It Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

Did you catch the following statement in the Jerusalem letter: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden…” Wait! What? When did the Holy Spirit say anything about this issue? I’ve read the whole chapter again and again. I don’t see any intervention or revelation from the Holy Spirit. There is no parting of the clouds. There is no descent of a dove. There is no voice from the heavens. How can they claim this seemed good to the Holy Spirit? Because they were relying on the Spirit’s prior revelation and teaching. The Spirit had directly stated as much back in Amos 9:11-12 (the passage James quoted), the Spirit had given good examples of this by signing off on the work of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, the Spirit had most definitely implied Gentiles could be water baptized for the remission of their sins when the Spirit Himself baptized them. There was no new revelation. The whole decision was based on interpreting the past work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, this was still the decision of the Holy Spirit. Keep that in mind today. When we do things based on what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the Word of God, it is still the Holy Spirit doing it. Further, we can be assured the Spirit agrees with us everywhere we base our decisions on the revelation of Scripture.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 15.

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No Greater Burden

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

James recommended and the congregation wrote in its letter to the Gentile congregations impacted by the men who had gone out from Jerusalem, that they would lay no greater burden on the Gentiles than to abstain from 1) what has been sacrificed to idols, 2) blood, 3) what has been strangled, 4) sexual immorality. Does James mean Gentile Christians can steal? Can we murder? Not at all. On a general level, the point is that just because the Gentiles are not amenable to the Law, doesn’t mean every legal stipulation of the Law has been abrogated by the gospel. In specific, James is addressing the major baggage the Gentile of his day had to face. No, they didn’t have to surrender to the Law, but they weren’t allowed to hang out in idolatry. They needed to flee it. They needed to get away from idolatry and abandon all its accoutrements. As we have seen on multiple occasions, converts often want to bring their baggage in with them. We need to drop our baggage at the door. Be devoted to Jesus. Get rid of everything else.

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

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Cleansed by Faith; Saved by Grace

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

The circumcision party was saying, “The Gentiles should be saved the same way we are, by keeping the law.” Peter responds, “Not at all. Rather, we are saved the same way they are, by grace through faith.” And once again we see that Peter’s gospel is exactly the same as Paul’s. This is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10. There is no Petrine Christianity versus Pauline Christianity. There is simply Christianity. Christians are those who believe Jesus (keep in mind everything we have already learned in prior readings about what is entailed by belief). Because they believe in Jesus, they gain access to the saving grace. Whether we are raised as Jews or Gentiles we all have this exact same offer. God wants to give us salvation. Will we believe Him? Will we believe Him enough to follow Him?

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 15.

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The First Church Council?

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

We’ve all read it. There is a big debate in Jerusalem. By the time it is done, they all agree that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised. A letter is written to explain the decision and sent out to all the churches. And there you have it. The very first church council. It was the very first meeting of church representatives under the auspices of the mother church debating, figuring out, and voting to determine church doctrine and practice. Or is it? Go back and read it again. Is that really what happened here? Not at all. Paul and Barnabas do not go to Jerusalem to find out what to teach about circumcision or to help decide what to teach about it. They go to Jerusalem because folks from that congregation had come to Antioch (and gone to other Gentile congregations) teaching what they both knew to be false doctrine. They went to Jerusalem to find out why folks were coming from that congregation teaching this error. It led to a public discussion and debate that included the apostles, elders, and maybe even the entire congregation. However, they weren’t debating in order to decide what they were going to teach, they were debating to uncover what the Holy Spirit had already revealed on the matter. This is no church council and this is no creed book. This is what happens when one church’s members start impacting another’s with error. They get together and talk about it. Praise God in this case everyone was willing to submit to truth. If only that would happen every time we have these kind of disagreements.

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

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Perspective Matters

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

In yesterday’s post, we talked about all the hardships Paul and Barnabas went through on this missionary journey. Today, notice the report they gave about it. “When they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” The report wasn’t about all the Jews had done to them. It wasn’t about all the pain they had experienced. It wasn’t about all the suffering they went through. It wasn’t about all the rejection they faced. It was about the miracles and the acceptance of so many Gentiles. I don’t want to blow PMA smoke as if the key to success in any endeavor is simply to maintain a positive mental attitude. However, I think it is important to recognize when it comes to conviction, faithfulness, perseverance in the face of opposition and persecution, perspective matters. If we focus on the rejections and hardships, we’re going to give up. When we focus on the working of God and the doorway of faith that folks are actually walking through, we’ll stick with it. Paul had a persevering perspective. I want to develop one too. How about you?

Next week’s reading is Acts 15.

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Persecution Grows

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

In Pisidian Antioch, persecution started. Paul and Barnabas were driven out of town. They moved on. In Iconium, an attempt was made by the city residents and the city rulers to mistreat Paul and Barnabas and to even stone them. The men fled to Lystra and Derbe. In Lystra, the stoning actually happened. What do we see? The persecution Paul and Barnabas are facing is growing. It is getting a little worse each stop of the way. However, after this stoning, Paul gets up and goes back into town. Then, the next day, he decides to keep preaching at the next town. Wow! That is conviction. That is perseverance. Additionally, when they finish preaching in Derbe, they could just travel in a circle, keep heading east across land, and get back to Syrian Antioch that way. Instead, they travel back through each of the towns that had persecuted them. Talk about gluttons for punishment. On the way, they encouraged the congregations and even appointed elders in each one. That’s amazing all on its own. While checking back in with each new group of disciples, Paul preached on all the persecution they had endured. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” They were learning the hard lessons early. Kingdom life isn’t all rainbows and moonbeams. There will be tribulation, hardship, and persecution. But don’t let it get you down. That is the path to the Kingdom. Hang on. The Kingdom is worth it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 14.

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“We Also Are Men”

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

If a person was simply out to gain followers, influence, money, praise, glory, when people started treating him as a god, you’d expect him to revel in it. You’d expect him to stick around there and get as much out of it as possible. You wouldn’t expect him to shut it down as quickly as possible. Yet, some people try to claim Paul was basically like modern televangelists. He was faking and making the whole of Christianity up. However, look how he behaves when he is offered everything a faker would want. In Lystra, after healing a man lame from birth, the people believe he and Barnabas are the gods Hermes and Zeus. But the two men go out of their way to put an end to that. Why? Because they aren’t faking. They really believe. They are really working from God. They aren’t just trying to trick the people. It’s another one of those events that reminds us to ask, “If Christianity didn’t grow up just the way Luke says, how did it happen?” If we can’t come up with a feasible way to explain all these events through natural means, then we are left with the only testimony that makes sense, the Bible record.

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

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