Having been met very positively (vv.17-20) Paul now gets the troubling news that he has a bit of a bad reputation, so to speak, amongst the Jews of Jerusalem (vv.21-22). James, wisely, suggests that Paul get ahead of the trouble and take part in a cultural custom, a vow of purity, that he pay the expenses of others under the same vow and by doing so show the masses that he is not against culture and custom, simply using culture and custom to earn righteousness before God (v.24, 26).
The difference between using works for righteousness and holding on to culture and customs (where they don’t clash with faith in Jesus) is shown in v.25:
“But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter, having decided that they should avoid meat that has been sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality.”
The fact that the Gentiles who have believed are not forced to adhere to Jewish customs and culture is concrete proof that it is not necessary to achieve right standing before God. Holding on to where you are from and how you grew up (where it doesn’t clash with your faith in Jesus) is never a bad thing.
The British in our church family love a cup of tea, the South Africans love a Braai, those from a high church country or culture appreciate liturgy at key points in the year. Some refuse to call me anything other than ‘Pastor’ if they are from a culture of hierarchy and respect, and some never call me anything other than ‘James’.
Holding on to where you are from and how you grew up (where it doesn’t clash with your faith in Jesus, as in v.25b) is never a bad thing. You don’t need to lose all of who you were on the way to becoming all of who you are.