Wednesday, December 07, 2011

New Year: Acts 14-16 for Nov 21

How remarkably free from individuals "rising" to power is the expansion of the gospel in these chapters, Acts 14-16.

However, opposition is not all external. The external opposition is very brutal (14:19; 16:23-24). The internal opposition, focusing on the issue of circumcision and the Law in its entirety (15:1,5,21), is dealt with by a large group of leaders but more than just leaders (15:22).

We might miss how, in these days of daily communication about religion, how such a group of dispersed people, hundreds of miles away in modern Turkey, or over a thousand miles from Jerusalem in Greece, could grow. To "see how they are" in Acts 15:36 seems quite an understatement. This is also very true about remote places today into which Christians have gone, people have believed the word of God, and the messengers who brought the word have left. What is a new Christian left with?

God, and God's grace of course. He tends His own. This emphasis on the "grace side of things" came out earlier (cf. 15:11,40). It comes from the fact that "God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance to life." (11:18). If God has granted the turning of someone to life, the church's first order of responsibility is "do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles," as James summarized (15:19). When the original messengers went through where they had been before, what was their activity? They "strengthened the churches" (15:41). That sounds very positive, for being hundreds of miles and mountains and ships away from the origin of the religion.

Can God, His leading in grace, be specific enough for a new Christian? Is 16:6-10 specific enough, as an example, for the missionaries themselves? It is interesting that this specific example of God's guidance comes right after two incidents that seem very awkward in the missionary journey. The first is the "sharp disagreement" in 15:39. The second is the circumcision of Timothy in 16:3. The missionaries themselves were taking "the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them [the Christians located in those remote cities] to observe" (16:4). Among these decrees were the words about circumcision not being necessary. The circumcision was done "because of the Jews who were in those parts," (16:3), not for the sake of the Christian life. And Barnabas and Mark worked in a separate arena (15:39). Neither activity was man-led. On the issue of circumcision, the issue was described as resolved when "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (15:28). On the issue of where to go, God leads that too, as He made plain in 16:6-10. Paul speaks from experience, as well as revelation, when in Romans he says "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rm 8:14).

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