- Acts 13:1-15:35
Sometime after Saul and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, the Holy Spirit spoke to the church leaders there and called Saul and Barnabas for a mission. After they finished fasting and praying, the church leaders there laid hands on Saul and Barnabas and sent them off to the work the Holy Spirit had called them to do. They traveled to a number of places, teaching and preaching Jesus to Jews and Gentiles, and a great number became Christians, seeing the signs and miracles that Saul and Barnabas performed in Jesus' name.
There was also strong opposition to their work, led by unbelieving Jews, many of which were jealous of the popularity that Saul and Barnabas had among the people. At one city named Iconium, Saul was stoned, dragged outside the city, and left for dead. It is important to note that during today's reading, the Holy Spirit began referring to Saul of Tarsus as Paul. He is called Paul from here on, so we will begin referring to him by that name also.
As more Gentiles became Christians, another problem arose. Some Christians from Judea went to Antioch and began teaching the new Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas had strong arguments over what these Jews were teaching, and so Paul and Barnabas, along with other believers, went to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders of the church there. They told of all the wonders GOD had done and how many Gentiles had become Christians and everyone rejoiced. But some believers who were of the Pharisees stood up and claimed that the Gentiles believers had to obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
After much discussion, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concluded that, since GOD had accepted the Gentiles just as He had the Jews, there were no additional requirements for Gentile believers to be saved than there were for the Jews. Here's the way the Bible describes it:
7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
(Acts 15:7-11 NIV)
Then James, the brother of Jesus, spoke up:
“Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles...19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
(Acts 15:13b-21 NIV)
So the apostles and elders, along with the whole assembly, chose men to send along with Paul and Barnabas, to carry the letter the apostles and elders wrote back to the Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, so that they might understand there was no requirement to be circumcised or follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved. The Gentile Christians were very glad when they read its encouraging message.
From the time the kingdom of GOD came and Jesus ascended back to heaven, it has been GOD's design that becoming a Christian and living as a Christian not be complicated, but rather simple. Over the centuries, men have developed formalized and ritualized procedures in addition to GOD's simple design. Men have complicated, misrepresented, abused, and corrupted GOD's pattern of Christianity, but all that does is ensure those men have no place within the kingdom of GOD. True Christianity does not change and does not suffer from corruption. Unfortunately, people aren't always able to distinguish the truth from what has been corrupted.
The only way we can be certain that what we are doing—the pattern we are following—is GOD's is by reading the Bible for ourselves and doing our best to follow everything it teaches in the New Testament. Be assured, though, if it isn't simple and easy to understand, it probably isn't from GOD because GOD's plan is simple and easy to understand.