Acts 15:22-29 (NIV)
Then 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. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul–men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You 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.
It was not enough for the council to simply make the decision about the ability of gentiles to be saved without circumcision and conversion to Judaism; that decision was now doctrine, certified as good to the Holy Spirit as well as to the Church leaders, and it had to be announced to the Church all over the land. Its announcement to the gentile believers would reassure them that their salvation was real. Its announcement to the Jewish believers would tell them to quit pushing the gentiles to be circumcised, and to accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The announcement was made in two ways. First, it was taken by men sent with the full authority of the Church leadership. They would deliver the decision in person to the Christians in Antioch and the surrounding area. Their word would be backed up by a letter detailing the decision of the council, including the four key things that were to be avoided: food sacrificed to idols, blood, the meat of strangled animals, and any kind of sexual immorality.
The letter also included strong support of Paul and Barnabas, and thus of their work among the gentiles. The Council knew that they had risked their lives to take the gospel to gentile areas of the empire, and referred to them as “dear friends,” which would support them against the Judaizers.
This letter would also be taken by Paul when he went back to the Churches he had planted in Galatia to reassure the gentile believers there that the leadership of the Church was backing them up, and later when he moved on to plant Churches further to the west. The word of the council carried all the authority that was necessary to put the matter to rest one and for all. However, there is strong evidence in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and in the book of Hebrews that this issue continued to crop up later.
Father, how very human it is for us to continue to hold on to our erroneous ideas and our prejudices, and to continue to allow them to influence our thoughts and our actions, even after they have been proven incorrect by Your word. Keep my heart soft, Lord, so that as You guide me, I can let go of old, incorrect ideas and prejudices and take up Your truths wholeheartedly. Amen.
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