Paul once again shows us an aspect of Christianity that sometimes is easily overlooked. I do not think anyone would argue the point that Paul is a man of strong convictions; after all, he risked his life almost on a daily basis to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. A man like that will not compromise on the principles of what he is teaching nor will he preach one thing and do another. However, Paul is willing to compromise on the small, non-essential points. In today's reading Paul gives in on a small point so he can continue to preach the gospel.
Paul is told by James and the elders of the Jerusalem church that a rumor is being spread that Paul is teaching the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from the law, to turn away from the teaching of Moses. To put this rumor to rest, Paul agrees to join four men in their purification rites and pay their expenses so that they can have their heads shaved. By agreeing to this act, Paul willingly submits to Jewish custom to show that he is still living a Jewish life style. Paul shows us that we must be willing to go the extra mile to avoid offending others, because if we offend them we may cause them to close their door to receiving the good news we want to share with them.
This brings me to another item. We have discussed this item before but I think it is relevant to this reading so I will bring it back out again. There are two ways to think of the Jewish laws. One is the idea that the Old Testament laws will bring salvation to those who follow them. Clearly Paul rejects this idea. Paul knows that no one is capable of fully and completely keeping the laws. We are all sinners.
The second idea is that the Old Testament laws prepare us for, and teach us about, the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the law and freed us from the burden of sin. Clearly Paul accepts this view and was not observing the law to be saved. He was keeping the law as custom to avoid offending others.
We need to learn from Paul's actions. We need to avoid offending others when possible and when we have a disagreement with another person, or when an organization or church has a disagreement, we need to not let minor differences drive a wedge between us.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,