To raise money for Relay for Life, my friend Michael Anderson shaved his head. Watch if you want:
I noticed in reading Acts today that Paul shaved his noggin as well. In Acts 18:18, Luke records "Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken."
Paul didn't have his hair cut off to raise money. He didn't so in to show support. He did it "because of a vow he had taken."
Paul was someone who proclaimed salvation without lawkeeping. He ate with Gentiles, refused to require circumcision and even fought to lower the ethnic barriers created by elements of the law. Salvation came by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
So, why is Paul shaving his head? Why is he taking vows?
For some reason, vow-taking is an uncommon practice in my experience of the Christian community. Sure, people take marriage vows, but ask us to remember them and we'd be hard-pressed.
My friend, Robert Leatherwood, was an incredible youth pastor. (Insiders would say his work was "inconceivable!") One of the traditions in his youth group was his "Bible reading vow." He would ask us, with an unusual seriousness, to consider taking this vow: "to read the Bible every day for the rest of my life."
The way he described it, vow-taking was a way of shifting something from the Permissible category to the Sin category (for life or for a season) in order to assist your growth toward Christ-likeness.
Almost 15 years after taking that vow, I'm still reading the Bible every day (or trying to). Time in God's word has become non-optional for me. I know I don't need to read every day in order to be saved, that my reading doesn't make me more lovable to God, but I've committed to it. I miss days. I have nothing to brag about here.
But the vow has helped. As someone who loves reading, I could read all the time and never get to the Bible. The Tale of Two Cities can call to me more loudly than Acts of the Apostles some nights. But my vow helps. By my vow, I'm calling out to God to help me to listen to him as he speaks through his word.
The Bible doesn't tell us what Paul's vow was, whether it was ending or beginning or how the head-shaving fit into all of it. What that bit about cutting the hair does reveal is that Paul, free from the need to perform for God, still made vows.
Why is it that, for many of us, the only vows we'll ever take are our marriage vows? What are the risks associated with this practice? What, practically, could we gain by pursuing God through vow-taking?