Lesson 45 - Chapter 15:13-29

Lesson 45 - Chapter 15:13-29

Lesson for March 12, 2017

The Book of Acts

Chapter 15:13-29

“After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’
Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’ Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.’”

We now have the summary and decision of the council given by James, Christ’s half-brother. The ministry of James and others kept legalism down at a minimum for a while but eventually legalism took over the Jerusalem church and completely destroyed it. It was first set aside as a missionary base and in 70 A.D. it was completely destroyed, never to be heard of again. Legalism will destroy a church more rapidly than anything else because legalism is the #1 enemy of Bible doctrine and the grace of God. Remember that knowledge of doctrine in itself can be neutralized by failure to orient to grace. (Titus 2:11-14)

“Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.” James uses the Aramaic word for Simon (Peter), Simeon. Simon is Hebrew and Peter’s original name. He was called Simeon by James because of the Pharisees present who spoke Aramaic. The Greek word for taking is “lambano,” which means attain, catch, call, have, hold, obtain, receive, or take. Notice that God through his prophets in the Old Testament foretold that in the future Jews and Gentiles would be part of His kingdom. This particular quote from the Old Testament in Amos 9:11-12 refers to the Millennial reign of Christ. However, before this happens James pointed out that God would choose a remnant of the Gentiles to represent Him, which is the Church. So the point James was making was not to be surprised by what was happening since it will also happen in the future as prophesied by Amos.

“With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name, ’Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’ After these things is a reference to what happens after the Church Age and the Tribulation are completed. We know this because the Millennium begins immediately after the Tribulation and this is when the Temple (tabernacle of David) will be rebuilt. Jews (rest of mankind) and Gentile believers (who are called by My name) will enter into the Millennium and Jesus Christ will rule from His throne in Jerusalem. (Romans 24-25)

“who makes these things known from long ago.” A better translation is, “Known (by God) from eternity is all His works. This is the principle of omniscience plus eternity. This verse actually summarizes Isaiah 45:21, though it doesn’t quote it. God knew in eternity past that Gentiles were just as much in the plan of God as Jews. God’s plan was always known to Him. (Romans 8:29,30) The fact that the nation of Israel didn’t know the principle that all mankind can be saved does not change the fact. God is perfect, His plan is perfect and His provision under the plan is perfect. And God’s plan actually includes every human being.

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” James now gives the decision as the leader of the church at Jerusalem. The decision was that Gentile believers were not to be troubled by legalism. With that in mind James now writes a policy, and in this policy we have one of four laws used for the Christian life: a) The law of liberty—directed toward self; b) the law of love—directed toward other believers; c) The law of supreme sacrifice—directed toward God; d) the law of expediency—directed toward unbelievers. Scattered throughout the ancient world were Jews. Gentile believers were going to try to reach unbelieving Jews in various areas. But you can’t reach unbelieving Jews if you do one of the four things he is going to list from which they should abstain under the Law of Expediency.

The Law of Expediency

  1. Law of Expediency is directed towards unbelievers
    1. In witnessing - I Corinthians 9:16-23
    2. In lifestyle - I Corinthians 10:23-24
  2. Operation of the Law of Expediency
    1. Super-ceding law - I Corinthians 6:12-13
    2. Sets up rapport between the Gospel and the unbeliever (deals with issues) - I Corinthians 10:28-33
    3. Keeps from creating false issues - I Corinthians 9:19-22
    4. Allows Law of Liberty to operate - I Corinthians 10:23
  3. What the Law of Expediency is not designed to do
    1. Not designed to compromise Bible doctrine (right thing must be done in a right way)
    2. Not designed to lead you into false doctrine or lies in order to win a person to Christ

These four things were practiced by the Gentiles under heathenism. They rationalized them as not being sins. So there was a policy letter drafted and sent to Antioch which set up the Law of Expediency. “Things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”

  1. “Things contaminated by idols” - This would include any food offered as a sacrifice to the heathen gods of paganism.
  2. “Fornication” - Fornication in this context described the heathenistic type of sexual activity as a part of a religious ritual.
  3. “What is strangled” - Eating foods that were impure meant eating the meat of animals killed by strangulation or suffocation rather than by bleeding.
  4. “Blood” - Eating the blood of any animal.

These four sins constituted the most common practices among the Gentile believers and would be offensive to the unbelieving Jews. These sins could have been great stumbling blocks to the unbelieving Jews. Since the Jews were scattered throughout the ancient world and were going to live side by side with the Gentiles, no Gentile believer would likely reach a Jewish unbeliever with the Gospel while practicing these sins.

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” “Moses” was simply a way of describing the Old Testament since Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, and since in those first five books we have the Mosaic Law. And since the Mosaic Law was the heart and soul of the Jewish operation—believer and unbeliever alike—wherever Moses was read in the synagogues throughout the ancient world James says to use the Law of Expediency so as not to offend the Jewish unbeliever and become a stumbling block regarding the Gospel.

The decision of the council follows the message of James. Judas and Silas had the gift of evangelism and they were going to be sent to Antioch specifically to witness to Jewish unbelievers in the city. They would have an excellent message as well as conveying the results of the Jerusalem council. So we have two who will confirm what was said in a letter that was sent.

“They sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Three groups approved the policy stated in the letter: 1) the apostles who had the spiritual gift of authority before the Canon of Scripture was completed. 2) the elders who were local pastors in Jerusalem and throughout Judea. 3) the entire church. This was a policy voted on by three separate groups and approved.

“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.’” In verses 24-29 gave the written policy letter which established the principle of the Law of Expediency.

Verse 24 is a perfect example of legalism and the negative effect it has on a believer when they accept legalism as a mental attitude, a thought pattern and a lifestyle. First we are told that these legalistic Jews had disturbed these believers in Antioch with their words. These words were false doctrine regarding the Christian life. And we are also told that this false doctrine unsettled the souls of these believers. They were getting mixed messages: grace from Paul and Barnabas and works from the Judiazers.

The Greek word for disturbed is “tarasso” meaning to subvert, or to agitate. The Greek word for unsettling is “anaskeuazo” originally meant to pack up baggage, militarily it came to mean to dismantle a town and to plunder, and financially it came to mean to go bankrupt. Any form of legalism is false doctrine and subverts the soul of a believer and leaves him bankrupt of accurate Bible doctrine and thus his spiritual life is dismantled and plundered. Legalism often sounds good on the surface to many new or untrained believers because it lines up with their concept or the concept of some religious organization’s view of Christianity. Remember that subversion of the truth is Satan’s favorite ploy to keep us off track and out of fellowship with God.

Now the church was going to send reinforcements in the persons of Judas called Barsabbas and Silas to shore up the faith of these believers and assure them that what Paul and Barnabas had communicated to them regarding grace was in agreement with the “mother church” in Jerusalem. They were also there to authenticate the letter from the church at Jerusalem.