Is Circumcision relevant to Christians today? This Old Covenant custom may be more relevant than you think. I know you’re probably wondering one of three things: What in the world does she have to say?, Is she crazy?, or I am not clipping anything! Well, Today, I came across a really interesting story that gives reasons as to why everyone should consider adding circumcision into their lives. *ques deep dramatic voice* Let us now open our Bibles to Acts 16.
The story begins with Paul and Silas’ visit to Derbe.
“16 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers[a] in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.”
Cool. It seemed really simple; however, this passage puzzled me and I did not understand why. As I moved on, my spirit was grieved in such a way that prodded me to delve deeper…and what I found definitely has God’s fingerprints all over it.
What was the problem?
Why couldn’t Timothy just join the journey? Why did so much take place between Paul’s decision and Timothy’s addition? What was the problem? Was it because he was only half Jewish? Or was it because he was half Greek? Well, Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles, so I don’t think Timothy’s being half Greek posed much of an issue. Then what was the problem? “He arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.” That was quite a big assumption, especially being that Timothy’s mother was Jewish and he was reared in the Jewish way. However, as a product of the times, Timothy’s father must not have believed in the custom of circumcision, leaving Timothy uncircumcised. Having Known this, Paul circumcised Timothy before setting out on their journey.
Which brings me to my second question.
2. Why would Paul have Timothy circumcised?
Wasn’t circumcision a custom of the Old Covenant? Didn’t Paul, Peter, and Barnabas just throw out the notion that Gentiles must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses in Acts 15?
Let’s visit Acts 15
The Council at Jerusalem
“15 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers[a]: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. 7 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers[b] with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
12 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree,…Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God…”
3. So, Why did he do it?
I didn’t make sense. Paul, the same apostle that opposed Peter in Galatians 11:14 saying, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” How could he sign off on such a thing? Why would he participate in the same thing he preached against? As my mind raced, I asked God, “Why? Why, would Paul, of all people, agree to and administer the circumcision?” The answer was simple…to save others.
Problem or Principle?
“In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.”
Paul didn’t view Timothy’s circumcision as a problem but as a possible stumbling block. The Jews of the area were not Christians; therefore, they were not yet fully convinced that we are saved by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fearing the message maybe be lost, Paul removed the stumbling block so it would not be a distraction later. Romans 14:13-19 states, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died…19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” He also proceeded to say, “So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live–for I don’t want another believer to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Paul’s decision to circumcise Timothy did not counter the message of Christ nor the things that he preached but rather embodied the Gospel in its entirety.
“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35
Timothy’s circumcision was not to resolve a problem, but to showcase principle. Love. The bible says that the world will know the children of God by the way we love. 1 John 3:16-18 says, “By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The Gospel is calling us to love and sometimes love requires sacrifice. For example, We may be free in certain areas, but these same areas may be a stumbling block for others. We must be loving, attentive, and cognitive of the condition of our brothers and sisters around us. Sometimes love will require us to make adjustments, be uncomfortable, and make changes that may be downright painful; however, we must believe that the well being of our brothers and sisters is just as important of our own. In this moment, Timothy showed us that The understanding of his Jewish brothers and sisters was more important than exercising his personal rights as a Christian. Timothy’s circumcision was an act of love.
Removing the Stumbling Block
Jesus encourages us to live a life modeled after his own. A life of sacrifice. He encourages us to care for others as much as we care for ourselves and sometimes more. Timothy sacrificed himself for the betterment of his brethren. How many of us are willing to do that? To sacrifice, even if that sacrifice causes pain. To be honest, not many. We are called to live a life of sacrifice modeled after our Lord and Savior who sacrificed his life for us. We are not perfect, but He is. We are not strong, but He is. We cannot sacrifice and put others before ourselves, but He DID. When we keep God at the forefront of our minds and commit ourselves to walking out His will, it becomes easier to sacrifice, love, and endure pain for one another. This type of love and sacrifice builds the body. Jesus Christ is the source of our strength and He will lead and guide us on how to properly sacrifice for Him and others. I pray that God touches the hearts of each and every one of us and that learn to love like Him, sacrifice like Him, and become a splitting image of Him.