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Acts 15





The concept of grace may very well be incomprehensible.  Because it cannot be fully comprehended, it often appears unbelievable.  So, when God says that we are saved by grace through faith, we often struggle with how that can be true.

The result of the struggle is we want to add things to the list of necessities for being saved.  (Remember God said we are saved by grace through faith.)  Anything we add to God’s simple equation for salvation perverts grace and subverts the Gospel.  Nothing else is needed for salvation but God’s grace to save and our faith which is a gift from God.  Salvation really is the work of God.

Among other things that means it is wrong to tag baptism onto the list of necessary things for salvation.  It is wrong to add church membership.  It is even wrong to include a change in behavior as necessary for salvation.  It is wrong to add anything to it.  But it is very human to want to add something to it.

In this chapter, we find a group of Jewish men who had convinced themselves that circumcision was necessary for salvation.  They had grown up in the Law.  They had grown up with the Law.  And they were quite convinced that circumcision which was the token of the Law had to be included if someone were going to be saved.

They were so convinced of this they went about telling non-Jewish people that circumcision was required.  This immediately threw all the Gentile believers into a tizzy of confusion.  It got so bad that a council of the apostles and the church elders had to come together in Jerusalem to resolve the controversy.

Peter and Paul and Barnabas all rightfully argued against the including of circumcision as necessary for salvation.  But the council decided it was necessary to provide instruction for new Gentile believers about how to live the Christian life.

The Jerusalem council came up with four things.  One, was stay away from idolatry.  Two, was do not be involved in any sexual immorality.  I don’t think there is any reason for anybody to try to defend the inclusion of these two things.  But the other two might require a little thinking.

The third thing the Jerusalem council came up with was don’t eat meat of animals that had been strangled.  And the fourth thing was to abstain from eating blood.  So, what do these two have to do with anything of any spiritual importance?

These last two may actually be concessions that the Jerusalem council was asking from Gentiles.  Both of these last two issues were part of the Jewish dietary law.  So, if the Gentiles abstained from those two things, it might very well help protect the unity of the young church and the new partnership between Jews and Gentiles.

There are lessons here for all of us.  First, there are some things that we definitely need to take a stand against (e.g. idolatry and sexual immorality).  Second, there are some things that might be OK but if they are offensive to other believers we probably should honor them by not engaging in those things.  My rights as a believer must always be tempered by my responsibilities to other believers.

Posted by Joe Ligon with

Acts 14





By Jeremy Witt

Let’s see if I can keep the right names this time.  In verse one, we see the pattern Paul utilized throughout his ministry continuing here.  Paul would go to the Jews first by going to the local synagogue on the Sabbath. (Saturday)  In Iconium, we see both Jews and Greeks respond to the message of the Gospel in a large number.  The Gospel was being proclaimed to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (everyone else who is not a Jew.  This is us!)  If you would like some deeper study, you should read through Acts and compare Iconium to the other cities and their initial response to the Gospel. 

Verse two begins with that one word, ‘but’.  In this case it was not positive.  “But” transitions us from a large number responding to the Gospel to opposition to the Gospel and to Paul and Barnabas.  Paul typically faced opposition wherever he would speak.  Persecution for believers happened from the very beginning.  This is something we need to remember today and to not lose heart as we go and as we share.  Verse three tells us that Paul and Barnabas stayed for a significant amount of time, and that God gave them signs and wonders that helped to reinforce their message.  I can only imagine at the things that God did and I catch myself wishing that I could perform signs or miracles so people would see proof or evidence of the LORD.  However, verse four shows us that even with the signs, people opposed them.  Even when God does something big, it is important to remember that not everyone will believe and trust in Jesus Christ.  Despite the evidence, people reject God each day.  Let’s make it personal.  How many times have you seen God move in ways that can only be attributed to Him, and still you doubt or question Him?  Yeah, that hurts doesn’t it!  It is frustrating when we see others deny the evidence of God, but when God reminds me of the times that I have done the same thing, it just hurts. 

Back to the chapter, in verse eight, we find that the town is divided and our missionaries leave for another town.  Lystra is where we are introduced to a crippled man while Paul was preaching to a crowd.  Verse nine jumps out to me.  I do not understand exactly what Paul saw when he saw the man, but Paul knew that he had the faith to be healed.  Maybe the Spirit showed Paul or possibly it was something visibly seen, but regardless the man was healed, and it amazed the crowd.  So much so that they referred to Paul as Zeus and Barnabas as Hermes and began preparations for sacrifice.  When people are faced with something unfamiliar, we typically respond in familiar ways because we cannot fathom something so big that we haven’t faced before.  We do this today by trying to explain miracles.  In verse 14, it took Paul and Barnabas to tear their clothes and show that they were merely men to stop it, and the people still tried to offer sacrifices in verse 18.  The people did not understand what God had done, so when some Jews show up and spread lies, they win over the crowd and begin to stone Paul in verse 19 and left him for dead. 

Yet in verse 20 we discover the word, “but” again.  However this time, it is in the positive context.  “But when the believers gathered around Paul, he got up.”  Just another miracle God did!  This is a story of persistence.  I hear Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story at this point, when Buzz would say, “Never give up, never surrender!”  Verse 21 tells us that Paul and Barnabas went to Derbe but later they returned to Lystra and Iconium, the very place where they have been and faced opposition.  Why would they do this?  They went back to encourage the believers.  They went back and showed the believers how to face hardships (verse 22).  They were examples to the believers, but they were examples to the opposition as well.  Imagine their faces when they saw those two men who were rejected and tried to stone showing back up.

At the end of our chapter, we see the return to Antioch, the missionary sending church.  We see the journey has reached its conclusion.  We need to remember that we are called to go.  We are called to share.  We will face opposition.  We must persist.  We must rely on the LORD, and let Him do the work in and through us like God did through Paul and Barnabas.

Posted by Jeremy Witt with

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