Acts 15:1-34; 11/19/2023; BCBC/IOUC; Rev. Paul Wang
The Jerusalem Conference was a turning point in the history of the church and was of epoch-making significance. The basic issue is whether to preach the gospel to Gentiles, and the resulting theological and practical issues. Let’s look at the first point:
The church at that time was moving forward according to the gospel roadmap in Acts 1:8, which was from Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This is the time for missionaries from all over the country to return to the church to report their work. First, keep the boundaries of the Mosaic Law. For Christians with a Jewish background, not keeping the Mosaic Law, or not keeping the Mosaic Law in its entirety, is a form of rebellion. What’s more, the Jews have enough historical experience and lessons that they suffered God’s curse because they did not abide by the law. Therefore, it is easy to come up with the creed that “uncircumcision cannot be saved.” However, what the church has to face is that what the Lord Jesus Christ said is “your faith has saved you.” Is there any boundary between faith in the New Testament and circumcision in the Old Testament? What are the principles it follows? The Bible says that the missionaries who returned from Judea had “great disputes” with Paul and Barnabas. What to do? What should we do if there is dissension in the church today? This is a question that challenges believers of all ages.
Secondly, set the rules from dissension and debate. One thing I don’t want you to not know is that “the disciples set the rules.” This is a principle for the church to deal with conflicts, that is, the church’s principles or rules are the priority before making decisions about how to behave. It is the church’s code of conduct to set rules first and then make decisions. Rules or guidelines protect the relationship between each other. That is to say, our relationship with each other is even more important than what we do. Of course, this does not mean that the church avoids problems or does not face them, but it does mean that it must deal with problems within certain rules. This is an important criterion for measuring the maturity of a church.
Finally, go back to church and meet with the elders. Putting aside the controversy for the moment, “Go up to Jerusalem and see the apostles and elders” was the rule jointly established by everyone at that time. Okay, no more arguing! This is also a principle, a soft principle and consensus, that is, anything that requires fighting is not pleasing to God. The key to ending strife is authority and submission. The authority structure of the Jerusalem church is the apostles and elders. This is also the consensus of the church and may even be a core value. Maybe we have many wonderful imaginations, or we think we have the most righteous principles in the world, or we may even have suffered great injustice. Once you come to the church, you should all have a common understanding that Christ is the Lord of the church and that Christ reigns in the church. God has the ability to demonstrate His power in the church so that we can obey with faith. Let’s look at the second point:
When I read this passage, I was moved by the words “went up to Jerusalem, and came to Jerusalem.” The brothers and sisters in the early church were really blessed. When they encountered problems, they could go to Jerusalem to solve them. Just thinking about it makes my heart warm. First, talking about the conversion of the Gentiles to the Lord. Have you ever wondered why Paul and Barnabas talked about the conversion of Gentiles to the Lord? And “they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles!” They shared everywhere, which means that they seemed to have a fire in their hearts, and they could not help not to say it! This is the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be from the people. So after they returned to Jerusalem, “they declared all that God had done with them. ” This is what God did to save the Gentiles. This was not an ordinary thing at the time, and it was highly likely that it would be opposed. At that time, some believers with Pharisaic backgrounds in the church rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” What should the church do at this time?
Secondly, the apostles and elders need to deliberate. This is the church’s response, which is to discuss the matter together. Of course, church deliberations are structured, and the Bible says, “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. ” This is the authority structure of the church, and it is also an opportunity and place for brothers and sisters to learn obedience. This is like the church’s co-workers’ meeting, deacons’ meeting, and elders’ meeting, etc. While the apostles and elders were discussing, missionaries, Pharisees and other powerful figures stood outside waiting to watch the show. Look what these weak, obviously inferior church leaders can do. Missionaries have visions, Pharisees have laws, lay believers have connections, and all of them are strong men. Everyone has stopped arguing, but they are still debating, and everyone has their own reasons.
Finally, Peter stood to give his testimony. Believing that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and said: “ 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 and believe. ” What Peter means is that in fact, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles has long been a mission given to the church by God. Do you have any questions about my calling? When I was staying at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa, didn’t you hear the testimony of the centurion Cornelius and his family who were converted to the Lord? The church’s gospel mission circle is “to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Don’t we see that? You have returned from all Judea, and Paul and Barnabas have returned from Asia. You are all completing the mission circle given to the church by God. Let’s look at the third point:
If you understand “James the Church”, you will understand the authority structure God has placed in the church. First, the church needs to be quiet. Peter is the Lord’s oldest disciple and the founder of the church. However, it is obvious that Peter did not occupy authority, play with authority, covet authority, or use authority. Peter just stated the facts and shared them quietly to make the brothers and sisters calm down, that’s all. The Bible says: “The crowds listened in silence to Barnabas and Paul, telling them about the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” Only then did Paul and Barnabas have the opportunity to fully and quietly share their testimony among the Gentiles. The church needs quietness, quiet sharing, quiet listening, quiet praying, quiet receiving, quiet thinking, and quiet waiting! Of course, if you want to be quiet, you must have quiet people and people who are willing to be quiet.
Second, the church needs James. James is a person who speaks on behalf of the church, a person who is good at listening, a person who expresses authority, a person who is quiet first, a person who continues to pray, a person who walks with God, a person who is full of understanding of God’s words, and a person who lays down his life for the sheep, a person who is responsible for the kingdom of heaven, and a person who lives for the Lord. The key to the message James shared was to draw a clear boundary between morality and faith. Only limit the moral requirements of the law “to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. ” As for other legal requirements, “we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,” Because preaching the gospel to the Gentiles is God’s will from the beginning.
Finally, the church needs the Holy Spirit. After James has finished speaking, what follows is a new round of sending out ceremonies for the church, in which the Holy Spirit is in control. The Bible says: “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. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, ” The last will be first, the Bible says. Peter was the first apostle to the Gentiles, followed by Barnabas. We should not be surprised that Paul now became a leader, even leading Barnabas. This is a healthy church. There will always be people who will surpass us today.
Well, thank the Lord! The Jerusalem Conference is of extraordinary significance and is enough to fill the gaps in our lives, knowledge, wisdom, and abilities. Don’t be afraid when we encounter difficulties. God is with us! The church is the body of Christ, the home God has given us on earth. Relying on the Holy Spirit, we can overcome temptation, transcend our old self, and become the vessels used by God.
Let us pray……
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless 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 the church 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 and believe.
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. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,
23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.
24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[d] 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.