The Gentiles Question Resolved (5)
Pray Psalm 74.12-17.
For God is my King from of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.
You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces,
And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
You broke open the fountain and the flood;
You dried up mighty rivers.
The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
Sing Psalm 74.12-17.
(Rockingham Old: O Lord Most High, with All My Heart)
Our God is King from long ago, Who works deliv’rance in the land;
He split the sea, He crushed His foes; against Him none can ever stand.
You opened the springs, fresh water flowed; to You belong both day and night.
You bound the seasons and the earth and gave the sun its glorious light.
Read Acts 15.1-29; meditate on verses 12-29.
1. Who spoke at this council?
2. What did the council decide to do?
Peter’s argument for not troubling the Gentile believers with Jewish customs had a powerful effect. When he was finished, no one said a word. Next, Paul and Barnabas weighed in, and their report strengthened the case made by Peter (v. 12). James, the Lord’s half-brother, put forward a motion for the assembly’s consideration. First, he summarized Peter’s argument. Then he reinforced Peter’s argument, and the report of Paul and Barnabas, by grounding everything in the Old Testament, specifically, Amos 9.11, 12. Thus, based on Scripture and church practice, he offered his motion in vv. 19, 20.
The restrictions spelled out in verse 20 focus on common religious and moral practices among the Gentiles of the Roman world. If the converted Gentiles were to show themselves to be a people holy to the Lord, they would need to be conspicuous about the change the Gospel makes, precisely at those points where everyone would be most likely to observe them.
The council put its decision into writing so that it could be communicated to the churches where the problem first arose, in Antioch (vv. 22, 23). Two key leaders from the Jerusalem Church were sent along with Paul and Barnabas to serve as a kind of counterweight to those who had previously come from Jerusalem and caused the problem in the first place. Their voice, together with that of Paul and Barnabas and the letter from the council, would have reassured Jewish and Gentile believers alike.
We also notice, in the address of the letter, that the scope of its application reached beyond Antioch into Syria and Cilicia. Clearly the assembly intended its directive to apply to churches wherever Gentiles were being converted, because Cilicia covers the area of Paul’s first missionary journey. We can see from this situation that, in the ongoing work of Christ, the Lord intends a kind of connectionalism for His churches.
We witness in the proceedings and actions of this council the powerful work of the Spirit of Christ in bringing sound doctrine to light, increasing unity within the Church, and continuing the ongoing work of Christ in the Roman world. Only the Spirit can knit the hearts of disparate people into one consensus of thought and action.
Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15.18).
God is eternal – previously, now, and forever. He had no beginning, and He will have no end (Rev. 1.8).
And from eternity past He knew what He would create. He knew what He wanted that creation to be like, and what He wanted it to accomplish. He knew each person who ever was or ever will be and everything and everybody was made to do His will.
He put in place His Law (Ex. 20.1-17) to guide His works. And He added circumcision as a sign of belonging to Him, as His people. When Gentiles were added into the Church, He lifted the need for circumcision as a sign. The Law remained for all people everywhere to obey wholeheartedly.
As the disciples wrote in their letter to the people in Antioch: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Acts 15.28, 29).
The Church cannot function with sin in its midst. Joshua heard this same message from the LORD: “Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you”’” (Josh. 7.13). It has always been thus. God’s work must be done by God’s people in a righteous way so that He will bless it.
Hubris is alive in the Church today. People think that they can blatantly commit whatever sins they choose, grace will cover it, and God will bless it, and the green grass will grow all around. But that is a lie. And we must never participate in it.
Our eternal God has morals. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on wickedness (Hab. 1.13). All His works are perfect. All His creatures are not. But we can be through Jesus, “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5.9). Saved to obey.
And we, too, must keep ourselves from evil, and by this, do well in His sight.
1. Does doctrine matter? Why?
2. How can you keep spiritual pride from undermining your walk with and work for the Lord?
3. Why can the Church not function with sin in its midst? What about us? Can we?
The council listened to James because he was the first of the three pillars of the church (see Gal. 2:9). He was the leader of the church in Jerusalem until he was stoned to death at the insistence of the high priest in A.D. 62. James was the Lord’s half brother, the one who did not believe until the Lord appeared to him privately after the Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:7). Earl Radmacher (1931-2014), NKJV Study Bible Note on Acts 15.13
Pray Psalm 74.18-23.
Seek the Lord for revival in your own walk with Him, revival in His churches, and a worldwide awakening to the Good News of Jesus. Ask Him to protect you and all His people as you labor in your Personal Mission Field today. Call on Him to keep His enemies at bay so that the Gospel will increase throughout the world.
Sing Psalm 74.18-23.
(Rockingham Old: O Lord Most High, with All My Heart)
Remember this, O Lord, our God: a foolish people spurns Your Name.
Deliver not Your flock to them, nor leave Your holy ones to shame.
Your covenant recall, renew, for violence spreads throughout the earth,
The poor and needy rescue, Lord, and we shall sing Your matchless worth!
Arise O God, and plead Your cause! See how the fools reproach Your Name.
Their voices quell, their uproar still, who Your majestic grace defame.
T. M. and Susie Moore
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.