Acts 15: How strict should we make the rules?

January 12th, 2007

Jesus left his followers with a problem. There were no clear guidelines or rules for running the new church. Who were supposed to be the leaders of the church, and what was the extent of their authority? Jesus had said, “Don’t be called teachers because you have only one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.” Then what exactly were the rules which Jesus expected believers to follow in their daily lives, and who had the responsibility and authority to enforce those rules? Jesus had confined his ministry mostly to Jewish people, but lately Gentiles had been flocking into the church.

The Acts of the Apostles — Chapter 15

15:1 Some men came from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” 15:2 Paul and Barnabas had a big argument with them, and the church appointed Paul and Barnabas along with some others to go to Jerusalem to raise this question with the apostles and elders. 15:3 They were sent off by the church and on the way they stopped at Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the brothers about the conversion of the Gentiles. This caused great joy. 15:4 On arrival in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, and they reported everything God had done through them.

15:5 But some of the believers who were Pharisees got up to argue, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to instruct them to keep the law of Moses.” 15:6 The apostles and the elders met together to discuss this matter. 15:7 After considerable discussion, Peter stood up to say, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God chose that the Gentiles should hear the message of the Good News from my mouth, and believe. 15:8 God, who knows peoples’ hearts, demonstrated that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 15:9 He made no distinction between us and them, making their hearts clean by faith. 15:10 So why are you testing God by putting a burden on the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 15:11 We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”

15:12 All the crowd stopped arguing, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting on the signs and wonders God had done amongst the Gentiles through them. 15:13 When they finished speaking, James responded, “Brothers, listen to me. 15:14 Simon has described how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15:15 This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is predicted, 15:16 ‘After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up, 15:17 so that all other people can seek after the Lord, all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who does all these things, 15:18 known from long ago.’

15:19 “So my judgment is that we should not make things difficult for the Gentiles who turn to God. 15:20 We should write to tell them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from anything that has been strangled, and from blood. 15:21 For many generations in every city the teachings of Moses have been preached and read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

15:22 Then it seemed best to the apostles and elders and the whole church, to choose some people from amongst them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, senior men amongst the brothers. 15:23 They sent this letter with them:

“From the apostles, elders and brothers, to the Gentile brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 15:24 We have heard that some men from amongst us have worried you with words, upsetting you by saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ although they had no such orders from us. 15:25 We thought it appropriate for us, having reached an agreement, to choose some messengers and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 15:26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15:27 So we have sent Judas and Silas, who will tell you the same things in person. 15:28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to put no greater burden on you than these essential things: 15:29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things which have been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to keep yourselves away from these things. Farewell.”

15:30 They were sent off, and arrived in Antioch. They gathered the crowd together and delivered the letter. 15:31 They read it and rejoiced at the encouragement. 15:32 Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words and strengthened them. 15:33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent back with greetings from the brothers to the apostles. 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch with many others, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.

15:36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back to visit our brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, to see how they are doing.” 15:37 Barnabas wanted to take John, who was called Mark, with them as well. 15:38 But Paul thought it best not to take with them someone who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 15:39 The disagreement became so intense that they parted ways. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 15:40 but Paul chose Silas and left, being entrusted by the brothers to the grace of God. 15:41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Entry Filed under: Legalism

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. » The&hellip  |  November 14th, 2009 at 8:09 am

    […] Acts chapter 15 describes a critical decision point in the life of the New Testament church. Lately Gentiles had been flocking into the church. Did those Gentiles have to follow Jewish religious customs? What were the essential bits and what were the inessential bits? There was a whole body of Jewish ceremonial law that specified what was clean and what was unclean as far as food went, but Peter had just recently learnt that nothing was unclean if God declared it to be clean. […]

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