Today in Acts chapter 15, we see a dispute between some Jewish Christian men from Judea and Paul and Barnabas. It was basically that unless the Gentile men were circumcised, according to the Jewish ritual that they couldn’t be saved. Paul, a Jew, had been preaching according to Acts 13:39 that a man could only be right with God based on what Jesus had done. This was a a big, big issue! It went to the root of Christianity. It was the question of how we receive salvation. Was it received under the law or not? They couldn’t just agree to disagree because it was the core of what it meant to be a Jesus follower. Due to the dissension this caused, the believers in the church sent Paul and Barnabas and others to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the elders and apostles.
On their way to Jerusalem, they witnessed to those they met about the great things that God had done among the Gentiles. It caused great joy to all the brethren who heard. They spread the good news as they went. Many of those who opposed Paul and Barnabas were believers who had been Pharisees. Paul, himself, was a former Pharisee who had been converted to Christianity. He knew that Jesus was his salvation, not the way to his salvation as we read in Galatians 2:16.
After making their presentation to the apostles and elders and the discussion, Peter spoke to them all. He pointed out that God had fully received the Gentiles without them being circumcised. God had acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just like He did to the Jewish Christians. If God had received them, then so should the church. Paul made the same argument in Galatians 3:2-3. If the law doesn’t save us, then why should we return to it as the principle by which we live? Peter also said that, “we (Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they (the Gentiles). Not by the law but by through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Then all the multitude kept silent and listened as Paul and Barnabas testified to the miracles and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles, reinforcing that God had accepted the Gentiles. James spoke after the elders and apostles had met and said, “Let them alone. They are turning to God, and we should not trouble them.” James went on to say that they would write them a letter with their decision and add that they would ask them to abstain from sexual immortality and things polluted by idols, things strangled and from blood. This was so that the Gentile believers did not act in a way that would offend the Jewish community and destroy the church’s witness among Jews. They were encouraged to lay down their rights in these matters as a display of love to their Jewish brothers.
James gave the decision of the council but the unity behind the decision was one of several evidences that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that helped to make the decision. When they went back to the church they rejoiced over its encouragement and were strengthened.