Scripture

Acts 15:1-21

1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return

    and rebuild David’s fallen tent.

Its ruins I will rebuild,

    and I will restore it,

17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

    even all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things’—

18     things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Reflection

Being from Indiana, it’s in my blood to be a basketball fan. I prefer to watch college basketball over the NBA because it’s rules are more traditional and allow teams to play defense. I’m generally against changing the rules in sports to attract a broader, more casual fan base. But I understand decisions are made to maintain and increase revenue. The rise of prolific three point shooting, a shorter shot clock, faster play, and other rules limiting defense, have all made the NBA difficult for me to watch. It isn’t just basketball that’s gone through rule changes. Football, baseball, and golf are examples of other sports who are dealing with similar issues with the desire to maintain and increase their popularity. As rules change, there is an extended period of acclimation. Players, coaches, officials need time to process and understand the new rules. 

As readers, we’ve been given a privileged view of God transforming Paul on the road to Damascus. We saw the Lord reveal to Peter that all animals are clean to eat now. The invitation to belong inside the family of God has been extended to the Gentiles. This wasn’t novel without any precedent. From the very beginning of God’s promise to Abraham, God intended to bless the world through him and his descendants. The time has come to be sent to the ends of the earth proclaiming the gospel...but does that mean observing the law in the same way as the Jewish Christians? No, the rules have changed but not everyone is on the same page. There isn’t consensus yet. Time is needed to adjust and fully understand the reason for the change. Here, at what is known as the Jerusalem Council, the major leaders of the church (Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James) come together to decide that circumcision is not required of Gentile Christians. The yoke is too heavy. 

The apostles response is in accord with Jesus’ teaching on children.  13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there (Matthew 19:13-15). The judicial and ceremonial aspects of the law will not be applied in the same way for Gentile Christians because Christ fulfilled the law but the moral aspects of the law (ex. The Ten Commandments) will always remain in need of permanent application for all Christians. 

Notice, in dealing with a large contingent of people who believe circumcision is still required for salvation, the apostles appeal to that which is undeniable across the body, Paul’s transformation and Peter’s preaching. Are there any unresolved disputes in your life? Where is there undeniable agreement? Allow God to use that as a starting point to settle your disputes. 

What new ways might the Holy Spirit be leading the church to proclaim and express the gospel? Are there specific ways God is leading you to do this? 

Prayer

Holy God, we know how true it is that you do not show favoritism but accept from every nation the one who fears you and does what is right. We have received the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. To the ends of the earth, the message of the gospel is proclaimed---how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. Precious Jesus, empower us with your Spirit to do the same (taken from Acts 10:34-38). 

About

The First 15 is a resource of First Methodist Church Mansfield and meant to grow and enhance your personal relationship with Christ on a daily basis by starting the first fifteen minutes of each day with scripture, reflection and prayer. For more information about First Methodist Church visit our website.