Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milestone of grace

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 15:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." Acts 15:11

If you dislike conflict as much as I do, you would join me in staying away from the Jerusalem Council meetings of the first century (not that the public and especially no-name women were even allowed into that assembly!). The clash was between "certain men" from Judea and the apostles over making converted Gentiles submit to circumcision and other points of Moses' law.

The certain men (also known as Judaizers) insisted that the Gentile converts needed circumcision to legitimize their salvation. They came to Antioch, where Paul was preaching and many Gentiles were getting saved, to enforce this.

The apostles disagreed. Barnabas and Paul eventually went to Jerusalem to resolve the matter with all the apostles and elders. We can learn some valuable things form the council meeting that followed (which my Bible's footnotes call "a theological milestone in the history of Christianity" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1518):

  • Sometimes conflict is a good thing.
I love the way Paul and Barnabas decided this issue was too big for them to deal with on their own and so took it to the church at large. I love how Luke describes the humanness of the interactions. Paul and Barnbas's description of God's mighty work amongst the Gentiles versus the Pharisees, "It is necessary to circumcise them" (vs. 5) caused "much dispute" (vs. 7 - can't you just hear voices raised in passion and conviction, interrupting and talking over each other?).

"It is not unusual for Christian leaders to strongly disagree," says a footnote in my Bible. "Acts 15 shows how through the Spirit and open dialogue they are able to resolve their differences" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1519).

  • Sometimes circumstantial evidence is admissible.
That's what Peter gave. He referred to his experience with the uncircumcised Cornelius (Acts 10), concluding that because God had responded to Cornelius and his household by sending the Holy Spirit, circumcision wasn't essential to God's acceptance.

Then Barnabas and Paul recounted the miracles and wonders God had performed through them among uncircumcised Gentiles.

James clinched the argument by bringing up God's intention to save the Gentiles even as far back as Amos (in verses 16 & 17 he quotes Amos 9:11-12)

  • Sometimes it's possible to reach a good compromise.
The council's decision was that certain law rules be followed. Circumcision wasn't one of them (vs. 20-21).

  • Through it all, God's grace can be on display.
The possibility of disagreeing without needing to part company, the review of all that God had done since Jesus ascended to heaven, the reminder of Gentile inclusion from the prophets — they were all gifts of God's grace. Peter's sum-up articulates the climax of such undeserved favour:

"But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (circumcised Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they (uncircumcised Gentiles, saved by virtue of grace and nothing else)" Acts 15:11.

May that be the message of our lives too — through disagreements and discussions, through our testimonies and the words of Scripture we cling to — we're in only because of His grace.

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm such a performance-oriented person, it's hard to accept that there is nothing I can add, or need to add to Your grace to me. I take it with thanks. Help me to extend grace to others — grace of the quality You give to me. Amen.

MORE: "Grace, Greater than All My Sin" and "My Heart Your Home"

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Bible Drive-Thru

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