A. Acts 15:1, 5; Galatians 5:1-6
The church in Antioch was disturbed by those who sought to bind circumcision on Gentile Christians. The correct answer to this problem is succinctly stated by Paul in a later epistle; circumcision doesn’t matter, unless one treats it as a religious necessity – in which case it is wrong. Knowing at the outset what the answer is, herein we intend to consider how the problem was resolved. That is this lesson’s purpose, not to discuss circumcision, but to learn how conflict is resolved by the church.
B. Acts 15:2a; Ephesians 5:11
Paul and Barnabas dissented and disputed with those in error. Christians are duty-bound to expose falsehood as such.
C. Acts 15:2a; Galatians 2:1-5; Romans 14:21
Speaking of this incident years later, Paul emphasized his intolerance of the error. While it is true that Christians may be more strict with themselves than is required by the Lord, and that others Christians must respect those scruples, it is another matter entirely when one begins to insist that others must adhere to the same practices.
D. Acts 15:2b, 6; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5
For resolution, those in Antioch went to the elders of Jerusalem and the apostles. The elders of the church in Jerusalem were involved because the false teachers had come from the church in Jerusalem. The apostles were involved because they have fundamental authority in every church, and their words, recorded in Scripture, still guide us.
E. Acts 15:3-4
Notice that, in the midst of adversity, even en route to a conference to rectify an outstanding problem, Paul and Barnabas continued spreading good news, edifying brethren. It is easy to be so distracted by conflict that disciples quit their good works. Paul and Barnabas knew better.
I. THEY APPEALED TO DIRECT STATEMENT.
A. Acts 15:13-21
James quoted the prophecy of Amos (Amos 9:11-12) wherein God’s inclusion of the Gentiles, as Gentiles, is directly stated. Direct statements, including commands, are the simplest presentations of truth to be grasped.
B. John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:14; 1st John 2:3-5; 5:3
Commandment keeping proves one’s love, friendship, and knowledge of Christ.
C. 2nd Peter 3:1-2; Jude 17
Not only the Lord Himself, but also His apostles, must be obeyed.
II. THEY APPEALED TO EXAMPLE.
A. Acts 15:7-11
Peter reminded them all of his example in having earlier preached the gospel to the Gentiles, who received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized, being saved, while Gentiles (Acts 10:17-11:18).
B. 1st John 2:6
We are under command to follow the example of Christ.
C. 1st Corinthians 11:1-2; 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 4:9
We are, likewise, under command to follow the example of the apostles.
III. THEY APPEALED TO INFERENCE.
A. Acts 15:12
Paul and Barnabas implied God’s willingness to save the Gentiles as Gentiles, not Jewish proselytes, insomuch as He had been working miracles among them by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:4-12; 14:8-10). There are many examples in Scripture of implication establishing authority.
B. Matthew 22:31-32
God implied the resurrection, that is life after death, when He identified Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob well past the deaths of those patriarchs.
C. Acts 10:12-15, 28
Peter correctly inferred that God did not consider any man common or unclean, saying “God has shown me”, even though the specific vision he beheld was about food. If one aspect of the Old Testament was repealed, then all of it was.
D. 1st Corinthians 15:27
“It is evident” that the one who gave total authority to Christ is excepted from that authority. That which is self-evident is implied.
E. Hebrews 11:17-19
Abraham correctly concluded that if God would fulfill His promises in Isaac, but Isaac must die, then God is able to resurrect Isaac.
IV. THEY APPEALED TO SILENCE.
A. Acts 15:22-29
When the letter treating the problem was composed by the church at Jerusalem, including her elders and the apostles, it described the troublemakers as people “to whom we gave no such commandment”. The silence of the church in Jerusalem relative to these men amounted to prohibition of their behavior. This is the law of exclusion.
B. 2nd Samuel 7:1-7
David intended to construct God’s temple in Jerusalem, but was rhetorically asked, “Have I ever spoken a word to anyone… saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’” That God had not requested it, His silence on the matter, meant it forbidden.
C. Hebrews 1:5, 13
The great things God said of Jesus, He did not say of the angels. Therefore, by silence, God communicated the superiority of Christ.
D. Hebrews 7:14; 8:4
Jesus “would not be priest… according to the law” because “our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood”. God did not need to list all the tribes barred from priesthood; He need only have specified the one that was authorized.
E. 2nd John 9
Going beyond Christ’s doctrine, disrespecting silence, leaves one without Christ.
A. Acts 15:30-31; 6:1-7
Rectifying error produces encouragement. Rather than disregarding problems, we must confront them to be at peace.
B. Acts 16:1-5; 1st Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 16:1; Colossians 4:16
Although the problem confronted the church at Antioch, its solution was addressed to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:23), as well, and these “decrees” were spread even to cities of Galatia. The doctrine of the apostles was consistent everywhere.
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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