Christian Council (Acts 15:1-35)
Christian Council (Acts 15:1-35)
Jesus-Plus Gospel (verses 1-5)
Now that some Gentiles had been converted, certain Jews were wrongly telling them what they needed to do in order to really become members of God’s family. They were claiming that in order for a Gentile to enter the Jewish fold, in order to really be a Christian, he had to comply with all Jewish regulations. In other words, in order to receive the full benefits, you must fully submit to the Law. Pharisees had added Jesus to their Laws without realizing that He was the fulfillment of the Law.
Because this issue hit at the very heart of the gospel and because of the seriousness of the effects it would have on the church, it was decided that it should be addressed among the church in Jerusalem, from where the accusations had come. As Paul and Barnabas made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, they took the opportunity to tell Christians along the way about the progress of the gospel in Antioch and among the Gentiles. Though these would have been primarily Jewish churches, they were rejoicing at the news of Gentiles believing on Christ.
Peter, Paul and Barnabas (verses 6-12)
The meeting that took place in Jerusalem was not carried out behind closed doors. Instead, the church itself gathered to discuss, debate and make a decision regarding the matter. In Peter’s address, he begins with the heart of God and His plan to use Peter as a mouthpiece for preaching the gospel to Gentiles. He shows the absurdity of the Jews expecting the Gentiles to keep the Law that they themselves failed to keep. Salvation is deliverance from slavery, not an exchange of burdensome yokes.
Because God gave the Holy Spirit to Gentiles in the same way as He did to the Jews, the Jewish Law is deemed irrelevant for receiving the Spirit, and therefore unnecessary for salvation. How can we make any distinction at all, if God Himself made no distinction? The fact that God gave the Gentiles His Spirit just as He did the Jews made clear that the Gentiles experienced the cleansing of their hearts by faith, and not by conformity to Jewish Law. All of the emphasis is on the inward change in the believer.
James (verses 13-21)
James uses the phrase “a people for His name,” which was commonly used to draw the line of demarcation between Jews and Gentiles. But James uses it here to include both groups together in one. He’s simply drawing attention to what the Bible says about God’s plan promised beforehand to do exactly what Peter has just described Him doing: saving Gentiles. The church of Christ was intended all along to include Gentile and Jews, without any discrimination. Both groups are brought in by grace through faith in Christ.
However, though there are no entrance conditions in the kingdom of God, and though Gentiles do not need to become Jews in order to belong to God’s family, there are certain things that should be avoided because of their repulsiveness to the Jews. Just because there is freedom in Christ, it in no way gives a license to flaunt that freedom, especially when it is detrimental to other Christians. Strong Christians must be prepared to limit their freedom for the sake of fellow believers.
Letter Sent, Received, Read (verses 22-35)
Now that full agreement was reached, they determined to send word back to Antioch with the verdict. By receiving and obeying the instructions in the letter, the Gentiles would do well in that they would avoid unnecessary barriers in their fellowship with the Jews. The encouragement that was included in the letter helped ensure its reception among the Gentile believers. Whenever truth is given, it must always be bountifully accompanied by love, always.
- Against every potential gospel-plus situation, we must insist on having a clear voice defending the purity of the gospel. How should we define what it means to be a Christian? What are the requirements for belonging to Christ? What are some things that you might mistakenly be prone to add to faith alone as a requirement for belonging to Christ?
- How should this passage affect the way we view secondary doctrines and issues? How should it affect our understanding of fellowship with other believers?