Summary: Learn from the Council in Jerusalem. Unite around the essentials. Make concessions in non-essentials. Show love in everything.
We have been looking at troubles and persecutions from without.
• Today, we are going to look at problems from within - disagreements among believers.
• Christians will quarrel. Nothing wrong with that. If you had never had an argument with a brother or sister, I’m more worried. Are you human?
The problem is not the conflict. It is how we manage it, how we handle it.
• I would say in any conflict, 10% is the issue, 90% is how we react to it.
• That’s why we have church splits down through the centuries, not because of some BIG doctrinal disagreements – like, is Jesus the Son of God; is the Bible the Word of God? - BUT small practical matters – like, shall we baptise by sprinkling or by immersion, can we dance or play drums in a worship service? Should we read the NIV or KJV Bible during service? Should we paint the church kitchen yellow or blue? Or should the organ or piano be placed on the right side of the platform?
• The devil uses these to divide. He knows us well; he knows human nature well.
Let’s look at the first big argument in the church of Acts and learn something today: Acts 15:1-12. Three principles that I think can help us in every conflict.
Borrowing the words from verse 2, we can expect “sharp dispute and debate” even among believers.
• The church around the region has grown. Paul and Barnabas have just returned from their first missionary journey.
• Most of the churches by now were made up of Gentile converts. The church in Jerusalem was, of course, Jewish.
That was the issue. You have two distinct groups of believers, from very diverse backgrounds and cultures - now co-existing together as the church.
• The Jewish believers have been following a set of traditions for generations – the Mosaic laws – dietary laws, sacrificial laws, since Exodus time.
• The Gentiles were ethnically and culturally different, of course. But now that they have accepted Christ, the Jews expected them to follow their practices.
This was not easy. Even Peter himself needed convincing (in Acts 10), to believe that God would even consider saving the Gentiles, in the first place.
• God had to show him a couple of visions, get him to meet up with Cornelius and then show him the miracle of the Holy Spirit coming upon them.
• Was this easy for him? No. In fact, when he went back to Jerusalem from Cornelius’ house, he was criticised by his fellow Jewish believers (cf. 11:2)
I want to show you what happened even before this Council took place.
• Peter was likely at Antioch and he was reprimanded by Paul for siding with the Jewish believers.
• Paul recounted the incident in Gal 2:11-16.
The believers in Jerusalem, steep in the Jewish laws, thought that any Gentile who wanted to follow Jesus had to “become Jew” first.
• They are to be “set apart as holy” before God and that means, they must be circumcised too.
• This was, of course, incorrect. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, not by any outward forms.
Paul explains this in Romans 2. The outward circumcision cannot save you. It is the circumcision of the heart (cf. Rom 2:29).
• It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It comes by our obedience to God, and not the written code.
• Paul tells the people (15:8-9) “God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by FAITH.”
This is the first guiding principle in any contentious disagreements among believers – seek to do the will of God!
Principle (1): UNITE AROUND THE ESSENTIALS
The believers in Antioch and Jerusalem were together SEEKING to understanding of what God has said in Word and revealed in His deeds.
• It is not about what you think or how I think. It is about what God thinks!
• What is God’s will in this issue? You need time for this – a time to get together and talk, to share who God has done, to understanding what God has said.
Determining that which is the most ESSENTIAL is not easy. Even this can be contentious, but at least, there is an ATTEMPT at doing it.
• Do we ATTEMPT at all to seek God’s heart and understand His will?
• The believers were serious about it. They were UNITED, at least, in this same PASSION of seeking to understand God’s will.
Peter, Paul and Barnabas testified to what God has done among the Gentiles. They were eye-witnesses.