We ended last week in the midst of the Acts 15 meeting which would decide the fate of Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah. Peter had shared that it was God who initiated the work among the Gentiles, and He put no requirements on Cornelius' household for the simple reason God gave them the Holy Spirit as He did the Jews. Who were they to add or subtract from what God Himself initiated? Could they improve on what God did by imposing rules and regulations on Gentile converts?
Paul and Barnabas were following what God had already initiated. Peter had stated the OT law was a yoke which neither they nor their fathers could bear, and asked why they wanted to put such a yoke on the Gentile believers when God Himself already gave them the Holy Spirit? What could rules add when they had God living in them.
The verdict is in
James, the Lord's brother, who is mentioned in Matthew 13:55, rose to be the spokesman and leader concerning this issue. James and another of the Lord's brothers, Jude, wrote the books James and Jude in our New Testament. We are told in Acts 12:2 that John's brother James had been executed by Herod.
Notice the balance with which the apostles made their decision. If you've listened to me or read my writings very much you know what I say repeatedly, the Spirit and Word always agree. If you think the Spirit is doing something then you'll find it in the Word and in history. If you think you found a revelation in the Word, you'll also see the Spirit doing it in the body of Christ and down through history. If one or the other isn't in agreement, you need to change what you believe because it has been proven wrong!
What Peter and then Paul and Barnabas' testimonies did was to tell what they believed the Holy Spirit was doing among the Gentiles. James' concern was whether that claim was also in the Word. That is how they would determine if this was God nor not. That is why James starts with this in Acts 15:13-:
"Men and brothers, listen to me. Simon Peter has declared how God initiated His visit with the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. To this the words of the prophets agree, for it is written...therefore my decision is that we don't trouble them, which from the Gentiles have turned to God; But that we do write them to abstain from idols, and sexual sin, and from animals strangled, and blood, for there are many Jews who have lived in those areas for many years."
"Then it pleased the apostles and elders with the whole church to send particular men from them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely Judas and Silas...and they wrote letters to them to be carried with them in this manner:
"From the apostles and elders and brethren we send greetings to the brethren of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia...we have heard that certain who came out from us troubled you with words, which subverted your souls, saying you must be circumcised and keep the (Mosaic) law; but we gave them no such commandant to tell you this."
"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That you abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from consuming blood, and meat from things strangled, and from sexual sin. From which if you keep yourself you will do well." Acts 15:12-31
Side note on 'subverting your souls'. The Greek word 'subverting' is 'anaskeuazontes' meaning to dismantle things that had been neatly arranged, in the negative - thus subverting, dismantle, pervert, destroy, carry away and remove, to rearrange, unsettle. It was found on papyrus writings from that time as 'to bankrupt'. This is the effect James said, of the requirement that Gentiles should be circumcised and obey the law of Moses - it is an act of subversion of the soul, it bankrupts the soul, it rearranges the soul (mind, emotions) negatively and carries it off in subversion. His words not mine folks. That was the decision of the authors of our New Testament. Think about the weight of their decision. They wrote the New Testament within the context of this Acts 15 decision. All understanding of say, Galatians therefore, is built from their decision here.
What their decision means
The question before them had been should Gentile believers be circumcised and obey the law of Moses? Their answer was no, you don't, but you should have proof of your salvation by giving up your former pagan practices. You see, the 4 instructions, to abstain from idols, strangled meat, blood, and sexual sin are one. They all pertain to pagan idol worship which included sacrificing an animal that was in the pagan way, strangled rather than bled out by puncturing the jugular as the Jews did, followed by drinking of blood and then sex with a temple prostitute. Again, you don't need to obey Moses, but you should prove your walk with the Lord by abstaining from your former pagan ways.
You don't have to keep the law of Moses, but there should be an essential break with your former life.
It is important for us to see James said 'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and therefore to us' - they merely joined themselves to what the Holy Spirit was making clear, and that act of God could be found in the Word. Case closed, issue settled.
Our choice today if we love the Jewish festivals - look at Paul
Paul was born Jewish, but he spent his ministry among the Gentiles. But his Jewish roots still meant something to him personally. We are told in Acts that Paul made plans to be in Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost.
"He said farewell to them, for he said I must by all means be in Jerusalem for this feast." Acts 18:21
"For Paul determined to sail by Ephesus...so that if it were possible he could be in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost." Acts 20:16 (Written about the year 60AD)
As it was 30 years earlier with the Acts 2 Day of Pentecost, just as in our day frankly, there would be Jewish people from all over in Jerusalem for the feast. But there would also be Jewish believers in Jesus attending, and Gentile believers in Jesus as well - and that day meant something different to each of the 3 people groups.
Paul celebrated the holidays from a position of freedom, not from a position of bondage to keep their practices. Paul didn't want to attend Pentecost because he had to because of the law, but because he wanted to because it meant something to him emotionally, his personal history and culture. He was part of the decision of Acts 15, which tells us he attended from the vantage point of freedom, not by being forced to obey the Law of Moses. Freedom to celebrate it, or not. Christ is in you, there isn't anything you can do, no acton you can take, no giving of money, time, fasting you can do that can add anything to the fact the Father gave you His Spirit and Son.
For those who wish to ignore the decision of Acts 15, or change it around to believe it was about something it clearly wasn't, the argument falls back to Old Testament passages and sometimes what Jesus said in the gospels. Others pick and choose various verses in Galatians or elsewhere to support their claim.
And that's where we'll pick it up next week - until then, blessings,