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Enacting the Assembly’s Decision – Acts 15:22-41

22/10/2020

Misunderstandings in church! 

There must have been a perception in Antioch that the incident in Acts 15:1, where men had come from Jerusalem, was an official delegation, ie that they were preaching the ‘salvation by faith and works’ message with the sanction of James and the Jerusalem Church.  Certainly it seems that James had SENT that delegation, Galatians 2:11-12  Perhaps they had simply exceeded their authority?  Decisive action had to be taken and it had to be conciliatory. A reply sent orally via Paul and Barnabas was not going to be enough, so to reinforce the message that Jerusalem believed that salvation is by grace through faith alone, they put the decision in writing, and they appointed two high ranking officials as the guarantors of the reality of the decision.

Reconciliation Needed!

1. The Leaders V22  

So it might be well to spend a moment or two to find out a little about them.

  • Judas Barsabas.  We know little about this man, except that he was in high office in the Jerusalem Church, and was a prophet, – a preacher who declared the will of God in contemporary situations.  v32   
  • Silas.  We do have some more information about Silas, also known as Silvanus – a Roman citizen.  He too was a preacher and encourager of the brethren, and was due to return to Jerusalem with Judas after they had delivered the decree at Antioch.  But in V34 we see that he remained at Antioch and later went with Paul on his second missionary journey.  

Now these two leading men among the brethren were well qualified to carry this weighty message from the very heart of the church, that we are all sinners, and we are all saved in exactly the same way – thorough Jesus alone.

2. The Letter23 They wrote this letter by them:  The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 

Now, notice that this is not just a clinical setting put of the decision reached.  Sometimes how we say things can be just as important as what we actually say – apparently!  This is a pastoral letter, full of concern for the church, and for the believers at Antioch.  Look at its caring nature…

  • Words can unsettle the soul.  V24  What would it mean to unsettle the soul?  Worry, anxiety, fear perhaps.  These people had said that you need to be circumcised and become a Jew in order to be a Christian.  How alarming would that be to someone who’s just been told that Jesus saves you through grace alone!  We too can easily unsettle the soul if we use troublesome words.  
  • Christians should be united, even after division.  V25. There had been a debate, and different sides had been taken.  The positions had been entrenched, with strong opinions being expressed by both the Judaisers and the Apostles.  But the debate had been settled, and a decision reached and having concluded the assembly, there is complete unity and agreement as to the way forward.  When the decision was made in the early church, everyone was satisfied, that God’s will had been done and that the church would be united behind that decision.
  • A message is best delivered personally! We’ve already seen who the messengers were, but in this passage, V25-27, we see something of why they were chosen for this job, why they were so suitable:-
    • They were chosen men. V25.  Specially selected for this task.  It was a delicate task, and it would need diplomacy and tact.  The ‘kid-gloves’ approach!
    • They were courageous men.  V26. These men had risked their lives.  That wouldn’t be unusual in the early church, after all Stephen and James had already given their lives for Jesus.  But the inclusion of this phrase here makes me wonder if these men were of the party of converted Pharisees?  We saw in our last study that for a Pharisee to come to Christ was a costly decision.  The original men from Jerusalem had troubled the believers with a Pharisaical message, so I wonder if Judas and Silas were, as converted Jews, sent deliberately to reverse the damage done?
    • They were capable men. V27.  They were suitable for the task. These men could be trusted to faithfully deliver the report from Jerusalem, tenderly, accurately and with encouragement.
  • We don’t burden young / new Christians! v28  We should encourage them, and teach them the basics, and let them grow gradually in the Lord.  If the Lord has saved them he will develop them and build them up in his own time.
  • We don’t go out of our way to offend others.  v29  We’ve already noticed this, in fellowship with other believers, we are careful not to deliberately offend or shock other Christians.  There is no point in destroying Christian fellowship over minor, inessential issues.  

3. The Lifting of the Burden.  V30-35  

Back at Antioch the delegation delivered their report.  They read out the letter from Jerusalem, and the Christians who were not Jews, and the Jewish Christians too greatly rejoiced.  We are told here that they were encouraged!  Why was this letter so encouraging?  Because now they knew that the burden of the law had been lifted from them!  What a great cause for joy!  To know that your sins are forgiven, and the debt paid, and the condemnation removed!  Can’t you imagine the joy in their hearts!  

How we need that kind of encouragement!  Don’t we need to reminded from time to time, that our burden of sin is gone, and we are free from the condemnation of the Law!  Galatians 3:13  

Furthermore, they reciprocated, for they sent the messengers from Jerusalem back with a greeting from the brethren at Antioch to the Apostles.  We encourage each other!

So, the Council has ended, and the decree issued, and conveyed to the church at Antioch, in a kindhearted pastoral letter, personally delivered, which encourages the Christians greatly, knowing that the burden of guilt and condemnation had been removed by Jesus! 

What an encouragement! 

© BobMcEvoy October 2020

From → Acts

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