The Jerusalem Council
Merciful Lord, You so often give when I ask, reveal when I seek, and open when I knock. How great You are!
Read ACTS 15:1–12
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
New International Version (NIV)
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Ministry disagreements can happen. An important response to them can be found in the Scriptures, such as James 1:15: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God… and it will be given to you.”
What Paul and Barnabas believed from Scripture and from experience about the Gospel being for all was now to be tested in what would be a defining moment for the early church. Opposition to their message reached Antioch for the first time. Despite listening to each other, neither of the two parties was able to find common ground or persuade the other of its position. There needed to be a resolution of this matter and it had to happen publicly, back in Jerusalem, before the apostles and leaders of the church.
Paul and Barnabas (and also Titus; Gal. 2:1) went and used their journey to tell their story and share their experience. They were content to let the facts do the talking, as Peter had done after his encounter with Cornelius. However, it is hard to undo attitudes that have been reinforced since birth, and storytelling itself was not sufficient. Some were not persuaded and repeated the mantra they had brought to Antioch. Faith mattered but so also did circumcision, the badge of Judaism, sign of their national identity and faith.
People need time to have their say if they are going to take ownership of the outcome. Peter and James let others take center stage while listening carefully to what they said. Then Peter made a telling contribution. He told of his encounter with Cornelius, an action initiated by God, and of the lessons he had learned from that experience. The church then and the church today is always tempted to add other things to faith, often from the best of motives. In the end, all such additions, religious or cultural, minimize the grace of our Lord Jesus. In the light of Peter’s story the experience of Paul and Barnabas was heard with new ears and the balance in the argument shifted.
Is there a ministry disagreement that you know of, or are a part of? What is one practical step that you can take to help bring about unity?
Lord Jesus, You prayed for unity among Your followers (John 17:20,21). Show me ways that I can be part of the answer to Your prayer.