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The Scriptorium

The Hard Work of Unity

It's hard work, but it must be done. Acts 14, 15

The Gentiles Question Resolved (7)

Pray Psalm 48.1-3.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.

Sing Psalm 48.1-3.
(Cwm Rhonda: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah)
Great is God, now greatly praise Him in the city of the Lord!
Holy she, His lovely mountain, great and glorious by His Word!
God her King is great within her, He, her Stronghold ever sure!
He, her Stronghold ever sure!

Review Acts 14 and 15; meditate on Acts 15.6-12.

Preparation

1. Who spoke in these verses?

2. What was the gist of their message?

Meditation
In the minds of Peter and Paul, there was never a thought that the Church of Jesus Christ would ever be anything other than one body and one people. Jesus, they knew, had insisted that the visible unity of His people was crucial to their effective witness (Jn. 17.21). Peter would later write that all believers are part of a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” and the one “people of God” (1 Pet. 2.9, 10). The churches in Antioch had already demonstrated their oneness with the believers in Judea by sending aid for their relief (Acts 11.27-30). Paul would later write that it is important believers work together for unity. He chided the Corinthians for their divisiveness (1 Cor. 1), and he urged the Ephesians to work hard at maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with all believers (Eph. 4.3).

So it’s not surprising that we find them here in Jerusalem, working to keep the Church together as one people, one nation, and one body. And the fact that they succeeded – both for the churches in Jerusalem and Judea as well as for those far-flung among the Gentiles – indicates that those who served with them understood the importance of unity as well.

They recognized a problem and realized it could divide the believers. So they gathered in council, set forth the situation, searched the Scriptures, and arrived at a conclusion that rejected the false teaching (v. 10), reminded the churches to keep focused on Jesus (v. 11),  and counseled them how to maintain their separate and holy status in a world of sin (vv. 23-28).

Maintaining unity among all those who believe in Jesus is not easy work, and it’s made even more difficult in our day when disunity among the churches of our Lord is the norm, and few seem to care about finding ways of expressing the oneness we have in Jesus Christ. Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace must be a visible unity. Pray that God will put it on the hearts of church leaders in communities around the world to seek that visible unity which persuades the unbelieving world that Jesus Christ has been sent from God for salvation.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
The devil dances to the tune of disunity. Nothing thrills him more, whether it be in a marriage, the home, the Church, the community, or the world at large. It is his specialty. Within his chained-up sphere, he has managed the mayhem on a thousand fronts.

But God desires unity for His children. So, when the opposite arrives, we can rest assured we are serving the wrong master. Or someone is and needs to be rooted out. Peter, Paul, and Barnabas set about to do just that.

Jesus prayed before His death and resurrection that we might be as one. “As You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17.21). Do we deny His existence by our disunity? Or nullify His claims to be God? He answers “Yes” to that.

And what about our standing as Christians? If we are not in accord with one another on our essential beliefs, then we nullify our claims to belong Christ. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4.7, 8). “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn.13.35).

Disagreements will always arise because we are individuals. Billy Graham quoted his wife Ruth as saying, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” We are all necessary, so it is how we as believers handle the dissensions that is the crux of the Bible’s teaching.

God knows our hearts. Peter captured the sum of this truth when he spoke of everyone’s salvation: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them [the Gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us [the Jews], and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15.8, 9).

What is important to God is the state our heart, for only when our hearts are right can we be one together in the Lord:
“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts…” (Jer. 4.4).
“Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deut. 10.16).
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30.6).
“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16.7).

With all of our differences, the miracle of grace occurs, when unity happens because of Christ. We set aside our personal issues and strive to find the Scriptural solution to whatever problems arise. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133.1), as we endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3).

It is hard work; but well worth doing!

For reflection
1. Very little visible unity exists among the churches of our Lord today. Does this matter? Explain.

2. Jesus Christ and His salvation is the only sure foundation and common core of Christian unity. Why?

3. Can Christians disagree amicably about certain matters? What can we do to work for greater unity?

While the testimony of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul was important for the council in making their decision, something more than the experience of the Gentiles had to be taken into consideration. The council needed to know what the Word of God said. James pointed out that what was happening among the Gentiles was in full agreement with the OT (Amos 9:11, 12). Earl Radmacher (1931-2014), NKJV Study Bible Not on Acts 15.15-18

Pray Psalm 48.9-14.

Praise God for His grace and lovingkindness to His people. Pray that He will unite His people, all over the world, in seeking Him for revival, renewal, and awakening to Jesus Christ.

Sing Psalm 48.9-14.
(Cwm Rhonda: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah)
For Your grace and lovingkindness we proclaim Your matchless worth!
As Your Name is, great and boundless, let Your praise fill all the earth.
Let Your people sing rejoicing for the judgment of Your truth;
for the judgment of Your truth.

Walk about the blessèd city, see her beauty, see her power.
Count her ramparts, filled with glory, look on ev’ry mighty tower.
Tell her glory to the nations: God will guide her evermore;
God will guide her evermore!

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to a summary of last week’s Scriptorium study by going to our website, www.ailbe.org, and clicking theScriptorium tab for last Sunday. You can download any or all the studies in this series on Acts by clicking here.

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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.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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