Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4 - 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 (formerly 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). Paul and Barnabas, back from Turkey, opposed this message, which led to a sharp dispute. Both sides agreed to take this debate south and get opinions from the apostles.
  • There are two groups that weigh in on this debate. In the "Circumcise Now" party are former Pharisees who believe that the law of Moses still needs to be followed; after all, God did set it up. In the "Freedom From Circumcision" party are Paul and Barnabas, who believe we are freed from needing to be circumcised by Jesus' sacrifice.
  • In concluding the debate, James (Jesus’ brother) decides that a letter needs to go to all the Gentile believers explaining that they don’t have to be circumcised. However, they give them 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 to use their freedom to do those things 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?