Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

Dealing With Disputes

Acts 15:1-41

Raise your hand if you have ever had a dispute with another Christian. Hopefully we all raised our hands because if we have never had a dispute then we are not really actively plugged into the body life in Jesus. Disputes occur for a number of reasons, some good, some bad. Often disputes come from pride or jealousy. But as we will see in this chapter, disputes can also help us discover the will of God, and discover differences between us that need to be addressed.



This is really the first instance where the enemy attempts to put constraints around the gospel by moving it subtly back under the Law. From here on out, and even to today, this controversy has affected the church as a whole and Christians individually. It is a ploy of the enemy to get us back into pleasing God through our own efforts, focusing on the self and our accomplishments, and not on God and what He has done for us.


1 ? 2


These become known as the ?Judaizers?. They were promoting a similar doctrine in Galatia. They may have been invited to Antioch by John Mark. They apparently felt on good theological grounds, but Paul talks about them in Galatians that they sought ?a good impression outwardly?to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.? (Gal 6:12). In other words, let?s jettison part of the gospel because some find it offensive.


But the key is important to remember?we want people to come to faith in Christ. If by forcing Gentiles to be Jews, people will not come to faith, and so we shouldn?t do that. Also, if we force Jews to eat pork (because we have that freedom) and that offends them so much that they won?t have faith in Christ, then we shouldn?t do that either.


Paul deals with this extensively to the Corinthian church, summing it up by saying:


1 Corinthians 9:12 Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ


3 ? 5


Paul and Barnabas were expecting this, of course. It?s interesting that these are Christians who came from the same political party as Saul, now Paul. Back at Antioch it was circumcision, now it is circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses.





6 ? 11


Here is the first real distinction?grace vs obedience. Peter says ?God told me the Gentiles were to be accepted.? It was evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit in chapter 10. But he adds a crucial element, that ?we couldn?t obey the Law, why should we demand that the Gentiles obey it?? Peter found out first hand how difficult it was to really be like God in his failures following Jesus. The saving comes through grace, unmerited favor, not by obedience.


12 ? 21


After listening to what God had done (maybe they weren?t even open to it before?) James adds to Peter?s present day revelation to the support of Scripture. Quoting from Amos 9:11-12. James changes the verse slightly to add the ?that the remnant of all mankind and the nations who are called by my name may seek the Lord.? We don?t know why he changed the verse (even from the Septuagint) but he obviously knew how to interpret it so that?s okay.


David?s tent had fallen?Judaism was in ruins, to be rebuilt upon Jesus Christ.


Amos wasn?t the only prophet to talk about Gentile inclusion, other Scriptures include: Isaiah 2:2, 11:10, 25:8-9, Zechariah 8:23.


James was Jesus? younger brother who was very much an unbeliever before the resurrection. He was in charge of the Jerusalem council and a strict keeper of the law. The Judaizers would have looked to him for support. They don?t get it.


James goes on to mention four things that would help bridge this growing gap between Jew and Christian.


Abstaining from things polluted by idols: It was a common practice among the Gentiles to offer meat to an idol, then sell it in the butcher shop. Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians 8, 10). This would have bothered the Jews a great deal and would cause difficulties in fellowshipping.


Sexual Immorality probably refers to marriage to close relatives and homosexuality but could also refer to sexual practices related to idol worship. (Lev 18:6)


Strangled & blood ?The Jews believe the life was in the blood and if you strangled an animal the blood would remain in the animal. (Lev 17:10)


The bottom line is as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:1 ?knowledge puffs up but love builds up.? Jews needed patience with the Gentiles and Gentiles need patience with the Jews.


22 ? 29


Notice some things here 1) vs 24 ?we gave them no instructions.? It was not an official group that went out from Jerusalem originally. 2) vs 29 ?if you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.? They didn?t say ?you will be saved.?


Judas was a Jew, while Silas a Gentile. This gave the brothers and sisters in Antioch the idea that this was a joint decision. Silas later accompanied Paul on his 2nd missionary journey.


30 ? 35


This decision was actually extremely important. It freed the Gentiles from being entangled in Judaism and Israelite traditions. Attitudes toward Paul within the Jewish Christian community were clarified. It also created a permanent division within the Jerusalem church which led to many more problems and the Jews refusing to accept Jesus as their Messiah (see Romans 12:28 for more)


But for the Gentile Christian community it was great news


36 ? 41


Perhaps John-Mark now thought Paul?s mission to the Gentiles was okay after the council decision. He was Barnabas? cousin. Barnabas, though a key to bringing about Paul?s ministry to the Gentiles, may actually have been on the other side on this issue. In Galatians 2:14 we learn that Barnabas himself was led astray and stopped eating with Gentile believers. So given that fact, and the recentness of John-Mark?s change of heart, Paul is very reluctant to go with these two back into Gentile territory.


It was not personal but principle. In the end, it was such a sharp dispute that they split ways. We might see this as a defeat, why can?t we just all get along? But God actually made it to double the efforts, rather than subtract from them.


There may come times when we simply do not see eye to eye with someone else in terms of ministry. In cases like that it is better to separate than continue to fight for who ?wins?. So many people and churches have been hurt by those who?d ?rather fight than switch? to quote an old ad slogan.


So Paul and Silas go back through Syria and Cilicia, and Barnabas and John-Mark go back to Cyprus. Silas, or Silvanus as he?s referred to in places like 2 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and 2 Thessalonians 1:1, also apparently co-authored the book of 1 Peter (see 1 Peter 5:12).




We can learn some things about how disputes should be addressed in the church.


Theological Disputes

Don?t let them fester

Don?t be afraid of discussion

Seek the Holy Spirit (salvations, his activity, his leading - vs 28)

The Word of God is the final arbiter of disputes


Personal Disputes

The ministry is more important than the minister

Be willing to be wrong.

Leave rather than fight


Allow yourself to be stretched beyond your comfort zone to bring someone else into Jesus? comfort zone.


Brothers and sisters can disagree and even separate but they are still family and should act like it (a godly family, that is).




Part of the problem is that the Jews had worked so hard to obey, and it wasn?t fair in their eyes, for others to come into a relationship with God without having to earn it.


Legalism comes preinstalled. Legalism officially died right here?have a funeral and move on! Romans 8 ? what the law couldn?t do, God did by Jesus


The issue of helping to bridge this divide between Jew and Greek continues next time. After Paul defends against making the Gentiles be circumcised, as he heads out on his second missionary journey he does that exact thing!

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