Summary: Struggles to understand the truth of the gospel are not new. The early church record reveals how they also faced and overcame crisis moments.
Acts 15 tells about the Jerusalem council where the church leaders struggled to deal with an issue that was splitting the early church.
If we study carefully this account we see several principles for facing and dealing with issues that can help us today.
First let’s read some background, then we will look at this passage and see the story. Finally, we will attempt to pick out the particulars and find the principles God gave them to get through this.
I. Background passages:
There are several texts that we need to tie together for this so bear with me and see if we can put together the big picture in this before we draw our conclusions. We will be looking at Galatians 1 & 2; Acts 9:26-31, 11:27-30 & 12:25 and Genesis 17:9f. Write all these down and look at them together again later if you miss my point today.
1. Gal. 1:13-2:10
Two times Paul talks about going up to Jerusalem, on one of those he visited with Peter. This is recorded in Acts 9:26-31. This was soon after he was converted. Barnabus met him there and helped him gain acceptance with the church. He got to know Peter on this visit.
His second visit was when he came with Barnabus and Titus with a gift to the needy because of a famine. This is recorded in Acts 11:27-30, and 12:25. On this visit Paul describes his gospel message to the Gentiles and no one among the apostles or leaders of the Jerusalem church adds anything to it. They see Paul as God’s missionary to the Gentiles.
2. Gal. 2:11-16
This event probably occurred shortly before the Jerusalem council. Peter seems to be in full agreement with Paul in Acts 15 where the council is held.
Did you get all that? Paul has faced opposition to his work in teaching the gospel of Jesus all along. But specifically, he gets into trouble with Jewish Christian teachers who try to make the Gentiles accept the Laws of Moses and customs of Judaism. Even Peter and Barnabus are confused. Peter later says that Paul writes some things that are hard to understand and that some people twist them to their own destruction.
Paul twice says in Gal. 2 that he defends "the truth of the gospel..." verses 5 and 14. That truth that he is referring to is the gospel truth that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by observing the Law. Verse 16.
So... what have we learned in our background study? We see that Paul’s preaching ministry and the message to the Gentiles is causing a confusion among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Several of them are going out to correct the churches where Paul has preached and get those Gentiles in line with the Bible!!!
Look at what the Bible says in Genesis 17: 9 God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
10 "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.
11 "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.
12 "And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.
13 "A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14 "But any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
That’s what the Bible says. This is one of the first major issues that the early church faces. Many among the Jewish Christians couldn’t understand how Paul could get around this. Didn’t he know that God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant? Didn’t he know that opening the doors to the Gentiles without requiring this covenant was unbiblical? In order for us to understand how this felt to those who oppose Paul let me use an illustration.
Suppose a preacher stood up here today and said that baptism is no longer necessary to be a Christian. What if he said that God has decided to make salvation available to everyone in spite of whether they are baptized or not. In fact everyone who simply wants to be saved is saved simply by believing, without doing anything that the Bible tells us we must do to be right with God.