JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
August 19, 2009, 10:16 pm
Filed under: E Acts

Reading chapter 15 from Acts I was reminded again about how important God feels about the simple grace and freedom found in believing the good news of Jesus.

“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” begins a dramatic story of the early church’s dealings with those who want to add something to simple faith in Jesus. Paul and Barnabas had just gotten back from their first missionary journey seeing many non-Jewish people (Gentiles) come to believe in Jesus. I can only imagine the holy anger swelling inside both of these men as they had given their lives, Paul almost dieing from being stoned, after seeing so many come to trust in Jesus for salvation, and to have these legalists say something has to be added to faith that Jesus had never mentioned in the gospels! Needless to say “this brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.”

Neither of them were going to back down from faith in Jesus alone for salvation and so the body of Christ in Antioch sent them to the body of Christ in Jerusalem to correct this thinking. What is interesting is that “the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” said among this impromptu meeting in Jerusalem that “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” It’s funny how they added obeying “the law of Moses” to what they originally said was required for Gentiles to be saved! I guess that’s what happens when we begin adding rules, we find more rules to add on!

Somehow the devotion to the apostles teaching for these Pharisees didn’t quite sink in when they trusted in Jesus. They seemed to have held on to their traditions. Perhaps because they had been “leaders” in the Sanhedrin they felt they could automatically be leaders in the church. But Jesus said to be great you must be the least, a servant, a follower. This doesn’t mean a leader serves but that a servant leads. This tells me that perhaps the house-to-house sharing of life together in the body of Christ in Jerusalem may have been having some problems; perhaps the apostles in Jerusalem had begun having a break down in the simple meetings they once shared in its earliest beginnings?

I find it surprising that “the apostles and elders” even had to meet “to consider this question” and with “much discussion”? Wasn’t it plain and obvious? What were the house-to-house meetings and the shared life the followers of Jesus being devoted to now in Jerusalem? What does that say about the Body of Christ today? Most meetings in Western Christianity tend to be focused on going to a large building to hear a teacher or preacher with very little if any participation by those who attend, and even fewer have opportunities to gather in small groups with the focus on BEING the body of Christ together, functioning like the apostles teaching from the New Testament, and if they do have opportunities it is seen as foreign.

Four men share their observations in this story in Acts. First was Peter, describing how God used Him to bring the good news to the Gentiles first and believed like the rest of them and that “it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Then Barnabas and Paul shared their experiences from the church planting journey. Then finally James speaks showing from the Scriptures the truth of God that the Lord desires that “all the Gentiles” would “bear” His “name.”

After having read the Letter of James and Letter to Galatians by Paul, and the fact that Paul and Peter had some heated words about distinctions in the body of Christ earlier, give rise to these similar issues. It reminds me of a verse: “God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The person is saved by faith alone in Jesus. I don’t have to add anything to my faith in Jesus to have a relationship with the Lord! Anything, means anything! I don’t have to do anything to my body, like circumcision or baptism or tattoos or hair cut or anything, and I don’t have to have a certain set of rules to follow, like wear certain clothes or wear certain things or pray a certain way or look a certain way or take the Lord’s Supper or do a certain thing or anything, to be completely saved. Amen!

James instead makes a compromise that for those who are Gentile believers they recommended that they avoid a few things that would be beneficial for them and have peace with the Jewish believers. In all of this the body of Christ focused on what was the right thing to do, what would bring God glory for His Body, both Jew and Gentile, that would bring peace, and ensured they had consensus, everyone agreed.

The thought here is that it is important that I don’t add anything to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus accepts us, me and you, just as we are, even when we may not accept ourselves! I can also see the importance of a truly shared life together in the Body of Christ, because the issues brought up by these Pharisee brothers might have been taken care of if the apostles and deacons/servants had been ensuring the health of the Body as they met house-to-house.

Thankfully God, through Barnabas and Paul as devoted to the simple gospel as they were, brought this issue to the forefront so it could be dealt with. Praise God for those who desire that the simple shared life of the Body based on simple faith in Jesus was restored! I guess my question is what about me, what about the Body of Christ right now? Are we divided because of certain theological differences instead of focusing on the unity found in simple faith in Jesus Christ? What would Barnabas and Paul, Jesus for that matter, think of the Body of Christ where you are, where I am? Am I holding onto traditions or rules that are not biblical but man made and are preventing me from truly living a shared participatory life with my brothers and sisters, devoted to Jesus and one another in love? Am I really focused on Jesus as Head or me as head? Is Jesus in control or am I?

It is unknown if these Pharisee believers repented or apologized for having harmed the Body of Christ, I guess they did if they got consensus, but because they are no longer mentioned after Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James shared I would guess they may not have. Is there something that I have done to harm the Body of Christ that I need to turn from? When I harm the Body of Christ, I harm Jesus, my Lord and Savior! Jesus says “Love one another just I have have loved you.” It is all about loving Jesus and His Body!


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