Acts 21:18-27 (CEB)

Today’s devotion is written by Pastor Emily Sterling-Strongman.

Please be in prayer for children and youth attending summer camp this week at Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp. We pray that they will have a wonderful week of worship, small group conversations, games, and fun. We pray that they will come to know and experience God’s love in real and profound ways this week.

Have you ever been misunderstood?

Have you ever had your words taken out of context?

If so, then you can relate with the apostle Paul in today’s passage from Acts 21. Paul has returned to Jerusalem. He is meeting with James and other Jewish leaders of the early church. Paul gives them a report of his ministry and how people are believing that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Jerusalem church leaders praise God for such a positive response to the message of Jesus.

But wait.

The Jerusalem church leaders tell Paul, “Brother, you see how many thousands of Jews have become believers, and all of them keep the Law passionately. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to reject Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to live according to our customs” (Acts 21:20-21 CEB).

There’s more.


When the Jerusalem Council met in Acts 15, it was determined by both Jew and Gentile followers of Jesus that Gentiles did not need to convert to Judaism before becoming followers of Jesus. Jews who became followers of Jesus would continue going to synagogue and observing their religious practices.

It seems like there is a misunderstanding among the Jewish followers of Jesus about what exactly Paul is saying and doing as part of his ministry. They are having what is called a “failure to communicate.”

Paul is a Jew, a former Pharisee, and he is also a Roman citizen. His identity makes him an ideal missionary as he can travel throughout the Roman Empire telling both Jews and Gentiles the good news of Jesus Christ. He is welcomed and at home in synagogues. And he is comfortable around Gentiles. Paul does not tell Jewish folks to reject Moses or to stop observing Jewish religious practices. At the same time, Paul does not create additional burdens for the Gentiles who want to become followers of Jesus.

Members of the church in Jerusalem have misinterpreted Paul’s ministry. This
misunderstanding will follow Paul and lead to greater conflict in the coming verses and chapters.

Isn’t that sometimes the case when we have been misunderstood or when our words are taken out of context? We find ourselves dealing with greater conflict that could have been more easily resolved if only all of the people involved (us included!) had listened better, understood more readily, and perhaps asked more questions to help us more fully understand.

When have you experienced a failure to communicate with another person or group of people? What was misunderstood? What conflict did this misunderstanding cause?

How can you be a better listener today? Who do you need to listen to today?

Perhaps you want to take time today to pray this prayer of St. Francis (especially the second section): “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Please share your ideas, thoughts, comments, and questions. We want to hear them!

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