting.
It seems to me that this is a particular danger with the internet: things from a distance seem close to us and we feel that we need to judge every situation and person. It is better for our spiritual health if we focus judgement on ourselves, and if we discern those situations which we can genuinely have a positive impact on and seek out the good we should do in those ways and places. Usually these will be the concrete, real places where we actually physically live and move, where we relate and are related to. In these places we need especially not to make judgements on appearances – but in these places we will actually need to make sure we know the facts – or know from a trustworthy source that we do not need to know the facts.
That was a thought process from working out a particular phrase in Acts – not the point of the passage by any means – but a spin off in my brain that I’ve been trying to get my head around. I’ve been deliberately non-specific about situations where reserving judgement may be needed because the specific situations aren’t the point – the point is our reaction to them.