When children go to recess on the field and gather to play games, inevitably there’s one or a few who join late to ask, “Can I play too?”
When I was younger in HS and had friends who drove instead of rode the bus, I would ask, “Is there enough space for me too?”
If you come late to a movie, trying to find seats for your whole family, you ask, “Is there enough space for us to sit down?”
Whenever I go to the freezer for a tub of ice cream, all my children surround me with blinking eyes and puffed lips to ask, “Is there enough for me too?”
It is often the case that people want to be accepted, belong, and connect. Today’s passage reminds us the invitation of the gospel should be available to everyone.
EXAMINE Acts 14-15
- Beginning of year, we studied first thirteen chapters in 10 messages. This Sunday we seek to finish the book with 9 more messages.
- Acts is history of church. But why study church history and Acts?
- God’s history is sweet. God repeatedly exhorts us to “remember,” so we don’t forget His loyal love and faithful provision. The history in Acts is satisfying to our soul that Jesus is on the throne despite our circumstances, the Spirit is guiding us through every challenge, and the promise of Jesus’ return is as reliable as His forgiving grace.
- God’s history is a sword. Church history and Scripture equips us to discern between trendy fads and timeless truth. Knowing history helps us not only become trustworthy theologians but better decision-makers to not repeat foolish decisions of the past. The history in Acts reveals there is nothing new under the sun with human philosophies and religion, and there is one truth that stands the test of time.
- God’s history is a stimulant. Looking back gives us perspective for the present and purpose for the future. It motivates us that we are not alone, and part of an unbroken chain of gospel witnesses. The history in Acts encourages us that we are Acts 29 – the continuation of all that Jesus is doing in the world through His church.
Looking back gives us perspective for the present and purpose for the future. It motivates us that we are not alone, and part of an unbroken chain of gospel witnesses. #BookOfActs #ChurchHistoryTweet
Further, one of the blessings of reading/studying Acts is seeing how God uses ordinary individuals and broken vessels like you and me.
- Peter had failed Jesus multiple times, even at Jesus’ most important moment during the cross. Yet, God calls Peter as a key spokesperson for the church.
- John was described as a “son of thunder.” IOW, he likely was opinionated and sought to help others understand why their opinions were not as good as his. Yet, John is by Peter’s side at almost every step to preach the gospel, serve the church, and testify to God’s miraculous power.
- Stephen was likely one of the members involved in the early church’s significant conflicts during a business meeting. Yet, he’s chosen as a problem-solver and peacemaker. He also preaches a long sermon and becomes the church’s first martyr.
- Saul/Paul who was a wealthy educated man but also harsh toward those with different politics and hostile toward religious views other than his own. Yet, God used Paul as an instrument of service and treasured trophy of grace to bring new believers into the heaven, plant churches, and advance the kingdom.
Acts13 Church at Antioch sent out Barnabas and Paul
(1st Missionary Journey MAP)
- Remember, Jesus gave the disciples a mission to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond. What we learn from the disciples is a method for changing the world. If you want to change the world, become a Christian and join a local church that is evangelizing and planting more churches. This is the story of Christianity over 2K years later.
- Acts 13:46-52 Paul & Barnabas preached forgiveness of sins through Jesus to the Jews. While some received this message, many rejected Jesus as Christ. Therefore, Paul & Barnabas focused their mission on the Gentiles.
- Acts 14:21-27 Paul & Barnabas preached the good news among the Gentiles and won many disciples… Traveling around, they eventually returned strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Upon returning home to Antioch, they reported all that God had done and how He opened a wide door of faith to the Gentiles.
- Acts 14:23 Paul & Barnabas appointed elders in each church, and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:27 summarizing:
“27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
If you want to change the world, become a Christian and join a local church that is evangelizing and planting more churches. This is the story of Christianity over 2K years later. #BookOfActs #ChurchHistory #WorldChangersTweet
Now, the church experiences a roadblock and potential danger that lingers with every generation. Some of you are reading ahead into chapter 15 / and if you’re a man, you are in full agreement – THAT IS A DANGER; / but if you’re a woman, you’re like, “I can basically carry a large living pumpkin in my belly for 9-months, who likes to punch and kick my insides, hiccup and do cartwheels on top of me while I’m trying to sleep, and consumes everything I eat causing me to setup residence in the bathroom every half-hour. Not to mention that at some point this same pumpkin will have a preposterous exit without sympathy to time or pain. So… STOP COMPLAINING!”
And to that I say, “Point noted. :)”
Acts 15:1-5 “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.”
- Acts 15 is the middle point of the text (A 1-14 has 12,385 English words, A 15-29 has 12,502 English words.) So, it’s the middle of content, as well as to literary theme development to shift from Peter’s ministry among the Jews to the spread the gospel to Gentiles throughout the known world.
- The controversy or dispute is Gentile Christians seeking acceptance and a seat at the table of with Judean/Jewish Christians. But to Jewish Christians belongs God’s adoption, God’s glory, the patriarchs, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship practices, and the promises of the Messiah (cf. Rom 9:4). Yet, how dare these Gentiles become followers of Yahweh (God of Abraham…) and NOT a) be circumcised, b) follow Jewish eating habits! The problem isn’t that Gentiles are becoming Christians, but that Gentiles are becoming Christians but not becoming Jewish proselytes – practicing their traditions!
- Paul & Barnabas had just returned home from their first missions’ trip (~1,500 miles,~2-years & ~1-year wages). And now they need to travel a few hundred miles to Jerusalem to debate the theological nature of the gospel and pastoral division between Jew/Gentile Christians. This meeting was more of a consultation than an ecclesiastical council known in later technical terms. Thankfully, the tone of discussion and approach to problem-solving was humble and collaborative – – – which brings us to a first principle.
Gospel clarity begins with gracious humility (15:1-5)
Wherever people are, challenges and conflict will always occur, even among Christians. The issue is how we will respond.
- Paul & Barnabas “had no small dissension and debate” (15:2)… but when they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church, and the apostles, and the elders” (15:4).
- A motto: sinner before sinned against. Each of us bring bias and blunders into relationships. When we own our faults first, then we can offer accountability with others (Mt 7:5).
- Humility, grace, and forgiveness are expected of all those who have received the Lord’s salvation (cf. Mt 5:24; 6:14; Eph 4:25-32). For the Christian, love is not optional; we can unquestionably speak truth while still being remarkably kind.
- Unfortunately, minority opinions can appear more significant and receive more attention than what they deserve. Yet, Paul & Barnabas were not deterred by the questions or accusations of a vocal few. Instead, they kept their focus on faith in the Lord and spreading the gospel to all: Ac 15:3-4 “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. When they came to Jerusalem… they declared all that God had done with them.”
- Later Paul would tell Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, correcting opposition with gentleness, that God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:24–26)
- Who or what is causing you to lose your focus?
- Me with kids, “Are you whining for it or working for it?” We can get caught up in challenges or differences that it derails us from fulfilling our purpose and serving the Lord. Instead, like Paul & Barnabas, we need to commit to gracious humility and determined obedience.
- @Work focusing on the what vs the why. If you know your motivation for work, then you’ll find a job/career that brings fulfillment.
- @School treating other kids like trash just bc of appearance or abilities. Instead we need to view people like a mirror, as if they are us – everyone made in the image of God. Likewise, if you mistreat teachers bc you want less work and don’t want to be challenged. Instead of viewing teachers as your problems we need to understand God has placed them in your life to prepare you for life.
- @Church focusing on what you want vs what others need. It is easy to want the music to entertain rather than discern how it may be evangelizing someone else. It is easy to vent frustrations about your week rather than listen to someone else express their burdens. Yet, the church is about a community of differences united to reflect the undeserved love and grace of Jesus.
*Let’s make a goal to express praise before a problem.
*Let’s make a goal to say “yes” than “no.” Even if we are unable to fulfill a person’s request, we can find a way to affirm and be gracious to that person. Perhaps it’s just saying (and meaning it) that you are praying for that person.
Gospel clarity is sustained with essential truth (15:6-20).
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.”
The disciples and apostles all gathered together with gracious words and humble learning from one another. Finally, Peter spoke up “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? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Ac 15:10-11) Next, James speaks to affirm Peter’s insights, and he quotes the OT book of Amos, which reference God’s plan to build His kingdom with Jew and Gentile – a remnant from all nations (Ac 15:16-17; Amos 9:11-12).
James’ summary exhortation is worth noting, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from things polluted to idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Ac 15:19-20)
Note: Do you see how Peter and James approach the topic from both sides of religion? Peter’s aim is against legalism, which adds to the gospel. James’ aim is against license, which cheapens grace to prolong sinful patterns or flaunt freedoms before immature believers. Legalism and license are both sinful but love for God and others is the heart of Christianity.
Likewise, Paul & Barnabas were speaking about the works of God and “the word of the Lord” (Ac 15:35). The basis for the church discerning God’s activity and expectations among Gentiles and all believers was the Scriptures.
- They didn’t go ask the university professors about the latest studies about cultural behaviors and sociological norms.
- They didn’t turn to the Jerusalem Times or Judean Broadcast Network to listen to poll numbers for who should be identified as a Christian and what behaviors are acceptable.
- You can more degrees than a thermometer, or more popularity than a celebrity, but as for me and my house, I’ll still choose the promises of God and the One who rose from the dead.
– – – This is essentially what founding Christians were saying.
Overall, the Jerusalem Church’s response was
- Acknowledge our sinfulness. Following the law, or circumcision, was always incomplete for self-righteousness. We could never fulfill the law and always fell short!
- See Rom 2-4; Gal 1-6; Jer 4:4 “circumcised hearts”
Gal 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
- See Rom 2-4; Gal 1-6; Jer 4:4 “circumcised hearts”
- Affirm salvation is by grace through faith in Christ.
- Abstain from all idolatry (God-substitutes).
- Avoid all sexual immorality. Out of all sins or commandments (lying, stealing, murder, etc.), why single out sex? The reason is as you could imagine, that it’s the most prevalent. Further, the word “πορνείας” refers to a wide range of illicit and immoral activity (cf 1 Cor 5:1): lust, fornication (pre-marital), incest, adultery (though distinguished Mt 15; Gal 5), polygamy, prostitution, as well as homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, or any other sexual activity outside of God’s design between one man & one woman in marriage.
- Avoid cultic practices like eating live animals or drinking blood which would have been offensive to Jewish neighbors.
The apostles took all 613 commands of the OT and from the Pharisees and summarized them in a way everyday Christians could understand. They were not merely cherry-picking commands or selective of their sin choices. Since Christ is the final sacrifice, the OT ceremonial laws are no longer necessary, so dietary instructions or clothing commands are not applicable. Likewise, OT civil laws about theocratic government in ancient Israel are interesting to learn from, but no longer authoritative for believers. Only God’s moral law is unchanging, and that’s what the apostles wanted to communicate to the early Christians: love God & love neighbor.
- Church & Traditions
Anytime someone adds their religious preferences to the finished work of Christ, then they are establishing unnecessary requirements on the gospel.
There was a day when hymns were secular bar tunes; when flannel graphs were secular business communication devices; when overhead projectors and computers were materialistic machines creeping into the church. Too often the modern church has been quick to condemn those who break from tradition. Being more specific, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
Christianity needs to regain its grass roots origins of maintaining its orthodox theology but willing to adjust its methods for the sake of Jesus’ Great Commission to spread the gospel and make disciples of the world.
Let us have eternity emblazed on our eyes and etched in our hearts to commit to not troubling unbelievers to turn to God. That does not mean we will concede truth, but it does mean we will compromise over secondary issues.
- Rather than looking to the progressive left or endorsing the conservative right, let us look up to the God of all truth and over every earthly kingdom.
- Rather than making our voice heard and preferences known about ministry agendas, let us seek to do all we can to make it hard to go to hell from SPBC because of the contagious spirit of gospel mission and gracious unity.
The primary takeaway from this momentous church member meeting is that God is unmoved from His throne. Christianity has a habit of hanging around and overcoming obstacles. We can take heart, that whatever challenges arise, whatever controversies stir up, whatever pressures or persecutions threaten – that the gates of hell will not prevail, and the church will stand strong.
Christ is sufficient. The gospel is enough. There is no amount of religious works or good deeds to earn the acceptance of God or entrance into heaven.
- TRUST & TREASURE JESUS.
The Scriptures and the saints of God are the Spirit’s instruments to hold us accountable.
- REPENT of spiritual neglect or communal indifference.
- Baptism. Draw the line and start the journey.
- Grow in the word.
- Gather with your band of brothers and soul sisters.