By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell (Guest Blogger)
Scripture Readings: Acts 15-17
Key Scripture Verses: Acts 15:12-19 (NIV, Life Application Bible)
“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things—things known from long ago.
‘It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’”
Paul, Peter, Barnabas, James, and the other apostles were meeting with the elders to discuss the issue brought up by one of the believers who was also a Pharisee—the question of whether Gentiles must be required to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be considered faithful and included in the body of Christ. This was a critical issue that needed to be settled among them.
As you may remember, Peter had a vision that made it clear to him that he should take the gospel to the Gentiles and that is when an angel told him to go to Cornelius to convert him and his family into the faith (Acts 10). Peter’s vision made it clear that he was not to consider unclean what God had approved as clean and he then knew that he was to bring the Gentiles to Christ. And since then, he and the other Apostles had witnessed sincere conversions and the Holy Spirit descending on Gentiles just as they had experienced at Pentecost. But even though Peter told the assembly of some of these signs from God that this was what they were to do, James stepped up and spoke from the scriptures written by the prophet Amos.
The scriptures clearly indicated that the even the Gentiles–countries all over the world–would bear God’s name and he would claim them as his own, as well as the Jews. The consensus was that God had called the Gentiles also, including them, even though their culture and customs did not require them to be circumcised, so the assembly decided as James suggested, that they would not “make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
It is interesting that even though Peter could tell them of his vision and he and Paul, and Barnabas had many “signs and wonders” to report, when James spoke, he went to the scriptures. The NIV, Life Application Bible commentary points this out in the footnotes and it is important because, whenever we are unsure of God’s intentions, we should not listen to human reports, even if they seem to be accurate and trustworthy, but we should check our information against God’s Word. The Bible is the authority.
I think this is particularly important to point out, because a lot of what people believe about Christianity comes from literature and art—these may be interpretations of what humans have depicted as truth or perhaps have not said were true but have become part of the popular culture, anyway. In other words, there is a lot of information out on the internet, in books, popularized by the arts that we should not be so quick to accept as fact. The best measure of truth is to use the Bible as the measuring stick. And when we are still not sure that information is congruent with the scriptures, we should ask God for discernment.
So, if we ever doubt that we Gentiles are also “chosen,” as the Jews are, it’s clearly stated that God intended to include us in his fold and we will inherit the kingdom of God as brothers and sisters of his own son, Jesus, if we believe in him and follow him in faith.
May we read and study our Bibles, because it is through knowing and understanding God’s word that we grow in faith. May we get our information about God from the source—the Bible itself.