Summary: There will always be disputes as long as there is sin in the world. How we handle them tells how God has influenced us.
Difference Makers Settle differences
We live in a world that is full of disputes, whether it be about politics, religion, sports, there will always be disputes. We live in a world of dispute and debate. It’s everywhere: at home, at work, in politics, and even in the church!
In this passage there is another dispute. What do we do with these Gentiles who are becoming Christians? In the past, Gentiles who converted to Judaism were proselytes. They were to succumb to the Jewish laws and traditions. But now, how do Gentiles become Christians, do they have to be Jews first and then Christians? Do they have to submit to the Law of Moses and circumcision? A great debate arose.
On the internet I read about a church in another State. They asked their preacher to resign because of just one troublemaker in the church. The preacher kept doing his work but finally caved in to the pressure and resigned. After he resigned, the church members were very upset and started calling the elders, wanting to know what was going on. One Wednesday night the elders had a special congregational meeting to answer questions and they discovered that nobody could say anything against their preacher.
The members said they wanted their preacher back in the pulpit. The elders went to the preacher and asked him to stay with the church. He said, "No," and went looking for another church. He ended up moving from to another State. Well, guess what? That church didn’t work out. Apparently, that church was basically run by one man in the church who had some money. The preacher did not please him so in six months he started looking for another church. Now he’s back in that first State in another church!
And all because of disputes in the church! All this had happened because people wouldn’t learn to work together and some wanted to have "their own way." They wanted to have a Burger King church, not thinking about the good of the whole church.
Steven Covey, in his book, 7 habits of highly effective people talks about handling disputes. He says highly effective people seek to understand rather than being understood. We will see this principle used in this passage.
1. The problem…Gentile Christians
a. Some were teaching that you had to be Jewish before you can be a Christian.
b. The problem did not start in Jerusalem, but in Antioch of Syria
c. Solution: Go to Jerusalem and confer with the Apostles.
i. They did not have the Bible as we have it today
ii. They had to go to source of information, those who had direct teaching from Jesus.
iii. Today we should settle any doctrinal problem by simply conferring with the Word of GOD.
2. Legalism always leads to trouble
a. The Pharisees thought they alone had the handle on what God wanted and changed laws or reinterpreted them.
b. Jesus challenged legalism on several occasions
i. You have heard it said…but I say to you.
ii. Woe to you teachers of the law
c. That is like saying you cannot be American if you don’t drive Chevrolet
d. Legalisms have a way of twisting the Word of God
e. Legalism divides where Grace unites.
Our only true authority in life is the Word of God and at times we even misinterpret it or misrepresent it, thinking we "alone" know what God is saying. The spirit of legalism is still with us today and in some ways may be worse today than in Paul’s time. We have to baptize a certain way, or only certain people can baptize. True that baptism saves and it must be by immersion, that is not a legalism, it becomes a legalism when we add to it.
Whenever we allow our own personal opinions to become a law, that’s when we will become legalistic with others. And legalism is always divisive. It’s divides people and churches.
3. Trouble should be handled by qualified leaders.
a. These are men who have studied the word.
b. These are men who handle the Word of God correctly
c. These are men who are able to go to the Word and find the answer.
They went to see the apostles and elders about this question. I would say they went to see the apostles and elders about this dispute. Why? Because they were God’s ordained leaders in the church. And you just don’t solve problems in the church by talking to everybody about them. God has a chain of authority in the home and in the church, which we should follow. However, it always should begin and end with God’s Word.
4. We must always allow God’s Spirit to lead us.
a. The Word must be our final authority