Crossing A Cultural Divide
Father, let my roots grow deeper in Your Kingdom’s soil. May Your Word produce lasting fruit in my life.
Read Acts 15:1-11
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“To change, you have to want it” (John Ortberg). And it’s not easy to change or want it.
In the previous chapter the news that many Gentiles had come to faith in Christ (14:1, 21) culminates in the report given to the church in Antioch that God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (14:27). This is a turning point. The first fruits of this harvest were evident earlier, when Peter had announced the Gospel to Cornelius and his family (chapter 10). Earlier still, the Ethiopian eunuch was led by Philip to confess Jesus as Lord (8:26-40). What is now reported is a flood of converts turning to Christ as the gospel penetrates Graeco-Roman culture and many Gentiles discover Jesus to be the Savior of their world.
Why did this successful mission cause problems for the church in Jerusalem? First, Jewish disciples of Jesus understood mission in terms of Gentiles becoming part of Israel; they will become what we are! Their question was how converts from pagan backgrounds might be instructed in the Law of Moses, enabling them to reflect the ethical demands of God. Seen in this light, the response of the Jerusalem believers no longer seems extreme but may actually reflect our own likely reaction to an influx of converts having none of the spiritual and ethical grounding that we assume is essential to authentic Christianity.
Second, what takes place here is a spiritual revolution, an expansion of the kingdom of God in a new cultural context, calling into question previous assumptions concerning the people of God. For Paul and Barnabas, who had crossed the cultural frontier, the conversion of Gentiles was cause for joy and praise, but Jews who had never left Jerusalem feared that this flood of pagan converts threatened much that they regarded as sacred. Which side would we come down on in a similar situation?
Take a moment to reflect on that final question. Can you identify a “similar situation” today—and how would you react in this context?
Lord, help me be open to change and to recognize the work of the Spirit when it takes place outside the traditions and patterns I’m comfortable with.
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