Being an idealist often means living in disappointment… nothing ever quite reaches ideals you’ve created in your mind, particularly when it comes to the church. We look at the early church in the Book of Acts, and we might think, “It would be wonderful to be part of that congregation”. But the early church had it’s tough moments too. We see this vividly in Acts 15. We read that upon returning to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to their home church that had dispatched and commissioned them. When they arrived home, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them. Unfortunately, starting in Acts 15:1, the situation quickly changes and some men came down from Judea, Jerusalem, or Antioch, and start teaching the brothers, “unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”
These men tried undoing the good that Paul and Barnabas did in reaching out to Gentiles. But verses 6-21 shows us three areas where the modern church can often lose focus of, but Paul and Barnabas ensured that the early church didn’t lose focus of these three things.
Diversion from the Message (Gospel)
The first thing the church fought for and defended was the very core of the gospel. Peter says it clearly that, “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” There is nothing more important than being clear about the gospel. We must continually contend and fight for gospel clarity and centrality. If we want to see a life that bears long-lasting fruit, we must serve up the gospel, strong and undiluted. It's the gospel of grace that produces life change, not the law; even in your personal life.
Division among the Membership (Community)
The church was made up of Jews and Gentiles. When you look at James list, the rules may seem arbitrary or random, but they’re actually not. He mentions, “things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” These were picked to guard and protect the unity of the body and mission of the body. It matters how we treat one another. A church is a place to make disciples and to be a united, spiritual family. Christ has called us to advance the gospel in the context of community/spiritual family.
Distraction from the Mission
This conflict had the potential to distract the church from its ultimate mission. The Gentiles were starting to outnumber the Jews and, now, the gospel was being received by them in masses. James is not only saying, “let's keep the gospel the gospel,” but he's also saying “let's not hinder the mission.” We are so easily distracted, but don't be distracted from the ultimate mission. The gospel calls us to get our eyes on the harvest. The gospel calls us to love those not within the wall. The gospel calls us to do whatever it takes to reach people for Jesus.
Dear Father God,
I pray today that I will surrender myself completely to You, so that You may use me in whatever way You choose. I’m sorry for the times I did not stay focused on what You’ve called me to be. I pray that I may be bold enough to proclaim the gospel of Christ clearly and truthfully and I ask that many seeds may be planted through my actions and attitude as well as my words.
In Jesus’ name I pray,