Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Acts 15

April 17th, 2010 by Vic

First Church Conference

April 18, 2010

Religious fanatics have always been around.  This chapter is about Christian fanatics who were raised in the Jewish culture.  They are sure they are right.  It has always been done this way.  These Jewish Christians believed that all good Christians need to obey the Law of Moses because God said so.

So can you be a good Christian without being a Catholic, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Jew, or Presbyterian?  Can you be a good Christian without tithing, being baptized, being circumcised, or sharing in the Lord’s Supper?  Who has authority to answer these questions?  When other issues come up in the church, who can decide what is right?  This church council gives some guidelines on handling these growth pains.  What they say and what they don’t say are important.  It will be a slight comfort to see that even after the apostles, the elders, the congregation and the Holy Spirit agreed what should be done, some fanatics do not listen and would not change.  They continue to teach their understanding of Scripture.

15:1-4

It is interesting that these visiting teachers from Judea were causing sharp dissension and disagreements in the Antioch church, but when Paul and Barnabas visit churches on their way to Jerusalem they brought joy to the people.  We can bring dissension or joy into the groups we attend.

On his first missionary tour, Paul had suffered a lot from the non-believing Jews.  Now he is being attacked by Christian believing Jews.

These self-appointed teachers were saying that Christians had to keep the laws of Moses and really become a Jew to be saved.  Jesus was a Jew.  He was circumcised and baptized.  We should follow His example.  Maybe they had heard John Mark’s report that Paul and Barnabas were not requiring circumcision and baptism.  For some reason these teachers had come over 300 miles to correct the theology of this church.  They wanted everyone to know the ‘real’ gospel.  They wanted to put new wine in old wine skins.  They were trying to sew new patches to a worn out garment.  They taught that you were saved by grace and human works combined.  This was false teaching and very troubling to the Greek Christians.

The church at Antioch was less than 10 years old.  They did not claim to have all the answers.  They appointed a delegation to go to Jerusalem to research and settle the question.  Paul and Barnabas both knew the leaders in Jerusalem and what these self-appointed teachers were saying did not ring true.

When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and elders.  They reported everything God had done through them.

15:5

When they met together again some Pharisaic Christians stood up after Paul’s report and said God can’t do it like that.  Gentiles must be circumcised and must be required to obey the Law of Moses.

15:6-21

This is the first Church Conference.  There are 3 speakers.  Peter’s argument is based on the past.  Paul and Barnabas state the facts about the present.  James looks to the future implications.

Notice that Peter waited a long time before he spoke.   He did not used to be that patient or thoughtful.  He’s been filled with the Holy Spirit for over 15 years.  He’s seen the Holy Spirit purify the hearts of the half Jews in Samaria.  He’s enjoyed the hospitality of an unclean tanner.  He’s seen the Holy Spirit purify the hearts of Greeks in Caesarea.  He may have visited the church in Antioch.  Now he’s listened to the discussion of the other apostles and the elders concerning the acceptance of the Gentiles into the church.

Evidently the Judaizers were given full opportunity to air all their grievances and objections.  They were allowed plenty of time and there was no effort to shut off debate or to rush anything through the meeting.  They realized the importance of the meeting.

Finally Peter had to say something.  “I’ve been telling you guys for over 10 years that God told me to preach the gospel to the half-Jews in Samaria and Gentiles in Caesarea.  I did not volunteer.  It was not my idea.  God made a choice to let me be present when the Holy Spirit came on two groups of Gentiles just like He had on us.  God gave them his seal of approval.  God purified their hearts and accepted them as His children simply because they believed the gospel story.”

“Now you are saying that God was wrong to accept them by faith, but that’s how you were saved.  Salvation is a gift of God.  Even though God has accepted them you are going to add some conditions for acceptance?  Why are you trying to make a yoke for them that will not fit?  You don’t know what is best for other people.  The yoke you make for them will cripple them.  You are not qualified to build someone else’s yoke.  Only Jesus can custom build a yoke for us that will not cripple us.  His yoke is easy.

15:11 We are saved through grace just like they are.  We are just like them!  Jewish believers share the same privileges that Gentiles receive.

15:12 The silence of the assembly after Peter spoke implies that the turning point had come.  Paul and Barnabas then reported what the Lord had already done among the Gentiles.  The signs and wonders which God had done set a seal of approval on their mission work.  It is not a report of their successes but of how God has been working.

15:13-21 Tradition says that James had camel’s knees because he was in prayer so much.  He was called the Just.  He was the brother of Jesus and had seen Jesus after the Resurrection.  He was a strict observer of the law and a pillar in the church.  Now, as the respected leader, James pulls the discussion together with an argument from the prophet Amos.  He does not refer to Paul and Barnabas’ testimony or their mission.  He builds his conclusion on Simon Peter’s testimony and points out that what God was doing throughout the world was in harmony with the Old Testament prophets (plural).  Gentile salvation apart from the Law does not contradict the Old Testament prophets.  The restored kingdom of the greater David that will rise from the ruins does not require circumcision.

James concludes that the Gentile Christians are exempt from the ritual of the Mosaic Law.  God gave the laws to the family of Abraham to show them how to live holy lives in a pagan world.  They were to be a light and a priest to the nations.  The law was never intended for all nations.

But it is not enough to simply accept a biblical truth; we must apply it personally in everyday life.  Church problems are not solved by passing resolutions, but by practicing the truth that God has revealed in His Word.

The first record of writing in the New Testament is the minutes of this board meeting.  The decisions made by consensus of the Jerusalem church need to be shared with all Christians.  Idolatry, immorality, and murder were rampant sins in the Roman world.  The Jewish synagogues were preaching against these sins.  These were repulsive to the Jews.  Many Romans attended the synagogues because of their practice of these high moral standards.  These were the same sins that God commanded Noah to avoid.  These were the sins that strangers living with Jews were commanded to avoid.

It seems like these sins indicated indifference to the kind of food you put in your mouth.  It was indifference to your body that God gave you.  It is indifference to life.  It is indifference to God.  Again we see that God wants us to honor Him, respect Him, and give thanks for the food He provides.  Give thanks for our life and respect the lives of others.

15:22-35

The apostles, elders, with the whole church in Jerusalem agreed to send a letter with their decision to the church at Antioch.  To add weight to their decision, two leaders of their congregation, Judas Barsabbas and Silas were sent with Paul and Barnabas to interpret the feelings of the council from the Jerusalem perspective.  This is a very bold and gracious decision.  The effects were far reaching and brought the gospel to us.  However, there were probably those in the church that were predicting ominous consequences.  They were sure it would destroy the church.  The church is starting to compromise too much.

The addition of “your brothers” to the salutation is most unusual in letters of that time.  It adds a very warm touch to what might be an official looking delegation.

The letter rebukes the Pharisaic Jews who had started this debate.  “We know these men but they did not have any authority from us to preach a different gospel.  We hear that they were troubling you and saying that simple faith in Christ is not enough.  We wanted to correct their teaching so we have sent this letter with a couple good men to confirm what the Holy Spirit taught us about the simplicity of the gospel.”

“We agree with the version of the gospel that Barnabas and Paul have preached to you.  We believe that through faith in Jesus, God offered salvation to both Jew and Gentile.  The middle wall of partition has been removed.  The veil of the temple was ripped from the top to the bottom.”

“As a practical matter it is necessary that you avoid idolatry, immorality, and murder, sins very prevalent in the world today.  Also show your respect to your Jewish brothers and avoid eating blood.”  There was no mention of circumcision, baptism, ritual prayers, or the Lord’s Supper.  These had meaning in the Jewish culture.

Judas and Silas encouraged and strengthened the brothers for several weeks then returned to Jerusalem.  Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch and with the other leaders, taught and preached the word.  They just kept doing what they had always done in their home church.

15:36-41

Paul wants to visit the churches that he started on the first missionary journey.  He was anxious to see how they were doing.  He was not planning a new outreach, just revisiting friends.  Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul didn’t want a critic with them.  They had a sharp disagreement.  Barnabas, the son of consolation, lost his temper and Paul uses sharp words to his friend.  They were human just like us.

Sometimes there is no way to settle differences between people.  We can only agree to disagree.  They were both good men.  Both had been used mightily by God.  They had worked together a long time.  Now the work of God they wanted to do was dividing them.  Their desire to do good was making them angry.  Barnabas may have accused Paul of not forgiving Mark.  Paul may have accused Barnabas of being more concerned for Mark than the new churches.

Barnabas took Mark and went to his home country of Cyprus.  Paul sent to Jerusalem for Silas.  Silas was a leader in the Jerusalem congregation and could speak with experience about their desire for all to find salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  He could speak with first hand experience about some of the Jesus stories.  He was a Roman citizen, fluent in Greek, and a skilled writer.

God overruled and used their conflict for good.  Then their bitterness was left behind.  In his letters, Paul speaks highly of both Barnabas and Mark.  Good men always have differences of opinion.  God can use it for good if we leave our bitterness behind.

Jesus is building His Church.  There are differences of opinion on how He is doing it or even how He should be doing it.  Should the Antioch church look like the Jerusalem church?  The answer is to seek the Word of God.  Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you.  Find church leaders with “camel’s knees” who have a reputation for righteous living.  Listen to the discussion of the elders.  Respect the opinions of others.  Share your testimony.  Remember how God directed you in the past.

The letter might be written today: (29)

1. Don’t contaminate yourself with stuff that turns our thoughts away from God and may offend your brothers in Christ.

2. Abstain from spilling or eating blood.  Respect life.  Give God thanks for life.

3. Avoid ‘pornea’.  It cheapens God’s creation.  God blesses the pure in heart.

These general guidelines can be applied to all the American idols, the body piercings, blood sausage, abortion, circumcision, church rituals, tongues speaking, and the list goes on.

All creation demonstrates unity in diversity.  Mutual freedom allows differences of opinion.  God gave Paul freedom to disagree with Barnabas.  Barnabas could disagree with Paul’s opinion.  God can use our differences to His glory if we keep our hearts right.

There were some unauthorized teachers saying that to be a Christian you have to believe in Jesus Christ and.  This chapter takes out the ‘and’.  The next chapter gives us an example of salvation coming to a whole family without the ‘and’.

We are the children of God.  Let’s continue to jump in His lap, listen to His voice, enjoy the peace of His presence, and obey Him because we love Him.  Just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

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