Oct 1, 2017 – Dynamic Community
Preacher: Rev. Scott Strickman
Sermon Series: With One Accord
Acts 15:1-35 (ESV)
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “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. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 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? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
12 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. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
The church is a dynamic community and must be prepared to navigate changes and challenges (which can be unsettling and troubling, v24).
- the disagreement about circumcision had serious implications (“you cannot be saved” v1, 5)
- drawing from different experiences (Pharisees vs Paul) they debated (v2) until they had to appeal for broader input
- Peter’s God-centered speech (vv7-11) captures minds to understand what God is doing
III) A Plan
- James puts Peter’s words in the context of Scripture (vv15-17) and makes a recommendation (vv19-20) to keep Jewish believers and Gentile converts able to break bread
- Paul, Galatians 6:17 “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”
Questions for Reflection
- What are some theological or cultural issues today that have potential to cause division within the church? How is the world changing that will require the church to adapt?
- How can you tell what issues are “central” and therefore require careful guarding, and which issues are more peripheral (and therefore we can disagree about)? What principles guide your discernment?
- What are some of the ways we make resolution difficult when there is disagreement? What behaviors (think of problematic behaviors) are typical among people who disagree? What teachings of Jesus would guide you to behave differently?
- In Acts 15 the apostles and elders gathered to resolve an important matter. As issues come up today, who should be gathering to address them? What voices should we be listening to, and what voices should we not?
- How do we keep the message of grace very clear while not becoming lax on what God requires of us? Is there a way to have a healthy balance?
Prayer of Confession
Our Lord and God, we still find ourselves confused about your ways and purposes. We insist on our own ways, and cause divisions within the church. When we disagree, we are often uncharitable. We otherwise ignore serious issues if they don’t effect us personally. We don’t easily submit to what is written in the scriptures and don’t carefully consider what the church throughout the ages has agreed upon. Forgive our pride and self serving ways, and lead us in the truth so that we may be one even as you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. Amen.