Acts 15 (New Living Translation)
The Council at Jerusalem
THE CRUCIAL PROBLEM
The influx of Gentiles into the Church produced a problem which had to be solved. The mental background of the Jew was founded on the fact that he belonged to the chosen people. In effect they believed that not only were the Jews the peculiar possession of God but also that God was the peculiar possession of the Jews. The problem was this. Before a Gentile became a member of the Christian Church was it necessary that he should be circumcised and take upon himself the Law of Moses? In other words–must the Gentile, before he became a Christian, first become a Jew? Or, could a Gentile be received into the Church as such?
Even were that question settled there arose another problem. The strict Jew could have no intercourse with a Gentile. He could not have him as guest nor be his guest. He would not, as far as possible, even do business with him. So then, even if Gentiles were allowed into the Church, how far could Jews and Gentiles associate in the ordinary social life of the Church?
These were the problems which had to be solved. The solution was not easy. But in the end the Church took the decision that there should be no difference between Jew and Gentile at all. This chapter of Acts tells of the Council of Jerusalem whose decisions were the charter of freedom for the Gentiles.
1 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
So the question at hand is this: How are we saved? — by our good works, or by Christ’s work on the cross, or by a combination of our obedience to the Law and our faith in Christ? The answer is crucial to the shape of the Christian faith.
6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.
from Class Acts: How Good Manners Create Good Relationships and Good Relationships Create Good Business,by Mary Mitchell
Nobody talks about good meetings; only bad ones. But I think that if ever there was an opportunity for individuals to shine, it is at meetings. And if we, as individuals, are dedicated to mining our own talents to contribute to a greater good, a meeting is the place to do it. Meetings are the proscenium stages for business players. Meetings are an education about every person who participates in them.
7 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
In effect, the Jewish party said, “Religion means earning God’s favour by keeping the Law.” Peter said, “Religion consists in casting ourselves on the grace of God.”
Peter has obviously spent some time listening to the Holy Spirit and thinking about this issue. His answer goes straight to his vision, that “I should not call anyone unclean.” The Law of Moses did not cleanse the hearts of the Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) — rather, they were cleansed by faith!
12 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13 When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:
16 ‘Afterward I will return
and restore the fallen house of David.
I will rebuild its ruins
and restore it,
17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,
including the Gentiles—
all those I have called to be mine.
The Lord has spoken—
18 he who made these things known so long ago.’
19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
Thank you, Council at Jerusalem, for settling the question and affirming that salvation from Jesus Christ is by faith and not by works! HERE is “We Can Work It Out,” a Beatles classic from 1965.
The Letter for Gentile Believers
22 Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. 23 This is the letter they took with them:
“This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
24 “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! 25 So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”
In the Good News translation, verse 28 begins, “The Holy Spirit and we have agreed . . . ” I love that! Don’t we wish every church council meeting, every congregational meeting, every committee meeting, every national assembly, would close with the members saying, “The Holy Spirit and we have agreed!”
30 The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. 31 And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.
32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.
Paul and Barnabas Separate
The Second Missionary Journey
The narrative of Paul’s second missionary journey, which occupied him for about three years, is given in the section of Acts which extends from Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:23. It began from Antioch. Paul first made a tour of the churches of Syria and Cilicia. Then he re-visited the churches in the regions of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. There followed a period when he could not see his way clear before him. That time of uncertainty ended with the vision at Troas. From Troas, Paul crossed to Neapolis and thence to Philippi. From Philippi he moved on to Thessalonica and Beroea. From there he went to Athens and then on to Corinth where he spent about eighteen months. From Corinth he travelled to Jerusalem by way of Ephesus and finally back to Antioch, his starting point. The great step forward is that with this journey Paul’s activity passed beyond Asia Minor and entered Europe.
36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.
from Daily Readings from Luther’s Writings,
edited by Barbara Owen:
Paul and Barnabas had been set aside for the ministry of the Gospel among the Gentiles and had traveled through many areas and announced the Gospel. Yet Luke testified that there came such a sharp disagreement between them that they parted company. Here there was a fault either in Paul or in Barnabas. It must have been a very sharp disagreement to separate such close companions, and this is what the text suggests. Such examples are written for our comfort. For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin–a comfort which those who say that saints cannot sin would take away from us.
Samson, David and many other celebrated leaders who were full of the Holy Spirit fell in huge sins. Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid. No one has ever fallen so grievously as to not have stood up again. On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he or she cannot fall. If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.
Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.