To Claim or Not Claim Civil Privileges: The Interesting Example of Paul in Philippi

Paul cast a demon out of a fortune-telling Philippian girl who was being used by her owners for gain (Acts 16:16–18). Her owners thus accused Paul and Silas of 1) being Jews, 2) disturbing the city, and 3) promoting customs unlawful to Romans (Acts 16:19–21). Paul and Silas were sorely mistreated as a result (Acts 16:22–24). Interestingly, even though they were falsely accused (the owners’ real concern was their loss of income), Paul and Silas, both Roman citizens, did not bring attention to their Roman status in order to receive a fair trial and avoid being beaten. But Paul shamed their captors over the matter later (Acts 16:35–40). Why did Paul not speak up at first but only later point out his Roman citizenship?

The answer to this question is found in Paul’s reply to the command to leave in peace. He pointed out their Roman citizenship, that they had been beaten unfairly and publicly, and thus refused to be released secretly (Acts 16:37). Fearing discipline from their own higher-ups on the matter, the magistrates were forced to give Paul and Silas an apology and personally release them from the prison (Acts 16:38–39). This apology and release would have been more or less a public “walk of shame” that admitted their wrongful treatment of the missionaries.

This being said, it seems that Paul and Silas said nothing of their Roman citizenship at first so as not to argue for their Roman status over against the gospel. It would have sounded something like, “Charge us with what you’d like, but we are Roman citizens. So, you cannot thrash us.” While that would have been good and fine for them, where would that have left the newly converted Lydia and her household? They could still be targeted, and persecution could have wilted the newly budding Philippian church.

As to why Paul finally spoke up in prison, he and Silas were already on record for being willing to suffer for the gospel. Now, in making the magistrates publicly admit their wrongful treatment, while the city at large was not converted to Christianity, the people would at least see that their officials were now being civil to the Christians. Perhaps Paul had this effect of the public apology in view. The Philippians obviously had an initial bias against whatever they viewed Christianity to be, but now they would have to tolerate the Christians and would be less likely to treat them as they did Paul and Silas, especially as the two would leave soon leave the city (cf. Acts 16:40).

As Christians today, perhaps we can learn from Paul and Silas that we should use wisdom when invoking any privileges to avoid persecution. We should defend the gospel itself before we defend ourselves, and we should also defend other Christians from civil mistreatment if it is in our power to do so.

Silent Separation: What to Think When Leaders Part Ways and Keep Their Reasons to Themselves

We typically think of separation between Christians in negative terms because it typically involves an implied or explicit rebuke by the one initiating the separation.

Separation can take place over denial—separating from those who claim to be Christians but obviously deny the gospel through heresy or evil works (e.g., Rom 16:17–18; Titus 1:10–16).

Separation can take place over disobedience—separating from those who indeed are Christians but are clearly disobeying a specific command in Scripture (e.g., 2 Thess 3:6, 15).

Separation can also take place over disagreement—separating from Christians whose approach to ministry widely differs from one’s own, or even separating from Christians whose character or background suggests a certain unfitness for ministry and thus joining in ministry together. Paul’s separation from Barnabas over John Mark would be an example of this (Acts 15:36–41).

But what if we see Christians separate from one another but do not make their reasons clear to others? And what if this separation is all the more obvious because those separating are in positions of leadership? How should we think about the matter?

First, using the categories above, if there is no public statement by one party about the other, we should assume that neither denial or disobedience are involved. Scripture commands us to “mark” and identify a heretic as necessary in order to avoid him in the future (Rom 16:17). We are likewise to silence and sharply rebuke false leaders who deny the gospel through their works (Titus 1:11, 13). While it is not exactly the same situation, we are to treat disobedient brothers in a similar manner—the “brothers” are commanded to keep away from the specific “brother” who is violating the Word of God (2 Thess 3:6, 15). Whether denial or disobedience, some sort of public rebuke is given through word and act. If one party or the other has not identified the other as denying the gospel or disobeying the clear commands of Scripture in some way, it could be slander and gossip on our part to assume and suggest otherwise.

This being the case, second, if two Christians part ways but say nothing publicly about the matter or about the other person, we could maybe assume that their separation is one of disagreement. The disagreement could be over how to approach a specific ministry or over one’s ministry philosophy as a whole. Leaders may part ways over mistakes or misjudgments that are not necessarily sins but have nonetheless led to disappointment and a lack of confidence in the other’s wisdom over time. Perhaps a leader asks another to carry out a significant task that the other feels he is not gifted or skilled to complete, so the second man chooses to move on to another ministry where he believes can effectively serve.

With that last thought in mind, third, sometimes a separation between leaders involves no denial, disobedience, or disagreement at all. For the sake of continuing our alliteration, perhaps we could call this separation divine, that is, that it is God who is the One who providentially brings the separation about. It may simply be that, whereas the Lord gave someone a specific ministry for a time, the Lord may create an opportunity for someone to move on and serve somewhere else. It is always sad for brothers to part, even for good reason, when God chooses to move someone from one ministry to another (cf. Acts 20:37; 2 Tim 1:3).

Considering the above, we should guard ourselves from automatically assuming that a parting of ways involves sin, mistakes, or even disagreement. If a denial of the gospel is involved, it is the responsibility of the true Christian to make this denial known as necessary. If disobedience is involved, the obedient Christian is responsible to act accordingly. If disagreement is involved, perhaps the reasons may be stated, and perhaps they may be not. And sometimes a parting of ways simply comes about by the clear and remarkable providence of God.

Gentiles Who Practiced Judaism and Became Converts in Acts: Believers Who Believed? Or Drawn by God and Converted to Christ?

The book of Acts has a number of terms to describe people who followed Judaism to a degree and would become followers of Christ. Their descriptions make them sound like believers who naturally accepted Christ when they heard of what He did for them, but this was not necessarily the case. These terms include proselytes, devout, worshipers of God, and those who feared God.

Proselytes (prosēlytos) included those who heard the mighty works of God in their own tongues (Acts 2:11), Nicolaus from Antioch (Acts 6:5), and synagogue-attending converts who followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43). For the latter, they were even described as devout proselytes (sebō prosēlytos; Acts 13:43). Being a proselyte could describe one’s present (Acts 2:11) or past (Acts 6:5) adherence to Judaism.

Those who were devout (sebō) or worshipers of God (sebō theos) included those who would believe the gospel, such as the devout proselytes in Pisidian Antioch (13:43), Lydia (Acts 16:14), devout Greeks in Berea (Acts 17:4), devout Athenians who attended the synagogue (Acts 17:17), and Titius Justus who housed Paul (Acts 18:7). There is one instance in which the devout were synagogue adherents but persecuted Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:50). So, a devout person might apparently deny the gospel, indicating an absence of faith to begin with. This being the case, whether or not those who believed in Christ had faith prior to hearing the gospel is hard to say. What we do know is that, for some of them, their time in the synagogue prepared them to accept the Messiah (e.g., Lydia). For others, however, it did not (Acts 13:50).

Another term for devout (eusebēs) describes Cornelius and one of his soldiers (Acts 10:2, 7). Cornelius was also one who feared God (or, a “God-fearer”; phobeō theos; Acts 10:2, 22), as were Paul’s non-Jewish listeners in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16, 26). In these instances, Cornelius would believe the gospel, and Paul’s God-fearing listeners would follow his gospel. As with the devout and worshipers of God, whether or not these individuals had faith prior to accepting the gospel is hard to say. For instance, Cornelius is described as devout, upright, fearing God, a giver of alms, and eagerly obeying the angel that told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:2–8, 22). At the same time, before believing the gospel, he had been considered unclean by Peter and the Jews (Acts 10:28; 11:3), likely because he had not fully converted to Judaism. He probably followed the OT in many ways but had not been circumcised (Acts 11:3; cf. Exodus 12:48). This being the case, though fearing God to a degree and being slowly but effectually drawn to saving faith over time, he needed to hear the Word of God about Jesus Christ, be granted by God the repentance that leads to life, and believe this message in order to be saved (Acts 10:34; 11:1, 14, 18).

Why I Will Not Watch the Joker or Movies Like It (and Neither Should You)

Should you be tempted, there are several reasons not to see the newly-debuted Joker (or movies like this one). I’m sure that if I were to watch it, I could offer a hundred more. (And while some choose to be the filter for others by watching movies like this one and warning them of the content therein, I would suggest that Spirit in us as Christians is the better “filter,” leading us not to watch this kind of thing to begin with. Cf. Galatians 5:16–26.)

Here are at least three reasons not to watch the Joker:

First, Hollywood has no design for your edification as a Christian. This is said for even “better” movies that seem to have fewer objectionable scenes and themes for your mind’s consideration. To intentionally put one’s mind for 120 minutes towards a movie that entertains and climaxes on one sinful moment after another seems to be anything but obedience to passages such as Romans 12:1–2 and Philippians 4:8.

Second, it offers as entertainment the very violence it says that the film is supposed to condemn. One is supposed to abhor the violence that makes a man into being the villainous Joker. But then the movie is said to revel in his revenge through violence upon those trod him down. I read in the news that the lead actor left an interview because he was asked if the movie actually promoted the very violence that it says to condemn. He apparently didn’t know how to answer the question. Besides this actor’s naively playing such a role and apparently (at least initially) not being able to care less as to what impact his production has upon you as the viewer, the very fact that the question was asked betrays that the answer is, incidentally at best and intentionally at worst, yes. In the end, yes, you as the viewer will be tempted or told to glory in the Joker as he robs the Lord of vengeance and sinfully retaliates against his aggressors.

Third, there are better ways of redeeming the time before the coming of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:15–16). Do something intentionally Christian. Or enjoy the natural things of this world with a view to glorifying God in His creation. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family. Or at the least, for the few that are out there, maybe just choose a movie that has some wholesome qualities.

What I’ve said of the Joker above could be said for thousands of movies besides. Please know I write these things as one Christian to another and as a pastor who simply desires that we glory in what is truly worth our affection. Whether we eat or drink or watch a movie, we should do all to the glory of God, but only in a manner that is truly glorifying to Him.

The Sharp Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas: Who Was Right?

Acts 15:36–41 records a disagreement that arose between Paul and Barnabas. Paul asked Barnabas to join him to check in on the churches that were planted in Acts 13–14 (Acts 15:36). In wanting another to help, Barnabas suggested John Mark (Acts 15:37) who had “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Since John Mark “had withdrawn” and “not gone with them to the work,” “Paul thought best not to take with them one” who had done such a thing (Acts 15:38).1

Barnabas was not convinced by Paul. In fact, in Paul himself, Barnabas showed that he was a man to give someone an opportunity to serve in ministry when others would not (cf. Acts 9:26–29). Barnabas was apparently convinced that Mark had learned his lesson and was worthy to serve again. But, as it was, “a sharp disagreement” parted these two great men (Acts 15:39).

In giving careful attention to what follows in Acts 15:39–41, it seems that neither Paul nor Barnabas were wrong, as disappointing as it was to see them disagree. Notice:

  • Rather than one or the other seeing the churches again, Barnabas took Mark to see the believers in Cyprus (cf. Acts 13:4–12), and Paul took Silas to go beyond to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:39–41). So, no one disagreed so as to abandon the trip. Everyone kept on ministering.
  • Though Paul stubbornly refused to accept John Mark and parted ways with Barnabas, the church nonetheless commended Paul to God’s grace for the trip ahead (Acts 15:40). “Commended” in Acts 15:40 is in the singular, referring to Paul in particular (but obviously having Silas in view). The commendation was not for Barnabas and John Mark.
  • While this commendation was not to Barnabas and John Mark, it does not follow that the church did not approve of their ministry. In the end, Barnabas was doing what he was doing at the initiation of Paul (cf. Acts 15:36).
  • The church in Jerusalem seems to have approved of both Barnabas and Paul as well. John Mark came from there (Acts 12:25), and Silas did as well (Acts 15:22). Being one to explain Jerusalem’s letter to Antioch (Acts 15:32–33), it would have been helpful for Silas to spread this word even further (cf. Acts 16:4).

As time went on, we see Paul speak of both Barnabas (1 Cor 9:6) and John Mark (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11) with approval. If perhaps there is any blame in the situation, perhaps it belongs to John Mark for abandoning the trip in Acts 13.

Whatever the case may be, we see an instance in the early church where two leaders disagreed over a matter of personnel. In God’s grace, the disagreement stopped no one from serving, and, in fact, more men served as a result. Even in disagreement, if both parties are seeking the honor the Lord, good things may still happen in the end.

  1. All biblical quotes are from the ESV. []

An Encouraging Passage for a Church Searching for a Pastor

Multiple Scriptures instruct churches as to how to go about finding a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 list out requirements for the pastor—a pastor must desire his role, be able to teach and administrate, have an exemplary character, and be confirmed by the church that these things are so.  Acts 6:1–7 gives a play-by-play example for how to “appoint” deacons to the church, instructive for how to “appoint” pastors as well (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5)—leaders lead, and congregations decide in the process.1

In several ways, Acts 11:19–26 is an encouraging passage for churches without a pastor as well. To clarify, as it speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul), I realize these men are unique in the history of the church with respect to their caliber and calling. Paul was the foremost apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas was shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this ministry (cf. Acts 13:1–3). At the same time, though their role was something beyond a local church, they more or less functioned as Antioch’s first pastors, and thus their example is instructive and encouraging for churches without a pastor today.

The Role of Acts 11:19–26 Within Acts as a Whole

The church was birthed by the Spirit, grew and spread in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (Acts 1–6; cf. 1:8). Persecution drove its followers out of these areas, and Saul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 7–9). Peter, the foremost apostle to the Jews (cf. Gal 2:7–8), saw the Spirit poured out on the Gentile Cornelius and his household and told Jerusalem about the matter (Acts 10:1–11:18). When we arrive at Acts 11:19–26, we have been left to anticipate how God would use Paul to take the gospel to the uttermost end of the earth. Acts 11:19–26 begins to tell us how this happens, and the rest of the book of Acts could be broadly summarized as recording how Paul took the gospel to the world (Acts 13–28).

A Summary of Acts 11:19–26 

Though driven from Jerusalem by persecution, Gentiles continued to give the gospel, and  many more Gentiles were saved (Acts 11:19–21). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to lead the believers in Antioch, and the church flourished under his ministry (Acts 11:22–24). It is here in particular that we have one of our examples of a church without a pastor receiving someone who more or less functioned as a pastor.

As the passage goes on, Barnabas realized that the church could use another good man as well, and perhaps he saw Antioch as a Gentile church that could become the base of operations for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. So, he left to “look for Saul,” “found him,” “brought him to Antioch,” and the two taught in Antioch for a year (Acts 19:25–26). Here again we find an example of a church adding a man who functioned as a pastor.

God’s work through these two and the church was so effective that the surrounding community coined the term “Christians” to apply to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They lived like Christ, spoke of Christ, and were marked off as a group of people that were united around Him.

How Acts 11:19–26 Can Encourage a Church Without a Pastor

With this understanding of Acts 11:19–26 in mind, let’s consider the passage with an eye on how it can encourage a church searching for a pastor.

First, be encouraged that the Lord can grow a church without a pastor.

As believers scattered to Antioch, they gave the gospel to Gentiles, “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Because “the hand of the Lord was with them… a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). All of this took place without any mention to the leadership of these believers.

While every church should ideally have a pastor and even multiple pastors as necessary, a healthy group of believers will continue to make disciples and function as they ought in the absence of a pastor.

Second, God can use the greater body of Christ to help a local church find a pastor.

Upon hearing of the Lord’s work in Antioch, “the church in Jerusalem… sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22). When Barnabas saw this marvelous outpouring of “the grace of God, he was glad” and powerfully preached to them, being the “good man” that he was (Acts 11:23–24). As a result, again, “a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). The hand of the Lord can work mightily through a thriving church  that has been blessed with a gifted leader.

Just as Jerusalem was a help to Antioch then, churches can enlist the help of others in seeking out pastors today.

Third, pastors can help find pastors.

In Acts 11:19–26, we have not only one but two examples for finding a pastor for a church. As the church grew, Barnabas saw the need for more leadership. The fact that he had to “look for Saul” in Tarsus implies that he did not know where he was except for general location of the city, and it was a city of 500,000 people. Finally, he “found him” and “brought him” back (Acts 11:25–26).

Churches sometimes struggle to find a pastor, but, as helped by the leadership of its church or other leaders in the body of Christ, the church’s hard work pays off, and the Lord can bless a church with a needed pastor, just as He did for Antioch.

Fourth, a church continues in God’s grace with its new pastor.

Notice that, all along the way, Antioch flourished in the grace of God. Whether without Barnabas, with Barnabas, and then with Barnabas and Saul—the hand of the Lord was upon the life of this church every stage of the way.

That a church continues in God’s grace means that God can bless a church while temporarily without leadership. Adding a pastor obviously helps to organize the church to take the Great Commission even further. Either way, God’s grace is evident before and after a church has found its pastor.

Fifth, a pastor should lead the church towards finding his successor.

This point comes after Acts 11:19–26. As Barnabas and Saul ministered in Antioch, the church eventually added three more men to its leadership—Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13:1). Because of their unique calling, Barnabas and Paul passed the baton to these men to carry on the pastoral work of the church while they went to give the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13–14). We can guess that Barnabas and Paul likely played a key role in growing these leaders, and the church was able to continue with an established leadership, even as Barnabas and Paul went away.

Ideally, a pastor today may find it helpful to train a pastor before he leaves, or he may find it helpful to simply lead the church in finding its next pastor and then stepping down when the new pastor comes. Or maybe he can outline the process, step aside, and let the church take it from there. Every church is different, and no two transitions in leadership are quite the same. One way or the other, though, a church should have a plan to find its next pastor, and, as God is gracious, the church will have an idea of who that person is as well.

Conclusion

In all the above, what is evident for Antioch, if nothing else, is this—God sees when a church is without a pastor, can bless it in a pastor’s absence, can bless it by providing a pastor, and will continue to bless it when a pastor arrives. If possible, a church and its pastors should raise up pastors from within the congregation. At the least, pastors should lead the church in finding who will lead the church in the future or leave the church with a plan to do so. If your church is without a pastor, may you be encouraged that God can bless you as He did with Antioch long ago.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

Conquering Jealousy Through Christ: Our Example and Help in the Time of Need

Every Christian can struggle with the sin of jealousy, wanting something that is not ours and being displeased with God for holding it back. God gives us the life that we have, and, being displeased with it, the sinful jealousy in us wishes for another, whether slightly or significantly altered, thinking God wrong to have granted us what we have. Our affection is for something that is not when it should be for God Himself, thanking Him for what we have. If we are His children, we have Him, and whatever we have in this life besides is ultimately an expression of His sovereignty, wisdom, and love for us.

Stephen Charnock, in The Existence and Attributes of God, describes the inner workings of sinful jealousy in this way: “We are unwilling to leave God to be the proprietor and do what he will with his own, and as a Creator to do what he pleases with his creatures. We assume a liberty to direct God what portions, when and how, he should bestow upon his creatures. We would not let him choose his own favorites, and pitch upon his own instruments for his glory; as if God should have asked counsel of us how he should dispose of his benefits. We are unwilling to leave to his wisdom the management of his own judgments to the wicked, and the dispensation of his own love to ourselves” (p. 131). In this jealousy, “Man would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator” (p. 127). What a sin this jealousy is.

In reading Charnock, my own thoughts went to Christ as our example and help in this matter.

First, when Christ was offered the kingdoms of this world, He quoted Scripture to withstand the temptation of the devil (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8). Though He could have had it all in the here and now, He chose the Father’s will and thus has everything for eternity.

Second, when He went through His suffering, though asking for something else if possible (Matt 26:36–46), He nonetheless endured His affliction, thinking it nothing when compared to the joy that was to be His (Heb 12:1–2). Though tempted to avoid the pain, He obeyed and has joy forevermore.

In both of these matters, He was sinfully jealous for nothing and wanted only the Father’s will, choosing neither wrongful gain nor an escape from His suffering. So, even in our jealousy, Christ can sympathize with our weakness and minister grace to us to overcome this sin in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:14–16).

Do you struggle with jealousy today? Learn from the example of Christ. Ask Him to give you the grace of being content with the infinite riches of salvation. And, in not having what you might desire, thank God for teaching you that, when you have nothing else, you do have Him, and He is more than enough.

Liberty, Limits, and Love: An Example for Us Today in the Prohibitions of Acts 15:20

In Acts 15:1–35, the Jerusalem Council concluded that requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and obey the Law was wrong (Acts 15:2, 5, 10, 19). Salvation is only “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).1

At the same time, James did ask to “write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). While sexual immorality is obviously wrong (and worth mentioning because of its frequency among the Gentiles), it seems that the other three matters were somehow related to the law. The reason for their prohibition involved what was “read every Sabbath in the synagogues” from the Law of Moses, something done “from ancient generations” and “in every city” by “those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21).

Using the Law, then, to figure out why these other three matters were forbidden, Leviticus 17:10–13 clearly forbids both the eating of blood (Lev 17:12, “No person among you shall eat blood”) and the eating of animals that had not been drained of their blood (Lev 17:13, “Any one… who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood”). This last prohibition seems to be the point of reference for “what has been strangled” (Acts 15:20). If an animal died by strangulation, it would not have been drained of its blood. If its meat were eaten, it would have been with the blood still in it. Thus, whether eating blood directly or in the meat of an animal, both were forbidden by the Law.

As to “the things polluted by idols” (Acts 15:20), this is also a matter of food, synonymous with “what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). While Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 8–10, James’s present concern (to which Paul gave no objections) was probably along the lines of Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (cf. Rom 14:13–23). In other words, if the Gentiles really loved their Jewish Christian brothers, they would not eat things that the Jewish Christians denied and offend their sensitive consciences. The Gentiles would give up their liberty to eat these things so as not to hinder their fellowship (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23).

In learning from how James led the church then, we see that one’s liberty is not a matter of license to do as one pleases in the presence of all. Rather, Christian love limits certain practices for the sake of fellowship with others. When it comes to something questionable, the church should always be more careful than not. Limiting one’s liberty is not necessarily legalism. If done correctly, it is an act of love.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

Leaders Lead, and Congregations Decide: Congregationalism in Acts 15:1–35

I realize that a number of hierarchical models of church structure find their alleged home in Acts 15, but I personally believe that congregationalism comes to the fore when the text is carefully examined. In short, Acts 15 gives an example of two truths for congregationalism: leaders lead, and congregations decide. What follows below is more about the latter than the former.1

Both churches involved—Antioch and Jerusalem—example congregationalism in how they relate to a conflict at hand, namely, whether or not Gentile Christians were supposed to obey the Law of Moses.

Antioch

  • Paul, Barnabas, and others “were appointed” by their church in Antioch “to go up to Jerusalem” to settle the matter (Acts 15:2). If the identity of the party doing the appointing is not clear in Acts 15:2, it is made clear in Acts 15:3—these men were “sent on their way by the church,” that is, the church in Antioch.
  • Upon resolving the matter in Jerusalem, being something for the church as a whole (since, after all, it sent representatives to inquire on the matter), Paul, Barnabas, and the representatives from Jerusalem “gathered the congregation together” clarify for them the doctrine of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:30; cf. 15:32).

Jerusalem

  • Upon the arrival of the representatives from Antioch, Jerusalem considered the matter as a church. Paul, Barnabas, and the others “were welcomed by the church,” along with its leaders, “the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:4). After hearing a report of God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15:4), the church likewise was present to help resolve the conflict at hand—“all the assembly” was present (Acts 15:12).
  • The leaders led, and James was at the front in giving his judgment on the matter (Acts 15:13–21). At the same time, what “seemed good” to him in resolving the matter was also good to “the apostles and the elders” and “the whole church” (Acts 15:22). They had altogether “come to one accord” as to a resolution (Acts 15:25).
  • Demonstrated negatively, “some persons” teaching false doctrine and creating the conflict at hand went “out from us” (i.e., the Jerusalem church) and did so with “no instructions” from the leadership or the church (Acts 15:24; cf. 15:1). “Instructions” were apparently necessary for representing the church. The false teachers were consequently rebuked by the Jerusalem church in that its official letter was contrary to their teaching.
  • Positively put, Judas and Silas were sent by the church with instructions and an official letter. The church and its leaders were “the brothers… who had sent them,” that is, Judas and Silas (Acts 15:34). Having completed their mission in Antioch, they returned to report on the matter to their sending church in Jerusalem.

In all the above, the Jerusalem Council was mostly a matter between two churches—Antioch and Jerusalem. At the same time, it involved Christians Jews and Gentiles in general, so other churches received the letter as well (cf. Acts 15:23, “Syria and Cilicia”).  Representatives were sent by one church to inquire of another, and that church in turn sent its representatives back to the first church to give a clarification. After the hard work of carefully navigating the thorny issues involved, it all ended with “encouragement” and parting “in peace” (Acts 15:31, 33).  May God grant to us the same as churches navigate through conflicts today.

  1. All quotations below are from the ESV.  []

No Greater Place: Devotional Thoughts from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 holds a special place in the heart of many. Christians have come to worship and commented with the words of Psalm 84:10: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (KJV).

Charles Spurgeon introduced his thoughts on the psalm in this way: “If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred- and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace” (from The Treasury of David).

What about this psalm is so sweet and gives such peace?

On the one hand, it is an encouraging pilgrimage psalm—a psalm to be recited and even sung while traveling “the highways to Zion” (Ps 84:5), that is, making a pilgrimage from one’s home to the temple in Jerusalem, God’s “dwelling place,” “the courts of the LORD,” and “the house of my God” (Ps 84:1, 2, 10). And yet, though God’s presence is manifest in His temple, the psalmist’s true joy is ultimately found in “the living God” (Ps 84:2). The temple, its courts, and dwelling therein were not joyful ends in themselves. They were a central place to Israel’s worship, and God was the center of their worship.

On the other hand, it is also a psalm of trust. Knowing that those at the temple were “blessed” to be where God’s formal worship regularly took place (Ps 84:4), and knowing that even those on the journey to the temple were “blessed” by God’s strength to go there (Ps 84:5), the psalmist, whether at the temple in heart or person, was “blessed” because he was “one who trusts in” God, receiving every good things from Him (Ps 84:11–12).

While we may feel far removed from Israel and having a mandated central location for worship, there are some similarities between them and us today. Psalm 84 is just as alive to us as it was for them so long ago.

Consider the church’s weekly gathering on the day of the Lord. A local church meets together at a regular time and place each week. If our affection is properly for the Lord, we will long and even faint with desire to join His people in worshiping Him. We find strength day by day to sustain us between these gatherings to worship Him. At the end of the day, it is not the place or time of gathering that somehow gives us nostalgic joy. Our joy is found in worshiping the living God, something we can do in spirit anywhere and anytime.

Beyond this, we, too, are pilgrims but seeking a greater temple. We travel this spiritually arid world, making what springs we can, seeking the New Jerusalem, complete with its own special presence of God—it houses the throne of the Father and the Lamb. Like the psalmist who was strengthened by having the highways of Zion in his heart, so also we know the way to the New Jerusalem—through Jesus Christ who prepares this place for us. May we abide in Him, and may He abide in us, every step we take until we reach this heavenly glory.