Acts 15:1-21

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 5, 1998


Paul and Barnabas have returned from their first missionary journey, preaching to the Gentiles in what was known as Galatia.

They had been gone some 18 months, traveled some 700 miles by foot, and some 500 miles by sea, seen many come to the Lord, starting churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.

They have now arrived back home in Antioch of Syria, and have been sharing what God had done on their trip.

:1 and said, Except ye be circumcised

This is the way many cults operate, telling you that itís nice that you believe in God, but youíre going to have to start doing things their way if you really want to be saved.

:3 they passed through Phenice and Samaria

Phenice is the area around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Samaria is the region in the central part of Palestine, between Galilee and Judaea.

:5 the sect of the Pharisees

The Pharisees were one of the groups within Judaism at this time.

These were the orthodox believers, those who believed the Word of God, and strove very hard to be obedient to it.

They were so concerned about obeying Godís laws, that they developed large volumes of books that interpreted Godís laws.

The Pharisees believed in the supernatural. They believed God could do miracles. They believed in a resurrection of the dead.

I know this may disturb some of you, but in a way, the Pharisees had more in common with Calvary Chapel than any other group of Jews.

They held a high view of Scripture, they believed in the supernatural.

I think thereís some lessons in this chapter that we need to be careful to learn.


The Danger of Exclusivity

One of the concerns I have is that we can tend to think that our church is the only correct church, the idea that if another church doesnít have "Calvary Chapel" in the name, then something must be wrong.

We feel like nobody studies and obeys the Word of God like we do.

We feel that nobody knows how to worship as good as we do. Especially if they sing those "hymns"!

Iíve got news for us: There will be people in heaven who go to Lutheran churches, Methodist churches, Vineyard churches, even Catholic churches. And there may be some people who go to Calvary Chapels who will be in hell.

The issue isnít which church you go to. The issue is which Savior you are trusting in.

:5 which believed

We usually think of the Pharisees as the guys in the black hats in the New Testament. They were one of the groups that gave Jesus the hardest time. Yet there were Pharisees who became believers, and are now in the church (Nicodemus, Paul).

:5 saying, That it was needful to circumcise them

Of course, these were things that the Pharisees tried to live by.

What happens is that we think that God is going to work in everybodyís life the same that He does in ours.

"I had to be a Pharisee before getting saved, so do you."

"God led me to sell my Corvette when I became a Christian, so should you"

What we forget is that being a Pharisee or selling your Corvette had absolutely no bearing on whether or not youíd make it into heaven.

(Gal 2:16b KJV) Ö for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

The Law requires perfection. If you break one law, youíre condemned. And weíve all broken at least one law.

Instead, our salvation depends on what God did for us, by sending His own Son to die in our place, to pay for the penalty of our sins.

And all we can do is accept or reject Godís free gift of eternal life.

:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

This is the first instance of the church getting together to decide on an important doctrinal issue, we might call it the first "church council".

:7 Peter rose up

This is the last time weíll see Peter in the book of Acts.

:7 that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word

Peter is referring to what had happened some ten years ago at the house of Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10).

Back then, Peter had taken some flack for having preached the gospel to Gentiles, but when the church heard the full story, they had rejoiced.

(Acts 11:18 KJV) When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

:8 And God, which knoweth the hearts

God wasnít fooled by the Gentiles when He poured out His Spirit on them. He knew their hearts.

:9 purifying their hearts by faith.

purifying Ė katharizo Ė to make clean, cleanse

God had obviously saved the people in Corneliusí house because of the evidence of the Holy Spirit being poured out on them.

And God had saved them on the basis of their faith, not because they had converted to Judaism first. It wasnít by works or rituals, it was by faith.


God cleanses us through faith.

We have our little ideas that if we do such and such, then God will forgive us. Sometimes we think if we punish ourselves, then God will forgive us. Sometimes we think if we do enough good things, then God will forgive us.

But our cleansing happens through our faith, through trusting Him to cleanse us.

(1 John 1:9 KJV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Is this something youíre willing to trust?

:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God

These issues had been dealt with ten years ago. God had already made it pretty clear at Corneliusí house that He wanted to save Gentiles.

So why are they bothering to bring it up again?

In doing so, they are "tempting", or "testing" God.

This was something the children of Israel were famous for doing Ė

Exo 17:1-7 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. {2} Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? {3} And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? {4} And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. {5} And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. {6} Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. {7} And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

We might wonder whatís the problem with complaining about a lack of water? Yet keep in mind, these two million people had just been miraculously delivered out of Egypt. Theyíve seen all the plagues that God had done to the Egyptians, seeing all the first born of the Egyptians die, then having just escaped through the parting of the Red Sea. And now they have the audacity to complain and say, "Is God with us or not?"


Stop the Jungle Cruise


Itís like when youíre sitting at the dinner table, and one of your children decides itís time to start banging their shoes against the bench. Weíll say to them, "Stop the jungle cruise!" (because it sounds like the drums on the Disneyland ride). They stop for a second, but then start it right up again, all the while staring right at you to see what youíre going to do. Thatís "tempting" Daddy.

There are times when we need to just settle with what God has said, and stop fighting it or arguing over it.

It might be a particular sin in our life, where we know that God has said "no" to us, but after a while, we kind of start hanging around the sin again, until we fall into it.

I wonder if God wears one of those T-shirts that says, "Which part of NO donít you understand?"

:10 a yoke Ö which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

Peter is saying that the Law was like a yoke around the neck of the Jews, one which they couldnít even do. After all, they needed a Savior to die for their sins too!

:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Peter is reminding the people of the basics, that salvation comes through Godís grace, and it is received by believing.

Notice how Peter phrases it, not saying, "they shall be saved like us", but we shall be saved just like them"!

:13 James answered

James Ė actually the name is "Jacob" in the Greek.

This is the half-brother of Jesus (half-brother because they had different fathers! Jesus was the Son of God, James was the son of Joseph). He is the recognized head of the church in Jerusalem. He will write the book of James. Heíll settle the issue.

:14 Simeon hath declared

James refers to Peter using Peterís Hebrew name, not his Greek name.

:15 as it is written

James is going to wrap up the discussion, but he does it by bringing Scripture into the discussion, quoting from Amos 9:11-12.


Base it on Scripture.

Itís great that Peter could share some historical perspective, and Barnabas could share their personal experiences. But the bottom line is that the decision will be based on Scripture.

:16 and will build again the tabernacle of David

This is talking about the Messiah, the "son of David", restoring the rule of King David.

:17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord

The Messiah wasnít just for the Jews, but for all men, even Gentiles, who would seek after the Lord.

:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning Ö

from the beginning of the world Ė more literally, "from eternity"

James is saying that the saving of the Gentiles wasnít any surprise to the Lord, since Heís known everything from eternity. (Is.45:21)

:20 that we write unto them, that they abstain from Ö

James basically comes up with three categories of things to abstain from:

1) Idol meat. (pollutions of idols)

Heís going to clarify this a little further on in a letter to the church (15:29 Ė "meats offered to idols")

Itís not just the avoidance of worshipping idols, itís the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

At this time in history, meat was a pretty expensive item in the grocery cart.

There were two places to get meat, either at the regular grocery store, or at the meat market located behind the local pagan temple. Lots of people brought their sacrifices to the pagan temples, and since the pagan priests had such an abundant supply, they would sell it for real cheap. A pound of filet mignon might cost you $15 at the regular store, but at Aphroditeís Food-for-less, you could pick up a nice filet for $5/pound.

2) Fornication

fornication Ė porneia Ė illicit sexual intercourse; adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.

This is a word that talks about any kind of sexual activity outside the boundary of marriage. In AD 50, a typical Gentile would have no problem with fornication.

Our modern society seems think the exact same way.

Some of these things that James is encouraging the Gentiles to avoid are things that could really be done without actually sinning against the Lord.

With the issue of what kinds of food to eat, Jesus Himself said that it wasnít what a person ate that defiled a person.

Mr 7:15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

But fornication is different.

There are no Scriptures that ever give the indication that fornication is allowable.

When you are involved in fornication, youíre crossing a line that will have tragic results in your life.

1 Cor 6:13-20 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. {14} And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. {15} Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. {16} What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. {17} But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. {18} Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. {19} What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? {20} For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

Godís desire was always that the physical relationship be in an atmosphere of trust. And the only level of trust thatís appropriate is one where you will never leave each other, for any reason, except when in "death do you part".

When you expose these deepest parts of your soul to another person who will turn around and cheapen you because theyíre only in it for the physical, it does great damage to your soul.


God gives you a million dollar soul. Yet every time you share with another person intimately, you give half of it away. Thatís no problem if the other person is always with you, for the rest of your life in marriage. But when they get up and move on, they take half of your million dollars with them. And for the person who is involved with lots of people, pretty soon their soul is only worth a few bucks.

Donít cheapen yourself. Save yourself for your lifelong partner.

3) Blood (blood and things strangled)

This was something God specifically had asked the Israelites to avoid Ė

Le 17:10-11 And whatsoever man [there be] of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it [is] the blood [that] maketh an atonement for the soul.

This is part of whatís involved with Kosher meats. When an animal is to be butchered, it has to be killed in a specific way, so the blood is completely drained out. In a Gentile slaughterhouse, animals are simply shot and then cut up. But for Kosher foods, the animal has to be hung up, itís throat cut, and the blood has to drain out of the animal as it dies.

Why did God ask the Jews to do this?

Because He wanted to use blood in a specific way, to be a symbol of the life of an animal, and to use it as a way of paying the price for another personís sin.

God didnít want the Jews to lose the idea that blood could pay for sins. He wanted them to understand why their Messiah had to die on a cross and shed His blood for them.

:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him

The issue of abstaining from these things was not so they could be saved, but so they would not be a stumbling block to the Jewish people around them.

While thereís a chance to reach the beloved Jewish people, James doesnít want them turned away by the pagan practices of these Gentile Christians.


Stumbling blocks / Walking in love.

(Rom 14:13-15 NKJV) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. {14} I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. {15} Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

(1 Cor 8:13 NKJV) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

There are some areas in todayís society that seem to be a little on the gray side.

Movies, TV, alcohol, smoking

Some people are stumbled by various standards. If you know a person is stumbled by it, why do it? Itís not "walking in love" if you try to rub it in their face.

Would you be willing to stop watching your favorite TV show for the sake of not causing someone else to stumble?