Day 19 - Acts 15:1-29 - 40 Days in the Book of Acts

This chapter is a major event in the future of the church.  But to understand why this is happening, you have to know the story about Peter and some Gentiles.  The Jewish Christians were still practicing the law of Moses.  Many of them, because they had come from strict Judaistic practices, believed that you should follow Christ and obey the Laws of Moses too.  Peter, who was at a Gentiles residence eating nonkosher food was challenged by some of these believers.  As a result Peter withdrew from the Gentiles and other Jewish believers followed suit.  Paul took issue to this and confronted Peter concerning it.   You can find the story in Galatians 2.

1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Now to take things a step farther you have Jewish believers who are saying that the Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved.  It is a little confusing as to what they were calling salvation.  After all, these Gentile believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues.  While their intentions are probably honorable, their theology is confusing at best.  There is nothing confusing about the Gospel of Jesus.  When we keep it simple, it will remain simple.  Man is the one who is prone to complicate matters, not God.  

To say that this brought some sharp debate and questioning is an understatement.  So much so that they church send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to get an official ruling.  So that everyone is on the same page now.  No one is disputing whether or not the Gentiles can be saved or that the Holy Spirit is evident in their life.  The dispute is whether or not they can keep their salvation and enjoy the blessings of God if they do not observe the Law of Moses. 

The church in Syrian Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas off with their support.  As they traveled south to Jerusalem the churches they stopped at received their testimony about the Gentiles with gladness.  When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed with open arms.  Then the ones who had a problem rose up to speak against them. 

Conflict is a part of life.  Even in the church.  Disagreements will be made and problems will exist.  As long as you have imperfect people striving to do the will of God - there will be mistakes.  What I do not see here is a desire to split the church or to destroy it (even though it can).  Everyone involved is doing their best to ensure the salvation of these Gentiles.  

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 

At first what you see here is a process of questions and answers.  People want to know more before they make any kind of decision.  This is wise and prudent.  But after a while, Peter puts a capstone on the discussion. 

He reminds everyone that God choose the Gentiles.  It was God who baptized them in the Holy Spirit.  It was God who recognized the faith of their hearts and granted them salvation.  That their hearts are clean by faith, not by their obedience to the Law of Moses.  Then he asks them why they would tempt God by ignoring what He has done and tell these Gentiles that they have to do all this other stuff too!  It didn't bring them (the Jews) salvation, it didn't bring their ancestors salvation either.  

Paul and Barnabas tell these people the signs and wonders done among the Gentiles.  This being further proof that what God was doing among them didn't need their observance of the law. 

13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16  “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,  17  that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’  19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”  22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

James stands up and brings everything home.  Where there is good leadership, there will always be a good future.  He doesn't address them though as Pastor.  He says, brothers.  He is speaking person to person here.  

He recaps what Peter said. 
He quotes what the Old Testament says about this from Amos 9: 11, 12 where Christ's redemptive mission includes both Jew and Gentile.  
Then he says, "In my judgement" we should not trouble the Gentiles but write a letter to them asking them to:
- Stay away from idol worship and sexual impurity - These two are obvious in as much as both Jews and the disciples of Christ believed in ONE true God.  
- Eating meat full of blood and consuming blood was to promote fellowship among Jewish and Gentile believers.  In other words, don't go offending Jewish believers, this really upsets them.

Paul and Barnabas, along with 2 men, are then sent to Antioch to explain their decision.  The letter then explains their response to this need.  

A - The Jerusalem Church is not requiring Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Law. 
B - Their decision was unanimous.
C - Abstain from worshipping idols, sexuality immorality and eating food full of blood.  

Working through problems, while sometimes difficult, is a act of faith.  In verse 28 it says, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit . . ."  In the end, they sought and found the will of God in this matter. When everyone wants the same thing, (the will of God) everyone will change their minds to fit His will. 

English Standard Version (ESV)


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