“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
A great controversy arose in the early church as a result of the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. Some of the church leaders in Jerusalem were suggesting that after coming to Christ, these new converts must be circumcised and keep the ceremonial laws. I think their motives were probably sincere. They wanted to see these new believers behaving correctly, and determined the best way for them to do so, was to make rules. We see the same thing happening in the church today. A young woman may come to Christ, and still dress the way she did before she believed, so the church is pressured to have a dress code. Or a young man comes to Christ and still listens to the music he did before coming to Christ; the church wants to establish a ban on secular music. Now it is true, there are people who dress inappropriately, and listen and watch things that they shouldn’t, but the question is, what is the best way to help them grow? The legalists, from Jerusalem, thought it was through the establishing of a system of rules to keep them in check. The apostles came up with a different plan, they wrote a letter exhorting the Gentiles to abstain from three things.
Abstaining from things offered to idols was important because they had been saved out of idolatry. In a sense, they are being encouraged to stay away from things that would lead them back into sin. Too often, a new believer will hook up with the friends they ran with before coming to Christ. That road leads them back into the activities from which Christ had set them free. If we want to succeed in following Christ, we need to stay away from the things that lead us to sin.
Abstaining from blood or things strangled was important because once they put faith in Christ, they became part of a family. The Jewish Christians were their brothers and sisters. To the Jew, eating something that had not been killed properly, or eating blood, was an abomination. If the Gentile Christians ate like they used to, they would offend their brothers in Christ. Essentially, this letter is encouraging them to follow the law of love, which requires us to do nothing that would cause someone else to stumble. We have great liberties in Christ. Some Christians may be able to partake in activities with no temptation, but if that activity causes someone else to sin, we must refrain. We need to be more important to one another, than our liberties are to us (1 Corinthians 8:4-13).
Finally, abstaining from sexual immorality was important because it is clearly forbidden in the Word of God. The legalist were adding rules not found in Scripture. These rules would suck the life out of Christianity, and distract believers from obeying the clear commands of Scripture. The Pharisees had that problem. Remember when Jesus rebuked them for tithing their spices and neglecting the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23)? We can put rules on each other that distract us from doing the things that are well pleasing to the Lord. Also, sexual immorality was rampant in the Roman world, as it is today. It is a sin that carries with it grave consequences. Whenever two people are involved sexually, it clouds their ability to look at their relationship properly. They become connected in a way that is difficult to break. They end up emotionally attached to someone who is perhaps not best for them. God’s ways are better than man’s. If we choose to live well pleasing to Him, we will find that life is better.
Let’s be sure we are staying away from sin, things that lead to sin, and things that cause others to sin.
Questions for Acts 15
- A “different” teaching was coming down from Judea, what was this teaching?
- How was this different teaching handled by the church?
- The apostles and elders came together to discuss the matter (verse 6). What was their conclusion and how did they come to their decision? (verses 8-11)
- Read Psalm 139. God is not far away looking down at us as little beings. What does this chapter speak to you about God’s relationship to us?
- James quotes Amos 9:11-12 confirming the decision of the council. God’s word will never contradict itself; God will confirm His word to you with His word.
- The council also concluded to write to the Gentiles to abstain from 4 things so that it “would be well with them”, what were they?
- We see an argument between 2 leaders in the last verses. Sometimes God allows these disagreements to happen. The end result here was that 2 teams went out to teach instead of 1. What can this teach us about conflict?