Acts Chapter 15
The Conflict Over Circumcision:
(Read Acts 15:1-5)
The Jerusalem council was a turning point in church history. The church was facing persecution from outside. There was disagreement about the admission of gentile believers in the church. The Jewish believers insisted that gentile believers should be circumcised to be saved. They argued that unless gentiles submit to the requirements of the Law of Moses, they cannot be saved (Acts 15:5). Some of these believers were from a strict Jewish religious sect. They considered Christianity as a movement within Judaism. Paul and Barnabas disagreed and debated with them and said we are saved by grace, and we live also by grace (Ephesians 2:8). No one is saved on the basis of their own good work. Many people attempt to ease their conscience through good works. This will only lead them to guilt and fear. No one can be sure whether they have done enough to please God in this life. True freedom comes only when we recognize the boundless grace of God sending His Son to die for us. We must regularly be reminded that Christ's obedience is the basis of our salvation, while our obedience is the proof of salvation. The letter of Galatians was written to counter this false teaching. It was a threat to the progress of the gospel of grace in Antioch and Asia Minor. The church of Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and some others to discuss this matter with apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church. When the delegates from Antioch arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church. Is your church a welcoming church?
The Jerusalem Council:
(Read Acts 15:6-21)
The apostles and elders met together to discuss the problem. While the leaders were involved in the discussion, the whole church participated as well (Acts 15:12, 22). After much debate, Peter asked “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the gentile believers with a yoke neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Peter was earlier rebuked about it in Antioch (Galatians 2:11). He reinforced his original position by saying that there is no difference between Jews and gentiles when it comes to salvation. The law is the perfect standard to reveal how to live a holy life, but it never provided the power to obey it. Law reveals only our inability to live up to God's perfect standard. Peter insisted that both Jews and Gentiles are saved only by grace through faith in Christ and not by circumcision. This gave Barnabas and Paul an opportunity to explain what God has done through them among gentiles. They argued that imposing the burden of the law only brings discouragement and despair (Matthew 11:28). Then the turning point came when James the brother of Jesus spoke regarding this matter. He was one of the elders of the Jerusalem church. James suggested that believers should abstain from idols, from fornication and from things strangled and from blood. These instructions were not to encourage gentiles to earn their salvation but to demonstrate love and respect for the Jewish Christians. The gentile believers joyfully accepted what James said (Acts 15:31). Here we see the example of the principle of loving and respecting the weaker brother in the faith (Romans 14:1). The Spirit filled ministry will always bring harmony and fellowship among believers. The final decision was reached unanimously, and it pleased the leadership and the whole church. Judas and Silas were chosen to take a letter to the church of Antioch. This letter is quoted in its entirety in verses 23-29. Thus, the issue was settled in the church. Judas and Salas are referred here as prophets (Acts 15:32). The reference to “Prophets” speaks of the ministry of proclaiming the Word of God. Does our ministry bring harmony and fellowship among believers? Pray to God to use your freedom in Christ to serve the weak and the heavy burdens (Matthew 11:28-30).
Division over John Mark:
(Read Acts 15:36-41)
After some time Paul and Barnabas decided to visit the churches they had established. But they could not come to an agreement about John Mark because he had abandoned them in their first missionary journey from Pamphylia. They both wanted to do the right thing. Paul placed ministry first and Barnabas the individual first. If they are doing this for the glory of God, both are right. Their disagreement was so sharp that they decided to separate from each other. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, his native place. Paul chose Silas and went to Cilicia, his native place. Missionary handbook suggests that evangelism is more effective in native places than cross-cultural evangelism. Both teams were very effective. Barnabas was able to restore and rebuild Mark for the ministry (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). Paul later wrote that he had great respect for Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6). Paul and Mark eventually reconciled and became close fellow workers. The tension between Paul and Barnabas shows that even godly servants can have interpersonal conflict. Only the gospel can strengthen us to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Only because of God’s mercy and love, we can be reconciled and continue to love one another. May God give us a tender heart to love and consider one another! Pray for humility and love to handle interpersonal conflict.