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When Drinking, Politics, Cussing, and Circumcision Divide A Church

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
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June 9, 2021 9:00 am

When Drinking, Politics, Cussing, and Circumcision Divide A Church

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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June 9, 2021 9:00 am

The early Church was anything but vanilla! It was full of people from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities!

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Today on Summit Life, Pastor J.D. Greer explains the Jewish dilemma. Welcome to Summit Life with Pastor J.D. Greer.

I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. We're in a teaching series titled Scent as we explore the mission of the early church throughout the Book of Acts. And today, Pastor J.D. reminds us that the early church was anything but vanilla. It was full of people from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities.

And you know what? That diversity was designed by God. So if you've missed any of the previous messages in this study in the Book of Acts, you can catch up online.

Or if you'd like the complete unedited message transcripts, download them for free at Now, here's Pastor J.D. Well, in case you forgot, or you are joining us for the very first time, the Book of Acts tells the rather remarkable story of how a group of ordinary people, blue collar workers and tax collectors and a few women, started the greatest religious movement in history. The story, by any measure, whether you're a Christian or not, just the story itself is really rather remarkable.

Never had a larger assignment been given to a less qualified group of people. After Jesus is raised from the dead, a little review here with you. After he's raised from the dead, he gets his disciples together, this little ragtag group, in Acts 1, and he announces to them on the side of a mountain, your job now is to take this message and to spread it all around the world and to make disciples of people in every nation. And then Acts 1 says, after he said that, he just floated off up into the atmosphere. And you've got to think about what that moment was like for them. I mean, here they are, and he just floats off.

Acts 1 says he goes up through a cloud and just disappears. And they're kind of looking at each other, and finally one of them says, does he, the whole world, does he know how big the whole world is? And the guy's like, well, yeah, I mean, he can see it from way up there.

He's got to know how big it is. And then they stand there, and then they begin. And somehow, here we are 2,000 years later as a result of what they began to do. How did they do it? How did that group of people who had never been more than 50 miles outside of their hometowns, didn't speak other languages, how did they start the largest religious movement in history with no money, no education, no power, nothing?

The answer we saw the last time we studied this was really two things. One, Jesus gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was his spirit, which would guide them and empower them and build the church. Jesus said, I will build my church through you.

Not, you're going to build the church for me. You get this sense, studying the book of Acts, that they're being moved by this unseen hand. Half the time, the disciples are doing the wrong thing. The Holy Spirit is overcoming what they do, so the apostles are not the heroes.

It's this force that is moving them. I've showed you that the very first verse in the book of Acts, Acts 1-1, Luke, who is the author of Acts, is also the author of the Gospel of Luke. Luke says the former book, meaning the Gospel of Luke, I wrote to you to tell you all the things that Jesus began to do and to teach. What began to do and teach implies that he continues now to do and teach things in the book of Acts. In other words, it's not that in the Gospel of Luke, it was Jesus that was doing all the work, and now in the book of Acts, it's the church doing the work.

It's that Jesus started through his incarnate body in the Gospel of Luke, and now he is continuing his work on earth through the church. One, he gave them the Holy Spirit. The second thing that was true of them, that made them so successful, is they were absolutely certain of the fact that Jesus had raised from the dead. What that meant was that whenever they encountered an obstacle or some kind of opposition, that's what they fell back on. When they were confronted with questions they couldn't answer, or they got into arguments that they couldn't win, they were like, well, yeah, but Jesus rose from the dead. You ever been in an argument with a really smart person who was just much more knowledgeable and much more educated than you, and you knew they were wrong about something, but you just couldn't show them that because they're just too good with words and too good with arguments? It seems that the apostles got in these situations a lot. Peter, for example, in Acts 4, is in the midst of this argument with religious leaders, and finally he's like, look, I realize you guys are way more educated than me, and I realize you're way smarter, but here's the thing. There was this guy, and he was dead, and then he became alive.

And no offense to your education or your intelligence, but if I got to choose between guys who have degrees on the walls and another guy who crawled out of a grave, I'm going with the guy who crawled out of the grave. So if you really believe that Jesus raised from the dead, wouldn't that change how you approach difficult questions? A lot of times people ask me, I just have this problem, and I object to this, and here's why I'm not a Christian, and I usually ask them. I'm like, look, let's just say that right in the middle of this conversation, right here, right now, Jesus just appeared, rose from the dead, right here in front of your eyes, and he said to you, hey, that's a great question, there is an answer to it, but I'm not going to give it to you right now. In fact, I may not give it to you even while you're alive. You may have to wait to heaven for me to answer that question. I asked him, if you saw that, would you be willing to suspend your unbelief because the Jesus who raised from the dead told you to trust him for a few years?

And they almost always say yes. And I say, so the issue is not your objection, the issue is the fact that you're not really convinced that Jesus raised from the dead. Because if you're convinced that Jesus raised from the dead, it actually gives you the ability to believe the things that are really difficult. We explain faith around here as the unexplainable, that's the questions I can't answer, meaning the undeniable, that's the fact that Jesus raised from the dead.

I believe there is more than sufficient evidence to show that Jesus raised from the dead, and that's what propelled the disciples through the most fierce opposition. When they faced obstacles, they couldn't overcome. When Rome had put their leaders into prison, when their families were being fed to the lions, when they had no money, they said, yeah, but Jesus, see, he rose from the dead. And if he could overcome that obstacle, he could certainly overcome an obstacle like no money or the fact that Rome's against us. Church, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, what kind of confidence will that give us in our mission as we go forward to make disciples of people in Raleigh-Durham and all the different parts of Raleigh-Durham and all around the world?

And the answer is it gives us great confidence. So Acts is the story of how this earthly community that is filled with the Spirit and sure of the resurrection with no money, no power, nothing else to their name, spread that gospel message over the entire planet. And along the way, Luke, who is the author of Acts, is gonna stop to tell you these stories about things that happened to this first church so that you and I can learn from their example about the church that we are a part of in our day. And that brings us to Acts 15. So if you have a Bible and you haven't opened it there yet, Acts 15, we're gonna begin right in verse 1. The church encounters a problem that I'm gonna tell you could have significantly derailed the church had they not handled it exactly the way that they did. I don't want to overstate this, but this was a subtle danger that doesn't look that dangerous on the surface, but had they not done it the way that they did it in Acts 15, you and I would probably not be sitting here today. Now, I'll also tell you that a lot of people, and when they preach through the book of Acts, I've noticed this, don't preach on this text because it is about a theological debate, and theological debates can be boring, right? But this one is gonna answer some really important questions. For example, what role should politics play in the church?

I mean, like Republican and Democrat, that kind of stuff. How should we talk about that in the church? How should we handle gray areas like, is it okay to drink alcohol? Or if marijuana is ever legalized in North Carolina, is it okay for a Christian to smoke marijuana? And what do you do if people in your small group disagree on those questions about alcohol? How should you handle that? And even, what should you do when a new believer cusses in church? Some of you are like, this passage deals with all that? Yep, I'm gonna show you that.

I'll show you right at the end, but let's unpack the story first, okay? Verse 1, But some men came down from Judea, and were teaching the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. Now, a lot of the first Christians were Jews, and Jews had been raised on Old Testament law. And one of the most important Old Testament laws was that you needed to be circumcised.

It was a God-given sign that separated the people of God from the people of the world. So a lot of these new Jewish Christians were teaching. They were like, look, if you really want to be a child of God, it's right there in the book of Deuteronomy, you gotta be circumcised. What this meant was that the new members classes in the early church primarily consisted of women and children, right?

The women all went to starting point, and the men were out in the car going, I'm just not so sure about this. I need to pray about this for a few weeks longer. Verse 2, And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go back to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders to talk about this question. Now, you should keep in mind that this is right in the middle of the apostle Paul's ridiculously successful missionary and writing career. He's planting churches in places all over the world that have never had a church. On top of that, he's writing books that you and I are going to still be studying 2,000 years later. If you're an author and you have a book that's still being studied 10 years later, that's considered wildly successful. Here you've got Paul writing books, all of which we still study 2,000 years later.

My own wife could probably not tell you all three books that I have written. Paul is in a ridiculously successful career, and he's going to stop, and he's going to go back to Jerusalem on foot, mind you, which is a long way in order to talk about this problem. So whatever this is is so significant, he's willing to stop planting churches and stop writing books so that he can go back and deal with this. Verse 6, the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, which means a lot of yelling, Peter stood up and said to them, Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us when we believe. He made no distinction between us, the circumcised, and them, the uncircumcised, having cleansed their hearts by faith, just like he cleansed our hearts. Now, therefore, why are you testing God by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? You see, there were 613 Jewish laws. Circumcision was just one of those.

There were 612 others. And Peter's looking at everybody. He's like, I don't know about you guys, but I never felt like I was keeping them all, and I was born a Jew.

I mean, first I could hardly keep them straight. How far could we walk on the Sabbath again? Could we eat llama meat? Was that unclean? How about turkey bacon? Does that make the cut? What about yoga pants?

Is that a forbidden fabric, or is that just bad taste for guys? No matter how hard I tried to keep these laws, I never felt like I was measuring up. Did you, Thaddeus? How about you, Bartholomew? Did you feel like you were keeping them all? Matthew?

Did you feel like you had a good track record on those? Well, no. If we could barely keep those laws ourselves, and we were born Jews, why would we project this burden onto Gentiles? Verse 11, but we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

In other words, none of these laws saved us anyway. They didn't make us closer to God. It wasn't what we did that made us close to God. It's what Jesus had done. We put faith in what Jesus had done, not in what we were doing. That's what saved us, and so if that's what makes them close to God, why are we projecting this burden onto them? Verse 12, and all the assembly fell silent. And then they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James, who as you recall, by the way, the half-brother of Jesus, I've told you that before, which is one of the big reasons I believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead, because James is now the de facto leader of the church. I've told you it's an easy concept to get your mind around.

How many of you have an older brother? Raise your hand. What would it take to convince you that he was God and raised from the dead? That's going to take a lot of convincing, right? James believes that his older brother is God.

That just shows me that it's legit. James replied, brothers, listen to me. It's my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. I would like to suggest that we engrave that phrase into the cornerstone of this church, and we engrave it into the heart of every single member who is a part of our church. Any obstacle that we can eliminate, any opposition that we can get rid of, I think we ought to, even when it involves preferences for things that I really like in church, even when it involves things that I've gotten very comfortable with. I think about it, you see, in my preaching. In my preaching, I don't want to make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God because I use a bunch of terms they don't understand. I don't want to become a church that is full of cliques that are nearly impossible to penetrate and make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God because they just don't know how to get along here. Nor do I want to make it difficult because we present as a church this artificial facade that makes everybody think we got it all together, and so people come in here and they're like, I've got nothing in common with these people, right? Maybe you've been in church for so long that you've forgotten this, but if you're kind of far from God, you show up. You've got all these people walking around looking like they step out of a J. Crew magazine, and they've got their big old Bibles under their arms with the naked baby angels in the front, and they're smiling at each other going, How are you, brother? I'm fine. God bless you.

And God bless you. Then they look at it, and it's just like, I don't know if I belong here, right? Because everybody here looks like a stock photo family, and I just don't know if I belong here. In the church that I grew up in, you dressed up.

That's just what you did. I mean, if you had a three-piece suit, you wore it on Sunday, that was your Sunday best, right? And they did that as a respect to God, and so I'm not totally dissing on that, but there was a woman in our church who would never dress up, and one time I asked her, and she said, It's because there are people who come to this church whose lives don't look anything like everybody here dressed up, and I want them to see at least one person here who they can say, Well, at least somebody else here is like me, and I belong, right? See, we have to make it not difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God in how we do our church. I don't want to make it difficult for guests drawn here when they hear God is at work here, but they get here and our facilities are a mess, the parking is disastrous, our kid rooms are overcrowded, all because we don't have enough volunteers.

See, I don't want to stand up here and yell at you about the need to volunteer because I want you to do a good deed. I'm doing it because I don't want us to make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. I don't want to make it difficult for people turning to God because I mock or speak condescendingly about people who are on the outside because that's what turned a lot of people off the church to begin with. I don't want to make it difficult for African Americans or Asians or people of other races that are turning to God because we have no multicultural representation in our leadership, and so they assume that to become a Christian means you capitulate to some other culture that's not yours.

I don't want to make it difficult for those struggling with same-sex attraction who are turning to God by stigmatizing that sin or treating it as if it's any different than my own. You know, I talked to a lesbian girl. I ran into her out in the community somewhere, and she said, you know, I go to your church, on and off. She says, let me tell you why I go to your church. She says, it's not because you say what I always want to hear.

She says, in fact, you make me mad a lot. She said, but I go there because you don't treat my sin as if it's any different than yours. And I get the sense when you open the Bible that you're just telling me what God says, and you're not changing it to fit what I wanted to say, and she goes, well, I don't agree with it yet.

I at least know you're speaking to me in truth, and I at least know that you don't treat me as any fundamentally different than you. I don't want to make it difficult for people like her to come to God. I don't want to make it difficult for Democrats to come to God by mixing secondary political positions in with the gospel message. I don't want to make it difficult for Republicans by doing the same thing. I don't want to make it difficult for Duke fans to come to God by rubbing it in their face that they got eliminated in the first round this year at the NCAA tournament.

I don't want to make it difficult for state fans by pointing out that they haven't had a great team since 1982. You catch my drift in all this? Listen, we got a message that is life or death, and there is no other message, secondary message, no matter how important, no matter how much I love it that should ever get in the way of the primary message because the primary message is the only message that God has given me to make famous in this area. Verse 20, instead we should write to them, the Gentiles that is, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality and from the meat of strangled animals and from blood, and you read that and you're like, what?

It kind of seems like a random list, right? Don't have immoral sex and don't choke animals to death. So what is this about? Well, sexual immorality, in the pagan world, sexual immorality was just accepted as the common practice. Nobody thought it was wrong. To say it was wrong to save sex for something only to be done in marriage was as foreign to them as it would be in a college fraternity today.

Right? And so, he is saying to them, remind them that the moral commands of God have not changed. Now, let me make this clear.

Why did he only pick that one? He's not saying that it's okay to murder and lie and steal, just don't have sex outside of marriage. It's just that that one was the only moral commandment that Gentiles commonly accepted as being okay. You see, for 2,000 years, Christian theologians, listen, have distinguished between the moral commands of God in the Old Testament and then the, what we call the ceremonial or the religious or civil commands that are in the Bible. And what he's saying to them is tell them the moral commands of God are still in effect because God doesn't change. And what God thought was impure 2,000 years ago, he thinks is impure today.

Okay? All right, you say, okay, well, that explains that. But what's with the not eating meat from strangled animals and from blood and the food polluted by idols? These things were really offensive to Jews. You see that next verse, verse 21, where he says, you know, in all the synagogues, this is red. What he means is all Jews kind of live this way.

Listen, this is important. So tell the new Gentile Christians to not offend the Jews. Don't make it difficult for other Jews to be around them because they just do things that are flagrantly offensive to them.

Everybody was like, whoa, wait a minute. So we just went from 613 laws down to two, which are basically avoid sexual immorality and don't offend the Jews. I mean, that's quite a reduction. By the way, I hear a lot of people say this to me. You conservative Christians, you don't really take the Bible seriously. You just pick and choose the parts of the Bible you like. They always point to Leviticus. They're like, see, you obey all the stuff about sex, but what about the stuff about the dietary restrictions and not eating hamburgers with cheese on it, not wearing polyester and that kind of stuff. Why do you obey the Bible on sex, but not on these other things? You're inconsistent.

No. See, we are under the authority of the Bible until that authority tells us that part of it is no longer binding. We're not picking and choosing and putting aside the dietary and the ceremonial restrictions. We're just putting aside what the Bible tells us to put aside. The Bible tells us to continue to observe the moral dimensions of the law because God doesn't change and we can put aside the ceremonial, the dietary, the fabric restriction because Christ has fulfilled all those things in his life and death. So we're just doing exactly what the Bible tells us to do.

It's not inconsistent. Verse 22, they sent Judas then, not the one who betrayed Jesus, by the way, because remember, he was dead, but another one, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter, greetings. Verse 28, it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements, that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols from blood and from what's been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

Toodaloo. Imagine the excitement reading that letter, by the way, if you're a Gentile. So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.

And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement and all the men went to the new member's class the very next week. Every church, listen, and every Christian will face these inevitable drifts, both in the church's mission and in your personal Christian life. But we ought not to make it hard for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

So the question is not, what do I prefer and what do you prefer? The question is, how are we going to reach those that God is bringing to himself outside of our church? In everything we do, I've got to be considering people who have no voice here.

That's what we're doing, making it hard for them. Wow. Okay. The first new member's class ever. You're listening to Pastor J.D. Greer on Summit Life.

We're in a teaching series titled Sent, and you can find all of the complete, unedited message transcripts online at Now, J.D., we've talked a little bit before about how we want our listeners to get connected to a local church. And the truth is that we've planted quite a few of these churches across the country.

Can you remind us how to find one of those church plants? Yeah, we want you, our Summit Life listeners, to be part of our mission. That's the whole idea.

It's not that you're listening to us talk about it, but you become part of it. You can do that through prayer. You can do that by becoming a financial partner with us. We are all part of one body of Christ, and we love to think about our Summit Life community as being together on mission. Actually, in fact, Molly, we have some new churches that are going to be launching soon in Orlando, one in St. Louis, and one in Myrtle Beach. In fact, Molly, let me take a minute to talk specifically to, I think they call them empty nesters. You might be considering moving to be closer to family and to grandchildren.

Here's a bold challenge. Why not consider joining with one of our church plants in your new city? Just go to There's a link in the bottom footer of every page to a list of all of our churches.

You can find out, in fact, maybe there's one in your city already. And if you're in one of these cities, you can just reach out to the pastor and tell them how you heard about it, how you got connected, and consider joining the launch team in one of these other cities. While you're on the website, make sure that you take a second look at our latest resource. It's volume two of a study guide called Scent, the Book of Acts, and it was created especially for you, our Summit Life listeners.

This personal guidebook is jam-packed with commentaries, study questions, and topics for personal reflection. Ask for your copy today when you give $25 or more to the ministry. Just give us a call at 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220. Or ask for the Acts study guide when you give online at Don't forget to check out that link to all of our Summit Collaborative churches around the country.

And there's even one in the UK. I'm Molly Vitovich. Be sure to join us tomorrow for the conclusion of today's message about the need for diversity. That's Thursday on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-17 11:59:13 / 2023-08-17 12:10:48 / 12

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