TODAY’S READING: ACTS 15-17
The Jerusalem church addresses false teaching (chapter 15); Paul’s second missionary journey (chapters 16 and 17).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
Acts 15 introduces to us continuing controversy surrounding the salvation of the Gentiles. When Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch of Syria they are met by some false teachers who are disputing with and convincing the newly saved Gentiles that they must be circumcised to be saved. Indeed, circumcision was a significant symbolic act under the Old Testament law, but through the blood of Jesus Christ, the law had been satisfied and circumcision was no longer necessary (Galatians 5:6). Paul, seeing the gospel in jeopardy, begins “no small dissension and disputation” (15:2) with these false teachers. Finally, it is determined that this question must be addressed by the apostles in Jerusalem.
Peter weighs in with the point that whether Jew or Gentile all are saved by grace so “why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (15:10). James settles the dispute: “my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:19, 20). If the Gentiles are saved by grace, then why do they have to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication” (15:29) when none of those things is related to salvation or sanctification? James answers the question in verse 21: “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day”. These stipulations were placed upon the Gentiles in an effort to keep the door of faith open to the Jews. Thi!
s is the same principle Paul followed in his ministry and described in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 where he states, “unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law . . . I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake”. Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas deliver the letter to the church at Antioch and there is much rejoicing at the decision of the apostles.
In approximately 50 AD, Paul and Barnabas determine to revisit the cities where they had preached the gospel and planted churches, but they can’t agree on who should be their companions. Even the heroes of our faith are carnal at times! Barnabas takes his nephew, John Mark, who abandoned them on their first journey, and heads for Cyprus following the original route (15:39). Paul selects Silas (also called Silvanus) and takes a new route through Syria and Cilicia (15:40, 41).
Chapter 16 opens with Paul and Silas arriving in the neighboring cities of Derbe and Lystra. Paul is impressed by a young disciple named Timotheus (Timothy) who has a remarkable testimony in his hometown, Lystra and another city, Iconium (16:2). Paul invites Timothy to join him and Silas on this second journey but determines that Timothy must first be circumcised since he is half Jewish (16:1,3). Timothy was circumcised not as part of his salvation or sanctification, but in preparation for preaching the gospel to the Jews (I Corinthians 9:19-23). After passing through Phrygia and Galatia (16:6), Paul’s team is “forbidden of the Holy Ghost” to go anywhere but Macedonia. Once the team lands at Philippi, a chief city of Macedonia, we discover exactly why God wanted them there: He had arranged divine appointments with lost souls like Lydia and her family (16:14), a young girl possessed by a demon (16:16-18), the Philippian jailer and his family (16:30-34), Jews and Gentiles!
in Thessalonica and Berea (17:1-4,10-12) and Dionysius, Damaris and others in Athens (17:34). Proverbs 16:9 declares, “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps”. Paul’s heart was leading him to Asia and Bithynia, but God directed his steps to Macedonia. Imagine the consequences if Paul had been stiffnecked, insisted upon his own plans and strategy, and forced his way into Asia and Bithynia and neglected Macedonia? He would have missed God’s supernatural orchestration of events and those listed above may have entered eternity in the flames of hell. Has God put obstacles, hindrances or roadblocks in the path of your plans? Don’t be stiffnecked; trust the Lord. Brethren, let the Lord direct your steps.