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Friday, December 30 2011

Introduction

Fortnight ago, while studying Chapter 14, we saw the consistent habit of the Apostles whenever they go to any city; 14:1"At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue" .We also saw their effectiveness in preaching the gospel with results. We also received the important lesson of knowing when to wait and when to run during persecution. Lastly, we saw the importance of not directing praise to ourselves even when we are at the center of attention.

 

1) The Issue at Hand:  Act 15: 1-5

"Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church [lit. they] appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement. 3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they were relating at length the conversion of the Gentiles and bringing great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all the things God had done with them. 5 But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses" divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.

To further understand these verses, let us look at Gal.2:11-16. I believe this was an incident that took place before Act 15. The ambivalence (hypocrisy) of apostles like Peter probably encouraged others who were even more radical in their views to press their demands publicly, as we read in vs 1 & 5.

We should note that these Judaizers who demanded circumcision and law keeping were not evangelists who were preaching their message to Gentile pagans. These were Jewish believers (those of the Pharisee party) who were targeting newly saved Gentiles. It is interesting how some are more than willing to let others do the evangelizing, only to prey upon these new converts with their distorted doctrines.

What were their demands?  That gentile converts should be circumcised and made to uphold the Law of Moses.

In our Churches today, we still have leaders and followers who uphold the traditions of men rather than the gospel of grace. Gal.1:6-9. The gospel of Christ is the gospel of grace not of works and human traditions Eph.2:8,9.

We should observe the method of dispute resolution in the early Church in vs 2. the church at Antioch wisely determined that this debate had raised a vitally important theological question, one that the apostles in Jerusalem needed to answer. They did not take matters into their hands or allow strife and division to take over the Church.

2) The Jerusalem Council; Acts 15:6-21

"Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are." 12 The whole group kept quiet and listened to Barnabas and Paul while they explained all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 After they stopped speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has explained how God first concerned himself to select from among the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 The words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written, 16 ?After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, 17 so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,' says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from long ago. 19 "Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we should write them a letter telling them(a) to abstain from things defiled by idols and (Genesis 2:24 b)from sexual immorality and(c) from what has been strangled and(d Genesis 9:2-4) from blood. 21 For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath"

It is not just the apostles who gather to decide on the issue of circumcision (verse 6). It is the apostles and the elders of the church at Jerusalem. Those who came to Antioch were undoubtedly not apostles, but they did give the impression that they spoke with apostolic approval. It is important that the decision reached in Jerusalem embraced all the leaders in the church. That way, anyone who taught differently would be recognized as a rogue, that is, as a false teacher, speaking only for themselves. This is one of the reasons a letter was written to the Gentile churches. Very important that we allow a broad spectrum of people who are seasoned in the Church to have input in the Church

Peter recalled his encounter in Acts10 then made a remarkable statement: "We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are." This is exactly the opposite of how some Jewish Christians were thinking. The Jews were used to thinking that anyone who wanted to be saved must be saved like they were. In fact, some still are. They were insisting that Gentiles can only participate in God's blessings to the seed of Abraham by doing what Abraham did - be circumcised. But Peter insists that the Law never saved anyone; it only condemned (compare Romans 3:19-20). He then states that Jews must be saved the same way Gentiles are saved, by faith, apart from law keeping. Also look at Romans 4:9-12.

Vs 12 is very interesting because Paul and Barnabas pointed to the signs and wonders done among the gentiles just like God did among the Jews (Acts 2:43; 5:12 and Acts 14:3).

In verses 13-21, James steps forward. One does not get the impression that Peter is the dominant leader here; instead, James seems to play that role. James did something that the three before him had not done - he cites Scripture. Thus, the decision that is reached is based both upon Scripture and on experience. James follows up on what Peter has said. God has revealed His purpose to save Gentiles as well as Jews. This is the fulfilment of what the Old Testament prophets had foretold. James turns to the words of Amos 9:11-12 to establish his point:

Conclusion: The conclusion is clear. The four things prohibited in the Acts 15 letter are all NON-MOSAIC, universal regulations. They are, and always have been, universally binding on all humans. They are, however, also strongly emphasized in Mosaic law. Pagan society in the first century was woefully unaware of these universal regulations - except through the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures (hence James' comment in Acts 15:21). When the Jerusalem church agreed that Mosaic regulations should not be imposed on the Gentile believers, they recognized that with the rejection of Mosaic regulations as binding on Gentile Christians, it might be understood that the prohibitions against idolatry, eating blood, eating strangled meat, and fornication should also be thrown out, as they were only generally known through Mosaic law. The church was careful to restate these regulations not because they wanted to avoid scandalizing Jewish believers, but because they were and are and always will be universally binding on all mankind. They did not want to appear to be condoning what God had universally condemned.

 

Contributor: Alex Alajiki

Posted by: Isekhua Evborokhai AT 04:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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