Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 5 - Acts 15

Today's reading in our daily plan is Acts 15. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • Today we see how the apostles handled a major dispute. Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem traveled north to Antioch and told the non-Jewish Christians that they needed to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved. Saved means to be right with God. 
    • Back in the Old Testament times, circumcision was a sign that a person was from a family that had faith in God. 
    • Back in the Old Testament times, the main focus of trying to be right with God was seeking to obey His laws.
  • Paul and Barnabas, back from Turkey, opposed the teaching of the Jewish Christians who were still approaching God with an "Old Testament mindset." This led to a sharp dispute. Both sides agreed to seek guidance from the apostles.
  • There were two groups that weighed in on this debate. 
    • In the "Circumcise Now" party were former Pharisees who believed that the law of Moses still needed to be followed. After all, God did create it. 
    • In the "Freedom From Circumcision" party were Paul, Barnabas, and Peter, who believed we are free from the law because of God's grace and Jesus' sacrifice. Peter reminded the apostles that God gave the Holy Spirit to the non-Jews as well, proving that there is no distinction between them and the Jews in God's eyes.
  • In concluding the debate, James (Jesus’ brother) decided that they should not make the Gentiles' lives more difficult. So, a letter would be sent telling them that they don’t have to be circumcised. In the letter they gave guidance to abstain from four practices:
    1. Eating food sacrificed to idols
    2. Eating meat from strangled animals
    3. Consuming meat that contains blood
    4. Sexual immorality
  • The first three of these were actions that would offend most Jewish Christians. It was like they were saying, “Now that you follow Jesus, don’t do something, even if you have the freedom to do it, that will offend other believers."
  • After a productive meeting, the chapter ends with Barnabas and Paul splitting because of a disagreement. Barnabas, the encourager, wanted to take Mark on the next missionary trip even though he bailed halfway through the last one. Paul, on the other hand, wanted to avoid a repeat performance.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Many people think of Christianity as a never-ending list of do's and don't's. But we see here that it's not about rules. When the apostles send their letter it contains only four "rules." And even most of these "don't's" are things they could have done, but are  being asked not because it might offend other believers. Christianity is not about religion, it's about relationships.
  • Because Christianity is about relationships, because we are family, unity is critical. In this chapter we see the early Christians working to promote unity among believers.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Do you approach Christianity more like it's about a religion in which you have to keep rules, or like it's about a relationship with God and others? What are some signs you view it as rule-keeping? What would you do different this week if you were focused on relationships with God and people?
  • Do you view unity, especially in the church, as critical? Where have you hurt or not sought unity in your church? If you go to Verve, what efforts could you make to have more unity with other Ververs?