A Dissension: How Might a Sinner Be Saved? (Acts 15-16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15-16

In our previous devotional (James 1-5), I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle that bears his name. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). James will reappear in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the assembly in Jerusalem.

Today’s Scripture reading is a record of growth pangs in the first century church as the membership expanded from predominantly men of a Jewish ancestry, to a body of disciples that included Gentiles (15:1-3). There were some believers who had been saved out of the Pharisaical teachings of Judaism, and they insisted that if Gentile believers were not circumcised, they could not be saved (15:1).

After Paul and Barnabas faced a major insurrection in the assembly in Antioch over the subject of circumcision, it was determined that they, along with other men, should “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about [the] question” (15:2). The same debate soon raged in Jerusalem as believers “of the sect of the Pharisees” maintained that Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved and commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The apostles and elders, had soon after gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision erupted (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon (15:7b) when Cornelius, a Roman centurion had heard the Gospel, believed, and God gave him and believers of his household the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:1-48).

Peter observed how God had “put no difference” between the men of Jewish ancestry, and those who were Gentile. All sinners come to salvation by faith (15:9).  Peter declared, whether Jew or Gentile, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (15:11). The people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how God had validated their preaching and teaching by “miracles and wonders” that only the LORD could have produced (15:12).

James, whom I believe was the senior pastor\elder of the Jerusalem congregation (Galatians 1:19), after hearing Paul and Barnabas’ report, was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He counseled the leaders of the church to accept the doctrine of salvation by grace though faith alone, and not overburden Gentile believers with instructions that were not required for salvation (15:19-21).

There was a consensus to accept James’ summary, and to send two men of the Jerusalem congregation with a letter of exhortation (15:20, 22-23). The letter urged Gentile believers to: “Abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye do well” (15:29).

I close inviting you to consider four effects of the letter to the Antioch congregation:

There was rejoicing (15:31), exhortation and affirmation (15:32), Silas remained in Antioch and would become a missionary peer of Paul’s (15:34), and “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord” increased as “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

What a wonderful conclusion! From dissension to rejoicing; however, a controversy was about to separate Paul and Barnabas (15:36-41). I will leave that subject for another time, and another year.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith