Acts Chapter Fifteen
A Serious Question Confronts Christianity
Suggested Teaching Objectives:
1. To show that salvation is by the Grace of God through faith in Christ, plus nothing and minus nothing. Ephesians 2:8,9.
2. To show that God's plan of salvation for today is the same for both Jews and Gentiles.
3. To teach that even Old Testament Jews were not saved by law. Vs. 7-11
4. To teach that our Lord may come at any moment.
5. To teach that although there are things that are all right for us to do, yet if they may hurt the Christian walk of another we should abstain from it. Even though there are times in our life when we fail, we should keep trying to serve the Lord and we, as John Mark was, will one day be greatly used of the Lord.
Introduction: Paul and Barnabas had finished their first missionary journey and had reported back to the church at Antioch, which had sent them forth. While they abode there a serious question arose, one which has divided churches since that day. Today, God's true preachers declare that salvation is by Grace through faith, plus nothing and minus nothing. Others teach that in order to be saved, one must trust Christ and do other things such as be baptized, join a church, live up to the Ten Commandments, etc. In this chapter, we see that beginning of this issue and its resolvement by the church at Jerusalem and by the Holy Spirit.
I. The Dissenters -- Vs. 1.
Those "certain men" were probably pharisaical Jews who had been saved. Being members of the Jerusalem church, they came to Antioch and observed what was going on in the church at Antioch. They saw that Gentiles were coming in the church without being circumcised and submitting to others Jewish rites. One day they boldly asserted, "You can't be saved except ye be circumcised." This is the same as those today who say, you can't be saved except you be baptized, etc.
II. The Declaration -- Vs. 2-4
Vs. 2 -- Paul and Barnabas had a heated argument with these false teachers. Truth should never compromise with evil. The Antioch church decided to send a delegation headed by Paul and Barnabas to the church at Jerusalem to find out if the doctrine of these dissenters was the same as that being taught by the Jerusalem church.
Vs. 3-4 -- Paul and Barnabas recounted their first missionary journey accomplishments to the churches as they traveled to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem they were well received as they told of their mission tour, also. CF. Galatians 2:1-10.
III. The Discussion -- Vs. 5-18
Vs. 5-6 -- As the Antioch delegation arrived in Jerusalem, it seems that at once certain Christian Jews who formerly were Pharisees stated their intention that circumcision was necessary to salvation. Paul had heard (Galatians, Chapter 2) that they demanded that Titus, a Greek was ordered to be circumcised in order to have fellowship. But Paul would not stand for it. Paul was a fighter for truth. Galatians 2:3-5, 11:21; II Timothy 4:7.
The Antioch delegation pressed the matter to the Jerusalem church leaders and asked them, "Do you believe that what these are teaching is true?" So the Jerusalem church was called together to decide the matter.
Vs. 7-11 -- Peter is the first to give testimony in the business meeting. He did this after both sides had disputed and argued heatedly. Peter reminded them of how he had personally taken the Gospel to the Gentiles at Caesarea, and that they were saved. The Jerusalem church had accepted this. Acts 11:18. Peter reminds them of the facts that their Jewish forefathers had been unable to be saved by external rites but that they (their forefathers) and themselves were only saved by pure grace.
Vs. 12 -- Then Paul and Barnabas recounted the conversation of the Gentiles on their journey and that God had showed through miracles that His hand was upon them. Cf. Acts 13:6-11; 14:3, 8-10.
Vs. 13-15 -- James (the Lord's half-brother) it seems, is presiding over the meeting. He reminds them of Simon Peter's recounting of the Gentiles conversion at Caesarea and states that the preaching of God's prophets afore time had so agreed.
Vs. 16-18 -- We live today in an age when God is calling out a people for His name. How long this age will last we do not know. But we know the end is near at hand. When the appointed day comes and the last one is saved that will complete the family of God from this age, then Christ will return for His own. I Thessalonians 4:13-18. This is all in line with the divine purpose that lay in the will of God at the beginning of the world.
IV. The Decision -- Vs. 19-21
Vs. 19 -- James, who seems to be presiding, announces the church's decision in the matter. The Gentiles were not to have to submit to external rites for salvation. So they agreed that salvation was to all them that believe (for there is no difference between Jew and Gentile). Salvation is by faith. Romans 3:21-23.
Vs. 20-21 -- Profitable Prohibitions -- The Gentiles were asked not to eat meat that had been offered to idols. This was cheap meat (day-old) but was offensive to the Jews. I Corinthians 10:18-22, 8:1-13. Things strangled would contain blood and the eating of blood had been forbidden even before Moses. Genesis 9:4. These prohibitions are impressed upon the Gentiles as needed restraints for their own Christian living and for the sake of their influence. Yet they had nothing to do with the matter of salvation. They referred only to Christian conduct.
V. The Delegation -- Vs. 22-35
Vs. 22,23,25,27 -- A letter was sent from the church of their decision and was taken by the hands of two of their leading men, Judas and Silas.
Vs. 24 -- The letter stated that those men who had come to Antioch (Vs. 1) had not come with the Jerusalem church's approval.
Vs. 28-29 -- The church's decision was approved by God.
Vs. 30-34 -- This delegation's message was a great relief to the Christians in Antioch, for now they had assurance and confidence in their salvation through Christ.
Vs. 35 -- The doctrine of Paul and Barnabas had been vindicated and they continued there teaching and preaching.
VI. The Division -- Vs. 36-41
Vs. 36 -- Paul was concerned about the churches he had established.
Vs. 37-38 -- John Mark on their first missionary journey had deserted them and Paul did not think it was good. He probably thought Mark would quit again. But great hearted Barnabas wanted to give him another chance.
Vs. 39 -- This contention over the matter caused a break-up of a great missionary team. But Mark would prove himself and later Paul would speak well of him and he would write a gospel. cf. II Timothy 4:11.
Vs. 40 -- Paul chose Silas who had been "chief among the brethren" at Jerusalem. The Antioch church sent them out by recommendation.
Vs. 41 -- They went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches. It was the area in which Tarsus was located and perhaps these churches or some of them had been started by Paul before Barnabas had brought him to Antioch. CF 11:25,26.
Conclusion: The great question of salvation (whether or not it is solely by faith) is settled by the decision of the Church at Jerusalem. We should never let anyone teach us that baptism, good works, church membership, or any other thing is necessary along with faith. We are saved by repentance and faith alone. Acts 20-21. This decision is good to the Holy Spirit and to us. Acts 15:29.