An issue arises in Antioch. It stems from a group who believed that all should follow the laws of Moses, even the new Gentile brothers and sisters. One standard for all. Paul and Barnabas will have to take this issue to their highest authority; the apostles in Jerusalem.
One standard for all doesn’t sound so terrible. “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” But in this case the reason for the standard and the ability to meet it are what at the core of the argument.
Paul and Barnabas have seen this group of believers in Antioch develop from the beginning. They have also planted NUMEROUS churches in other regions; Gentile regions. In none of them had God instructed them to have the Gentiles conform to the Jewish standards. And despite this perceived “lack” or “oversight” God had shown His approval of the new believers. How could these men come in and demand what God had not?
Luke tells us that there was “no small dissension and debate with them” over this issue. I would love to have heard their argument. I’m thinking it was probably along the lines of the argument we read about in Ephesians 2:8-9; that we are saved by grace and not by works, lest we should boast.
Even after Paul and Barnabas gave ALL their reasons for opposing the demands those insisting were unwilling to back down. So off to the highest authority on earth they go; the original apostles who walked with Jesus personally. These were the fathers of the church and the leading authority.
It was a long journey to Jerusalem and Paul and party stopped along the way. Everyone wanted to hear of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey. It would have been downright rude not to share with those who offered hospitality along the way. This also bolstered their case. Sharing how God had worked with the uncircumcised just as easily as He had with the circumcised gave weight to their argument. I don’t doubt that it also garnered a few more willing to follow them to Jerusalem to stand on their side.
After reaching the apostles Paul and Barnabas present their case. I love how God used Peter first to pave the way into the Gentile community. How He proved HIS acceptance of the Gentile believers with the very same sigh He used to commission the Jewish believers; the Holy Spirit. If God can send His own Spirit into the midst of the Gentiles WITHOUT requiring them to undergo rituals required of Jews, then who were men to say He was remiss?
God required one thing of those who came to Him; belief in Christ Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer. Not once did He tell the believers they had to convert to Judaism. Not once did He require them to adhere to the law. And not once did He refuse anyone for not having physically accepted the signs required by the original covenant with Israel.
The apostles recognized God’s acceptance of the Gentiles “as they were” without reserve. They also recognized their own inability to keep the law being sought for enforcement. So if they couldn’t even keep the law how did they expect those who had not grown up under it to adopt it? But more than that, their previous attempts at adherence to the law was unable to offer them true salvation. Only after faith in Jesus did they receive salvation. The law couldn’t do it, only Jesus can.
But simple faith in Jesus is not the end either. As James said in his letter, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Faith will save you but works as a result of the change brought by faith is the testimony of the new life in Jesus. I believe that is why James added in the caveats at the end. The admonitions passed onto the Gentiles were not the hundreds of rules and requirements established over time by the Jewish religious leaders but the bare essentials necessary for maintaining a healthy relationship between the Jewish and Gentile believers and God. 1. Abstain from the things polluted by idols; 2. Keep away from sexual immorality; 3. Stay away from what has been strangled and from blood. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (I Corinthians 10:31-33).
Father God, THANK YOU that You don’t require me to conform to all the Jewish laws in order to be Your child. Thank You that You don’t leave me in the state You found me. Thank You for taking me “as is”, THEN changing me day by day to be more like You. Keep working on me Lord. I’m FAR from finished.
Lord Jesus, when I came to You tonight for our time together I had an ache in my heart. I don’t want to spell it out here because I don’t want to create false responses to my question. But I need Your direction in my life. I need to know where You want me to go now. To know what You want me to do from here. Please speak to me through Your word or Your children as to what Your plan is for me. Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.