There is a common phrase, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans.’ Now this can have two meanings or applications. The negative or improper application is using it as an excuse to do the wrong things… kind of like ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. However, there is a legitimate and proper application of the phrase as well.
About 15 years ago, my sister (who was Methodist) married a man who was Jewish. The wedding ceremony was a joint ceremony. Parts were Protestant and parts were Jewish. The Protestant portion was first and followed by the Jewish portion. When the Rabbi took over, all the men involved in the wedding party (Jewish or not) put on their kippah. While a Protestant does not believe such an action is necessary to fulfill the Law (since Jesus has already fulfilled it) doing so does not somehow negate the sacrifice that Jesus made. For a Christian to adorn a ceremonial covering in line with the Jews, is showing respect for the Jews without compromising their own faith.
Such an event (although way more extreme) was demonstrated when Timothy joined Paul on his missionary journey. Paul chooses to perform a very Jewish practice with Timothy so his presence in the ministry would not distract the Jewish people they were witnessing too.
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
With my sister’s wedding, the wearing of the kippah would be a very publicly visible thing. Everyone would know if you did not wear it. However with circumcision, nobody would know if Timothy had been circumcised or not, so why go to this extreme? Simple, Paul wanted to show Timothy that integrity was critical. Since they were ministering to Jews, these men would not listen to a ‘teacher’ of any kind who was not circumcised. Now Timothy could have easily simply said he was, who would know. But ministering through lies is never a good move.
So Timothy went to the extreme of an adult circumcision in order that he could witness to and teach the Jewish men. As a result, ‘they increased in numbers daily’.
How does this relate to us today? Simple. We are absolutely free in Christ. Our sins are forgiven and there is nothing we can do to earn His favor. However, there are things we can do to earn the respect of people we wish to witness too. If those things are wrong or immoral or illegal, then it’s not worth seeking to earn this respect. However if there are things that are not part of our faith, but would win over others to open them up to hear the Gospel, then by all means… do as the Romans.
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