And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to commandthem to keep the law of Moses.”
Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’
“Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 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. Farewell.
- Acts 15:1-29
I took many things out of this chapter, but there is one point that I want to focus on in this post. I think that the church in Acts was handling itself very well and I think that we should be modeling our church leadership after them. As you notice in the first few verses, it says that some men (Judaizers led by converted Pharisees) came down and were telling all these new gentile converts that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised and were following Jewish law. That must have been a huge bummer. Imagine if you just accepted Christ and were so excited about it to then find out that you are actually not saved! When Paul and Barnabas heard of this, they were not too happy! It says they had “no small dispute”, which probably means it was a big dispute. I think they had a reason to be angry, considering they just went through and brought all these gentiles to Christ!
Now this is where it gets cool. The first thing they do is have a meeting with the church leadership and explain the problem. Paul eventually gets up and says, in verse 8, that God gave the gentiles the Holy Spirit just like God gave them the Holy Spirit. The point he is making is that they are indeed saved, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not be inside of them. They go on further explaining the miracles that they performed among the gentiles. James eventually recites scripture spoken by the old prophets that says that God will call the gentiles to His name. The Word even says that the gentiles will respond to God’s call, you can not argue against that!
Of course, some of them were having a hard time grasping the concept of being saved through grace. They could not believe all these gentiles were simply saved without having to follow the law and be circumcised. But James says in verse 20, that they should still abstain from certain things such as: things polluted by idols, sexual immorality, things strangled, and from blood.
In verse 22 it says that they were all in agreement. They then sent a letter, explaining the decision they all agreed upon, back to the gentiles and to the Jewish men in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia who were teaching false doctrine. The best part is in verse 28 where it says: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us..” We should be able to say that about all of our decisions!
Imagine how great the gentiles must have felt after hearing that they were indeed saved by grace through Jesus Christ! Imagine the worry they must have had wondering if they were saved or not. All those doubts went away when they heard that letter from the church read to them with a decision that “was good to them and to the Holy Spirit.”