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Acts Bible Study

Acts: The Meeting in Jerusalem

Acts 15:1-21

v1 Some men came from Judea to Antioch. They were teaching the believers like this. ‘You must receive circumcision, as Moses taught. Otherwise, you cannot receive salvation.’ v2 Paul and Barnabas argued a lot with those men about this. So, the people decided to send Paul, Barnabas, and some other believers to Jerusalem. These people would go to talk about that problem. They would talk about it with the apostles and leaders. v3 The people sent them on their journey. They traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria. On the way, they told how the Gentiles had decided to trust God. All the believers were very happy about this. v4 Paul, Barnabas, and the other men arrived in Jerusalem. Then the members of the church, the apostles, and the leaders welcomed them. Paul and his companions reported everything that God had helped them to do. v5 Some Pharisees had become believers. They stood up and they said this: ‘Gentiles who believe in the Lord must receive circumcision. We must tell them to obey Moses’ Law.’

v6 The apostles and leaders met. And they discussed that problem with the Gentiles. v7 They talked for a long time. Afterward, Peter stood up. He said, ‘Brothers! You know that God chose me from among you. He did it a long time ago. He chose me to preach the good news to the Gentiles. He did it so that they could hear the good news. And then they could believe it. v8 God knows everyone’s thoughts. He gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. In this way, he showed that he accepted them. It was the same as when he gave the Holy Spirit to us. v9 God made no distinction between them and us. They put their faith in him. So, he forgave their sins.

v10 Therefore, do not make God angry. Moses’ Law is like a heavy load. You will make God angry if you put this heavy load on these believers. The Law was too hard for us. And it was too hard for our ancestors! v11 But we believe that we receive salvation by means of the Lord Jesus’ grace. It is the same for the Gentiles.’

Verses 1-2 This chapter describes a decision. This is among the most important decisions that the church ever made. The church had a difficult problem. Some Gentiles had become believers, although they had not become Jews. So, the church had to decide whether to accept them. If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, he had to receive circumcision. Also, he had to obey Moses’ Law. Peter had already struggled with this problem. God had given the answer to him by means of Cornelius (Acts 10). But the Jews from Judea did not like this answer. They wanted Gentiles to become Jews. The Jews believed that Gentiles must become Jews first. Only then, they thought, could they become Christians. Paul and Barnabas argued with the Jews about this.

Salvation is a free gift from God. We should obey rules. But we cannot earn salvation in that way, even if those rules are good. We should do good things. But we cannot earn salvation in that way. We can receive salvation by means of Jesus only. We must believe in him and we must have faith in him. God gives us salvation because of his own grace. It is not because of what we do.

So, the Christians in Antioch decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. That was because those Christians wanted them to discuss the problem with the apostles and leaders of the first church. And the first church was in Jerusalem.

Verse 3 ‘The people sent them on their journey.’ This means that some members of the church began the journey with them. Those members came for part of the journey. There had been a disagreement. But the people in the church showed that they cared about Paul and Barnabas.

Christians may not agree about some things. But we must always show that we love each other.

The journey was 300 miles long. On their way, Paul and Barnabas visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria. The Jews who spoke Greek had left Jerusalem. These churches had started after that. (Look at Acts 8:1-4.) These Jews were happy that the Gentiles believed. For these Jews, the fact that the Gentiles did not receive circumcision was not a problem.

Verse 4 In Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas told the people in the church what had happened. The people wanted to hear all about it. So, they listened to Paul and Barnabas’s report. But that did not mean that the people were happy about it all.

Verse 5 ‘Some Pharisees had become believers’ means that they had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. But they had believed that he was the Messiah for Jews only. He was the king of Israel. The Pharisees were Jews. In the Jews opinion, Gentiles had to become Jews first, by means of circumcision. Otherwise, the Jews believed that Gentiles could not enter the Messiah’s kingdom.

Paul was a Pharisee too. So, he understood what they believed. The Law was very important to them. They tried to obey it about everything. They also made up many more little rules. But Paul had changed. He had met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He knew that although we should obey rules, we cannot please God in that way. But when we have a friendship with God, we want to obey him. We want to obey him because we love him. He gives us the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit helps us to obey God. We do not do this by ourselves.

Verse 6 We do not know how many apostles still lived in Jerusalem. But, together with the leaders, they made important decisions. This was a very important decision. It might have divided the church. But nothing should divide the church.

Verses 7-9 Peter was a very famous apostle. He remembered what had happened to Cornelius and his family. He knew that God accepted the Gentiles. He had seen the Holy Spirit come down onto them. This had happened while they were listening to Peter. They had not yet said that they believed. But God knows what people are thinking. He knew that these Gentiles had faith. He had accepted them immediately. He had not made them become Jews first. Therefore the Jewish Christians must accept them too.

Verses 10-11 Peter said that the Law was like ‘a heavy load’. The Jews thought that it was difficult to obey the Law. That is why Peter said that. In verse 11, Peter tells what the good news is all about. It is all about grace! This is what makes the Christian faith different from all other religions. We cannot save ourselves from the results of our sin. To obey rules cannot bring us close to God. There is only one way to receive salvation. That is by means of the Lord Jesus’ grace.

v12 Everyone was silent. They listened. Barnabas and Paul told them what God had done for the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul told the people how God did miracles and wonderful things by means of them (Barnabas and Paul). v13 After they had finished speaking, James said this: ‘Listen, brothers. v14 Simon Peter has told us this. He told us that God first showed that he cared about the Gentiles in this way. He took some Gentiles to be his own people. v15 This is the same as what the prophets wrote. They wrote this:

v16 “The Lord says: After this, I will return.

I will build David’s house again, the house that fell.

I will repair it. I will build it up and I will make it strong again.

v17 Then all the other nations will decide to worship me.

That is, all the Gentiles that I have chosen to be mine.

v18 I say this. I am the Lord.

I promised it long ago.” ’

v19 James continued to speak. ‘This is what I think. We should not cause trouble for the Gentiles who are deciding to trust God. v20 Instead, we should write a letter to them. We should tell them these things. They must not eat any food that people have offered to idols. They must not eat animals that people have strangled. They must not eat meat that has blood in it. They must not sin in sexual ways. (If something is ‘sexual’, it has a connection with sex.) v21 Every Sabbath, people read Moses’ Law in the synagogues. People have preached his words in every city. This has continued for very many years.’

Verse 12 There was a disagreement about the Gentiles. But Christians from both sides showed that they respected each other. They listened to what Barnabas and Paul said. They did not interrupt. When there is a disagreement in the church today, we should do the same. We must never forget that we are brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Here, Luke puts Barnabas’s name first. This is probably because people in Jerusalem knew Barnabas better. They knew him better than they knew Paul.

Verse 13 This James was a brother of Jesus. (Look at Mark 6:3.) He wrote another letter that is in the New Testament. In it, he emphasised the connection between our faith and our actions. He also talked about wisdom from heaven. Among other things, he called this wisdom ‘kind’ and ‘genuine’ (James 3:17). Here in Acts, he showed that he had this wisdom from heaven. He listened to the Pharisees. He listened to Peter, Paul and Barnabas. Then he suggested a solution to the problem.

Verses 14-18 James reminded them about what Peter had said. James did not mention Paul and Barnabas’s report. Peter’s words would have more authority in Jerusalem because he was a leader there.

‘He took some Gentiles to be his own people’ (verse 14). In the Old Testament, ‘God’s own people’ meant Israel. So, now James was saying that the Christian Gentiles now also belonged to God’s own people.

He provided proof from the scriptures. He needed to do this. In its important decisions, the church must agree with the scriptures. This is true today too. James spoke words from the book that Amos wrote (Amos 9:11-12). Christians understand that verse 16 is a prophecy about Christ’s resurrection. It is also a prophecy about the growth of his church.

God will include people from all nations in his future kingdom (verse 17).

Verses 19-20 James offered his opinions. Faith was enough for Gentiles who were deciding to trust God. The Jews should not make it difficult for them. The Gentiles did not have to become Jews and therefore they did not have to receive circumcision. But they did have to respect the Jews. So, they should not do things that would offend Jews very much.

James asked those Gentiles not to do these four things.

1.         They should not eat food that people had offered to idols. So, if some people worshiped idols, those Gentiles should not have any connection with that. (Look at 1 Corinthians 8:10.)

2.         They should not eat animals that people had strangled.

3.         They should not eat meat with blood in it.

4.         They should not do wicked things that have a connection with sex. This often happened when people worshiped idols and false gods. The Law only allowed Jews to have sex with their wives or husbands. This is what God wants (Genesis 2:24).

James did not suggest these rules because they were necessary for salvation. He suggested them so that Jews could mix with Gentiles. Some Jewish Christians would always want to obey all parts of the Law. Those 4 rules meant that they could eat with Gentiles. And they could be friends with Gentiles. Although the Law could not give salvation, it was very important to Jews. It was part of Jewish history and tradition. So, Gentiles must respect this.

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