Event(s): Conflict over circumcision; The Jerusalem Council
Today’s Text: Acts 15:1-21
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 15:22-41
If we will recall, in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas had been ordained as apostles and were sent out on their first missionary journey. Having lasted nearly two years, from late Spring 44 A.D. to Fall 46 A.D., Paul and Barnabas conclude their mission and head back to Antioch, where they had started. In today’s passage, we get to see how being filled and led by the Holy Spirit allows effective conflict resolution.
Acts 15:1 “Unless you are circumcised…you cannot be saved.” There was an increasing number of Gentiles being added to The Church. This posed a real challenge for many Jewish believers because they genuinely taught that in order for Gentiles to become Christians, they had to submit to all Jewish customs, including circumcision. This was a major roadblock for many who simply couldn’t let go of the belief that one could come into relationship with the Father by grace, through faith.
“We can just imagine how Satan wanted to take advantage of this situation. First, he wanted the false doctrine of works righteousness to succeed. But even if it didn’t, Satan wanted a costly, bitter doctrinal war to complete split and sour the church. This may be the greatest threat to the work of the gospel seen in the Book of Acts!” – David Guzik, Blue Letter Bible Commentator
Acts 15:2 “they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.” There is great wisdom in a multitude of counsel. It’s unfortunate, but so many people have been derailed when they hit those moments in life and they face questions they don’t have answers for, or don’t know how to apply Godly wisdom to a particular situation.
Paul and Barnabas, great leaders in The Church, provide a wonderful model for us, in that they didn’t use this as an opportunity to split off and go their separate ways. They instead submitted themselves to greater counsel and opened up these legitimate concerns for healthy discussion. The posture of their heart was not to turn away, but to turn towards the issue at hand with an even greater intentionality and commitment to bringing resolve.
Acts 15:8 “God who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit…” God acknowledged them. This means He bore witness to them. As only God could know the heart, He knew that these believers had done nothing but believed, and so they received the Holy Spirit. Giving them His presence was a sign of His acceptance.
Acts 15:10 “why do you put a yoke on the neck of the disciples…” This yoke of circumcision was an obligation that Peter clearly identified as a weight that was simply not necessary. What did it add to the faith that Jesus had not already accomplished? Why was it necessary? If believers had the greatest “sign” of salvation one could ever receive – the indwelling of the presence of God Himself through the Holy Spirit – nothing else was needed.
Acts 15:11 “…through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved…” Grace, from the Greek word, charis, meaning unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, a free gift. If we add any required work to it, it ceases to be grace. The conclusion? Salvation is by grace, through faith, plus nothing.
Acts 15:13 “After they had become silent, James answered…” James was Jesus’ half-brother, and the one we now know as the author of the book of James.
Acts 15:20 “abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled and from blood.” The restrictions that James laid out were brought up because they involve ethical and moral issues. James was not putting Gentile converts under the Mosaic Law by imposing these restrictions. He was urging them to limit their exercise of Christian liberty.
What is our normal reaction when conflict occurs? Are we comfortable addressing the issue or do we stuff it deep down into our emotional vault hoping it will just go away? Conflict is inevitable, but have we ever considered that the Holy Spirit can lead us, teach us, and help us if we will allow ourselves to be used by God to bring resolution? In fact, we as believers should be the best at this!
If we can lay aside our desire to be right, if we can quiet our emotions long enough to listen to what God has to say, and if we can love enough to turn towards the issue, not harden our hearts and turn away from it, God can greatly be glorified when we deal with these testing situations with His love and wisdom.
Is there an issue you’re facing for which you need godly wisdom? Is there a conversation that needs to take place that you’re avoiding? Skill and practical tools for resolving conflict are important. But according to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker – A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, “As important as practical skills are, the focus always has to be on motive. If our desires is to honor Christ, everything else will follow.”
So today, ask God to reveal to you, through the Holy Spirit, how Christ can be honored with whatever you may currently be facing. Before jumping to outward action steps, or thinking through what you’re going to say to the other person(s), let God speak to you, personally. Could you use more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control in dealing with the situation? How would that change your approach? It’s funny, a lot of times we can find ourselves asking God to change our situation, not knowing that He’s allowing us to be in the middle of it so that He can change us.