Growing Pains {Acts 15}

1:37 AM

By Becky Bramlett Austin

The church is growing and the numbers of Gentiles being added are growing too.  There are some communities that Paul and Barnabas visit where new believers include Jews and Gentiles communing together.  A group of Jewish believers known as "Judaizers" began to teach that the Gentiles must first observe Jewish Law to be eligible for salvation, with particular emphasis on circumcision. In essence, they were declaring that a mixture of grace and law (or works) was necessary for God's acceptance.  Paul and Barnabas disagree, teaching salvation is by grace alone.  What an important matter for that time and for our time as well because this is no casual differing of opinion about religious beliefs but a disagreement about what determines the salvation of our souls. 

The matter is deemed so important that the church sends Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem for discussion with the apostles and elders. When they reach Jerusalem debate continues among the elders because some of them were Pharisees who held similar beliefs to the Judaizers. But Peter, who had been shown by God that the Gentiles were to receive salvation through faith in Christ gave a powerful account for giving the Gentiles equality based on God's saving grace alone.

“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.”” (7-11)

Peter bears witness to the simplicity and the all inclusive acceptance in God's plan of salvation based on faith in Christ and amazingly the people embrace and respect this view. 
“And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles." (12) And then James provides further reassurance by quoting Scripture of old that foreshadowed God's acceptance of the Gentiles.  And then he proposed only asking the Gentiles to abstain from “what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." He was not trying to place conditions for salvation on them but trying to improve relations in these mixed communities of Jewish and Gentile believers.  All 4 of these things were part of the Gentile culture of pagan idolatry.  These practices were very offensive to Jews.  By abstaining from these things, it would help the Gentiles make a clean break from pagan practices and improve relations with their fellow Jewish believers.

And then a decision was made to send 2 men back to Antioch with a letter. “So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words." (30-32)

What a beautiful display of the Holy Spirit working within a divided church body to bring about unity, encouragement and most importantly, glory to God. Satan longs to use the growing pains of a church to foster disagreement, to place ungodly restrictions, and to confuse and discourage its believers. But clearly, God can help those who sincerely seek answers and truth to come together in purpose and mindset. 

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