Summary: We know the word gospel means good news. Is the good news that Jesus made some sort of down payment for the salvation of sinners, or did He pay it all? That’s the very question that had to be answered in the first century church of Antioch, and that’s t
The word “gospel” means good news. We know the heart of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but what exactly is the good news about that? Is it that Jesus did what He did as sort of a down payment, and then we have to keep up the installments of our salvation by doing something else, or is it that what He did was completely sufficient and nothing else is necessary? That was really the question that needed to be answered for the church at Antioch, and it needs to be firmly and finally answered in each of our minds.
About 16 years had passed since the Day of Pentecost, and a lot of things had happened. Back in chapter 7, the Bible says the number of the disciples multiplied, and that even a great company of the priests were saved. Those described in verse one as having come down from Judea to teach the brethren, are described in verse 5 as being some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed. So these teachers, though they were not teaching correctly, were not mean spirited wolves in sheep’s clothing, but were misguided believers who hadn’t fully realized that you can’t put new wine in old bottles.
The text says, in verse 2, it was no small dissension, which implies that it was a big dissension. The last dissension we saw among the believers in the book of Acts, was back in chapter 7 when the Greek speaking widows were not being treated the same as those of more orthodox Jewish descent. They had fixed that, but dissension has a way of rising up again and again, because the devil knows full well that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
It appears that it was the idea of these first “Judaizers‘” to go to Jerusalem and ask the apostles and elders there about this important question. Paul and Barnabus was to go, and some of these teachers from Judea were to go with them.
Just this past week, I heard about a church in another town, who voted on a matter and were equally divided on the issue. People on both sides felt very strongly about the issue, so the pastor very ignorantly said, “Since it’s a tie, as moderator of this meeting, I’ll break the tie.” There are times when an outside, objective source needs to be sought. The church I just mentioned split, because half of the people weren’t going to like the side the pastor decided to take on a highly emotionally charged issue. The church at Antioch decided to seek counsel from a source that they all trusted. Dissension will always be part of church life, but the important thing is how it is handled.
Verses 4 and 5 tell us that when they got to Jerusalem, they gave a report of the things that God had been doing. It had probably been about 14 years since they had left Jerusalem, and their was very little opportunity for communication, so they had a lot to catch up on. After hearing the about the situation, v6, and the first part of v7, says they considered it and there was much dispute among them about it.
The question that comes to my mind is, “Why was there dispute among them about it?” The answer seems to be that because of the strong Jewish background of many of these who were becoming Christians, the Christian doctrine had been influenced and, to some degree, compromised in the minds of these leaders. When they really came face to face with the question, however, they came back to what God had revealed to them.
Peter called the law a “yoke which neither our forefathers, nor we, were able to bear.”
V12 tells us that Barnabas and Paul told about the things God had done through them among the Gentiles, and when they were finished, James showed them all from the Old Testament Scriptures how that this salvation of the Gentiles was God’s plan all the time, (v15-18.) Then, James said, “Let’s not trouble them with anything, but let’s write to them to do four things: abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”
At first glance the four things that James suggested the believers be told not to do, is somewhat troubling. It looks like he is adding to the method of salvation, but in reality, he is simply talking about how the new Christians are to live, in order to maintain a strong testimony before unbelievers, especially Jewish unbelievers.
They had a mindset that we contemporary Christians need to recapture, and that is a major concern for those who had not yet come to be believers. They were concerned with what they could do to make it more likely for these unbelievers to become interested in the gospel. What a terrible mistake Christians make when they act like church is just for them. We must always have a heart for those who have not yet believed.