Division is to be expected, yet those who cling to God's Word will remain united.
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Acts 15 (ESV)
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers,
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
Judas called Barsabbas,
leading men among the brothers,
23 with the following letter:
both the apostles
and the elders,
to the brothers
who are of the Gentiles
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.”
30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.
31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
32 And Judas and Silas,
who were themselves prophets,
encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.
33 And after they had spent some time,
they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.
35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch,
teaching and preaching the word of the Lord,
with many others also.
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas,
“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
38 But Paul thought best not to take with them
one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia
and had not gone with them to the work.
39 And there arose a sharp disagreement,
so that they separated from each other.
Barnabas took Mark with him
and sailed away to Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed,
having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
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Acts 15 Summary
For millennia, God's people were identified by a lifestyle that looked massively different than the world around them; especially in the way they ate & looked. Now as the gospel message was flourishing with the 'outsiders,' it was only natural that those steeped in the traditions would expect the newcomers to adhere to them.
Yet these expectations were rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of how salvation works: we are saved by the obedience, death and resurrection of Christ, not by following a myriad of traditions and customs.
What's remarkable about this chapter is how this early church dealt with this situation. They didn't sweep it under the rug, or let its members come to their own mutually exclusive conclusions. They came together, debated the issue, followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and issued a binding decision.
Unfortunately, it's not just doctrine that divides the church, it's often (mostly) conflicting personalities. Former partners Barnabas and Paul disagree with whether to take Mark along (yes, the Mark who wrote the gospel) because he ducked out on the previous trip. Notice how Barnabas takes Mark and they seem to go off on their own, whereas Paul & Silas are commended by the brothers to the grace of God (v40).
The Christian Reformed Church denomination is greatly divided at this time. Although the issues are different, we must let Acts 15 be a guide through these troubled times.
Differences must be debated in an orderly and deliberative way;
God's Word must be the final authority;
Discipline and church order must be heeded;
Continuing to be commended by the brothers to the grace of God (v40) may mean we must go in a different direction away from those we've loved and partnered with before.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: God knows your heart and has accepted you by His Holy Spirit and has purified your heart by faith alone (v8-9).
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that our churches will be fully aligned with God's will, and not the world's.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: