As long as you are trying to advance forward those who are not will try to keep you back. To advance means progress; development, improvement. Each generation is called by God to build on the previous generation, the problem that creates is the former often gets offended at the latter because of the changes made that seem to negate the work they established. Each level of a building goes higher and so instead of becoming jealous or offended, we should celebrate what the next generation is doing. They also must build with appreciation and respect because what they are doing wouldn't be possible if the previous generation didn't do their part. In order to advance generations must work through conflict or the restoration work of the Kingdom will be halted.
The theme of Acts 15 is conflict resolution. The issues between the Jewish and Gentile believers come to a head. We are going to see group conflict resolution and individual resolution. We will see that sometimes issues are resolved other times some people's personality differences are just too sharp and that it is best they move forward apart.
We have been seeing a pattern that when Paul would finish preaching and establishing the church in a territory that certain Jewish leaders would come and add that they must also follow the Jewish customs and laws. While back at their home base in Antioch some men from Judea came and taught that you must be circumcised to be saved. This is work based theology the opposite of what Paul had been teaching regarding being saved by grace. This is why Paul wrote the book of Galatians to refute this false teaching. Here it says Paul and Barnabus got in a serious argument and it was arranged for them to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to settle this debate.
We see that the council at Jerusalem were the ones allowing these leaders to follow the work of Paul in these foreign territories, so they themselves were not in agreement with what Paul had been teaching. Initially, it says they were welcomed by the church when they arrived in Jerusalem but some from the party of the Pharisees said, "it is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!" So, they were now accepting Christianity, they probably had no choice since it had grown numerically, and they feared to lose their jobs. Yet, they were only going to go so far! The sacrifices they had made in obedience to their traditions must be followed by all who call on the name of God or they would oppose them.
Pride, blinds! People cannot hear the truth when it contradicts what they are proud of. People will accept Christ as Savior but not make Him Lord if it means rejecting cultural and religious traditions. If Jesus is Lord then everything must be brought to His feet in surrender. We must follow Him in all of His ways. Not that all we do is completely wrong but we must be willing to make necessary adjustments. All work oriented religious traditions must be nailed to the cross. Our standard must be the Word of God, not the traditions that have passed down to us. Some traditions God has allowed for a season but in the process of advancement, He will eventually say "let it go!"
The Jerusalem Council began and after much debate, Peter stood up and defended the work done amongst the Gentiles. Peter was called to the Jews and had wrestled previously with the idea of Gentile conversion. God had intervened through giving Peter a vision and having him witness Cornelius and his household baptized of the Holy Spirit. He was the most highly respected of the Apostles and so was key to favorable development of Jews towards Gentiles. Peter silenced the group and now they gave their ears to Paul and Barnabus as they shared the testimonies of their first missionary journey to Galatia. He spoke of the promise from Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 of the promise that God made that Gentiles will seek the Lord. He wisely mixed experience with scripture to verify that God was the one working through Him.
The best method of conflict resolution when differences arise regarding church practices is does it line up with scripture? It is sad that the church is so divided about issues that are scripturally based. We should be in agreement regarding the things of the world not being practiced in the church but sadly most disagreements come from how we interpret scripture, such as with grace and the law.
The Apostles and elders that were so divided suddenly through the hand of God became united and they decided that the only requirements for Gentiles would be that they did not eat meat offered to idols and abstained from sexual immoralities. The hundreds of Jewish laws were brought down to two. These two were what was highlighted because of the pagan idolatrous practices that would be offensive to God who is a jealous God and hates idolatry.
The focus for Gentiles would not be what not to do but what Christ has done. The complexity of the law was not required they could now just enjoy the simplicity of relationship with Jesus who through faith in Him changes us supernaturally from the inside out.
The apostles and elders then selected leaders to accompany Paul and Barnabus to support the work they were doing and witness it firsthand. Letters were written by the council to take with them to have read at the Gentile churches of what they established so that the people would no longer be deceived. As the churches received this message they rejoiced of the freedom they could now enjoy.
The chapter ends with additional conflict that we will deal with in the next devotion.
AGREE TO DISAGREE (ACTS 15:36-41)
It is hard not to give favor to our family! Leaders should not place a family member in an area of service if they are not qualified, called, or ready! Emotions are often what gets in the way, we feel obligated to involve family members in what we do simply because we feel they or others expect it. Jesus is the head of the church we need Him to tell us who serves where and when. In the Kingdom of God, none of us are in charge, no matter what title or position we hold, we are just the vessels, the Holy Spirit is the one to lead and guide us what to do.
Paul and Barnabus who were standing with each other in dealing with circumcision at the beginning of this chapter are now in conflict with each other at the end of it regarding John Mark. Remember that Mark left Paul and Barnabus during their first missionary journey and now Barnabus wants to take him again on this second journey but Paul is not having it which causes a dispute.
Why did John Mark leave? It is not clear, but it happened right after a major spiritual battle on the island of Cyprus with Bar-Jesus the false prophet. It is also was made clear that Mark was just the assistant, meaning he wasn't ready to lead, which was made clear by his sudden departure.
Not everyone is ready for cross-cultural missions, there is high-level warfare involved that if one is not prepared can lead to major physical, emotional, or psychological downfalls. There is also a grace to adjust to cultures so as not to offend people so that they are open to hearing the gospel message.
Paul does not believe Mark is yet ready so Barnabus who is his cousin sharply disagrees to the point that they go there separate ways. Barnabus takes Mark to Cyprus while Paul chooses Silas and travels to Syria and Cilicia where both groups go and strengthen the churches.
Here is a situation where the conflict resolution is they agreed to disagree. It did not end well, they could not find common ground. The difference between them was most likely personality more than anything else. The name Barnabus means encourager and that is how he was known. Encouragers think about the feelings of people more than the task, this can be good but it can also turn bad if the task is not considered as well. Balance is the key! Barnabus and Mark could have helped each other's extremes but in this case, their personal differences got in the way. Paul was a task-oriented leader, he was mission first, people second. He did not care about Mark or Barnabus feelings he was focused on just going forth and strengthening the churches and was not going to let them get in his way.
This level of conflict often sidelines leaders but Paul and Barnabus had the maturity to continue on with the mission of God. They were true players, not fans. Mature players, try their best to get along with their team but if there is an issue that is not yet resolved they are not going to let it get in the way and cause their team to fall.
We see later on Paul has a different opinion of Mark, he in prison tells Timothy to go get him for he is a great help for him in ministry. Mark also writes the gospel of Mark which focused on the power ministry of Jesus. It emphasized healing, deliverance, and spiritual warfare. So Mark does grow and develop and becomes a champion of faith.
Paul on this occasion chose Silas who was a prophet and they made a great team, as the gift of apostle and prophet work great alongside each other. Apostles are so mission focused that they may miss God's timing. Prophets are so focused on God's timing that they don't always know what to do in between. The bible says the foundation of God was built on the prophets and the apostles. The Old Testament prophets prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah while the New Testament apostles prepared the church for answering the call of the great commission. Together the timing of God and the proper application is rightfully known.