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.” 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. 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. 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. 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.”
It’s important for us to remember that problems are normal in a fallen, sinful, and broken world.
- God’s people are forgiven people, not perfect
- God’s Church is 100% divine, but it’s also 100% human.
“Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them.”
- A lot of dissension today is over minors instead of majors.
- Today’s church needs to major on the majors and minor on the minors.
Unfortunately, it feels like most people in recent history divide over doctrine instead of unite around doctrine.
- When you read about Paul’s and Barnabas’s trip back to Jerusalem, it looks and sounds like a pre-denomination day and time.
Can you imagine how strong the church would be today if we could travel and be welcomed and embraced by all the churches along our journey?
- I love it when it says they were “describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.”
We can’t have sustained and sweeping revival and spiritual awakening with a divided church.
- Churches must build their foundations upon the Great Commandment, the New Commandment, the Golden Rule, and the Great Commission.
- Leaders must be unifiers who speak words of faith, hope, and love.
What happened when they arrived in Jerusalem?
- “They were welcomed by the church andthe apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.”
- They were giving testimony, but the religious spirit showed up to distract from the power of God’s testimony (Revelation 12:11).
- I can’t think of anything more unlike Jesus than the religious spirit.
- The religious leaders constantly opposed Jesus.
- Jesus is known by humility; they are known by pride.
- Jesus is known by peace; they are known by conflict.
- Jesus is known by relationship; they are known by rules.
- Jesus is known by unity; they are known by division.
- Jesus is known by servant leadership; they are known by positional leadership.
I could go on an on, but these are just a few of the reasons why the harshest words Jesus spoke were to the religious leaders.
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 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. 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.”
“Peter stood up and said…”
- I love Peter in all of his strengths and weaknesses. In his best and worst moments, Peter almost always stands up and speaks. It’s so hard-wired into him to lead. It’s like an involuntary expression of his personality, strengths, and spiritual gifts.
Notice how clearly and boldly Peter summarizes and presents the matter.
- “God made a choice.”
- God “knows the heart.”
- God gave “them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.”
- God “made no distinction between us and them.”
How do you argue with that?
Next, Peter says, “Why are you putting God to the test?”
- There’s no doubt where Peter stands on this matter.
- Don’t place that unbearable yoke back on us.
- Jesus invited us to take His yoke upon us in Matthew 11:28-30.
- His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
- This is the only way we find rest for our souls.
Where is your walk with God easy?
Where is your walk with God light?
- Those are probably places where you are most submitted.
- Those are probably places where the wind of the Holy Spirit is behind you.
Here’s another word picture to help you evaluate…
- Where does it feel like you’re rowing a boat and doing most of the work?
- Where does it feel like you’re setting the sails on a sailboat and letting the wind of the Holy Spirit do most of the work?
Christianity isn’t always easy and light, but even our difficult seasons are less difficult with Him than they are without Him.
OK… back to the passage!
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.
How did they unite people?
- Did they win a theological or doctrinal argument? No. They “related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” They pointed toward the consistency of God’s work. The signs and wonders were the same for the Jews and God was the Author of the signs and wonders; He wasn’t making a distinction.
What does James do next?
- James takes Peter’s personal experience from Acts 10 and 11, takes the signs and wonders Barnabas and Paul are talking about here, and shows how it’s all a fulfillment of what the prophets spoke.
After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
“‘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,
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 known from of old.’”
What happens next after the confirmation of testimony and Scripture? (Instead of the ESV, I’m going to use the NIV translation for this verse because I love the way it captures this truth…)
Acts 15:19 (NIV)
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
This is a foundational truth from the beginning of the Church.
- Jesus makes it easy; the religious spirit makes it difficult.
- Jesus makes it clear; the religious spirit makes it complicated.
This is why Jesus summarizes all of His teaching this way:
- The Great Commandment: Love God + Love People
- The New Commandment: Love one another.
- “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35).
- The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.
- The Great Commission: Go into all the world and make disciples.
This is why I summarize His teaching this way:
- Love Works
- Only love covers a multitude of sin.
- Only love never fails.
- Only love works.
- When love works, life works.
- When life works, leadership works.
- When leadership works, legacy works.
Whatever you do, don’t make it difficult for the unbelievers who are turning to God.