James called the assembly back together to hear the rest of Paul and Barnabas’ report, and to sum up what had been decided in private. The Holy Spirit led the entire council.

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.

Acts 15:12

James voiced the council’s decision based not just on the circumstantial evidence that God was accepting the Gentiles who turned to Christ in faith, but on scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit as the final authority. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” James would write in his letter to all the churches.

James quoted a prophecy from Amos declaring the Gentiles would be saved through the gospel brought to them by the Jews.

He appealed to the Hebrew Testament of the Law, though none of the burden of the law was to be put on the Gentiles, James pulled from three key areas where Moses had taught how to respond in love to a right relationship with the Lord. All were to abstain from

  1. the things polluted by idols. They had to make a clean break from idolatry.
  2. sexual immorality, but abide by God’s laws of purity.
  3. what has been strangled and from blood. The Gentiles were to do their part in meeting their Jewish brothers to keep from offending them.

James told them “You would do well” so they could celebrate the love feasts together. Eventually this last request faded away, as all Christians came to be of one mind concerning food.

If your freedom offends another Christian’s convictions, or leads them into sin, then to abstain abides by Christ’s law of love.

Not out of some legalistic attempt to gain favor with people or with God.

Anytime you or I try to relate to God through performance, we have forgotten the Gospel. But you and I are to do everything out of love, out of compassion, out of a humble desire to sacrifice our own comforts in order to build each other up. If you and I believe in Jesus Christ and love the brethren we will try not to do things that offend.

When handled in the power of the Holy Spirit, a crisis becomes an opportunity for God to glorify Himself, and for you and me to live out the gospel in surprising ways.

Paul and Barnabas’ courage to obey God and defend the truth brought great freedom and rejoicing.

  • The Gentile Christians rejoiced and were encouraged by Jerusalem’s letter. They were eager to follow through with these guidelines.
  • Judas and Silas were prophets, and God now gave them opportunity to strengthen and encourage the Gentile Christians in the faith, with good teaching.
  • Shalom was once again the keynote of the Christian community, and these Jerusalem brothers were sent off in peace by their Antioch brothers.

I think Paul and Barnabas were also greatly encouraged by the support the Jerusalem church was showing to all the Gentile believers, and in particular, the Antioch church.

After a short rest, Paul approached Barnabas to get back on the road, because that’s where Jesus had called them to serve. I’m sure what happened next caught them both off guard.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”

Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.

Acts 15:36-39

This was not about doctrine. These two men stood together in doctrine. 

This dispute was about the practical details of doing the Lord’s work, and that is an important distinction in this story. 

One of the keys to Paul was his devotion to the work: Paul felt Mark was irresponsible and lacked loyal persistence, which disqualified him from being a member of this team.  The work was going to be just as hard, maybe harder, lives were at stake, when the chips were down Paul needed to know who he could count on.

To Paul, the Lord’s work was not something you put your hand to only when you enjoy it, and you can abandon it when it gets too hard or you’re not enjoying it any more. 

Barnabas, on the other hand, was devoted to the people involved in the work. He loved to encourage the development of people’s gifts, and he didn’t mind taking risks and paying the cost of supporting someone who nobody else wanted to support. After all, Barnabas was the first to reach out to Paul soon after his conversion, and introduce him to Jesus’ disciples. Later, it was Barnabas, again, who reached out to Paul to join with him in teaching and shepherding the Antioch church.

Barnabas felt Mark had a lot of potential. He wanted Mark to have a second chance.

There was no principle of faith involved, just different temperaments having differing opinions on a particular matter. But their final decision to part ways seems to have been blessed by God:

  1. Two evangelism teams were formed, instead of one.
  2. Mark eventually became the apostle Peter’s beloved spiritual son, helping him to write his gospel and accompanying him on his missionary journeys.
  3. Paul ended up developing another young missionary, Timothy, who became a beloved spiritual son to him.
  4. Paul and Barnabas did not split the church over this, they kept their dispute between themselves. Notice the church commended Paul, and there was no distress in the church.

Sincere Christians can disagree without losing love and respect for each other

In this case, their sharp dispute revealed a deep philosophical divide over how to move forward in their mission. Should the work get the priority, or should developing the people in the work be more important?

I imagine many doctrinal disputes fall into a similar category—which aspects of the doctrine are the most important? Which apply in this particular situation? In fact, which principle or doctrine is applicable to a particular situation?

People continue to wrestle with that questions, and it seems there is more than one right answer!

[Hands | Pixabay]

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