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The First Church Council

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice
The Truth Network Radio
September 4, 2020 8:00 am

The First Church Council

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice

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September 4, 2020 8:00 am

Is faith alone enough to make you a child of Godor is there more to it? Do you have to do, or not do, certain things? Follow certain laws or traditions? These were hot questions for the early church, and they finally had a summit meeting to hash it out. Everybody who was anybody was there.

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Is faith alone enough to make you a child of God.

Work is there more to it. You have to do or not do certain things follow certain laws or traditions. These were hot questions for the early church and they finally had a summit meeting to hash it out. Everyone who was anyone was there.

Welcome to the Bible study our radio and Internet program with Dr. James voice preparing you to think and act like a serious problem was threatened to split the church so Paul and Barnabas joined the elders and apostles in Jerusalem to talk it through. Let's listen as Dr. Boyce discusses the meeting we now call the first church council.

Turn with me if you will chose 1/15 chapter of acts where we have the account of the first and by some measures the greatest counsel in the history of the Christian church are the hardest things for us to grasp as human beings is the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. We always want to add something to it.

We want to add our own good works. Matter fact I would say that the only doctrine that is even close to it.

So far as it being difficult understand is in understanding how works nevertheless fit in after your converted but that's not quite so difficult because at that point you're already born again and you have the ministry of the Holy Spirit to help you understand it or even if you don't understand it. At least to lead you in the right direction when you're talking about salvation by grace through faith that you don't understand that you're trying to add anything to the work of Christ. While your lot saved and at that point you really have a fatal misunderstanding. Now we know that is our own time. People will say all of course you need the grace of God to be saved, none of us can save ourselves but you nevertheless have to add something to it. Some would say your are saved by the work of Christ, but you must be baptized or not baptized, you can't be saved.

Some people would say well yes you are saved by the work of Christ.

But you have to belong to our particular church because our church is the only true church is no salvation outside the church. So unless you belong to our church. You can't be saved now in these early years of the Christian church. The issues were different but I want you to understand from the very beginning that the principal was exactly the same. There were people who had grown up in Judaism had been taught out of the law and who were greatly attached to all the traditions of the Jews. They thought, and indeed, as we look at it if we can look out at all. Sympathetically, with some justice, that there were certain things that you just had to do if you were to be say is wonderfully surly Jewish Christians would've said Christ is, after all, that's what the Jews looking for for centuries the Messiah was merely a matter of identifying and when he came against Jesus as the Messiah and it is true no doubt they would've said profoundly true that Jesus had to die because he was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He by his death is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament system of sacrifices and yet they would've said you cannot be saved without being a Jew and door so that Jewishness is the door of circumcision is admin building in the church for a long time more more Gentiles were responding, and moreover, in the ministry of men such as Paul and Barnabas, and undoubtedly there others like them though their stories are not all told in the book of acts.

The gospel was being increasingly presented and increasingly widely presented to Gentiles everywhere and nobody was saying in these Gentile communities that you first of all, or at least somewhere along the line had to keep the law of Moses. Now that they because God revealed himself to Israel audit. First of all called out of people in Abraham God taught Abraham at the very beginning they had to be circumcised as a sign of his membership in that elect people to Gentiles say they were not circumcised of this chapter tells us what the church did.

And it's interesting. It's a great chapter what they did is great. I want you to see. By the time we get to the end that they really were blessed by God and his counsel thesis to be argued is stated very clearly because Luke, the author wants us to understand precisely what the issue once you find a place matter fact the first five verses deal with the thesis and these verses begin with a statement of it and then they close with a statement of the thesis of those that were unhappy with the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles as this verse one.

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be say then they had a second statement of it verse five it made it explicit reference to the Gentiles the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses have to understand what was involved. There was a question you see the Gentiles could be say everybody knew that all down through the history of the Old Testament, the Gentiles were say Rahab the harlot of Jericho was say Raymond Syrian St. Ruth the Moabitess was St. nobody doubted that but usually in each of these cases, those people were say either by or at least in conjunction with incorporation and the people of Israel might say, well name in the Syrian was an exception.

He never moved back to the land and settled there. And that's true, but to remember the story in which he took dark from Israel and brought it back to his homeland whenever he prayed, knelt down upon Jewish dirt. In other words, approaching the God of Israel is a Jew so that was the point all these many Gentiles were saved but they were saved as Jews and so it wasn't a question of whether or not Gentiles would be say, but whether they had to become Jews first course is what this matter. Circumcision involved wasn't just matter of a single external right wasn't just like we would say well you have to be baptized to be saved or gotta take communion to be saved and have it mean no more than that a great deal more than that we circumcised meant to be incorporated within the people of Israel and in conjunction with a have to take upon oneself all the burden of the observance of the law which the Jew understood to be his divine responsibility. Matter fact, Peter makes that clear. Later on, as he begins to talk about it because he speaks of the yoke being put upon their necks, which he said, speaking of himself and all other Jews. Neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear, but that's what was involved over the Gentiles. First of all to be circumcised to be saved meant that they had to take on all that burden of the law of Israel as the Jews understood it had to observe the Jewish feasts had to observe the Jewish dietary laws they had to observe the pharisaic interpretation of the Decalogue. We know that that had a profound weight in these early days, even among people is enlightened as Peter because, as Paul tells us later on in the book of Galatians. Even Peter wavered on it. At one point he was in Antioch and drifted away somehow not wanting to offend his Jewish brethren, giving the impression that one had to keep kosher to be a Christian we say in defense of these madness circumcision party because that's what Paul later calls them in Galatians that it is possible to give these men the benefit of the doubt and say that they were at least honest man policy writes about it. Galatians, it would seem, is not quite so charitable. He regards this is a heresy and indeed it is and those who were advancing it does the supporters of the church. Enemies of the church of God, those upon whom he pronounces an anathema but it is possible to understand that these were honest man is even Christians. They had really believed in Jesus Christ still had their Judaism said to them, as we would say to them if we met them today, but don't you understand that Jesus died for all man they would've said yes of course he died for all men. That's what the Messiah of Israel is to then they would've said nonsense of the last don't you understand that God is given us the law they would've been fundamentalist at that point they would've said DOS don't you believe the Bible, we believe the Bible God gave us special revelation through Moses and what God speaks is binding.

God said those were his people must be circumcised. How can you say if you disobey the command brought it back that your saved, how do you know they would say to us that you're not operating under a great delusion say when you begin to put it that way. Your argument begins to carry some weight and you begin to say as many people undoubtedly did hear in these early years of the history of the church. Perhaps the circumcision party's rights have to Gentiles are not in a full understanding of the gospel. Perhaps they are not saved while it was a great deal at stake.

Think what was involved.

I make the case for them that's the case, but listen what follows. If that is true.

First of all Paul and Barnabas were false teachers. Because Paul and Barnabas were arrayed on the other side. Paul and Barnabas said you do not have to keep the law of Moses to be saved. Salvation is by the work of Christ received by faith alone. Paul was the first to say, but you must nevertheless live a righteous life that anybody who says of my gospel.

Therefore, let's sin the grace may abound doesn't understand it at all. A person like that deserves to be condemned. Always the first to say that he would say as theologians in the church later formulated your saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone through faith is going to result in works good deeds, righteousness, adherence to the moral law of God. Paul was very strong on insisting that nothing nothing nothing is a prerequisite to faith you say well it must be circumcised and believe must be baptized and believe must go to church and believe you must belong this to nomination and believe he said that circles gospel and at that point legalizing party was diametrically opposed say they were right there understanding the Old Testament was right. Circumcision was a requirement for Christian people.

Then Paul and Barnabas wrong and they were not true apostles and the books we have in the New Testament from the pen of the apostle Paul, or false teaching. That's the first conclusion. The second implication is this if you have to be circumcised to be saved and that is exactly what they say. Then faith is not enough.

Let's throw out the Reformation cannot say justification by faith alone. Sola vide I just is not true. All may possess a certain amount of spiritual insight may be throw that faith is important and that is valuable to stress that, but it is not true to say that men or women are saved by faith alone because you have to have circumcision, you have to come under the yoke of the Jewish system you have to take on the burden of the law, and is only when you do that even though you may also believe on Jesus Christ, that you find salvation in the third implication is this not only were Paul and Barnabas.

False teachers not only as faith not enough, but thirdly Gentiles. All these churches scattered throughout the Gentile world were not. Moreover, as mere Gentiles could not be saved could not be Christians what was happening out there that and I called him Lester Derby, Antioch, city, and later as were going to find Macedonian Athens and Berea wrong all the way around the world. What was happening. If this is true answer would have to be that a false religion was advancing throughout the world.

I go through that simply to say that this is snow mere meeting of Christian people. This is an important counsel and the decision that came out of that undoubtedly affected old history of the church, Jesus Christ. As we know it now. The Council gets underway in verse six, and there's a very brief statement.

The apostles and elders maps to consider this question. I don't know if Lucas deliberately understating what went on but he is at least presenting a certain public side of it, in contrast to what we know from Paul's letter to the Galatians went on behind the scenes or I can put it this way, if you don't like it you just make a metal reservation at this point. Try to explain why I think this is I go along with putting the best possible face upon the Council and Paul who had a point to make in writing to the Galatians was telling the story as it really was say what Luke apparently doesn't tell us here is that when Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem. Paul took Titus along a Gentile, as a symbol and element. An illustration of one.

It was a Christian but was not circumcised when he got there were people important people who tried to persuade him to compromise at this point Paul was outraged something of his outrage is visible in those first two chapters of Galatians, but doesn't say anything about that here I Paul writes about that in Galatians, he says it was great great pressure and he makes a point of it to say I did not yield for an instant. You see Paul well understood that if it's a choice between the truth of the gospel and harmony in the church, then we must come down on the side of the gospel. We can live with a certain amount of disharmony. It's unfortunate we don't want it. We try to avoid it when we can we can live with it. We cannot flit. We certainly cannot live spiritually without the gospel and so Paul made a great point to preserve that I was one other thing he tells us in Galatians and that's worth thinking about, just a bit. Paul speaks there in a very guarded way to suggest that the pressure he had felt in the matter of Titus came from those he calls the pillars is one other thing that Paul tells us in Galatians that Luke does not tell us here in the 15th chapter of acts that is, the pressure came from those that Paul calls the pillars or as he says in another place. They are those who consider themselves to be important to say exactly who they are but almost in the same verse, she mentions Peter and James, I don't want to read too much into that, but I think what Paul is saying is that he was pressured to compromise by the very people who should have been most concerned for the truth of Christianity. Peter Peter rock James large brother, the leader, the chairman if you will of the church council doesn't say that it's interesting is in it. I guess I really think that's what happened that that went on behind the scenes, but what Luke tells us, is not what went on behind the scene. But what went on in public, and the wonderful thing I'd like to see this because it really is wonderful in spite of the fact that these management really wants these men almost gave the gospel away in public when they had met in Council and they prayed about it and ask for God's blessing God led them publicly to stand together and withhold the truth that is really wonderful how it happened with three of them spoke for a few count Pottery Barn separately and the first of those that spoke was Peter. Now there were a lot of people who had stood up to argue the issue before the verse seven says it was after much discussion Peter got up and made his speech. No doubt there were pros and cons and Peter Paul and Barnabas and James the other sat there and they let them air positions that last after a lot of this discussion, Peter got up and he gave his testimony was interesting what he said the same verse were seven brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips message of the gospel and believe I find it interesting that Peter was not trying to speak ex cathedra. At this point one branch of the church.

Regards, Peter as the first pope and what Pope says from his throne ex cathedra this gospel is beyond question. The church has to accept it.

Peter did not speak that way. He didn't try to pull rank. He didn't say brothers you know I'm first of the most important of the apostles. He didn't do anything of the sort. Instead, he simply began to rehearse her daughter Donna was common knowledge. Everybody knew that Peter had his vision down a job while he was on the roof audit told him not to call unclean. Anything God called clean and then same time.

That vision had occurred.

These men arrived from the house of Cornelius and Peter clearly understood was God's way of saying that he was to go there and preach the gospel to Gentiles and he did and they believe, as Peter talks about.

It explains what it is.

The got it done. This was God's work on Peter's work and what God did was to save the Gentiles apart from circumcision doesn't use the word does talk about God giving them the Holy Spirit. Just as C did us so that he says verse nine he made no distinction between us and them. See the conclusion that if he made no distinction between us and them. And yet, nevertheless gave them the spirit that it must follow the Gentiles by the decree of God. However, we may understand the Old Testament Gentiles by the decree of God are saved apart from becoming Jewish people.

Then Peter makes a second point and this is very important thing for Jews to hear. Peter said now then verse 10. Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear the concession say Peter is acknowledging that they themselves chose. He was one had not been able to bear the law of Moses. Why was because Peter certainly would've said if I had gone depressive and perhaps the dentist may be merely a condensed version of his testimony was because the law is not given.

For that reason, all the law was given to show what pleases God. But the law and all its ramifications was given. Not that we might obtain it perfectly, but that the law might reveal our sin. In other words the point us to the Savior. Instead of that juice as Peter says here.

As Paul says elsewhere in his letters entirely missed it, thinking that the law was a burden to be born a yoke to be carried as peace by peace law by law precept by precept. They worked out their own salvation. Peter said what you Jews above all to know that that is been a colossal failure in the notice something else. Notice verse 11. I think that in all written comments that have come from the mouth of Peter. This is certainly the most gracious of them all. Peter says no, we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are saved just as they are. You say well why is that so gracious it is because normally Peter the Jew would've said it the other way around. Peter would've said we believe that they can be saved by grace through faith. Just like us to be just like us to see that was the issue that they have to become like us or not.

And so Peter gracious manner. Harley turns around, he said we believe that by grace. I grace we chose to be saved to just the way in saving those Gentiles everything over that way everything when you think about other people you like us to be Savior probably further from the gospel when you think that way than any other way you look at other people and see what God is doing in their lives is not wonderful. The only thing is more wonderful is that I can be saved just like that I can be saved as they are saved. That's what Peter was saying. I think it was perhaps because of that, and also perhaps because it was so uncharacteristic of Peter. The next verse says the whole assembly became silent as they now began to listen to Barnabas and Paul the second group to speak. I put them together because he told her story together, they traveled together they experience the same things they had the same theology. I guess knowing Paulette probably had been very difficult for him to keep quiet in a very logical mind. The other lawyer's mind.

He thought like a Roman probably because a lot of his education at been that way even though we knew Jewish law.

These people at the Council weren't thinking that way. They were all thinking in terms of God's acts and deeds and Paul was thinking logically and it probably was very difficult for him to sit there and listen to it all wanted to jump up. I'm sure insight looks you're being inconsistent but he didn't.

He kept quiet and for the money was a very smart man when you read Paul's speech understand.

He always understood his audience spoke to the Jews. He spoke as a Jew he spoke to the Gentiles as a Gentile.

Here you see heat understood as we would say how the wind was blowing. But Peter said as God worked through me. This is what God did, and who are we to stand against God. So all Barnabas get out but what they say is virtually the same thing.

They don't argue theology at this point rather they tell about all the miraculous signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them later when Paul writes to the Galatians and the Galatians undoubtedly were in the picture here Paul says to them. Remember all the signs and wonders that God did among you, as I preached that gospel when he argues the truth of his gospel to the Gentiles. He points to the signs and wonders when he argues the gospel. Here he does precisely the same God is working sets. Who are we to stand against God. James stands up to preach James. Interestingly enough, was the chairman of the Council, but Peter seems to of been one of greatest authority. Certainly, a legalist in his early days. Certainly very rigorous Jew comes through even in his letter later on in the New Testament. He didn't think like Paul, since formed by the same kind of cosmopolitan culture that had formed the mind and outlook of the great apostle to the Gentiles, but he stands up and begins to speak to him building on what Peter has said now he says exactly the same thing. James was also wise.

She understood that the people that had to be one over at this point, Gentiles.

After all, probably what many of them. Titus was there maybe a few others wasn't Gentiles of the Jews needed to be one over so he begins by referring not Paul the apostle to the Gentiles that may have been a sticking point in itself but he begins by referring to the testimony of Peter the apostle juice and he refers to them notice this.

It's these little details that make the story live refers to a modest Peter and his Greek name Petross means a stone by his Jewish name Simon finally pointed out by the most Jewish version of his Jewish name. Not even Simon the simian simian says one of the fathers of one of the tribes of Israel brothers listen to me. He says simian its assignment here but simian in the real version has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles of people for himself, is what God is doing. Taking the Gentiles and from the Jews people for himself, and then James did what we have missed us for in the debate. He quoted Scripture quotes is from Amos one of the minor prophets comes at the very end of that book chapter 9 verses 11 and 12 only couple verses after that speak of abundant blessing in the land in the last days and the choice of these verses a significant Amos is been a prophet of judgment and has been calling for repentance from the people he spoke of all the national sins. It's very, very heavy read the book deal burden by because the sins of the people in the days of Amos are the same sins that our people are doing today describes America to a T yet oppressed, as I say is read on the book. We finally get to the end and all of a sudden it's as if light breaks through the clouds. The storm passes and the sun shining and these verses occur after this that is after the judgment after the scattering after the conquest. After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent Jewish promise is ruins I will rebuild it I will restore it, but the remnant of man may seek the Lord. Notice at all Gentiles who bear my name says the Lord. See what it's doing.

He's saying, I am sure that settles it.

God is spoken. God's said he would do it and always done it.

You heard the testimony so he said, in my judgment, therefore we must not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them and tell them to abstain from things like this food polluted by idols. Sexual immorality the meat of strangled animals and blood, but we must not tell them they have to be circumcised. I said at the beginning that I think this Council has its strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I'm wrong in this that when I come to the end.

I sense that this is probably a weakness.

It certainly statesmanlike. Whether that's a weakness or not. I can't say commentators appoint out of that in the conclusion brought by James in the letter, which is then written to the Gentile church is the one thing that is not mentioned is the point of a gamble controversy. James doesn't mention circumcision of the letter to the Gentiles doesn't mention circumcision on senses. We don't want to burden you except we do recommend these things don't do this the certain things in the last part of the letter said you would do well to avoid them. I guess I think it would've been better of answer that all yet I wasn't there. Was I who am I to say that the Council in Jerusalem aired certainly it was statesmanlike and maybe statesmanlike in the very best sense because you see later on I mentioned it to show the difficulty here they're told to abstain from food sacrificed idols. What Paul is going to deal with that later on in the Gentile churches are insight can we each meat that has been sacrificed idols. They sacrifice it, and they sold in the market and we buy that meat needed. Suppose we have friends in. We serve the meat different sacrificed idols and Paul is going to say really doesn't matter that nobody is contaminated by meeting idol is nothing the course of reading every set of somebody's conscience don't do it, and yet here you say this is what they're being told not to do. How are we to understand what probably would understand it in exactly the same way Paul was understanding it, though he stood on one side of it that is the Gentile side and James was standing on the other is the Jewish side was a matter of finding the brethren. If my eating food sacrificed to idols all going to say this in Corinthians if my eating food sacrificed idols causes my brother to stumble and I will eat no meat, says Paul, and in his own way.

I think this is what James is saying saying we have taken a stand here for the truth of the gospel know Gentile is going to be compelled to be circumcised know Gentile is going to have to take upon himself to take upon herself the entire law of Moses, but James says nevertheless we do want harmony in the church. We don't want to drive out our Jewish brethren, and neither do we want to drive out our Gentile brethren, and therefore it would be wise, we recommend it, but the Gentiles do none of these things that are so offensive to a Jewish conscience.

I guess that's hard to do. Certainly hard to know the difference. How do you know the difference between a principal which involves the very essence of the gospel which to yield is to betray Jesus Christ something which is merely a matter of practice on which one can very well yield in order to preserve the harmony of the church. It's hard but it's not impossible, and it would seem guided by the Holy Spirit that that's what this first great counsel achieved. Certainly, as Paul went back Barnabas with this letter.

I went back saying, and we know they went back saying because Paul tells us about it. In Galatians, I went back saying the Gentiles were not compelled to be circumcised. Those with appellant apostles, even though they wavered early on in the discussion. He wanted me to compromise not only understanding everything that was involved in what would be understood. Nevertheless, those polar apostles were with me in the end, and they understood and defended that which is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

Everett Harrison has one of the best commentaries on accident.

I have been able to secure reading and at this point in his commentary says that this great counsel in Jerusalem accomplished five things and I am with number one gospel of grace was reaffirmed. Number two unity of the church was preserved. Number three evangelism of the Gentiles was not hindered. Number four the authenticity of the Gentile congregations was affirmed at number five. The future of the church was secured, would be a great thing in every age of the church in every debate comes upon us. Those things would be said of us. Let us pray father we've studied a chapter in which the giants of the church wrestled the difficult issue and came out by your blessing on the side of the holy angels. Can we do the same. We would seek your power, your grace above all, seek the courage to stand by. Truth in the love to know how yields to the sensitivities of our brother Jesus. You are listening to Bible study hour with a Bible teaching of Dr. James Boyce listener supported ministry of the alliance of confessing Evangelicals. The alliance exists to promote a biblical understanding and worldview.

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