“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish …” These common marriage vows form the foundation of a life-long solemn promise that two people make at an altar before God. There are other times in life where we take vows: doctors vow to do no harm; ministers vow to take God’s authority to preach the gospel; folks joining secret societies vow to hold things in confidence, etc.. Vows are serious business and should not be made lightly, but with integrity and a firm commitment.
In today’s reading, we see Paul taking and confirming the vow of a Nazarite. This was a unique consecration to God of one’s life and included abstinence from wine, not cutting one’s hair for a specified period of time, and never touching a dead body. Paul completed part of this vow and shaved his head in preparation for going to Jerusalem to burn his hair at the altar there.
Acts 18:18-23 (Common English Bible)
18 After Paul stayed in Corinth for some time, he said good-bye to the brothers and sisters. At the Corinthian seaport of Cenchreae he had his head shaved, since he had made a solemn promise. Then, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, he sailed away to Syria. 19 After they arrived in Ephesus, he left Priscilla and Aquila and entered the synagogue and interacted with the Jews. 20 They asked him to stay longer, but he declined. 21 As he said farewell to them, though, he added, “God willing, I will return.” Then he sailed off from Ephesus. 22 He arrived in Caesarea, went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.
23 After some time there he left and traveled from place to place in the region of Galatia and the district of Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
This put Paul in a very unique position with the Jews to whom he was preaching the Gospel. They understood the vows of the Nazarite as outlined in Numbers 6 and Paul’s actions were familiar and comforting. In a way, he was reminding them that he would always be a Jew but was now a Jesus-following Jew. His argument that Gentiles should not be required to perform Jewish rituals was balanced by his own respect and adherence to Jewish tradition, reinforcing that Jews could remain traditional while becoming followers of the Way of Christ.
Paul was a master diplomat!
What a wonderful example for us today as we join Paul in an effort to “strengthen all the disciples” (verse 23). Paul used every bit of his history, personality, and background to woo others to Christ. We can do the same.
I am a former Navy wife, a Jersey girl, a runner, a reader, and a foodie. These are the tools I use to connect with people to make myself approachable. How about you? What is in your toolbox?
If you are a member of a United Methodist church, you took vows. You promised to support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. That last vow is God’s invitation to use all that you have to witness to others about the good news of Christ in your life. Just as Paul witnessed to Jews and Gentiles alike, we are called to witness to people of all backgrounds in an effort to share this wonderful gift of Christ.
How are you living up to your vows? Are you faithful? God calls us to live out our vows with sincerity and joy. May we be faithful to the One who invited us.
Commitment by Kathy Schumacher