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Message – “…these necessary things…”
“…these necessary things…”
Last week we left off with Paul and Barnabus returning to Jerusalem to consult the Apostles of the Lamb and the elders of the church of Jerusalem regarding the need for Gentile converts to be circumcised in order to be saved by faith, because certain men had come down from Judea teaching this.
It does not appear that this was a malicious teaching intended to derail their faith, but a genuine belief since salvation is of the Jews [John 4:22] and all Jews who were in right standing with God prior to salvation had been circumcised into the Old Covenant FIRST. So on the surface it did indeed seem logical.
How can you partake of the New Covenant if you have never submitted to the original covenant? The former was not hostile to the new, it simply preceded it.
The Old Covenant is to the New Covenant what John the Baptist was to Jesus. It was a tutor to lead men to Messiah when He came.
Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote to the Gentile believers in the region of Galatia, “(23) Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian or tutor. (26) For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” ~ Gal. 3:23-26
So, this topic of being circumcised into the Old Covenant was, up to this point, completely an unaddressed and unsettled issue in the Faith. People simply believed what seemed logical to them.
Now after the Apostles of the Lamb and the elders met and discussed this issue with some passion, Peter offered his testimony regarding Cornelius and his householdand friends, Paul and Barnabus were again asked to recount the particulars of their experiences among the Gentiles and then James spoke up.
He reminded them all that Peter, following his account, had said, that the law was a yoke which NONE of them had been able to bear, and so it seems unreasonable to place that same yoke upon the Gentiles!
Instead, he said, “we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”
So this was a question of what was necessary for salvation and that the yoke of or bondage to the law FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS was not consistent with the Message of salvation by grace through faith.
Not for the Jew, not for the Gentile – for NO ONE!
Nevertheless, James and the elders sent a letter by Paul, Barnabus, Judas and Silas with these words…
“ … It seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules:
that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols
And from blood
And from what has been strangled
And from sexual immorality.
If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.” – Acts 15:28-29
So the question we begin with this week is why add to the Gentiles these apparently superficial dietary laws and why a special mention regarding sexual sin?
It is clear and obvious both by employing simple common sense as well as reading ahead all the instructions, cautions and warnings of Paul to the Gentile churches in the future that they were to keep ALL the moral requirements of the law.
Furthermore the commandments were known to them since “Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
So it was clear that most, if not all Gentiles who came to Jesus in faith, were at least vaguely familiar with the 10 commandments.
Sexual sin is the 7th out of 10 commandments. These 10 are expanded and further explained throughout the whole Old Testament with 615 examples and illustrations on HOW these were to be understood and kept.
So why single out the 7th out of a list like this…
- You shall have no other God’s before Me.
- You are NOT to make any idols for worship. …
- You are NOT to take upon yourselves the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- You MUST remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy. …
- Honor your father and mother. …
- You are NOT to kill.
- You are NOT to commit adultery.
- You are NOT to steal.
- You are not to bear false testimony against your neighbor
- You are NOT to covet
ALL of these commandments are addressed by Paul in his letters to the Gentiles as pertaining to ALL Christians except the Sabbath which we know from history was also kept.
So clearly they were to keep all of them!
This means that this special mention of Sexual sins was not saying they are free to break all of the others, so in the mentioning of it something else was clearly intended!
Well we know that Paul in future writings makes it clear that we are no longer UNDER the Law – meaning that it is no longer our taskmaster – we are not it’s slave.
The relationship we have to the law is not one of bondage under an oppressive thumb. It is also NOT a means of obtaining righteousness.
We do know however from the writings of ALL the New Testament authors that we DO in fact have a relationship with the law. Only it is one in which we learn what righteousness lived out looks like. Now that we have been made righteous by faith in Jesus, how do we live in a way which is pleasing to God? By keeping the law of Moses which has been read in every synagogue for centuries!
In fact, Paul speaking by the Spirit, called the righteous conduct outlined in the Law a requirement. “What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do order our conduct according to the dictates of our flesh but according to the Spirit” ~ Romans 8:3-4
Many people myopically zero in on the words ‘accomplished in us’, as if it said “accomplished FOR us”. That is NOT what it says.
Notice also that Paul calls the righteousness of the Law a REQUIREMENT, not an option and that the ONLY way it is fulfilled IN US, is NOT simply through faith in Jesus, but by ongoing obedience to the Spirit.
So Paul by the Spirit is saying in Romans to Gentile believers, that the righteousness of the Law is a REQUIREMENT for salvation and that it cannot be accomplished on our own apart from God, neither can it be accomplished FOR us, simply by belief in Christ. No, it also requires ongoing conduct which is worked out through us by conformity to the inward influence of the Holy Spirit. This we do by faith.
You see this is THE thing the modern church ignores. They desire all the benefits of relationship with nearly NONE of the commitment!
Paul said to the Corinthians who knew the law…
1Cor. 7:19, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
So what is the relationship of the believer to the law? If we are not UNDER it, then what?
Here are a few quick references which address this topic, but it is dealt with in some detail on our website in an article entitled, Is the Law fulfilled FOR us or IN us?
Paul says the Law is for the lawless in 1 Tim. 1:9 and that whatever the law says it says to those who are still UNDER the law in Romans 3:19-24.
This is because the Law was something produced out of a desire to distance ourselves from for distance God. Remember the Law came because they were unwilling to hear God directly when He appeared to them on the Mountain. So the Law is for those who desire to attempt to honor God without relationship or intimacy with Him. THOSE are in bondage to works outside of intimacy. They are condemned since they desire outward obedience while nurturing inward rebellion. So as the proverb says, “The commandments are like a lamp, instruction is like a light, and rebukes of discipline are like the road leading to life…” ~ Pro 6:23
So the Law was God’s answer to a people who wanted a superficial relationship with God they thought they could control. So God gave them a list of requirements. These are STILL requirements – but they cannot be kept outside of intimacy. So these laws, if meditated upon in the heart, will lead someone to surrender and faith in Christ.
Like the song we sang this morning
“You knock on the door of my heart and I will answer you. You make me a Covenant of love and I will walk with you. I’m not afraid anymore your love has made a way. “
Jesus said something similar,
“You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about Me, [Or as the Proverb above said, it leads to Me or Leads to life] (40) but you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.” ~ John 5:39-40
So what does it mean to be UNDER the law?
It means to be under its governance or its tutorage. You are not free until you come to Christ in intimacy – you are bound to a law.
You remember that the law was until John, but since then the gospel or good news of the Kingdom has been preached. [John 16:16]
Part of the Gospel of the Kingdom as taught by its very Lord – Jesus Himself says,
Jesus Himself said,
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever PRACTICES AND TEACHES THESE COMMANDMENTS will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matt. 5:17-19
Has heaven and earth passed away? No – then neither has the Law and neither has the fact that in order to be great in God’s kingdom you must teach and live what it says – it is a REQUIREMENT!
One might say, “well I thought Jesus was the end of the law for all who believe”. Again No! That is a misquotation, it says,
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” ~ Romans 10:4
Now there is MUCH more to this and again, I encourage you to go read the article, conduct your own study in order to more fully round out this teaching this morning. I only have so much time and cannot afford to chase down too many roads.
Now…the only exception to these laws which promote morality which is in conformity to God’s character are those which ONLY existed as a means for righteousness – such as circumcision and all the sacrifices, as well as all those laws which were symbolic in nature and were fulfilled in the person of Christ – such as dietary laws, the observance of new moons and sabbaths and such.
The 10 commandments also existed for righteousness, but they stand alone as being actions consistent with righteousness not a means of obtaining it.
So now, with all the more reason, we clearly have to wonder why single out sexual laws then?
Well one suggestion is that it is because there can hardly be another arena of life in which mankind shows more depravity than in their sexual choices and conduct. Almost NOTHING will defame you and the noble name by which you are called more than sexual sin.
Think about it. Even today where nearly every form sexual inpropriety is not only allowed, the celebration of them is nearly pushed upon the public – yet still, if the world wants to defame a person of prominence the FIRST place they look is for sexual “misconduct”. What a contradiction! What could possibly pass for misconduct when nearly any and all sexual conduct is deemed acceptable? It is a double standard. The world wants to be free to pursue sexual depravity while requiring its leaders and preachers to be morally pure – or at least they claim they want that, when in fact, all they are looking for is leverage to dislodge someone who offends them.
At any rate we know this is true. Sexual sins fall into a cinche all their own in the church AND in society at large. As such it is something we need to be all the more diligent to be free of misconduct regarding.
The next questions is – Why these three dietary restrictions?
We all know that there were a LOT of dietary restrictions. A copious list of animals which were in themselves labeled either clean or unclean. So why single out just these three?
Well it could be argued that two of these pre-date the law because they deal with blood.
Eating an animal which has been strangled was evidently practiced in order to preserve the blood of the animal so that it might be later consumed with the meat. Therefore, it is a natural extension of the other command to not eat blood.
Technically, blood itself was not so much commanded against, as much as eating it together WITH the meat. A ‘letter of the law’ interpretation of those passages could just as easily say, do not eat the meat with the blood.
There are many interpretations of these passages and reasons offered for them being unlawful.
The life being in the blood, seems to indicate that the prohibition was to make sure that the blood, which was to be offered on the altar as an atonement for the soul, should not be consumed instead.
The blood should be spent on the altar and later the meat consumed.
Regardless of the reasons however, the Jews had practiced these dietary laws for centuries and had learned them in the context of “clean” and “unclean” practices. So even if it literally has nothing to do with things which are intrinsically “right and wrong”, they carried a stigma which the Jews would have probably found near to impossible to overcome.
These men with spiritual authority in the mother church in Jerusalem knew the fledgling church would have enough difficulty bridging the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles that it would smooth things out considerably to, out of love, restrict some of their more offensive dietary practices.
This would include their practice of eating meat offered to idols.
Many who ate such meat among the Gentiles, had in their former lives, seen it as part of their worship of and fellowship with those pagan deities. So it would serve as an “appearance of evil”.
How do I know this? Well Paul later said so himself…
1Cor. 8:1-13, “(1) Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. (2) And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. (3) But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (4) Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. (5) For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), (6) yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (7) However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (8) But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. (9) But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (10) For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? (11) And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (12) But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (13) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
So, while we do not know for certain the reason for these 3 specific dietary restrictions in lieu of all of the dietary restrictions – many the commentator and converted experts in the law seem to agree that smoothing the relations between the Jews and Gentiles of the first century in particular, was in view.
Now let’s continue with the rest of Acts 15 where we see these four men – Paul, Barnabus, Judas and Silas all taking this letter to the church in Antioch where this dispute first began and then to the other churches…
“(22) Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
(23) They sent this letter with them: From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings!
(24) Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, (25) we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, (26) who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(27) Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person.
(28) For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules:”
Necessary rules means [indispensable rules or necessary things] Notice they did not call them commandments or laws – but necessary things or indispensable rules.
What difference does that make? In truth I do not know, but there must be some or they would have resorted to the terms they had used their entire life – LAWS or COMMANDS.
Though I don’t know what the difference is, it seems there must be one, and again on at least a superficial level it seems more to do with promoting oneness between the Jews and Gentiles, than between the Gentiles and the God Who called them to Salvation by grace through faith.
“(29) that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality.
If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.”
Again notice they did not say, “If you do these things, you will be keeping the law” or “you will be living the righteousness of the Law”.
No, you will be doing well!
The word “well” means good, brave or noble.
If goodness alone were meant, then adherence to the law would have conveyed that nicely, so I think it best to assume that the intended meaning of this word is probably “noble” – which means to possess high moral and ethical ideals.
So if we are right, then they were saying. If you keep these things in particular, you will be living in a way which displays before the world and your Jewish brothers that you possess a high moral character and excellent ethical ideals.
“(30) So when they were dismissed, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter.
(31) When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. (32) Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech.” – just sayin’!
“(33) After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. (35) But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.
(36) After some days Paul said to Barnabas,
“Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.”
(37) Barnabas wanted to bring John called Mark along with them too, (38) but Paul insisted that they should not take along this one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.
(39) They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company.
Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, (40) but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters.
(41) He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Notice that even these prominent brothers did not come to a place of agrement. They could have – they should have – but they did not.
I do not believe it was wrong for them to separate and go their own ways – it was the reason for their separation that I take exception. God clearly blessed the efforts and ministry of both men. The reason we continue to have an account of Paul’s missionary journeys rather than that of Barnabus is because this is an account written and offered by Luke who patently could not go with both men and he chose to go with Paul.
I find it significant that Paul later wrote to Timothy and said,
“(9) Make every effort to come to me soon. (10) For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica. Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. (11) Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry.” ~ 2Tim. 4:9-11
Almost without question Barnabus, who was also an Apostle, had a gift of encouragement which paired well with his name which means, “son of encouragement”. John Mark evidently started out with Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey, but by the time they reached Pamphylia he left them and returned to Jerusalem [Acts 13:13]. No official account is offered for why he left, but it seems obvious that it was for reasons which Paul found dishonorable. Rather than leaving John Mark in this condition, Barnabus either allowed John Mark to come with him due to his asking or Barnabus encouraged John Mark to come, more than likely with the intention of allowing him to face and conquer whatever caused him to forsake them the first time.
It has been suggested that this is the same John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark and that we might not have this gospel today if Paul had been allowed the final word. But Barnabus seemingly picked up this young man, dusted him off and got him back on the right path again. Thank you God for all the Barnabus’ we have in the body…we need them!