Trouble in the Church
I. Decision 15:1-4
A. Men 15:1
B. Method 15:2
C. Messages 15:3-4
II. Demand 15:5-6
A. Demands 15:5
B. Deliberations 15:6
III. Declaration 15:7-12
A. Choice 15:7
B. Comparison 15:8-9
C. Conversion 15:10-12
Peter had seen the grace of God fall upon the Gentile believers when he went to minister at the home of Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Caesarea. He did not demand that they keep the Mosaic Law, and this had generated opposition from Judaizers in Jerusalem (Acts 10:1-18). Paul and Barnabas had seen the grace of God fall upon Gentile believers when they ministered in many lands during their first missionary journey (Acts 13:42-43, 48; 14:23).
The Judiazers, who came up from Jerusalem to harass Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria threatened to split the church there. A delegation composed of Paul, Barnabas, and others were chosen to go to Jerusalem to get a ruling from the apostles and elders on this matter. The church council which resulted produced a clear decision favoring salvation by faith alone, apart from the works of the law. Gentiles have benefited from it ever since.
Do you realize that most Christians in the world today are Gentiles? That was not the case in the early days of the church. Most believers at that time were Jews who had been convinced that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah and Savior. It was through the ministry of men like Paul, Barnabas, and others that Gentile converts began to outnumber Jewish converts. Controversy was bound to happen and it would take a decision by the church leaders in Jerusalem to resolve it.
I. DECISION 15:1-4
A. Men: 1 And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Paul and Barnabas had just returned and finished giving their report of the hundreds of souls saved and the starting of many churches.
Satan heard what was going on and did not this progress to continue and did everything in his power to hinder this work that had begun.
At this point “certain men came down from Jerusalem” and tried to pull everyone else down with them.
Who were these men? Jews from Jerusalem labeled Judaizers, meaning that they expected even Gentile believers to be governed by Judaism (law). They taught that physical circumcision after the Jewish manner and Mosaic Law was required for men to be saved from their sins.
This was an attempt to mix law with grace and works and faith. They said, ”Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved.” (v1)
Where did these “certain men” come up with this idea? God Himself. Exodus 12:48 – “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.”
To share in the Passover, one had to make themselves part of the people of Israel. Receiving the covenant of circumcision and taking Passover were all part of the same package.
Perhaps these men from Jerusalem were sincere and devout. They may have said, “This is the way we have always done it, and we are not about to change now!” To these “certain men” the way into the Church led through the door of Judaism.
The most unspiritual are usually the greatest sticklers about form and ritual. There counterparts can be found in the world today, and we need to be on guard against them.
These nameless men, which disturbed the peace of the church with this controversy, were the forefathers of a group still in existence, who are not known for their spirituality or success in the Lord’s work, but who are ever-ready to put those in their place who ARE being greatly used and blessed by God.
Today we have those who are saying, "Unless you have been baptized after the manner of the Church of Christ, you are not saved." Others who are saying, "Unless you have been baptized in the name of Jesus only, you are not saved."
These are the same types of people as came to the church in Antioch.
a. The one is preaching circumcisional regeneration.
b. The other is teaching baptismal regeneration.
c. Both are teaching salvation by rituals.
A ritual is a work, thus both teach salvation by works.
There are those who say that if you do not worship on Saturday, you are not saved. They declare that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast. This also is salvation by works.
Here is the pivot point. Must I do something other than believe and repent in order to be saved? God alone has the power to save us from our sin. There is nothing we can do to merit salvation.
B. Method: v2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
We are not told the specific things said as Paul and Barnabas argued with the Judaizers from Jerusalem.
The author tells us that there was “no small dissension” after these heated discussions reached an impasse, it was decided in Antioch that an appeal be made to ah higher authority for resolution.
Paul, Barnabas, and others were chosen to go to Jerusalem. It can only be assumed that Judaizers agreed to this and may have gone on home.
In the early days of the church, the Judaizers did not deny the facts of the Gospel, for there were too many witnesses. The question arose then over the interpretation of the facts.
Though dispute and debate were undesirable, the presence of serious doctrinal error made it necessary. There are times when the absolutes of the Gospel must be defended.
See the Church – divided – torn by disputation – yet still reached a resolution.
C. Messages: v3-4 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.  And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
It appears that members of the Antioch church escorted the delegation during the first part of the trip toward Jerusalem or at least helped finance the journey.
As they traveled the overland trip southward, Paul and the others stopped at various places to meet with the “brethren” sharing the news of the Gentile conversions. The response was one of excitement and joy.
These messages were but a prelude to the message given by the delegation from Antioch after they reached Jerusalem.
When they got to Jerusalem, “They were received of the Church and the apostles and elders.”
Opportunity was given to report their message on “all things that God had done with them.”
Paul and the others had the opportunity to tell all, to let everybody know of the Judaizers who had come down to harass these Gentile converts. But they said nothing of the Judaizers, they did not attack them, there was no reference to the dispute brought by those who objected to salvation by grace through faith.
Today we would have told everything we knew and made up the rest.
It is always good to hear reports of what God is doing in the lives of people.
II. Demand Acts 15:5-6
A. Demands: v5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
It is interesting to see that there were some super-conservative Pharisees in Judaism who cam to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
Still, there were some so entrenched and indoctrinated in Judaism that they could not leave it behind and embrace Christianity.
The moral principles found in the law were required for Christians, but the ceremonial principles fulfilled by Christ were no longer binding on them. The Judaizers could not or would not accept this and battle lines were drawn.
They wanted to add something to the Gospel, something that had worked for them before. But whenever you add something to the Gospel you no longer have the Gospel but now you have a religion.
Paul, who had been a Pharisee, saw things differently. Why?
B. Deliberation: v6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
“The apostles and elders came together” – Church leaders heard the demands of the Judaizers and the reports of the missionaries, and they decided to hold a council to resolve the matter.
The outcome was crucial to the continued success and expansion of the Gospel to the world.
If the Judaizers had their way, missionary work would have been hampered, shut down, or possibly a split would have taken place.
III. Declaration Acts 15: 7-12
A. Choice: V7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
We are not told specifically if the apostles met in private or in public for this counsel. There were evidently differences of opinion among them for there was much arguing that took place over this issue.
Peter, who at one point may have had these same feelings and ideas, saw first hand what God did among the Gentiles. How that God poured out His Spirit on all people.
Peter stood up and reviewed the fact that God had chosen him to go to the Gentiles at Caesarea and give them the Gospel so that they might be saved.
It had already been agreed upon by the Church that God had opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles by faith apart from the Mosaic Law.
This matter had been settled nearly ten years before when God led Peter to Cornelius’ house. Sometimes you will never realize why God led you through something until time is right.
This was probably not the first time Peter had spoken on this issue. Can you imagine Peter sitting back quietly, patiently, waiting for his turn, while this heated discussion was taking place?
The Council would listen to Simon Peter because he himself was considered a Jew among Jews. He said of himself, he had never eaten anything unclean, and he would have never considered the thought of entering the house of a Gentile.
Peter stuck as close to the Mosaic Law as any other.
Now he testifies that the Gentiles had heard the Gospel from his own lips and had believed.
They were saved by grace through faith. Peter himself had to learn that salvation was not decided by whether ones eats meat or doesn’t eat meat. Whether one eats pork or doesn’t eat pork.
Salvation was not and is not dependent on observation of the Sabbath or Sunday on any other day.
B. Comparison: v8-9
v8 = And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
Peter reminds them of the fact that God knows the heart of all men, Jew and Gentile.
See that God’s knowledge of the heart is:
V9 = And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Peter rose up and addressed the Council as one clothed in the authority of God. Peter spoke up addressing what his eyes had seen of the power of the Gospel among the Gentiles and how God had “given them the Holy Ghost, even as He had did to us.”
Does Peter say that their hearts were purified by keeping the law? NO! By going through a ceremony? NO! By joining a church? NO! Peter says if was by FAITH!
“God had put no difference between us and them”, said Peter. They were just as welcome to the grace of Christ as the Jews. Where did this come from, his vision of the sheet and the clean and unclean animals.
“Purifying their hearts by faith” = Peter shows how the heart is purified: “By faith.”
So, it would stand to reason. if they were purified by faith, then there was no need to be purified by submitting to ceremonies found in the Mosaic Law.
As a Christian, we are not only saved by faith, we are made pure by faith.
When we are saved, we are justified, and our hearts are purified, and we begin the process of being sanctified.
If your heart is purified by faith, you are being sanctified (or set apart) to resemble others like you. We resemble one another so that whatever the difference we may have between us, there is nothing to keep us apart.
C. Conversion: v10-12
V10 = Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
The law was a yoke which neither their fathers nor them were able to bear up under.
Had the children of Israel been able to follow ALL the rules, regulations, and requirements?
V11 = But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Peter, as Bro. Randy says, “put the jelly on the very bottom shelf.”
= Some of you need to quit trying to keep a law that was fulfilled.
= Some of you need to quit trying to carry around a yoke that was never designed to carry.
= Some of you need to quit trying to trust in yourself and what you can do.
> Believe that through the grace of Jesus Christ we can all be saved.
V12 = Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
There was great silence in the courtroom when Paul and Barnabas finished speaking.
The river of God’s grace is too broad to flow through the narrow minded channel of man’s pride, prejudice, and presumption.
THE LESSON FOR TODAY
These Jews had a problem that is common to all of us. They were more comfortable with others who shared their point of view. They were willing to bend enough to allow the Gentiles to come into the church, but they wanted the Gentiles to become more like them first.
We also tend to be more comfortable with people who will become more like us before they come into our fellowship. I myself do not feel comfortable in a place where they is a lot of emotional show. I realize that there are places where you will never hear an “AMEN”, hear where you will hear “Sic’em Preacher.”
Another lesson we need to learn from this passage is that can be vigorous differences of opinion and they can be strongly expressed without destroying the fellowship of the body of Christ.
The Church at Jerusalem is an example to us in the way differences should be handled. They did not panic but called for calm consideration. They were clear on the fact that the admission of the Gentiles was not a debatable matter. It was a matter of the revelation of God and could not be debated. However, what should be expected of new converts was a matter of legitimate difference of opinion and could be strongly argued.
Even severe controversies can often be settled without alienation. Some principles that will help us are:
1) Areas of agreement should be carefully sorted out. Both Jew and Gentile in this passage could rejoice at the advancement of the Gospel.
2) A determination should be made of what differences can be tolerated with violating the very fundamentals of the faith. There are some things that all of us can tolerate in others that we ourselves would not do.
3) All possible concessions should be made to another’s opinion in a spirit of Christian charity. We must go beyond what we see the requirements to be to allow others an area of grace.