Bible Study is written by Roger Christopherson, and it's
Acts of the Apostles
"Paul's Ministry, Dissension Within, Dissension About Circumcision."
In this fifteenth chapter of Acts about six years have passed since the return of Paul and Barnabas from their first missionary journey. During that six years there has been a great dissension and argueing over these Gentiles within the church. The confusion was over what these Gentiles should believe, and do with respect to the "law of Moses".
Before the Gentiles came into the church, there was a stopping point for the Gentiles on entering the Church, and that was called Solomon's porch. The Gentiles could not go beyond that point physically, and certain teachings given within the Church could not be brought out to Solomon's porch. However, now the Gentiles are allowed to be brought into that Church body, and taught all the parts of the Chruch, and become joined with that Church body as one in Jesus Christ.
You still had some old men of the Church, that just would not let go of the old ways, and when you hand on to the old ways, it is like saying that Christ was not crucified. You are then calling those great old Psalms, and prophecies of Isaiah and Zachariah telling of His coming and crucifixion, and describing how a seed would bring that truth generation after generation. To hand onto the old way, was to say that that never happened. So we see the conflict that can build, when some believers wanted to stand firm in the old ways.
So this chapter deals with who you are to handle disputes within your group, when there is a difference of opinion and the matters concerning the Scriptures.
Acts 15:1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."
Here we see it translated as the country, rather then use the term, "Jews". This mixing of words has caused much trouble for the tribe of Judah, for the Kenites had mixed into, and took the major roles in the priestly, as well as the scribes duties. The Kenites, the sons of Cain, not of Judah, took over the role of keeping the records, and translation of Scriptures hundreds of years prior, back in captivity in Babylon. This is recorded in I Chronicles 2:55;
I Chronicles 2:55 "And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez [Jerusalem in its fallen state], the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and Suchathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hemath, the father of the house of Rechab."
So we see in the past six years some new authorities have crept in, and are starting to mix the old traditions with the new gospel of salvation. God told the Apostle John to write in John 3:16; For God so loved the World [people in that world] that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believed on His name should not perish, but shall have everlasting life. So how can we say that a believer with much faith, and though he be uncircumcised, he cannot be saved? Friend this is what is called traditions of men.
When the Kenites took over the priesthood, as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the course of four hundered years changed the law of Moses to their own traditions. By the time Jesus Christ was born to the virgin Mary, this same Kenite priesthood had so changed that they were the ones that plotted to kill the Jesus when He showed the people that what they were taught as the Laws of Moses, were nothing but man's traditions.
Traditions of men are a very dangerous thing, In the time of Jesus it was the Kenite traditions over-riding the laws of Moses, and now in the new established church, it is the old law that these men don't want to part with.
Acts 15:2 "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."
These men from Judaea that had come to Antioch and started this confusion and dissension within the Church. It now had been allowed this disputing to grow to the point were something had to be done. They were not willing to accept Paul and Barnabas' decision, but they wanted them to go to Jerusalem, and get the opinion of the apostles that were there. Be aware of those apostles that are within your group that are true apostles and prepare yourself to tell the difference from those that are false apostles.
Acts 15:3 "And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they cause great joy unto all the brethren."
Each Church that Paul and Barnabas entered on their journey to Jerusalem they gave the good news of the conversion of the Gentiles, and that news was received with great joy. Salvation had been opened to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:4 "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them."
Watch carefully now.
Acts 15:5 "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
These Pharisees claim here that they believe in Jesus Christ, they claim to be believers. Beware my friend, just because someone claims to be a believer, does not make it a fact. When we are children of God, and in His Word, we should be able to tell the true Christians from the fakes. That ability to tell the difference between good and evil is called discernment.
Talking about these same Pharisee characters, and understanding how their mind thinks, Paul writes of them in Galations 2:2-5; "And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run in vain."
Paul went up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and tell them what they had been teaching, to make sure that all this teaching was not in vain.
Galatians 2:3 "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:"
Galatians 2:4 "And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:" Do you understand what has happened here?
False brethren, spies, are brought in by these Pharisees, to follow Paul and Titus into the john to spy out whether they had been circumcised. As if that had anything to do with believeing on the Lord Jesus Christ. However it shows how their minds work. The Word of Christ sets you free from this nonsense, and these Jews that called themselves believers wanted to set you right back into bonds that you just came out of.
Galations 2:5 "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might contiune with you."
Would Paul go along with these false brethren condemning this fellow brother in Christ? Not for one hour, not for one minute, and neither will you when you know the truths of God's Word.
What is the situation here? As we know from from many parts of the Scripture, the blood of the Lamb, which is Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross was for once and all time. That sacrifice of Christ' fulfills the blood ordinance, and after that fact, Hebrews 10 documents that the covenant was no longer by blood, for the precious blood of Christ had already been shed. Therefore a student of God's Word must know the difference between Statutes, the Law, and Ordinances.
For all blood ordinances were to no avail, and the act of circumcision is the letting of blood, and a blood ordinance. Friend, it no longer applied in the saving of ones soul. However it is done even today for health reasons, but as far as being a requirement for the entering into the kingdom of God, it is not there, it was fulfilled when Christ went to the cross.
God did order circumcision from the time of Abraham, when he made the covenant with Him, because the blood of Christ had not yet been shed. However when the true Son of God would shed His blood, God would accept that as the only blood required for the remission of all sins that would be repented in the name of Jesus. So we see that the Father has done away with all blood ordinances, and these Pharisees just don't know what they are talking about.
False brethern like to cause problems within the Church. They do it by proclaiming their own authority, for God's Word does not give them what ever authority they happen to say they have. Though they claim to be believers, they are false believers.
Acts 15:6 "And the apostles and elders came together for to conside of this matter."
Acts 15:7 "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, "Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe."
Peter is refering to Cornelius, and that vision of the sheet of polluted animals that had been lowered from heaven. Peter saw that this had nothing to do with eating and unclean animals, but was an analogy to show Peter that you should call no man unclean [Gentiles], and God marched Peter to Cornelius' house whereby Cornelius and his entire household were saved, and received the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15:8 "And God, Which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us;"
They receved the Holy Spirit exactly as the Apostles did on Pentecost Day, back in Acts 2:6. They spoke clearly in every tongue, or language and dialect that was common to the hearer. There was no confusion in that tongue. This was given whereby the Word could be heard and understood.
Acts 15:9 "And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith."
There is a qualifing factor here, and don't over-simplify God's Word. God pays no difference as far as salvation is concerned, whether a person can be saved or not saved, but the thing that must be present before salvation can take palce is "purifying their hearts by faith". If a person doesn't have faith in the Work of Christ on the cross, it just doesn't matter what they say, they are not saved, and when a person does have faith in the finished work of Christ, and repents of his sins, then he is saved. Faith is what determines whether you are a believer or a non-believer.
Faith is the ingredient that brings God's love and protection into the heart of a family and community, and each believer. It brings the love of God on all that will believe, regardless of what nation you came from. Then God sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within them and give them His protection.
Does this make a difference in the commandments that were given to true Israel? None whatsoever. The subject in Acts 15 is "salvation", and not duties and obligations given in God's Word. Though the blood ordinances are done away with, there are many things within the law that do not pertain to blood ordinances. It is our obligation to learn the difference between the Ordinances, Laws and Statutes.
Acts 15:10 "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
The yoke that these Kenites would like to put around our necks, is the law itself. We are all sinners that came under the shed blood of Christ the same way, by repentance of those sins in the name of Jesus christ, and by each of individually having the faith to believe on Jesus. We all fall short, and the law itself proved that there is on man or woman that can live in perfection under that law. "Why tempt ye God", and say that these men must still be under the law, when Christ's blood has been shed.
Acts 15:11 "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as then."
In the matter of Salvation, God makes absolutely no difference, other then faith, and believing, which must come before the faith. Why would you have any faith in anyone that you don't believe in? Why would you even give a second thought to salvation, if you didn't believe that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God? It just wouldn't matter to you.
Acts 15:12 "Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them."
As Paul and Barnabas told of this crippled man that was lame from birth, and when the Holy Spirit had healed him, he leaped and jumped all around, with joy. Paul spoke of how the great commission was given by the Holy Spirit in the thriteen Chapter of Acts, that they go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:13 "And after they had held their peace, James answered saying, "Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
This James is the half brother to Jesus, the son of Mary. It is interesting to hear from this James, for he grew up in the family of Jesus Christ. If you want to know more of the special life of Christ, study James.
Acts 15:14 "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name."
"Simeon" is the word of Simon in the Hebrew. James is addressing his comments about Simon Peter, and reminding them how he was brought to preach to the Gentiles [Cornelius and his household]. Peter preached and all that were there were saved, and became Christians [people for his name].
Acts 15:15 "And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,"
The prophets declared this hundreds of years prior.
Acts 15:16 " `After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:"
James is quoting from Amos 9:11, 12; "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:"
Amos 9:12 "That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by My name, saith the Lord That doeth this."
That remnant of Edom, and all the heathen nations which will be called out, are being called out today. They are taking a new name, and that name is Christian, after "My Name, saith the Lord that doeth this." God is using men and women to preach and teach to Gentiles, and when they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit talking to them, they believe.
God tells us in Amos 9:9; "For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." It doesn't matter where these people of the house of Israel are, or even those to be grafted in, God knows where each of them are, and he will sift all nations to find his own, those that will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and by faith repent of their sins and follow His ways, shall find salvation.
Acts 15:17 "That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom My name is called,' saith the Lord, `Who doeth all these things.' "
It is the wish of the Lord that not only the men of Israel, and Adomites take His name, but people of all races and nations will come to seek after the Lord. Those that call on the name of the Lord, call on Jesus' name, and they are the ones that shall be saved. James is quoting again here from the Old Testament, back in Amos 9:12.
Acts 15:18 "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world."
God knew exactly what would transpire through this entire world age. God knew that Adam and Eve would fall; He knew the flood that would be required because of the fallen angels; and He knew the affect that Satan's children would have on this world age. He even knew to the point that it would be these sons of Cain that would be murdering His only begotten Son. That is why His works included the crucifixion of His only begotten Son. This would be the way back to Him that He would provided so you and I could call upon His name. There are no accidents with God. When you see the light of His Word, it is because the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes and ears to allow you to hear with understanding so you might be saved.
God knew that all flesh is week and would fall short of His law. God knew from the beginning how the plan of salvation would come to pass. It was not a accident. All souls were created by God, even Satan and his fallen angels are created beings, However it would be all those souls that are in the flesh would have the opportunity to receive salvation.
Acts 15:19 "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:"
James is saying that these Gentiles that receive the salvation of Jesus Christ need not be circumcised as the Israelites are, and be brought under the blood covenants. Remember the entire arguement in the Church was about the law, and how that law applied to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:20 "But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things, strangled, and from blood."
James is setting the guidelines for the Gentiles, that they do not mix with the heathen ways any longer. The things strangled and from blood, has to do with the health laws. Basically to break a health law is not a sin unto death, but it is a sin against the flesh; and it brings about sickness. These are the things that should be taught the Gentiles, for their own good. When you strangle an animal, the blood stays stagnant within the body, and this is why you must bleed an animal that is killed for food. Blood carried in the meat will pollute.
Acts 15:21 "For Moses of old times hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."
Acts 15:22 "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren;"
So we see that there was an agreement within the apostles and elders of the church that they would not bind the Gentile converts to the strict laws that bound Israel. They would have these apostles teach the Gentiles to stay away from the heathen religious practices, and spiritual fornications, and teach them to practice the health laws given to Moses for their own physical health. The health laws, it was agreed upon, was not necessary for salvation, and it would be placing an unnecessary yoke on the Gentile converts to bind them to the laws of Israel.
Acts 15:23 "And they wrote letters by them after this manner; "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:"
So this formal letter went out from the church at Jerusalem, to not only Antioch, but all the churches. This letter is addressed to the Gentile Christians.
Acts 15:24 "Forasmuch as we have heard that certain which went out from us have troubled you with works, subverting your souls, saying, `Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:' to whom we have no such commandment:"
This church at Jerusalem is telling each and every Christian in all these churches, and for generations to come, that anyone that comes among you teaching such things did not come from them. There is no binding of any of the blood ordinances, including circumcision that binds any Gentile to follow. Those men that are telling you to do such things are "those that crept in unawares". Friends, they are Kenites.
We have those with us today that form churches, and they bring in their little traditions which are to bring in unbelievers and give them something new. They keep adding on to what the Scriptures say, to the point that you don't know what is added on, and what the Word teaches. Anyone with just plain common sense can see that this just isn't right. It is things like this that drive dear souls that are seeking after the Lord, away from the church. The sad part of this whole thing, is that most of those preaching and teaching that nonsense actually believe that their traditions are biblical.
Acts 15:25 "It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,"
James is telling them that all of the men in the Jerusalem Church are of one mind in their letter, and we have chosen our beloved brothers Barnabas and Paul to bring this letter to you. Being an Apostle in the age of this writing was very dangerous. We know from history that all of the Apostles but John were killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Acts 15:26 "Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Acts 15:27 "We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth."
As far as the written letter is concerned, we are going to send Judas and Silas to tell you this by mouth, orally. You know that what they would say in person would be exactly what was written, because they were all of one accord.
Acts 15:28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;"
It was by the leading of the Holy Spirit that brought all these men to the same agreement, that no letter of the law be placed upon them. But only their belief, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring about salvation.
Acts 15:29 "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
It states that you are to abstain from meats offered to idols, but Paul says only if there are weak Christians around. We do this so that we don't cause our brother or sister in the Lord to fall. The rest of the abstaining has to do with the health laws, and they are important to the physical health of the individual.
You know that if any food that is given to be taken is offered to an idol, and there is no weak Christian around that would be offended, then that food is to be enjoyed with a clear conscience.
"Fare ye well", is the close to the letter.
Acts 15:30 "So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:"
Paul and Barnabas delievered the letter from the Jerusalem Church, which they were sent to get from the church at Antioch.
Acts 15:31 "Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation."
The members of the Church at Antioch rejoice over the letter from Jerusalem. The things that many were saying and fighting over, could now have an absolute ruling for their conduct.
Acts 15:32 "And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them."
Judas and Silas confirmed what the letter stated orally, so there could be no confusion over what had to be done, and what was unnecessary. They went into detail answering questions, and clarifing each point that the Gentile Christians had.
Acts 15:33 "And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles."
Judas and Silas had done their work, and they had done it well.
Acts 15:34 "Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still."
Remember in verse twenty eight it stated that the Holy Spirit had sent them there, and though the message was given, Silas decided to stay on awhile longer to help in the teaching. No doubt it was the Holy Spirit that cause Silas to stay.
Acts 15:35 "Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also."
Remember what was said at the beginning of this chapter, that there was great dissension within the church. This dissension has now been taken care of, and those Gentile Christians now are aware of what they should eat, and what was and was not to be followed from the Old Testament. However now there is another dissension that is forming, and it is amongst the elders of the Church. This is common in most Churches, that there will be conflicts that brew up ofver other matters not concerning the law or doctrine, but just in personalities.
This is why we must learn discernment whereby we can take care of these squabbles when they arise. The point is that there be the least damage to the innocent, which are the young Christians that have tender ears, and might be offended. The two main brothers that will dispute are Paul and Barnabas. We will see that the Holy Spirit is even in this dissension, and He will cause this split for His purposes.
Acts 15:36 "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, "Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city were we have preached the Word of the Lord, and see how they do."
This is great, they want to go back and visit every church that they started on that first Missionary journey.
Acts 15:37 "And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark."
Remember it was John Mark, the young teenager that started out on that first journey with Paul and Barnabas, and now Barnabas wants to take him along on this second journey. Mark was with them all the way from the night of the Lord's supper, and he was loyal to both them and to Jesus Christ. He was smart, and he was lead of God.
Remember it was only the two that the Holy Spirit sent in Acts 13:2, and those two were Paul and Barnabas. Then at the first port of call, Mark was homesick and returned home. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work whereunto I have called them." God called them to a certain ministry, and that ministry was now complete and over.
Now Barnabas wants to join with Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark.
Acts 15:38 "But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them for Pamphylia, and went not with them to work."
The Holy Spirit sent them out, and the Holy Spirit caused the split with Mark. And now that same Holy Spirit is causing another split between Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 15:39 "And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;"
Acts 15:40 "And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God."
We see here how the Holy Spirit has had His hand in this dissension between Paul and Barnabas, and from this split, there are two ministries being launched, instead of one. It is also interesting how Silas was led not to return to Jerusalem but to stay on, and thus came to Paul's side for this next missionary journey. These two friends had a "strong contention", and things were sharp between these two old friends. Can you see the hand of God in this contention, We now have two missionary teams of two being sent out to cover twice the area. In as much as the Holy Spirit had cause them to do this thing, both Paul and Barnabas are faithful to the calling.
So when contention comes your way, step back and pray about it, and be lead by the Holy Spirit. Many times it is God's way of leading you or others into an area that you would not have entered.
Acts 15:41 "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches."
So here we have two teams going forth to preach and teach to the Gentiles that many souls will come to salvation through Jesus Christ. We will see in the next chapter that it pays to know who you are, and that you be able to identify the different groups. It is important to know who the two different houses of Israel are, as well as to be able to identify the mind of the Kenites.
It is important because you will never understand the prophecies of God's Word if you don't, and that is one of the strong points that God makes in the next chapter. You must know who you are, for then you know what the duties are for you, and you follow His Word.
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