Church Extended – Message 2
April 18, 2021
Introduction: Continuing our survey of Acts entitled, Church Extended.
- Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 1:6-9
A. Today’s message is titled, Conflict.
- Theme: Acts 15:6 (NLT)—So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.
- The apostles and elders formed a Council composed of the Jerusalem church’s leaders.
- They met to decide an important doctrinal issue: What must a person do to be saved?
- This issue arose because Gentiles were entering the church, which threatened some Jewish believers, who saw Christianity as the culmination of Judaism, so they thought Gentiles who wanted to become Christians had to first become Jewish proselytes (new converts).
- They could not conceive that people who had worshiped many gods could simply enter the church equally with Jewish believers who had devoted their lives to keeping God’s law.
- They feared these Gentile would not respect Jewish culture, traditions, or influence.
- Conflict endangered the idea that people from different backgrounds and experiences could form one unified church that could function with harmony; it threatened a church split!
- This was a time of transition; the New Testament books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews, which clarified this issue of law and grace, had not been written.
- In our church, we have a wide range of the backgrounds with religious, theological, racial and cultural differences, so we must know how to deal with conflict when it arises.
II. Dealing with conflict… (Acts 15:1-21)
A. #1 – [First,] Discover the disagreements. (Acts 15:1-5. C/R: 1 Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 2:1-5; Ephesians 4:2-5; Colossians 3:12-15)
- Acts 15:1 (NLT)—While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses (Genesis 17:10-12, given as sign of the covenant), you cannot be saved.”
- These men from Judea [referred to as Judaizers] were associated with the Jerusalem congregation, but not authorized by it to teach this doctrine (Acts 15:24).
- These self-appointed authorities were false teachers whose intention was making sure that new Gentile (non-Jewish) believers were required to keep the law of Moses.
- They were teaching that human efforts (works) were required for salvation (legalism).
- This heresy would rob both Jews and Gentiles of their freedom in Christ.
- Acts 15:2 (NLT)—Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. [Because this was not what they believed or had been teaching; Acts 9:19-31.] Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. … [To resolve conflict. Galatians 2:1-5]
- This was a wise decision to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, the first church formed 20 years earlier following Pentecost; it was where some of Jesus’ disciples (now apostles) and others who knew Jesus personally and heard Him teach were located, including Jesus’ brother, James, who had become the leader of the church.
- The Jerusalem church in Jerusalem did not officially control the church in Antioch, each was autonomous, but shared a desire to follow Scripture and Jesus; teaching accurately.
- Acts 15:4-5 (NLT)—4When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees [which including many priests; Acts 6:7] stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
- It is not surprising that some former Pharisees, insisted that Gentile be required to be circumcised and follow Moses’ law, because they believed the Scripture literally, and had stressed careful, thorough obedience to Moses’ law before becoming Christians.
- There was a difference between these two groups that advocated circumcision: the Judaizers that came to Antioch said it was required for salvation; the former Pharisees were believers (v.5) who were saying after being saved, Christians should obey the law.
- These Pharisees were genuine Christians who had not yet realized, or perhaps, refused to accept, that ceremonies and rituals were no longer important. (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:13)
- It is important to note that the Antioch church did not avoid or ignore conflict in their body, or silence people with differing opinions; they discovered the disagreement and pursued a plan to resolve it by appealing to spiritually mature church leaders.
- APP.: To have true harmony, we must discover and deal with theological or cultural conflicts, by hearing each other’s opinions, then being led by the Spirit and the Scripture.
To deal with conflict, we must…
#2 - Discuss the differences. (Acts 15:6-15. C/R: Galatians 2:16; 3:5; 28; 5:1-6; Ephesians 2:8-9,14-16)
- Acts 15:6-7 (NLT)—6So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. [a 2nd meeting] 7At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe.”
- A lengthy discussion about this issue was held by the leaders to examine the issue.
- Peter reminded the group that when he preached to Gentile Cornelius and his household at God’s direction, God saved them, apart from circumcision, law-keeping and ritual (Acts 10:44-48); so, in Paul’s opinion, God had already settled this matter.
- Peter anticipated an objection by the Judaizers that since Cornelius had not followed the law by submitting to circumcision, perhaps he and his family had not been truly saved.
- Peter said at Acts 15:8 (NLT)—“God knows people’s hearts, and He confirmed that He accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us.”
- Receiving the Holy Spirit was evidence that Cornelius and his family were saved; like the Jews at Pentecost, they had spoken in tongues and praised God (Acts 10:44-45; 11:17-18).
- Peter continued at Acts 15:9 (NLT)—“He made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts through faith.” [alone, not through law-keeping, rituals or sacrifice]
- Acts 15:10 (NLT)—“So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” [Matthew 23:4]
- In other words, are you challenging God for saving these Gentiles apart from the law?
- None of Peter’s hearers were saved or forgiven by the law, and none received the Spirit by the law, so why did they want to impose on Gentiles what didn’t work for Jews?
- Peter concluded at Acts 15:11-12 (NLT)—“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” [Only one way of salvation for all!]
- [Then] 12Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Their teaching of salvation by grace was confirmed by the miracles God performed.
- Acts 15:13-15 (NLT)—13When they had finished, James [Jesus’ brother] stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for Himself. [Acts 10:43-46] 15And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. [Amos 9:11-12; also, Isaiah 2:2;11:10]
- James asserted that the Old Testament predicted that Gentiles would be saved, without becoming Jews first; the separation between Jews and Gentiles was removed in Jesus!
- APP.: We must discuss every difference in our church honestly, openly, led by the Bible, respecting and dignifying each person enough to listen to what they think.
When dealing with conflict, we must always…
C. #3 - Determine to preserve unity. (Acts 15:19-21. C/R: Leviticus 17:10-14; Acts 15:24-29; Romans 14:13-19; 15:5-6)
- James, the head of the Jerusalem church, continued at Acts 15:19 (NLT)—“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
- Decision was reached by agreement of the leaders (v.25) who were led by the Spirit (v.28).
- Gentiles should not be taught that they must obey the law of Moses to be saved.
- But there were some guidelines that they should observe to preserve unity in the church.
- Acts 15:20-21 (NLT)—20“Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” [so Jews believe them]
- Food offered to idols refers to sacrifices offered to pagan gods that was then sold to eat.
- Sexual immorality refers to sexual practices that were part of pagan worship. (1Cor.8-10)
- Since Gentiles practiced idol worship that included illicit sex, the Council instructed Gentile believers to reject these practices which violated God’s word and applied to all believers.
- The meat of strangled animals and consuming blood both dealt with Jewish dietary laws which allowed eating only eat meat from which all of the blood had been drained (not strangled). [Genesis 9:4 said to Noah before law; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:23: life in blood]
- James was not imposing Jewish dietary restrictions on Gentiles, rather, he was asking them to compromise by avoiding these practices out of concern for Jewish believers.
- Gentiles eating “unclean” food would alienate Jewish Christians and offend Jews that Christians would want to reach for Christ. (Not cause another to stumble; Romans 14:13–19)
- A letter was written from the Jerusalem church leaders to the church in Antioch to communicate the decision of the Council (Acts 15:22-35).
- Freedom in Christ does not grant any of us the right to offend another believer.
- Individual differences on the Bible, or even the election, virus, masks, race, or police officers, can and should be discussed humbly, respectfully, guided by love for each other.
- APP.: Are we willing to put preserving unity above strongly asserting our opinions?
Memory verse: 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)—I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.