B - The Apostolic Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35)
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers. 23 They wrote these things by their hand: “The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell.”
It is usual that a brief summary of the proceedings of a meeting be issued, and signed by members who attended. What, then, was the content of the minutes of this first Council of the Christian church at Jerusalem?
It mentioned the sending body, which was made up not only of the apostles, but also of elders. They were not the only responsible party, for the whole church, as the body of Christ and an indivisible union, is ultimately responsible. Any decision that was not approved by them all would cause continuous disturbance, trouble, and problems.
It mentioned the addressees of the report, not only church members at the capital city of Antioch, but also members of small churches adjacent to and around Antioch. It included, as well, all the churches of Syria along with the districts of Iskenderun and Adana. The church members at Jerusalem called the children of these churches “brothers”. This title indicates equality in right and communion in the kingdom of their heavenly Father. With this one word the main difference was removed, and the problem alleviated. The believers of Jewish origin considered the believers of the Gentiles to be true brothers.
The essence of the letter centered upon the peace and joy that flows from the salvation of Christ. Three significant thoughts are included in this one Greek word, which the brothers at Jerusalem used to greet their brothers in Christ far off. The subject of our preaching is peace, joy and pleasure, and not law, repentance, and rebuke. We are servants of your joy, bringing to you the fullness of salvation in Christ.
It appeared from the report that the preachers of the law who had gone to the Antioch Church had not been sent from Jerusalem, and had not received an order in this matter. They had gone in their own name to spread their own personal opinions. The church felt sorry for these brothers whom these legalists had caused trouble and division. We do not read of it in the minutes, but Paul, in afterwards writing about them, said they were false brothers (Galatians 2:4). We only read that they had not been delegated to preach their message by the apostles at Jerusalem, nor did the first Council at Jerusalem agree with or consent to their divisive work.
The wonder of wonders is that the synod did not compose a doctrinal letter or give detailed instructions. Instead, they unanimously agreed on choosing two prudent men to send to explain the advisory opinion. Written words alone were not sufficient, but needed the support of the word of God, embodied in His servants. Thus the synod at Jerusalem sent, along with the new directives, their interpretation. They did not issue lengthy commentaries, but sent brothers who were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The two commissioned prophets of the New Testament did not go alone. They set out with Barnabas and Paul, who had received an honorable report from the Jerusalem church. The report raised them above all blame, describing them as beloved. They were worthy of this title, for the love of God had been poured out in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Love, pleasure, peace, and salvation constitute the foundation, power and principles for men of God in His churches. From these virtues the notable testimony of the two apostles ripened. They had risked their lives for Christ, for His name, and for His church. Here we read the same word that Christ spoke about himself: “I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life a ransom for many.” This is the essential fruit of the love of God. It prompts us to sacrifice ourselves for the lost, as Christ gave His life a ransom for criminal sinners. This is the deep, innermost meaning of Christianity.
Then we read a statement sufficient to surpass all imagination. The principle church members at Jerusalem wrote that the Holy Spirit and they themselves had, together, made this decision. The Holy Spirit revealed to them that the Christian Church, which is free from the law, is completely in accordance with the will of God. Church members live in accordance with the pleasure of God in this new development. In the power and guidance of God´s Spirit those who formed the decision considered themselves to have the same degree of responsibility as the Holy Spirit. They willingly bore the responsibility for this decision. A spirit of independence did not rule over them, for they were servants of the Lord and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthian 4:1).
Following, they wrote to the church members at Antioch to abstain from a mixing of religions, which was practiced when making offerings to idols. They were to keep away from every form of impurity, and also to abstain from eating things strangled and blood. By so doing they would be able to continue in fellowship with Christians of Jewish origin. This command is not related to receiving salvation, but to a continuing in the communion of the saints.
- What were the chief considerations in the decision taken by the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem?
30 So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words, and strengthened them. 33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent back with greetings from the brothers to the apostles. 34 But it seemed good to Silas to stay there. 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
The result of the journey of Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem was that the council decided to send two brothers to Antioch, together with a letter to be read by them there. Judas and Silas were prophets who taught their hearers by direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. They were filled with the same Spirit who had established full harmony between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
Joy and peace continued in the Antioch Church. Their thoughts returned to their holy duty, namely, the preaching of the gospel to the world. The devil always tries to shake churches through divisions in doctrine. He also tries to move believers away from the goal of preaching to the world. Where parties, however, submit to the drawing of the Holy Spirit they soon become united. They receive divine direction and principle, including 1) the preaching of the gospel to the nations 2) the salvation of the lost, and 3) the filling of seekers with the Holy Spirit.
The question to every church is: Do you quarrel with each other or do you work together to preach the gospel? Solve your problems quickly, for you are not called to disagreement. Your Lord called you to spread the gospel of salvation in your surroundings. Do you want to interrupt the progression of Christ’s triumphal procession because of your stubbornness and pride?
PRAYER: O Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us our every delay in preaching. Forgive us for our insufficient prudence in solving problems in our churches. Help us not to condone our pride and stubbornness, and not to seek our own dignity, but together spread the gospel of Your kingdom. Glorify Your name, and call upon Your triumph, that many may be saved in our surroundings.