Another title that I could have given to today’s devotional is “So Where Do You Draw the Line in the Sand?” Some people love rules, and especially when they have the role of enforcing them! Other people error by being so soft and loving that they have no substance or quality. So where do we draw lines for belief and behavior?
But first, let’s review the story…
I was pretty hard on the Jerusalem church at the end of yesterday’s devotional – saying that they were laggards in accepting the changes that came with the Gospel. But here’s the deal: when they had all the information and evaluated it fairly against what they knew of God’s revelation and work in the world through Jesus Christ, they did accept it completely and enthusiastically. And they wrote a congenial letter to the church at Antioch to state the strength of their decision.
A most important truth was established – that the Gospel message was fully of grace and did not contain the requirements of the Law of Moses. In the face of the Jewish world around them, this was not going to play well, yet the truth needed to be established. This would facilitate the rapid expansion of the Gospel in the Gentile world. Paul and Barnabas were affirmed, along with their mission.
As well, the Gentiles were encouraged to be sensitive at the same time to certain Jewish cultural backgrounds, particularly related to dietary matters, that were going to be difficult for the Hebrew Christians to accept and fellowship around. The exhortation was to avoid these things for the greater good of the church and family unity. No, these things were not precepts – not in the category of laws of necessary obedience; but they were matters of preference that could be laid aside.
So essentially, one side was told to not make precepts of beliefs that were in reality preferences, but the other side was encouraged to be sensitive to not live out the freedom of their every preference in the face of those who struggled from a cultural background of rejection toward such things.
Beyond the great message of the love and grace to be found in God and his provision in Christ, there is hardly any other message so pervasive in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) than that of giving away personal values and tastes in order to rather serve others. This is the essence of Christian living – of having the mind of Christ who did not hang onto the glories of heaven, but rather took on humanity to the extent of being subject to death for sins he did not commit.
What would it be like to be a part of any church that really worked to flesh out this central concept of Christian application? Where would conflict fit into such a scenario? Imagine a place where there were no assertions of personal preference, but only the conscious work to serve someone else – probably someone very different. Could that happen in a place like … like … well, like … Hagerstown?
The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers – Acts 15:22-35
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. 34 (Some manuscripts include here … But Silas decided to remain there … but this is clearly a later addition.) 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.