BSF Acts: Bible Lesson 9 – Acts 15: Lecture

Acts 15

Aim: Salvation (justification) comes from faith through grace alone and cannot be earned either by adherence or works

Introduction: You can’t afford the gift you are receiving.  When I look around the room of children’s leaders in our class I am surrounded by business owners, executives, doctors, the chief legal counsel for a multimillion dollar company, accountants, law enforcement officers.  Frankly the bill rate of the people I sit with for three hours every Saturday morning would be astounding.  Yet, the gift of time is freely given in love, not only for the children and other men in the group, but more importantly for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Do not lessen the gift that you are being provided by even imagining that you could pay for it.  You simply can’t afford it!  There is no level or adherence to the law that could even provide a fraction of the cost that Christ paid in dying on that cross and to imply that it could is insulting to our master.  (OK, this’ll preach!)

Division 1: Acts 15: 1-11 – A dispute over circumcision requires a decision by the church leadership. Peter, Paul and Barnabas testify to the Holy Spirit’s presence in Gentile believers.

Acts 15: 1-2 – P&B sent to Jerusalem to conclude: circumscision required or not

Acts  15 3-4 – P&B to Jerusalem, testify  on the way, welcomed by apostles, they give a report.

Acts 15: 5 – Party of the Pharises states their belief: become Jewish to become christian

Acts 15:6 – Apostle and elders meet to consider this question

Acts 15: 7-11 – Peter presents: no distriction between J&G, through grace we are saved.

Principle: The rock stands strong in his testimony: Faith is sufficient

Illustration: I don’t agree.  You say yes I say no.  How do we resolve it?  That was the question facing the new church.  When disputes in belief or practice arise, what do we do?  Go our own ways?  Give in?  In these verses we see step one.  The dispute is presented to a body of leaders and elders who discuss it and look for the hand of God and the direction He is leading.  We see that in the testimony of P, B and Peter.  Look – see – There is God!

Applications: Are you watching for God’s hand moving in your life and your church?  What disputes do you need to quit harboring and get resolved? Do you rely on your intellect first or do you first look to God?

Division 2: Act 15: 12-21  James states the judgment of the Jerusalem Council

Acts 15: 12-18 James reinforces the works of God by the word of God

Acts 15: 19 James judgment: remove difficulty from Gentile converts to Christ

Acts 15: 20-21 James directs Gentiles to follow the Mosaic laws specifically stated  for Jews and Gentiles

Principle: God’s word is the final word

Illustration: In the United States, the Supreme Court is the ultimate decision on the interpretation of laws.  If a judge rules against you, you can take it to the next higher court.  But if the Suprement Court rules a certain way – it is done.  In the same way, God’s word is the final word. 

Applications: What do you want to be right or OK that God’s word says is wrong?  Do you yield to the authority of the gospel or ignore it?  Do the words of the bible hold weight to change your convictions or do you try to change the words to match your desires?

Division 3: 3 witnesses are sent back to testify to Antioch: P&B, S&J and the letter

Acts 15:22-23  – Judas and Silas are picked to go to Antioch with P&B and the letter

Acts 15: 24-29 – The letter: becoming a christian not a burden, but there are suggested restrictions

Acts 15: 30-31 – The letter is delivered and received with gladness

Acts: 15-32-35 – A time of peace, blessing and strengthening continues in Antioch

Principle: The is only one body of Christ on the earth – one church

Illustration: God describes His church on the earth as a body of believers.  We can sit around in our big comfy chairs watching college football and our body will rot away.  God tells us to do something different.  To work.  To go.  To spread His news.  But like any other work, sometimes the work of the body of the church causes strains and they can be painful.  But we have the choice when our arm hurts from a strain or injury.  I guess we could just lop it off.  At least it wouldn’t hurt anymore, right?  But we normally don’t do that.  We nurse it.  We tend to it.  We protect it and we help it get stronger.  That is the message God has for us as His church as well.

Application: Who among believers have you “lopped off”?  What is dividing you from doing God’s work?  What is wrong that you need to be bold about and cause it to stop?

Conclusion:

This wasn’t easy for anyone.  The Judaisers believed they had scripture behind them.  Paul didn’t have a relationship with anyone in Jerusalem – he had only spent 15 days with them.  Barnabas did, but he clearly could see both sides of the argument.  And the leaders in Jerusalem had never faced a challenge like this before.  But they did three very smart things: 1 they looked for God’s direction 2. they stood on the bible 3. they maintained their sights on the ultimate goal – spreading the good news of the gospel.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 5, Galatians 2:11–21

Galatians 2:11–21

Summary:

Peter is in Antioch when others from the church in Jerusalem arrive.  Peter falls into old habits of exclusion and works and acts/eats with the implication that the Gentile believers are “unclean.”  Paul calls him on the carpet and gives a strong conviction that you either continue to try to live by the law and fail in so doing or you live as a free man saved by Jesus.  You cannot and should not live as a slave while claiming to have been set free.

Questions:

12. Peters’ actions of not eating with Gentiles because of adherence to Jewish dietary restrictions did two things to cause Christians to stumble: (1) it encouraged a class system and/or separation within the church.  We all understand the divisiveness that can come from not allowing all to drink from the same watering fountain – to not dine at the same table was equally divisive.  (2) it held back the acknowledgment that Christ had provided full and complete justification by saying (through actions) that His gift was insufficient and additional actions and/or behaviors were required.

13. Peter acknowledged Paul’s rebuke in light of both the scriptures and direct revelation that had been bestowed upon him (Peter).  However, he also acknowledged that Paul’s methods can be difficult.

Conclusion:

This reminds me of the Jews of Moses’ day.  Having been set free from the bondage of Egypt, they almost immediately long for the comfortableness of a well-lived pattern, even though that was slavery.  They even request to go back to be slaves in Egypt.  Now, Christ has died, Christ has risen, the price of sin has been paid, the believers have been set free, but they pine for the pattern of slavery under the law.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 4, Acts 15:13–35

Acts 15:13–35

Summary:

 The “Council of Jerusalem” meets to settle the disagreement within the church regarding circumcision.  The council decides that it is not a requirement but suggests/decrees 4 halakhah laws that new believers, regardless of background, should follow.  Silas and Judas are dispatched with Paul and Barnabas and the letter back to the church at Antioch and everyone is pleased and comforted.

Questions:

9. a. James suggested that believers within the Gentiles are also a people chosen by God and that they should not be burdened with additional requirements but instead should be encouraged.  He also suggested they abstain from certain practices that the Jewish Christians would be abhorring and vulgar.

b. He spoke as an authority of the church of Jerusalem (It is my judgment therefore), but everything he spoke and suggested was specifically stated in the scriptures where he quoted from Amos 9

10. a. Judas and Silas delivered the letter

b. Acts 15:31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message

11. a. (Challenge) The council provides a watershed moment because it becomes the launching point of a Christian faith separate from traditional Jewish faith.  As importantly it provided a means of unification within the church.  Prior to the council Messianic Jews would have been prohibited from many associations with Gentiles including breaking bread with them – thus no shared communion/eucharist.  Galatians 2:12 and Acts 10:28

It provided a model for any subsequent disputes within the church.  It empowered the ability for the Christian Church to grow during a time when the temple was destroyed.  It ordained a Christian church outside of Judaism.

In the short term, it also paired Silas with Paul for his return mission trip and who became a life-long companion.

b. My personal answer to this question will sound trite, but it has tugged at my heart a number of times.  I am willing to give up the words, “I hope” and replace them with real and actual prayer.  (more to follow in post entitled Hoping versus Praying)

Conclusion:

This division within the church and the method of resolution provided an opportunity for the church to stand or fall.  Through leaders empowered by the Holy Spirit the church stood on the scriptures, specifically Amos, and opened the door for unabated association, unity and communion within the church of believers regardless of background or foreskin.

There are 2 interesting points within this. 

The first is where did James come up with the 4 items within the letter?  These appear to be directly from Lev 17-18.  These rules were outlined by God to Moses and specifically call for them to be adhered to by “any Israelite or any alien living among them.”  There are other rules outlined in these chapters and under the Mosaic law, but these are the ones specifically for Israelites and aliens.

Second: are these items rules or guidelines?  James appears to view them as rules to be strictly followed, while Paul appears to be more in line with the men’s group in BSF seeing things as guidelines rather than rules.  In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul lays this out basically saying don’t get too hung up over the little things such as what you eat – that isn’t what brings you closer to God.  However, he also admonishes against doing anything that would cause another brother to fall into sin.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 3: Galations 1:1-2:10

Galatians 1:1–2:10

Summary: Paul’s letter to the Galations is a teaching and reinforcement document sent to the church of believers in the area originally ruled by the King of Galatia.  From Paul’s journey with Barnabas this would have included Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Some significant confusion had developed in the believers because of the incorrect teachings of believers from Judea who professed a requirement to hold to the old ways (observation of the Jewish Laws) in addition to the message of the gospel (salvation through Jesus Christ).  By attempting to do both the implication was that Christ had not “fully” fulfilled the law (see Matthew 5:17)  and, as such, it was still a requirement.  There was also the issue of the gift of salvation being shared with Gentiles within them also having to adhere to the same rules and principles that the Jews had (circumcision being a specific outward sign).

The confusion likely stems from Exodus 12:48 that required a non-jew “alien” living in the household of a jew to be circumcised before he could participate in the passover. 

Questions

6. a.True gospel: Galations 1: 3b-4: Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

b. That we are redeemed from the bondage of our sins only through the grace of God that Jesus Christ was made man and died, paying the price of justice for our sins if we accept His word and believe in Him.

7. (Challenge) Galatians 2:4 – The freedom we have in Christ Jesus;  Galatians 3:3–5, 10–11 – Attain through human effort?, because of law of because of belief?, Cursed under the law, (Deut. 27:26 ), no one justified by the law; 5:1–7. Either justified by the law or by faith – not both – justified by the law = fallen from grace, 5:6 the only thing that counts is faith)

Rom 3: 28-31: 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

8. (Challenge) “False brothers”

Acts 15:5 – Believers who belonged to the party of the pharisees

Galatians 2:11–13 – Came from James, belonged to the circumcision group, Hypocrites

Galatians 5:1–7 – Enslavers, Trying to be justified by law, aliens from Christ 

Galatians 6:12–13 – Those who want to make a good impression outwardly, they may boast

 

Conclusion:

There are 3 main questions raised and answered in the verses we cover today – all critical to the “true faith”

1. Faith alone or faith plus works?  Circumcision was never intended to “pay the price of salvation.”  It was always an outward sign of an inward commitment and covenant from God’s people to their Lord.  However, it was always the heart that mattered.  Otherwise, how could Jesus have called the circumcised pharisees a brood of vipers?  They had fallen more in love with the ritual of the law than they did the God whom the law was meant to honor.  They confused the what for the why.  Gal 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

2. If the law is not abolished, then what still applies considering it has been fulfilled? In regard to salvation, the price is paid. Period.  As difficult as it is to understand or accept, the horrific acts we may perform while on the earth are insignificant to God in comparison to our belief in Him.  This was clearly demonstrated by Christ on the cross in His conversation with the crucified thief.  If our wickedness does not compare then neither do our good deeds.  We do not “earn” salvation by them and implying we follow any law to earn freedom takes away from the one who paid the price of our freedom.  Does that mean we ignore God’s commandments and his direction on how we are to live and love each other?  Of course not, but we do them to honor our Lord not to earn His love or favor, those are things only He can give freely.  We do them out of honor and respect, not out of obligation under threat.

3. Is it acceptable for christians to look and live differently?  To me, this is the biggest unspoken question and one that many christians and churches struggle to overcome even today.  The Judeazers wanted all christians to look and live like them.  We all have prejudices, some more ugly and hateful than others (the prejudices that is), but they are there.  What does a good pastor look like or sound like?  What kind of up-bringing do you need to have had to be a church leader?  Even BSF seemed to struggle in this area for a period of time: what does a christian leader look like? can they be overweight? can they dress differently?  I’m glad to see the prejudices and stereotypes being challenged and changed – God wants the heart of His church.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 2, Acts 15: 1-12

Acts 15:1–12
Sumary: The question of ritual comes into play in the new church.  Must someone become a jew to be a christian?  Must they undergo circumcision and follow the Mosaic law to be saved through Christ.  Paul, Barnabas and Peter say no.

Questions:

3. The christians at Jerusalem were footed in the jewish tradition and the teachings in the temple.  The believers in Antioch were not, or at least not to the same degree.
4. The Jews were jealous (Acts 17:5).  The Jews were prejudiced (Gal 2).  The jewish believers may have felt outnumbered and still carried a subservient view (They were under Roman rule and this now brought them out of bondage as it had the Jews of Moses time.)

b. They believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people and saw the path to salvation only through their tradition and ritual.

c. He was “all in” for Christ.  If salvation came through the gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, then any requirement of works or ritual distracted from that covenent and lessened the gift.  Rom 10:12 – “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is the Lord of all…”

5. Peter refers to his vision of the sheet with all matter of animal, clean and unclean, and his subsequent understanding of the vision through the interaction of the Holy Spirit with Cornelius the centurion who received faith.

Conclusions:

The bible is so simple in its requirements – believe, change and be saved.  Yet we can add such complexity.  You must go through these classes.  You must attend these meetings.  You have to be baptized on this day.  You were baptized in what synod, we don’t count that.

There is nothing wrong with teaching, with prayer and with being a shepherd to new believers, but the avenue to a relationship with Jesus Chris does not come with barriers that new believers have to jump over.  Christ seems to be happy that we are on the right path.

BSF Acts Study: Week 8, Day 1

2. My take-away from the notes this week was about ways that the local church is built and strengthened.  When I think of mission work, either local or away from home, I think mostly about doing works or building relationships to spread the word of the Lord.  Clearly, that is a major emphasis and we have seen Paul and Barnabas doing that everywhere they went.  But that is only the first step.  For that seed to take root it must be nurtured.  I found the discussion on page 4 about strengthening, preparing, uniting and committing the new believers into local churches very informative and good food-for-thought.    I had not thought about it before, but to realize that these new gentile believers were not welcome in the synagogues (the normal place for discussions about God), and as a result a new structure of house churches was being created even as the good news was being spread.  I also thought it was interesting to think about how Paul and Barnabas strengthened their home church in Antioch with the stories about their trip.  I had thought about their time back at the church as a way for them to re-energize and rest, but hadn’t thought about how powerful and inspiring their tales would be to the believers in the local church.