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Resolving Conflict God's Way

By Amy Shockley
Saturday, March 13, 2010

Scripture Verses
Acts 15:1-35

The Council at Jerusalem
 1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

 5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."

 6The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."

 12The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon[a] has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

 16" 'After this I will return
      and rebuild David's fallen tent.
   Its ruins I will rebuild,
      and I will restore it,
 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
      and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
   says the Lord, who does these things'[b]
    18that have been known for ages.[c]

 19"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers

 22Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. 23With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

 30The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. 33After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.[d] 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

In these verses, we see Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in a disagreement with some Jewish men who came over from Judea. The Jewish men said that unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.  This meant that the Gentiles, who were not accustomed to the Law of Moses, would need to be circumcised.  Paul and Barnabus believed that circumcision was not essential for salvation.

Arguments in the church are not uncommon. I believe we have set before us an excellent example of how God wants us to pursue an answer to a difficult debate.

Paul and Barnabas were appointed by the church to go to Jerusalem to help find a solution to this problem. They met with the apostles and elders of the church in. Each side gave their report on the issue. James, Jesus’ brother and a leader of the church in Jerusalem, then summarized the reports and drew up a decision. In verse 19, James says "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  

Everyone agreed to support the decision and the Council sent a letter back with Paul and Barnabas, along with some of their own men, to report the decision in Antioch.

There was considerable wisdom in resolving this conflict. Here are the important take-aways:

  1. Confront problems
  2. Listen to all sides of an argument
  3. Hold discussions in the presence of leaders who are spiritually mature and trustworthy to make a decision.
  4. Agree that all must abide by the decision.

The debate over circumcision could have severely stopped the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles, but it didn’t. Instead, the Gentile believers were encouraged and their numbers increased.

Whether in the church, your place of business or your home, perhaps we can use these lessons on how to wisely resolve a problem. And in the end, we belong to God. God is in control.

Dear Heavenly Father, You have given us so much wisdom and guidance in the Bible—thank you.  Please help us to remember to turn to Your Word when we have problems. When conflicts arise within the church, help us to seek your will. Amen.