SERIES: 44 Acts - 2017
MESSAGE: Acts 15
SPEAKER: Skip Heitzig

All people disagree with one another at some point--even Christians. In the early church, a disagreement arose concerning whether the Gentile believers should be required to adhere to the Law of Moses. In this message, we learn how the early church found a biblical solution to this divisive subject.


  1. Introduction
    1. All spiritual people disagree at one time or another
      1. Sometimes the disagreement is about carnal things (see 1 Corinthians 3:4)
      2. Sometimes there is a division because of caring
    2. To be unified with another believer does not mean you have to agree with everything that person says, believes, or does
      1. Sometimes we are called to divide (see Jude 1:3)
      2. If someone blatantly denies one of the pillars of the gospel, we are to speak the truth in love
      3. There are disagreements between the people of God all the way back in the Old Testament (see Genesis 13:7; 31)
      4. In the New Testament, the disciples disagreed with one another (see Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24)
      5. There were disputes in Acts (see Acts 6:1-5)
    3. Disagreement about how to be saved
      1. Still a dispute in the church today
      2. People have a hard time with the free gift of grace
  2. Acts 15:1-5
    1. There was great rejoicing because Gentiles were being saved
      1. In Phoenicia: Gentile territory
      2. In Samaria: half Jewish, half Gentile
    2. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria
      1. The first missionary journey was over
        1. They left Galatia, the area of modern-day Turkey
        2. This was the first real missionary church
        3. It was where the Holy Spirit separated them for their specific work (see Acts 13:2)
      2. They discovered that Gentiles were attracted to the message of Jesus because of free salvation to anyone who believes
    3. The Jews had a hard time with the Gentiles being accepted into the church and guaranteed heaven without having to keep the law or be circumcised
      1. God had given them His covenant in the Old Testament and they had kept so many rigid rules and regulations to be acquainted with Him
      2. The resistance came from Pharisees who were believers
        1. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was once a Pharisee himself
        2. He understood their thinking
    4. They taught faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone (see Acts 13:38-39, 42-43, 46-48; 14:1, 23)
      1. The basis for their faith was the Jewish Messiah predicted in Jewish Scripture
      2. Paul taught that if the Gentiles believed in Jesus, they could be forgiven from their sins without keeping the law of Moses
    5. The Pharisees sincerely believed that you had to keep the law of Moses to be saved
      1. Sincerity is not enough when you match it up to the truth
      2. They brought the message to Antioch that if you wanted to be a saved person, you first had to be a Jewish person
      3. This thinking had spread to all the places Paul had started churches, including Galatia
        1. When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he called these Judaizers troublemakers (see Galatians 1:6-8)
        2. They were trying to mix law and grace
        3. They were trying to add to the finished work of Christ—stitch up the veil (see Luke 23:45)
      4. They were trying to make it harder for people to be saved
      5. The gospel has often been hindered by closed minds who stand in front of open doors and keep people from getting in
  3. Acts 15:6-12
    1. God had revealed to Peter that the Gentiles should hear the gospel (see Acts 10)
      1. Paul had previously rebuked Peter for being two-faced with the Jews and Gentiles (see Galatians 2:11-21)
      2. But now Peter stated that by forcing the Gentiles to keep the law, they were putting a yoke on them that the Jews themselves had not been able to keep (see Matthew 23:4)
    2. By this time, Judaism did not just have the Old Testament; they had the oral law as well
      1. Not just the Ten Commandments
      2. The rabbis said there were 613 commandments Jews had to keep
        1. Positive commandments: 248
        2. Negative commandments: 365
    3. Paul and Barnabas gave an account of the first missionary journey
      1. There are portions of Scripture that are not detailed that we may often wish we had access to (see Luke 24:27)
      2. Some believe that when Paul was stoned, he developed a thorn in the flesh (see Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)
        1. Harpazó = to seize, catch up, snatch away (see 2 Corinthians 12:2)
        2. Paul said he was caught up into the third heaven
          1. Heaven of heavens
          2. Where God is
  4. Acts 15:13-22
    1. James, the half-brother of Jesus
      1. Author of the book of James
      2. He had the final say about the issue
        1. This shows that Peter was not the first leader of the early church
        2. James was the first leader and Peter was dispatched
    2. Tabernacle of David (v. 16)
      1. Refers to the lineage of David
      2. The lineage was broken because of the sins of the nation
        1. They were taken into captivity
        2. The bloodline was cursed after Jeconiah
      3. The only fix to the bloodline could be a virgin birth
        1. Joseph's genealogy traces back to David through Solomon's line (the line that was cursed)
        2. Jesus' lineage can also be traced through another of David's sons: Nathan
      4. James' response was rooted in Scripture (see Amos 9:11-12)
    3. God knows all His works (v. 18)
      1. Open theism says that though God is omniscient, He has given us free will and does not know what we will choose
      2. This belief says that God is learning from the choices we make
      3. Verse 18 clearly states that God knows all His works; this includes salvation
    4. James' decision was twofold
      1. For the legalists, he instructed them to be inclusive
        1. Do not add manmade rules to the faith of non-Jewish people
        2. Do not make them become Jews first
      2. To the converts, he instructed them to be sensitive
        1. To the background of their Jewish counterparts
        2. Three restrictions
          1. Things polluted by idols
          2. Sexual immorality
          3. Blood (see Leviticus 17:11)
        3. The burden was meant to be light (see Matthew 11:30)
  5. Acts 15:23-41
    1. Another conflict went unresolved
      1. Not a biblical or spiritual issue
      2. An issue of who would go on the next missionary journey
    2. Paul wanted to go back and visit the churches they had already planted
  6. Closing
    1. God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you
    2. As long as we agree on the pillars of the Christian faith, we can throw the rest to the wind
Figures referenced: Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh

Greek words: harpazó

Cross references: Genesis 13:7; 31; Leviticus 17:11; Amos 9:11-12; Matthew 11:30; 23:4; Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24; 23:45; 24:27; Acts 6:1-5; 10; 13:2, 38-39, 42-43, 46-48; 14:1, 19-20, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Galatians 1:6-8; 2:11-21; Jude 1:3

Topic: Division

Keywords: disagreement, unity, salvation, grace, Gentiles, circumcision, the Law, oral law, Ten Commandments, open theism

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