Acts 15 is a chapter of disagreements. Our first disagreement comes within the larger church and is about the rules for Gentiles regarding circumcision. Some of the church had been instructing new Gentiles to be circumcised and debate arose amongst the apostles and elders. Paul, Peter and James all make statements that are recorded in this chapter.
I’m going to bring up a couple of highlights from this chapter that may or may not be related. In verse 8 the marker that Peter uses that Gentiles are now welcome to the family of God is that the Gentiles recieved the Holy Spirit, the same way that the Jews did. The Holy Spirit being a marker for Gentiles is a significant statement about how critical the Holy Spirit is to Christianity. This statement shows that the apostles had a high view of the Holy Spirit.
At McGintytown we are currently revising our constitution. If any of you have been a part of one of these committees you know how much work it is. One of the questions that gets brought up is how much power should each individual person or group have over the church. Acts 15 is an interesting case study of this because of the scope of the decision being made. The decision the apostles and elders are making for Gentiles is going to affect ALL Gentiles. The apostles and elders are representing God for his people.
In verse 28 we have the reason provided for this decision. The apostles told the Gentiles that it seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. If I were them I would want some sort of lighting bolt or some Gideon like signs or maybe having God rewind time like he did for Hezekiah. The apostles and elders feel good imposing only four rules on the Gentiles.
How could the apostles be so confident that they were doing what God wants? In Dallas Willard’s Hearing God he presents the idea that the same way that you may know what a friend or spouse or boss would want done in a situation, that as we progress in our spiritual lives, that we should know what God wants. This is why having a daily progressing relationship with God is so important. It is impossible to know what God would want if we don’t know God. This doesn’t mean God won’t continue to speak to us, it just means that we don’t need to be paralyzed by decisions. That is as long as you feel you know what God would want.
We encounter situations that the Bible doesn’t necessarily give us a direct command about. As long as we are spending time with God and have a sense of where he is leading us we don’t need to wait for some miraculous sign to make a decision. Being led by the spirit doesn’t mean having to pray what cereal to eat, what route to take to work or how to handle work decisions. We can lean in to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and proceed.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- In this chapter, what can we learn about handling disagreements that arise in the church? Consider how they handled the question of circumcision as well as the debate over John also called Mark.
- How do you tend to handle disagreements? What can you put into practice next time?
- Would you consider yourself more Spirit led, or self led? What’s the difference? When making decisions and living your life, how important is it to you to be doing what God wants? How do you work at knowing what He wants?