Event(s): The Jerusalem Decree; Continuing Ministry in Syria; Division over John Mark
Today’s Text: Acts 15:22-41
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 16:1-15
The debate regarding the issue of circumcision had been resolved and now the apostles would make every effort to clearly communicate the outcome to The Church.
Jesus had told the disciples in John 14:26 that when the Holy Spirit would come, He would teach them all things and He would bring to memory what Jesus had already taught them. If the disciples had forgotten some specific instruction that Jesus had already provided, all they had to do was rely on the Holy Spirit and He would bring it back to their remembrance. Additionally, if there was anything Jesus had not already specifically spoken to, the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13).
Throughout the entire process of this dispute, discussion, and deliberation, we see the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles, to teach them and to help them remember things that were pertinent to the decision making process. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit was leading them into a truth that brought freedom and joy.
Acts 15:23 “They wrote this letter by them…” The apostles didn’t simply rely on word of mouth to capture, preserve and communicate the wisdom that brought them to their conclusion. They put it in writing and sent multiple witnesses to deliver the letter. “Judas” had a Jewish name” so he may have been a Hebraic Jew, whereas “Silas” had a Greek name, and probably was a Hellenistic Jew. These men represented both segments of the Jerusalem church. Everything about how they handled this situation affirmed the unity of the leadership of The Church.
Acts 15:24a “troubling your minds and unsettling your souls…” The AMP Bible translates this phrase to read, “some persons..have disturbed you with their teaching, unsettling your minds and throwing you into confusion…” In either translation, really, we get the sense that the apostles were not just engaging this issue theologically. They were able to sense what this dispute was causing in the hearts of their hearers, spiritually.
Acts 15:24b “to whom we gave no such commandment” The men, who in verse 1, had come to Antioch to dispute the issue of circumcision, had not been authorized nor instructed by the church in Jerusalem to speak to this issue. They had come to their own conclusions, and came speaking on their own authority. Thank God that Paul, Barnabas and the others didn’t just take what they said at face value, but they sought God for a heavenly answer.
Acts 15:28 “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit…” Notice that the letter traced the unanimity of the decision to the action of the Holy Spirit, even though the Spirit was not mentioned previously as intervening in the proceedings. This is the way in which the Spirit usually works in the church. There need not be miraculous displays to indicate His direction. Spirit-filled people can detect His presence through the harmony which prevails when men are responsive to His will.” -Homer Kent, Jr., Bible Scholar
Acts 15:31 “they rejoiced over its encouragement…” When the issue of circumcision had first been brought up, the atmosphere was charged with confusion, unsettledness and trouble. As the Holy Spirit led them to the proper answer, now, the response was freedom and joy.
Acts 15:36 “Let us go back and visit our brethren in every city….and see how they are doing.” Paul was such an evangelist, but he was also a great shepherd, who genuinely cared for the people.
Also, notice how God led Paul to the next thing by allowing him to feel this tug in his heart. It had been some five years since he had last traveled and visited all the churches. And now, as if out of the blue, he feels a concern for them and wants to make sure they are doing well. Don’t be surprised when something tugs at your heart unexpectedly. God may be trying to lead you somewhere new.
Acts 15:39 “the contention between them became so sharp that they parted from one another.” Had it not been brought back up here, we would have probably completely missed the reference to John Mark leaving in Acts 13:13. There has been lots of speculation as to why he left in the first place, but we really cannot know for sure. Bottom line, there was a disagreement in opinion as to whether John Mark should join Paul and Barnabas on this next journey. They disagreed, and so they each went their separate ways. Some may erroneously feel that any disagreement between believers is sinful, but there is no indication in the text that this difference of opinion was sinful. They just didn’t see eye to eye.
“Note that Luke does not assign blame for the disagreement. There are times when Christians will not agree…. Perhaps the best course of action in some of those situations is to work separately.” –NKJV Study Bible, Thomas Nelson
When things are not completely clear, or we’re having a hard time choosing between one decision or another, one of the things that can help guide us is to sense what we are experiencing spiritually. As verse 24 said, the dissension was “troubling your minds and unsettling your souls…” God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). And we know that the Holy Spirit will always draw us towards what is in heaven. Operating in discernment requires us to engage both – our hearts and our minds.
What decisions are you facing right now where the choice between the options is not completely clear? Tune into the Holy Spirit and pay attention to what you’re sensing spiritually – not just logically. As you stand at the “fork in the road” go in the direction in which you sense more peace, more light, more joy. Go in the direction that requires more faith and pray, as Psalm 43:3a says, “Send out Your light and Your truth; let them guide me…”