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Blending Oil and Water – Acts 15:1-5


Blending Oil and Water

Acts 15:1-6

Sometimes people are so different, and there are inevitable disagreements, but it’s important to remember that Christ is building his church, not us!  Matthew 16:18. This part of chapter 15 is set in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas are based, Here, there are Christians who have come from a Jewish background, and Christians who have come from a Gentile background. Both groups are Christians, followers of Jesus, saved by grace through faith alone.  So, what’s the problem then?

Quarrel in the Church

1 The Problem with Jews and GentilesAnd certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 

  • There was a historic hostility and abhorrence between Jews and Gentiles.   The mindset of a strict Jew was that he was part of a special race of people, the were chosen by God. That should have made them very humble, and very grateful that a pathetic group of worthless slaves should be so greatly favoured.  But instead of humility, the Jews reacted to their elect status with pride.  In practice, a strict Jew could not have a conversation with a Gentile, could not have him as a guest, nor be a guest in the home of a Gentile.  As far as he could, a strict Jew would avoid any business transactions with a Gentile.  If Jews would have no social interaction with a Gentile whatsoever, how could Jews and Gentiles unite together in the church, especially in local assemblies in far off towns where there would only be one church meeting?  
  • The proposed solution. A group of people had come from Jerusalem to Antioch – after all, Antioch is the base from which the apostles are going out to preach to the Gentiles.  At Antioch, Jews and Gentiles were fellowshipping together in the church.   The proposed solution seems simple enough. Since the Jews are God’s chosen people, and since the Gentile Christians are coming into the Covenant people of God, they should all become Jews!  That would involve being circumcised, Acts 15:1,   And it involved keeping the Law. Acts 15:5 

So the real issue here is, ‘What must a person DO to become a Christian?’ – and for us, a deeper and broader issue. To be a Christian, do you need have faith and some form of worksDo you need to have faith in Christ, plus circumcision?  Faith plus the law?  

This is fundamental stuff.  Galatians 3:13-14 Paul always taught that we are saved by grace, through faith alone.  There is nothing we can do to merit salvation.  BUT, didn’t Jesus tell the woman in John 8 to ‘go and sin no more?’  He did, but our repentance, our good works, our obedience, our care for ourselves and others, is a RESPONSE to God’s free gift of salvation, not a means to earn it.   Ephesians 2:8   

2. Paul’s Forthright Insistence.  Acts 15:2  

Now, surely the solution sounds reasonable – right? Not at all!  There must have been a huge row about this.  There was ‘dissension and dispute!’  Paul later writes about it, and gives us some insight into just how strongly worded that dispute was.   Galatians 2:11-13

  • The teaching of these Jews was a grievous heresy.   Remember that in his first Missionary journey through Asia Minor, Paul had visited Galatia and established churches there?  The effect of this kind of teaching was at some time being strongly felt there.  Galatians 1:6-8,   What was it about this heresy that was so abominable? It was this teaching that simple faith in Christ is not enough  that it must be accompanied by something you do, by WORKS!  It’s the most basic error of all.  Galatians 2:14-16   Every false religion is based on something you must do to achieve eternal life, or completeness or reincarnation or Nirvana…. Only Christianity holds that there is nothing you can do, that Christ must do it all for you, and has done.

It is a measure of how alluring this notion of ‘salvation by faith + works’ is, that even Barnabas wavered!  It is so easy for a Christian to all into the trap.  And how dangerous, so dangerous that Paul would argue the truth face to face with Peter, and accuse him of complete hypocrisy.  Galatians 5:1-4  

3. Dealing with DeadlockActs 15:2ff.

Paul was bravely withstanding the ‘Judaisers’ but they were digging their heels in.  They were as convinced as ever that any Gentile who wants to be a Christian must add works to their faith.  There was only one solution:-

  • Follow the form of discipline prescribed by Jesus.  …they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. Following the teaching of Christ in Matthew 18. Paul and Barnabas and some others must go to the church, to Jerusalem, where they will argue their case before the very first great Council of the Church. The year is AD49.
  • Focus on the wonderful grace of God!   So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.  They make great use of their journey as they travel, – for they do a deputation tour, visiting groups of believers all along the route, and spreading the wonderful news of what the Lord has done on far away missionary fields.  There was great joy!
  • Be honest and sincere with your case. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.   Note that they were received by the church.  – Amp: ‘they were received warmly by the church and the apostles and the elders.’  
  • The source of the controversy is now laid bare.  v5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”   How hard it is to keep parts of our old nature in check!  The Church at Jerusalem was not homogenous, – they had come from all parts of society, and some of them had been Pharisees, like Paul.  They were people who for years prior to their conversion had been enslaved to legalism, to the law, and they were finding it hard to let go!  Their souls had been saved, but their mindset, their worldview, was still needing some work.  They still needed to be taught.  

So, the scene is set for the first General Assembly, the Council of Jerusalem, where the church will meet to discuss this urgent matter of business.  Can non-Jewish people believe in Jesus and be saved without becoming Jews first?  In our next study, we’ll see something of the debate in the council.

© BobMcEvoy October 2020

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