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Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Jewish Christian Church Makes Room for the Gentiles

Paul's Vision of the Man from Macedonia

The Jewish Church Makes Room for the Gentiles

Paul and Barnabas had come back from their first missionary journey and they had made many Gentile converts along the way. More and more Gentiles were listening to the gospel and becoming disciples of Jesus. The first believers in Jesus had all been Jewish and of course they made up the first Christian (Jewish) church. These Jewish Christians had continued worshiping in the temple and following the laws of Moses as had been their custom.

But when the Gentiles began joining their ranks, the Jewish Christians needed to move over and make room for new ideas and different cultures. The Church was becoming multicultural now and having growing pains. Some of the Jewish Christians felt that the new Gentile believers should become circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law like they did. But was that what God wanted?

The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem got together and had a meeting which was one of the first church counsels. They needed the Holy Spirit’s guidance. They all prayed and fasted together and asked God what to do. Should the church continue keeping the laws of Moses and insist that the new Gentile Christians follow them too? Or should they change to make room for these new Gentile believers? There were strong willed church leaders in this meeting who disagreed with one another on the issue. But they loved each other and all wanted to be united in whatever they did. So after prayer, fasting and discussion they all decided together that the Holy Spirit was leading them to bend and change and not teach the new believers to follow the laws of Moses. The Law had given way to Grace. Instead they drew up a few simple rules for new Gentile Christians to live by. Keeping the church together was more important than having their own way.

Since Jews and Gentiles would be worshiping together, the leaders of the Jerusalem church (and the Holy Spirit) wanted all the new Jewish and Gentile believers to feel comfortable together and get along. The eating of bloody meat was offensive to the sensitive Jewish consciences. So the leaders ask the new Gentile Christians not to eat meat with blood in it. I think the rules were passed down to the new Christians to help them be considerate of their Jewish brother’s eating habits and to keep the peace. Each group had to change their ways a bit in order to accommodate the other.

Some Christians today are poor and some are rich, some are liberal and some conservative, some are vegans and some meat eaters – we modern day Christians have our differences too. But if we all believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are family. And if we are going to have fellowship with our family in Christ we need to be sensitive to one another and make room for our differences. Over and over in Scripture we are told to be peacemakers. Our love for one another and our unity is so important to the Lord. Perhaps the Holy Spirit might be telling us the same thing He told the early Church back then – to bend and change our ways a bit in order to accommodate one another.

When Paul left on his second missionary journey he was thrilled to be able to tell the new Gentile believers that they didn’t have to obey all of the laws of Moses in order to follow Christ. Jesus had fulfilled the law and had made them (and us) free from the law of sin and death.

Paul took Silas with him on this second missionary trip and they picked up Timothy on the way. Paul and Barnabas had disagreed on whether to take John Mark with them so Barnabas had not gone with Paul on the second trip. (Paul later admitted he had been wrong about John Mark)

Paul and Silas took off and were planning to go into Asia and preach on this second trip. Let’s listen to Scripture to find out why they didn’t go into Asia like they wanted to. “Now they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, but they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” (Acts 16:6-7)

We don’t know how God (through the Holy Spirit) “forbade” Paul and Silas to go into Asia. The Bible doesn’t say. Scripture says that, “the steps of a good person are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23) So God has His own mysterious ways of leading us where we should go. God can speak to us through inner promptings or circumstances or through the Bible, or through the advice of other Christians. He can put the desire to do His will in our heart or His thoughts and ideas in our mind. The early Church made a practice of constantly praying, fasting and waiting on the Lord to discern His Will. We need to do the same – wait on the Lord and take time to listen for His Voice and seek His guidance.

Since God “forbade” Paul and Silas to preach in Asia, the two men kept on going and waited for more instructions from God. And of course God came through. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia (northern Greece) stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us.’” (Acts 16:9) So God was telling Paul where they were to go next with the gospel through his dream.

Paul and Silas believed that God had spoken to them through the dream and they turned and headed towards Macedonia (Greece). The cities of Philippi and Thessalonica were in Greece and as we know, several large Christian churches were to spring up when Paul preached there. There were people there just waiting and ready to accept and believe the gospel. God was preparing the hearts of many Macedonians (Greeks) to believe in Jesus. And Paul and Silas were being used by God to tell them about Jesus. They were living the great adventure- letting God use them to bring salvation to the Gentiles.

Paul could have had many excuses not to go where God was leading him. He faced opposition and threats everywhere he went, but he kept going. The early Christians along with Paul were “on fire” for the Lord and they would do anything God asked them to do. They would change their ways of doing things, open their church to strange new people. They would take up their cross and follow. They would love each other and love the unlovable Gentiles (aren’t we glad they did) because that’s what God wanted. They would wait on the Lord and listen for His direction in their lives. They were living a great adventure with God and they left a great legacy. All of Southern Europe became Christian because Paul, Silas and Timothy gladly followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and preached the gospel there. We can live the great adventure today and let God use us to make a difference in our world like they did in theirs. All we need to do is to be willing.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose it's not that different from doing a church service in a bar! Thanks for coming last might and helping pick up afterwards.