In our last time together we looked at an issue that arose in the church in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to settle the matter among the highest leaders of the churches. Today they bring word back to the church.
Have you ever been the go between in a disagreement? I have and it is NO fun. One of the hardest parts in this role is accurately conveying the intent and information from one party to the other and back again. Unless those involved hear it “from the horse’s mouth” there is always a possibility that there is some error in the relaying. Because of our own biases, even hearing it directly doesn’t always get the intended result.
Paul, Barnabas and the elders of the Jerusalem were taking no chances when it came to relaying their decision. They penned a carefully worded letter AND sent representatives from their body back with Paul and Barnabas to deliver the news.
The first thing they did was to establish that they had not commissioned the persons nor the message that had been delivered. They admitted that they had come from their body but NOT under their urging. They were NOT speaking for the apostles; the church leadership.
I’m wondering how this issue came to be in the first place. If you missed yesterday, the issue under discussion was if the new Gentile believers had to undergo circumcision and obey all the Mosaic laws once they received Jesus as their Savior. The Jewish brothers were seeking to have the Gentiles essentially convert to Judaism in order to be considered part of Christ’s body.
Were the ones who came jealous of the Gentile’s freedom? Were they feeling guilty that they couldn’t meet all the requirements and wanted “company” in their misery? Did they really believe that the only path to salvation lay in obedience to the law?
I feel sorry for them. Jesus came to make them free, NOT more bound up. No amount of willpower would be sufficient to ensure that they obeyed the law completely. Therefore they would always feel guilty of breaking it. The forgiveness for their sins wouldn’t be enough to assuage that guilt. Only by recognizing that we cannot meet the law and receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and grace do we have any hope. Without that grace we would be forever on the losing end of the equation.
Back to the letter. We get to meet Judas and Silas for the first time as these two men were sent along to attest to the letter’s authenticity. Both these men were highly thought of by the church leadership and Silas would become very close with Paul over the years.
As to the decision contained in the letter, the HIGHEST authority was credited with making the decision. “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (verse 28). If the Holy Spirit set the standard who are we to argue with it! Good choice.
As for the caveats that were added at the end, these are behaviors that would please the Holy Spirit but were not directly ordered by Him. God asked for unity in His body and these base requirements were the building blocks for it. Later in some of Paul’s letters there will be some wiggle room in the issue of food sacrificed to idols. More on the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to buying meat from the market. But even there, the “weaker brother” clause says that you abstain if your brother would be impacted by your behavior. Again to promote unity in Christ’s body.
Our Antioch church was very glad to hear the apostle’s decision. A weight had been lifted from their shoulders that should have never been placed there to begin with.
Father God, thank You again that I don’t have to live by the law. I would NEVER make it! Thank You for answering this question even before it was asked. Your Spirit gave witness to the answer LONG before this became a debate, not only in Peter’s experience but also in Paul and Barnabas’ travels. Thank You for giving Your apostles wisdom in deciding these issues too. Thank You for the freedom You gave them too. Thank You that YOU made a way for salvation. NOTHING I could ever do would be enough to settle the balance. Jesus alone paid that price. He paid a debt He did not owe.