For the last couple days we’ve studied the writings of Paul and James regarding some of the problems addressed at the Jerusalem Council. Today we see the Jerusalem Council in action. This was one of seven councils in the church’s early history and it’s considered the most important because it established the answer to the most important doctrinal question of all:
WHAT MUST A PERSON DO TO BE SAVED?
As we learned yesterday, there was a big movement in the church involving legalism and ritual as prerequisites for salvation. The Jerusalem Council forever affirmed that salvation is grace alone through faith in Christ alone.
Peter gives one of the strongest defenses of the doctrine in Acts 15. Isn’t it interesting that not too long after that, Paul had to chastise him for getting sucked into the legalistic vortex?
And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:7-11 (ESV)
James and the other leaders were worried that the Gentile believers would revel in their freedoms in Christ. While not a bad thing in and of itself, they weren’t raised as the Jews were and some of their actions could be offensive. For instance, Gentiles thought nothing of eating food that was offered to pagan gods and then sold for human consumption. But the Jews considered idolatry forbidden and would have nothing to do with that food. We know that God forbids sexual sin, but the Gentiles of that culture were participants in orgies to the pagan gods. Those activities needed to cease of course. Therefore, the elders made sure to place some restrictions on the people so as to live harmoniously.
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. Acts 15:19-20 (ESV)
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 1 Corinthians 8:8-9 (ESV)
Paul befriended and selected a young disciple named Timothy as a mentee. He required Timothy to submit to circumcision, which seems strange since part of the problem cleared up at Jerusalem Council was the issue of requiring a Gentile to be circumcised. Timothy would be sent to the Jews as well as the Gentiles, and Paul wanted to make sure that there were no barriers to the presentation of the Gospel.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)
Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith (2 Timothy 1:2). He was Paul’s favorite and trusted companion and co-worker.
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. Phil 2:19-24 (ESV)
As we progress through the book of Acts we will watch Paul go on his missionary journeys, spreading the Gospel near and far. We will see Paul imprisoned and beaten on many occasions, yet he pressed on to proclaim the Gospel to the nations. Next week we will begin to see the fruit of his labors.
As you prepare for your Sunday worship, I pray that you will take time to reflect on the lessons learned this week and apply them to your Christian walk. Are you walking the talk? Are you joyous? Do you speak out for Christ when the opportunity presents itself? Do you tell people salvation is through faith in Christ alone? Obviously we all sin and fall short of the mark in some area, but with Christ’s help we can become more like Him every day. Our walk and our talk will reflect more and more of Christ.
See you on Sunday!