“Word for Today” – Acts 16 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 12, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Hamlet 1

They are some of the most famous words ever spoken in English.  Act three, scene one.  Hamlet reflects:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.

Although these words are dearly cherished by Shakespeare lovers everywhere, I have never cared for them that much.  For Hamlet sings the praises not of his “to be,” but of his “not to be.”  That is, he wishes for death so that his suffering and trouble may end, although later in his soliloquy, he somberly notes that not even death promises certain bliss:

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus, Hamlet remains ambiguous toward his very life – wavering between the options of “to be” and “not to be.”

Hamlet’s famous opening line – “To be, or not to be: that is the question” – has become a cliché way of expressing ambiguity toward two competing options.  Almost every verb imaginable has been substituted in place of Hamlet’s “to be.”  “To eat or not to eat:  that is the question.”  “To work or not to work:  that is the question.”  I’ve even come across, in tribute to our technological obsession, “To text or not to text while driving:  that is the question.”

In our reading for today from Acts 16, we once again find use for Hamlet’s famous query.  Our text opens:

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (verses 1-3)

Now wait a minute!  I thought in the previous chapter, the Christian church met in council at Jerusalem and concluded that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).  Therefore, circumcision of the uncircumcised was not to be required.  Why does Paul here require Timothy to be circumcised?  To paraphrase Hamlet:  “To circumcise or not to circumcise:  that is the question!”

Clearly, Timothy’s circumcision is not connected to his salvation.  For the church has always believed that “it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (Acts 15:11), not by any effort of our own, including that of circumcision.  No, Timothy is circumcised not for salvation, but out of consideration – consideration toward those Jews who had long included circumcision as a primary part of their piety.  Because Timothy will be ministering among them, out of respect, he becomes like one of them so that they will be maximally open to his sharing of Christ’s gospel.

“To be or not to be:  that is the question.”  The Bible’s answer is consistently, “to be.”  As Paul writes:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)

Paul is willing to become many things to many people to share the most important thing with all people:  the grace of God through Christ.

How about you?  Who can you be to share the gospel?  Can you be a friend to someone in need?  Can you be a listening ear to one who is hurting?  Can you be a crier of repentance to someone who is sinning?  Who can you be to share the gospel?  My prayer for you today is that, moved by deep compassion toward others, you would be all you can be for the sake of the gospel.  For Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” is not really a question for the Christian.  We are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s gospel.  No question about it.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 15 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Acts 17 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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