Acts: For the Cause of Christ #22
Title: Gentile Salvation
Review of 14:1-28
Last week we saw as Paul and Barnabas finished their journey into Asia Minor going into new territories with the Gospel. They faced renewed opposition, they we mistaken for gods, Paul was attacked and stoned, they returned to the churched to establish leadership. Then returned home to Antioch in Syria to report on what God had done through them. We saw how churches should be discipling their members to continue the work of the gospel in on going cycle, and that doping the work of the gospel can have dangerous consequences. This week we see how the Jerusalem church handles disagreement and division over Gentile salvation.
There’s a story “of a father who was in his study reading, and he heard a commotion outside the window. It was his daughter who was playing with her friends. And it got louder and it got louder and more heated and more argumentative, until finally he could restrain himself no longer. And he pushed the window open and said, ‘Stop it. Honey what’s wrong?’ And after the reprimand sh responded quickly, ‘But, Daddy, we were just playing church’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p95).
The Problem – vv 1-5
Some time after Paul and Barnabas had returned from Asia Minor, some men came to Antioch from Judea teaching the church that true salvation also meant following the Mosaic law, or at the very least following the covenant with circumcision. Why did these Judaizers come to Antioch? What was there concern or motivation? We can only assume as we are not told why. It is thought that some the Jewish Christians were concerned that a greater number of Genitles were being converted and being added to the church with no background of Judaism, and that this imbalance would bring the church down to a weakened moral state. How could this be kept from happening? Easy, the Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. It is thought that some of these Jewish converts thought the church was the righteous remnant of Judaism, and if Paul and Barnabas weren’t going to insist on the following of the Law in Antioch or the new church plants, these Judaizers would correct it for them.
No wonder Paul and Barnabas, our “Dynamic Duo” of the last two chapters, donned their capes and leapt into action against these Judaizers. Paul and Barnabas argued and debated these men until the church decided to send our Duo and others to confer with the Jerusalem church, James, the Apostles and the other elders. On the way to Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas passed through the regions of Phoenicia and Samaria and told of their journey which caused great joy to the churches they visited.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem they gave their report of their journey through Asia Minor again. However this time, a faction of Pharisees that had believed spoke out saying these new Gentile Christians needed to follow the Law. One of my college professors, referred to the Pharisees as “the Sabbath Police” when we studied the book of Matthew. The Pharisee sect was more strict with the adherence of the Law, so this is no surprise that these believers were a part of the Pharisees.
We need to remember that we all have a little Pharisee in our blood. Any of us can become to strict on how certain things should be done, ought to be done, or have always been done. Doing certain things a certain way isn’t wrong, it becomes wrong if we give no room to adapt or attach to much significance to certain rituals or procedures or processes. We all need to be careful not to fall into this trap.
The Discussion – vv 6-21
Peter vv 7-11
After the Apostles and Elders of the church meet, there was still a great deal of debate that took place. When nothing was seemed to be settled, Peter took the floor. He began by reminding them that God had used him to go to the first Gentile converts, and reminded them that God gave those Gentiles the Holy Spirit in manner that was similar to Pentecost in chapter 2, as well as in Samaria in chapter 8. He tells them that God is not making a distinction between the Jews that had believed and the Gentiles that had believed, everyone had showed the same faith in the same Lord, and God cleansed or purified the hearts of those who believed.
Peter then asked those on the other side of the debate why they would burden their fellow disciples and brothers in the faith, not to mention testing God, by making the Gentile believers follow the Law that history has shown that the children of Israel couldn’t even follow. He then reminds them that not only do the Genitles believe that they have been saved by the grace of Jesus, but so do these Jewish believers.
Paul and Barnabas v12
It appears that there was some silence after Peter’s comments, during this time Barnabas and Paul stood and again recounted what had happened on their journey. It appears as though they seemed to emphasize the miraculous moments of their journey to help Peter’s point of the God doing the work. Paul and Barnabas preached grace, not law. “If you will review the record of the first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), you will see the emphasis is on what God did in response to men’s faith. See 13:8, 12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 22, 23, 27. Note also the emphasis on grace (13:43; 14:3, 26). God opened for the Gentiles ‘the door of faith,’ not ‘the door of the Law’” (Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 26). Peter had reminded those listening of God’s work in the past, Paul and Barnabas discussed what was presently happening, and then James was the last to speak and looked to the future.
James vv 13-21
James, the apparent leader of the Jerusalem Church, then took the floor to address the council. He refers back to Peter’s comments of how God has used Peter for the first official inclusion of Genitles into the Church, he then quotes from Amos 9:11-12 to show that the OT Scripture agrees with the inclusion of Gentiles. The problem comes with how we interpret James use of Amos 9. The immediate context of that passage “speaks judgement upon Israel and the whole house of Jacob (Amos 9:7,8), but holds out the promise that ‘in that day’ God will raise up the fallen royal house of David and will restore his realm” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 126). So we have this passage that is clearly referring to the future of Israel and the future physical kingdom of Christ that is being used to back up the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church, how should we understand that? Well there are a few different opinions, but the one I agree with, the one that does the most justice to both the OT and NT is “that gentile salvation without circumcision meets with no contradiction in the OT. the promises to Israel will yet be be literally fulfilled, but will occur ‘in that day’ [Christ returning in His glory]” (Kent, p126). Since we know that Christ’s return is still yet to come we notice James’ use of the phrase “after these things” to show how the prophecy works with God’s current activity. “James als inserted the words, ‘I will return’ to make it clear that fulfillment of Israel’s blessings must await Christ’s return” (Kent, p126).
After quoting from Amos, James gives his opinion that they shouldn’t give any difficulties to Gentile Christians about having to follow the Law. He does suggest that they issue some general conduct guidelines for the Gentile Christians to follow. It appears the guidelines were given since there are followers of Judaism all over the known world and the Gentile Christians should avoid offending them unnecessarily, so that there can be a witness to the unbelieving Jews. Christianity is still tied closely to Judaism at this time.
Letter – vv 22-29
James suggestion won the day and seemed to calm tension. The church then decided on two men to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with the letter containing the decision of the Jerusalem Council. We do not know anything else of the Judas, but we are introduced to Silas here, and it is my understanding that this the same Silas that will travel with Paul in the near future and is referenced in a number of Paul’s letters.
The Letter itself starts by stating the the men who had gone to Antioch teaching the requirements of the Law had not been given authorization from the church to do so, but that they were now sending Paul and Barnabas back along with Judas and Silas who will each give the same news to the Antioch church.
They note that the decision reached was not only the church’s but also by the Holy Spirit. Even though the Spirit wasn’t mentioned earlier, we see here how the Spirit usually works. Miraculous events don’t need to take place for the Spirit to be present. Christians that are filled by the Spirit can detect His presence when there is harmony that prevails as people respond to the Spirit’s will.
The guidelines are then listed. The Gentiles should keep themselves from food offered to idols (Paul expands on this in 1 Corinthians 8), sexual immorality, meat from animals that have been strangled, and eating blood. The elements of the decision relating to food, do go back to OT commands. I think this should be understood as a matter of conscience and go the principle in 1 Corinthians 8. It is thought that issue of sexual immorality goes back to the rules of marriage in Leviticus 18, but in many of the gentile cultures sexual immorality was prevalent especially under the guise of religion so a reminder about avoiding this issue was not unwarranted.
In 16:4-5 we see Paul and Silas tell the churches he is revisiting about this decision, it is possible he took a copy of the letter, or the original, along with him.
Outcome – vv 30-35
With the letter written, the men chosen, there was nothing else to do, but to send it. When Paul and the others arrived in Antioch they got the entire congregation together for the public reading of the letter. This letter was received with great rejoicing. The status of Gentile converts was viewed as true salvation, by the “mother church” in Jerusalem.
Judas and Silas also encouraged the Antioch congregation through adding their gifts of prophecy and teaching along with those in Antioch. After some time, we don’t know how much, Silas and Judas went back to Jerusalem with peace from the Antioch church for themselves and the church of Jerusalem. After they had gone Paul and Barnabas again resumed their ministries of teaching and preaching the Word of Lord with their fellow leaders in the church.
You might be wondering if I skipped verse 34, yes I did. Verse 34 is only found in a few manuscripts, and not found in the manuscripts generally thought to be the most reliable, so many translations omit it, or place it in brackets or will note that it is not likely original to the text. Now you might be thinking, if you read ahead, that this would create a problem with verse 40. Not really. If we assume that there is some time between verse 33 and verse 40, then Paul could have sent for Silas to come to Antioch to join him on his next journey.
We saw that we need to be careful not to attach too much importance to certain things, certains ways things are done. We need to be careful not to get caught in the trap of the Pharisees.
We also need to remember that if, and when, disagreements enter the church we need to seek the Lord’s guidance, treat each other with love and respect, and remember the things that we should fight for (doctrines, the gospel, etc.) are more important than the color of the wall or carpet or who has what ministry now. Churches need to find ways to promote unity within their memberships. Speaking of unity…
“Picture a couple of comic strip characters. One sitting alone, watching television. In storms the other, demanding that he change the channel to show the one she wants to watch, threatening him with her fat little fist in his face. Rather meekly he asks her what makes her think she can walk in and take over. She blurts out: ‘These five fingers!’ which she tightens into a fist. It works. Without a word the little guy responds by asking which channel she prefers. Naturally, she gets to watch any channel she wants. Slowly, he slips out of the room, feeling like a wimp. He looks at his own five fingers and askes, ‘Why can’t you guys get organized like that?’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p 599). I think most of you know those characters as “Lucy” and her brother “Linus”.
Most importantly we see that salvation is grace by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 we could all probably quote those verses from memory. We cannot add to the gospel works or rules, and we cannot take away from the gospel. Doing either of those will pervert the gospel into something it is not.