Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Acts Studies|
Chapter: Acts 15
Passage: Acts 15:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. Who started the controversy where? v.1a
2. What were they saying? v.1b
3. So how did the church decide to resolve it? v.2
4. What did they do as they went? v.3
5. What did they do when they arrived? v.4
Chapter 15 is a turning point in the book. So far we have seen the Gospel going to Gentiles, and the Jews were happy that Gentiles should come to faith in God, yet the question now arose in their minds, how should the Gentile believers conform to a Jewish Christianity. One particular group maintained that the Gentiles should come in and be the same as them, following the Law of Moses and being circumcised like the Jews were. They made this an essential for salvation, i.e. you have got to DO things to be saved, not merely believe. It was this point that Paul wrote about when he wrote to the Galatian churches that he has just left. Faith alone or faith plus works?
The Antioch church now display an example that is worthy of being followed. Although Paul and Barnabus had just come back from a very successful missionary journey where thousands had come to Christ, simply by believing, they were willing to submit their beliefs to the Jerusalem authority for their decision. This speaks of humility. So Paul and Barnabus were sent, with a number of others from the church there, to go to Jerusalem to explain what had happened and obtain a decision from the leaders there as to what they should do about this matter of following the law and circumcision.
1. Works follow salvation. Salvation is not because of works, it comes from
simply believing and then “love works” follow.
2. A problem of understanding? Refer it to leaders.
A. Find Out:
1. What did the Pharisees demand? v.5
2. Who met to consider this? v.6
3. Who got up and made what point? v.7-9
4. What did he say they were doing? v.10
5. What did he conclude? v.11
6. Who then told what? v.12
As we said above, this is a turning point. Some of the Christians in Jerusalem were still good orthodox Jews, even of the Pharisees, the ultra conservative religious party, and as such they expected everybody else to conform to the Law of Moses and be circumcised. They had added on Christian faith to their legalism and were now having a problem with people who had the faith but not the legalism! The trouble was, for them, that God had been saving Gentiles with no reference being made to these two things.
It is Peter who stands up in defence of the approach to the Gentiles because it had been forced on him by the incident with Cornelius. He had seen first hand how God had accepted the Gentiles without any prior requirement to law keeping. When the Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles there was no disputing it!
As if to ram home the message, Paul and Barnabus next share and tell how, as they were preaching to the Gentiles, God had confirmed the message with signs and wonders. The Lord had not waited until these Gentiles had followed “the rules” but had simply met with them as soon as they believed. There was no room here for works + faith = salvation. This was purely faith = salvation!
1. We are not saved by what we do - in any shape or form!
2. We are saved, purely by believing in Jesus. Doing follows later.
A. Find Out:
1. Who next spoke? v.13
2. Who did he refer to first? v.14
3. To whom did he refer to next? v.15
4. What point was he making? v.16-18
5. So what did he conclude? v.19
6. What restrictions did he suggest? v.20
James, apparently the clear leader of the church in Jerusalem , finally speaks. He affirms Peter's words, as Peter was one of the other key leaders at Jerusalem that the Pharisee group of Christians would listen to. He then points out that what has been happening really confirms what the prophets had said.
The prophecy that he refers to, from Amos, is God's intention to rebuild the house of David. The glory of David's family name had been largely lost after Rehoboam had caused the kingdom to be split. Yet God had promised “I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Sam 7:13 ). Through Amos came God's intention to raise again the glory of the man after God's own heart. This was fulfilled in His own Son, Jesus, constantly referred to as the son of David. The prophecy had also indicated that this would affect all nations, i.e. Gentiles as well as Jews.
So, says James, it seems right that God is accepting Gentiles by faith alone. But, he adds, we would ask that the new Gentile believers respect the constraints their Jewish brothers have and avoid things verging towards idolatry, sexual immorality or from things that we believe are contrary to God's teaching.
1. Jesus is the new man after God's own heart.
2. God's heart of for all peoples, not just one people grouping.
A. Find Out:
1. Who were to return to Antioch & with what purpose? v.22,27
2. How did the letter describe what had happened? v.24
3. How did the letter describe Barnabus and Paul? v.25,26
4. What did they do in Antioch ? v.30,31
5. What did Judas & Silas do? v.32-34
6. What did Paul & Barnabus do? v.35
The leaders of the Jerusalem church show real commitment to their brothers at Antioch . They don't merely send the letter back with Paul and Barnabus, they send two of their leading prophetic men to deliver the letter and confirm its contents and then bless and encourage the church at Antioch. Remember this wasn't a quick car journey, this was a walk of over 300 miles, just to ensure the church at Antioch was brought to a place of peace over the issues raised.
As the letter indicated, the problems had arisen because Pharisee-Christians from Jerusalem had gone without authority and upset the Antioch church. This was now the Jerusalem church's way of making amends. When they arrived at Antioch the men called the whole church together and formally delivered the letter to them and it was read. There was no room left for possible misunderstanding.
After this Judas, at least, returned to Jerusalem (see the note in your Bible for v.34, that Silas decided to stay - this would account for how he ended up going on Paul's next journey - see the next in this series of studies). The church at Antioch is thus left at peace, knowing that they have a genuine salvation by faith alone.
1. When we are the cause of upset, directly or indirectly, we should do all
we can to re-establish peace.
2. Salvation is by faith alone.
In this last group of 4 studies we have seen :
This chapter is a pivotal point in the history of the early church. There is a sense where it breaks the church free from the Mosaic Law, allowing salvation to be by faith alone, and not by having to conform to certain rules first.
For all Christians this is vitally important. We are not saved and accepted by God because we do good things, but because we believe in Jesus' work on the Cross and his lordship over our lives as a result. After that comes the life change enabled by the Spirit of God who is imparted on believing. Works then come out of this life change.
1. When there is a dispute over doctrine refer it to leaders
2. God's heart is for all people groups
3. Salvation comes through faith in Christ
4. Salvation is not earned by doing good things
5. Good things flow after salvation comes
6. It is important to communicate truth well
7. When upset is caused, it is important to bring peace.
Thank the Lord for the wonder of your salvation, that relies entirely on what Jesus has done for you and not on what you can achieve.
Ask the Lord to let the wonder of this touch you afresh that His love in you may be released afresh and that out of that may come the motivation to serve Him.
SECTION SUMMARY - Acts 9 to 15
This part of the history of the Church shown in Acts falls into the following phases:
1. Saul Established (Ch.9)
2. Peter goes to the Gentiles (Ch.10)
3. Interlude (Ch.11 & 12)
4. Paul's First Missionary Journey (Ch.13 & 14)
5. Deciding Doctrine in Jerusalem (Ch.15)
As we conclude our studies in this part of Acts we should perhaps note the following things:
1. The Presence of God
Again and again in the history of the early church, it is God breaking through who brings change to circumstances. Paul being saved was a sovereign act of God. The Spirit falling on the Gentiles in Cornelius's home was a sovereign act of God. Healings at the hands of Peter were acts of God. Peter being released from prison was an act of God. Paul & Barnabus being sent out was an act of God. The signs and wonders done through their ministry were acts of God. Thousands of people being born again and the church being formed was an act of God. This book is all about the “Acts of God”. Is it so in the church today? Can we say that we can clearly see things happening today because it is the Lord moving?
2. Responding Disciples
The other side of the coin is the response of Jesus' followers. Saul encounters God alone but it is through Ananias' obedience that the Lord commissions him. Cornelius & Peter have visions and respond, and as a result the Spirit is poured out on Gentiles. The Spirit tells Paul & Barnabus to go, but it is their obedience that opens the way for the church to be expanded across Asia Minor .
The point to be made is simply that the Lord looks for those who will respond to His leading. Amazing things happened because these people responded to God's leading. Are we today a people who respond to the Lord's leading so that He can continue to move through us? Do we need to recommit ourselves to this obedience?
3. A Triumphant Partnership
Yes, the book of Acts is a record of the partnership between God and man. The Lord leading, men responding, and God blessing. Opposition came, the enemy sought to counter-attack, but the partnership won through and the church expanded. Again and again there were setbacks but the grace, wisdom and power of God through His men kept the church expanding. Will it be so today - through us? Do we need to recommit ourselves to this sort of growth?