At the beginning of chapter 15, we see that the people of Antioch were receiving false information about Salvation and Paul and Barnabas debated with these false teachers. The believers in Antioch appointed a team, which included Paul and Barnabas, to go to Jerusalem and speak with the apostles and elders about this very question. We see that all along the way to Jerusalem, they told of how the Gentiles had been converted and believers were happy about the information. I pray that even on our journey to an appointed place, we will not be negligent to serve and share along the way.
While in Jerusalem, some Pharisees said that the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law. They had a meeting to consider the situation. During the meeting Peter stood and told the group that God made the choice that the Gentiles would believe, and God, who knows the heart, showed that He had accepted them because He gave them the Holy Spirit. He also pointed out that God did not discriminate between the Jews and the Gentiles and purified hearts of both. And then Peter asked an important question to this group: Who are you to test God by putting rules and regulations on these Gentiles, rules that you nor your ancestors could keep. He then made this statement, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” As Christians, we have put customs, rules, ceremony, and tradition onto this belief and many feel that they can not live up to that belief, when God chooses, not us. As Christians, there will be a change in our hearts, a desire to minister to others, a turn from what we want and our will, to a bending and breaking of that will to do the will of God. Following rules does not save us, it is salvation that puts the desire in us to follow the rules. Doing good things and works and ministry does not save us, it is salvation that puts the desire in us to do the works and ministries. It is so important for each of us to know God’s Word and pray for understanding so we can recognize when customs, traditions and teachings are from man and not from God. God did not require the circumcision of the Gentiles before he gave them the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 12, Paul and Barnabas were telling of the wonders and miracles that had been done among the Gentiles and had everyone’s attention. James, then addressed the crowd and reminds them of the prophecy from the book of Amos, that the Gentiles would bear the name of the Lord. And then James says that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Now, at first glance of his “requirements” we would think that James too, is giving the Gentiles a list of regulations; however, when we take a look at the list, each of these are associated with a ceremony of idolatry. The list was encouraging them to abstain from these pagan rituals. Lately, the thought has been pressed in my heart and mind that one of the highest forms of idolatry we practice in our society is that of selfishness and greed. We have been encouraged to make ourselves idols. In being selfish, we put ‘self” as our God of worship and have followed a life of, “if it feels good, do it,” “if you want it, go for it,” “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it isn’t a sin.” If it feels good, pray about why it feels good. Is it a godly kind of good? If you want it, pray for God to supply or to help you accept that the answer is, “no”. We should never do things to hurt others, but the real question is, “does it hurt your relationship with God?” I pray that we can be so filled with the Holy Spirit, that we are convicted to get rid of the idol worship in our lives. I pray that we can recognize things that have become idols, above God, like family, jobs, self, money, games, friends, anything that takes us away from God and away from obedience to him; an obedience that comes because of the Spirit in us.
The group then chose men to carry a letter to the new Gentile believers. They went first to Antioch, shared the letter, and returned to those who sent them. Paul and Barnabas stayed behind and taught and preached the Word of the Lord. After some time had passed, Paul felt the call to go back to all of the towns in which they had preached and see how the converts were doing. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul didn’t think it would be a good idea because John Mark had deserted them on a previous journey. This caused a “sharp” disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and they parted company. Barnabas took John Mark and Paul chose Silas and they each went their way spreading the Gospel. I think it is important to note that PEOPLE are involved in ministry, and the minute “humans” become involved, the sin nature will also. More important is, even though these two had a disagreement, they did not allow it to hinder the spreading of God’s Word. Did you think that this disagreement actually caused more people to be reached? I pray that even in human disagreement, the Word of God is carried on. I pray that we can understand when God has a hand in dividing us, in order for His Word to be better spread. I pray that we can have Godly forgiveness when disagreements happen and the love for one another continue to grow in Christ.