United Church of God

Acts of the Apostles: 26 - Acts 14:21-15:9

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Acts of the Apostles

26 - Acts 14:21-15:9



Acts of the Apostles: 26 - Acts 14:21-15:9


In this class, we will discuss Acts 14:21-28 thru Acts 15:1-9 and finish looking at the story of Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary evangelistic journey through Southern Asia Minor. We will look at Paul's example of strengthening the disciples, faithful teachings and appointment of elders. Also, we will look at the dispute Paul and Barnabas had with men from Judea and the discussion that followed in Jerusalem over circumcision dividing the Jews and the Gentiles. At the end of this class, we discuss the importance of having a "fellowship of the heart" - a unity of the spirit.


[Darris McNeely]: In this class, then we're going to finish up Acts 14 and the story of Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary evangelistic journey through Southern Asia Minor. We left Paul in Derbe, and they were beginning to retrace their steps. And we will pick up the story beginning in verse 21 and repeat where they were in the city of Derbe, where they preached the gospel and made many disciples, then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. And in the last class, I mentioned that they could just as easily...easier, shorter, gone through the mountains around Tarsus and then down to Antioch. But they chose to turn around and go back to where he had been beaten in Lystra and where they had been run out of Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.

Now, this is where we get into a bit of the story that talks about Paul's, really his care for the congregations. It would've been easier just to kind of leave it all and gone on back to Antioch, given a report. But they were stoned. They had to leave quickly, there was unrest. And they had people, disciples who had responded to their message. And Paul, and no doubt Barnabas, knew the same thing, that they needed to go back to encourage them.

Remember, Barnabas is the son of encouragement. And so, they had to go back and do that. But as we're going to see, there is something else to what they are doing. And let's look at what the text tells us. I think that in verse 22 as they went back through these cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, “they were strengthening the souls of the disciples,” strengthening the souls of the disciples. Think about that term. In other words, they were encouraging them, they were bolstering them. How does a minister, or how does a Church, a pastoral heart like Paul had do this? How does he strengthen the disciples? Think about that.

Well, you know, one of the ways we get strengthened today is we go to Church. We fellowship with one another. We enjoy one another's company in the Church with like minds, shared faith, and duties. And we love one another. We care for one another. And by doing so, you're strengthened, aren't you? I hope you are, when you go to Church. I mean, you know, a Church congregation needs to create the environment of peace and fellowship based on love to where people are strengthened when they go to Church. They're strengthened by the fellowship, they're strengthened by the sermon, the messages that are given by the life of the congregation. And a healthy congregation will provide that for people.

And so, the very presence of Paul and Barnabas back in these cities, for at least the Sabbath or maybe more, we're not...we don't know the length of time that they spent in each place, but their presence spoke volumes that they were not just out for their money or their numbers, they loved these people. And their lives were on the line. In Lystra, they saw that, Paul being beaten. And now he's back there in the same city where they had beaten him, walking through the same gate, probably walking by at the same spot where he lay when he walked back into the city. And, you know, do you think he was traumatized by that spot? I don't think so.

But you could...you know, you could imagine him maybe a shudder or, you know, "Hey, well, that's a...I remember what happened there just a few weeks ago." And the people saw this man of courage there. And so, that gave them courage to go back to Church, to go back and to be a part of things. Same up in Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. They hadn't been beaten there, but remember in Iconium, there was going to be...they were going to be stoned. That's why they left. There was a plot, there was talk about that.

Exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying, “We must, through many tribulations, enter the Kingdom of God.” And so, they exhorted them to continue in the faith, continue their faith, their belief, Gentiles keeping the Sabbath, Gentiles learning about Christ, learning about the true God, and no longer worshiping idols, Zeus, Hermes, and all the others.

And so, they were learning the commandments. They were learning the law and the word of God. And what Paul had told them to...you know, if he had said to them, "You know, turn from these gods that are nothing, these useless things," he had to be teaching them about the true God and that idolatry and imagery and having all of these other ideas were nothing, and they were violating the commandments. So, Paul was giving them sound doctrine. If you're going to teach a group of people to continue in the faith, you're going to have to have, you know, let's say we would call it doctrine, and it's going to have to be well spelled out, which we have a fundamentals of belief, don't we? And our class, we go through all of those here at United. We have 20 fundamentals, and we have many other teachings and aspects that define our faith.

But I'm not saying that Paul had 20 in his repertoire at that time, but certainly, he was teaching them the Sabbath and the...you know, the festivals and not to get caught up in their pagan festivals. And they had plenty of pagan festivals, Dionysius, you know, festivals to all the different gods and goddesses that would've been a part of their annual calendar that they would've had to turn from and stop keeping and that would've segregated them from their towns folk.

So, they needed to be bolstered in that by an additional message and just strengthened to stay with what they were learning. And he tells them that entering into the Kingdom of God is not without trial, challenges. And Paul was a living example of it. He had survived a stoning. Now, this is our first recording of a stoning. And remember, Paul held the cloaks and the coats of those who stoned Stephen, back in the story there. It's where we were introduced to Saul. And now he's experiencing a bit of his own medicine. But they see him doing that. So, he probably had some lessons to draw from that. And so, they're strengthening the disciples, and they are continuing into faith. Now, look at verse 23.

Acts 14:23 “So, when they had appointed them elders in every Church and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

So, they appointed elders in these congregations in Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch with prayer and with fasting. So, even in verse 23, we have a kind of a method, if you will, to how such selections should be done. We've already seen that in the appointment of Barnabas and Paul to go out in Acts 13:1 by the Church, and then earlier in Acts 6, where we had seven deacons chosen, and certainly back in Acts 1 when they chose Mathias. This is all done with prayer, fasting, beseeching God's will, His guidance, the mind of God discerning that in the process by which then they commend them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

So, really, we have three different things here that we can look at, the strengthening of the disciples, you know, showing up, being present. You know, we don't...I mentioned this before, never underestimate your presence at Church. I mean, don't go to Church when you're sick and, you know, spread contagion. But make it a point to go to Church when, you know, you're in a bad attitude, or you may think, “Oh, I don't want to hear that person speak. I've heard 'em speak, and whatever,” or, “It's too long today. I'm tired. Long week.” You cannot get to that. We are all subject to it. And the weeks can be long and grinding and stressful, classes, work, family issues, and you just want to sleep or you want to stay...you don't want to get dressed up, you don't want to drive 30 miles, 50 miles. And yeah, I get it. And, you know, maybe your congregation's a little bit quirky, troubled, or you got quirky people, or you got troubled people. And everybody does. They probably think you're quirky. They might think you're troubled. Well, you need to be there too.

You know, we can grind on each other. And I will say all of us at times ought to do a check on ourselves just to make sure we don't, by our conversations, our complaints, our moaning, our complaining even about the minister, the Church or this or that, that we just grind on people in our congregation. Yeah, we're all human. Yeah, there are problems. Yes, all that happens.

But let me tell you something. You start talking about that in your congregation every week, week in and week out, it is going to put a negative pall upon your congregation. You'll get a reputation. And you don't want that. And you don't want to be one of those that are creating that for new people, for older people. You'll find yourself, in a sense, isolated. And you have to...you've got to watch that.

You've got to realize that people are coming to Church for so many different reasons. But ultimately, the reason to come is because we love God, we're worshiping God, we're obeying God by not forsaking the assembly of ourselves together. But we're going there to be strengthened because we know that that's where we get the spiritual strength through a message, sometimes just through the fellowship. But if we pray and we believe as we ask in an opening prayer for God and Christ to be there, then if we believe what we pray and we say amen to in a congregational setting, no matter how small or whatever, then we must act as if we believe that in our words, in our conduct, must then bear on that. And we create, and we become a committee of one, we create a place where the disciples are strengthened.

If we would all do that and take it upon ourselves to get to know the ones that are sitting off in a corner by themselves who come in late that you don't know that are not part of your group, your circle of friends, they haven't been there for 40 years like you have or your family has. And, you know, sometimes I know we do not understand today what it takes for a brand new person to walk through the door of any of our congregations. Our growth has not been that strong in recent years. We've had challenges that have diminished our congregations. People have gotten older. COVID has decimated some of our congregations. And when new people come to a place on the Sabbath for the first time, keeping the Sabbath with a different group of people that they don't know, that's a challenge, that's hard. Think about it.

Think about you walking into a classroom of...you know, in a university or college that you don't know anybody. Think about going into a workplace where you don't know anybody. You're transferred someplace, you get a new job, you don't know anybody. Think about how difficult that might be. I mean, I don't... You know, I come in here, this building, I know everybody. I come in here, we know each other. But, you know, we've got to stretch ourselves.

But when people come into the Church and they're new, we have to show love. We have to show that, “Yeah, what's your name? I'm so-and-so, welcome. You know, would you like a hymnal?” And then take them to somebody. If you have to go and get your job finished setting up for Church, make sure that you don't leave them standing. Take them to somebody. All of that serves to strengthen our congregations. And when we do those things, we're helping to build the Church. I can go on and on and on about that, but the sound teaching has got to be there as well void of, you know, personal speculation and vein talk that can detract or even false teaching. That has to be, you know, good solid sermon instruction.

And then third in all of this is the appointment of elders, the appointment of elders, a pastor. We go to great lengths in the United Church of God to make sure that our congregations have pastors. And some men have three congregations, some have four, maybe there's somebody out there that's got even five. And that's the challenge to keep up with. No matter what the size of the group is, or spread out over long distances, but the appointment of elders is important, a designated spiritual leader.

Paul knew that. He knew that someone had to be in charge and responsible and helping them to continue in them faith and strengthening them in a role as an elder. We're watching, we're seeing here a beginnings of organization within the Church. It's centered on the local congregation. Scholars debate all of this and then as they see with what happened in later Church history as the Church changed doctrinally and took on more of a Roman approach, the structure of the Church, the hierarchy grew and things changed certainly as a result of false teaching that came in, but even the structure.

You know, when we study the Passover controversy of Polycarp in the second century, and remember that Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, one of the Churches, seven Churches, and he went to Rome over here to consult with I believe it was an Anicetus or Victor, one of those two, I get 'em mixed up, over the issue of Easter because the Roman Church was keeping Easter, but the Churches in Asia Minor were still keeping the Passover and unleavened bread in the Holy Days.

And so, this is the middle of the second century A.D. But the attitude that you discern in the history from the bishop of Rome, you're beginning to see this hierarchical orthodox approach where the bishop at Rome wanted all of the Churches in a doctrinal agreement, but it was false doctrine. He wanted them all to go to Sunday and all to keep Easter and no longer keep this Jewish Sabbath and Passover. And in doing so, that Church then grew and grew, and it becomes a problem...becomes the way by which the Trinity teaching is ultimately enforced in Orthodox teaching later on. That is in contrast to what we see developing here in Acts with Paul and the Church, at least in the story in Acts.

And while today we have an organization that is unified, it's administered under, let's say, a home office situation in the Church and we have a structure of ministers and regional pastors, senior pastors, we have bylaws in constitution to ensure continuity, order, and even protection of assets as well as doctrine in the Church, we are very conscious that we continue to look at Acts, Christ's teachings, Paul's pastoral epistles to make sure that how we treat one another, minister to member, member to member, minister to minister is on Godly principles. It has to be. And so, you know, all of these kind of work in that, the strengthening of the Church, the body, the ministry, faithful teaching, proper appointment, all meant to help keep the Church together. In the first century, they had a lot of forces working at it to pull it apart and we do today in the 21st century.

And so, these things that we're looking at here and primarily out of Acts, I think is just...there's a first century stability there where we can peel away the centuries of certainly Catholic, Protestant Church tradition, and sometimes even our own tradition. There's no secret that in United, we set up a different organizational structure of the Church than we had in our past. We don't have a pastor general. We have a council of elders, a ministry, a president, people rotate around. We have appeals processes if there is abuse to keep the relationships strong, to strengthen the disciples.

And so, we have learned and gone to the new testament to learn that. So, what we're seeing here is Paul doing something in a sense from scratch, but with a knowledge of how their...you know, an organization has to have certain structure. He had been a pharisee. He understood certain things about the synagogue and the Judaism and the word of God, even from the old testament. So, he knew there had to be some type of structure, and that's what he's doing here. But it's, you know, time, tradition and other problems created a whole different structure for false Christianity. And you know, it's just a continual challenge for us to learn. But when we take it upon ourselves, then we can come closer to some of these things that we are seeing. So, let's look at verse 24 then.

Acts 14:24-25 “After they had passed through Pisidia, they came down to Pamphylia.” And what it's describing here is Paul's travels back through this yellow line back to Pisidian Antioch, and then to Pamphylia. And then it says, “They came down to Perga.” I'm going to zip ahead here in my slides to show this here. “They came back down to Perga, and then they went to Attalia.”

All right? This particular map doesn't show it, so we don't have it on the map here. But Perga, remember, was where they came in when they started this, and they went up to Antioch. Now they come back to Attalia, which is just a stones throw from Perga. So, they're in the same neighborhood.

This is the harbor today in Attalia, Turkey. And it looks much the same as it did in the first century when it says here, they came and they preached in Perga, and they went Attalia. Attalia is the ancient name. Today, it's called Antalya. But it's the same place. Nice, beautiful seaside village and city. Actually, it's a city there in Southern Turkey.

I spent a couple of nights there, got on a boat, one of these little boats here, and took a tour of the harbor, and actually, we drove down near where they would've gotten off the boat as they came in on their...at the beginning of this entire journey. And it's quite a lovely area. So, this is where Antalya is, and a view of this little picturesque harbor. And they go from here.

This is another view of it here with the mountains, Southern Taurus Mountains there in the background. A lot of Russians live there today. It's a Russian retreat, and it's a beautiful...really it's a gorgeous area there in Southern Turkey. And that's the prowl of our boat as we went out on that day, and kind of just did a little boat tour. But that's a scene that Paul and Barnabas would've seen right there as they went out of that harbor on their way back to Antioch. And so, when you look at this map here, they're right here at Attalia next to Perga. The yellow line shows them they're going to sail all the way back to Seleucia and then up to Antioch, which is what it says here.

Acts 14:25-27 “They preached the word in Perga.” So, they stayed for some time there, “went to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch.” They got a boat that would've been going there, paid their passage “where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work for which they had completed.” So, they go back to Antioch where it all began, and there, “they gathered the Church together” in verse 27. “They reported all that God had done with them, and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

So, they stayed there a long time with the disciples. Remember, Antioch had funded this trip. So, they're giving basically a report to the people as to what happened, how they spent their money, the fruits of their labor, and all that had happened in this. And there's, you know, Paul is going to go back over this area in his second journey. He's going to go back and revisit these areas. And we'll talk about that when we come to that.

But the report to Antioch then is a...completes it, and they come back here. So, that ends the first journey of Paul. And before we get to the second journey of Paul, we have an interesting situation that takes place. And as we turn the page to chapter 15, we are introduced to that because now Paul comes back and there's a bit of a time, but now a problem comes to the fore and Luke just moves right into it, and directly without a lot of other fanfare. So, let's pick that story up beginning in chapter 15. We won't finish it all in this class, but at least let's begin here because something was happening.

Acts 15:1 It says “Certain men came down from Judea.” Now, Judea puts it back in Jerusalem. Again, and so, this map will show you what happened. “Certain men came from Jerusalem, or from Judea and came to Antioch, that's the idea, and they taught the brethren now who they are.” They're not named. We'll find out. You know, we can mold...discern a little bit about who they are and what their motive is. But let's see what they teach. “They teach the brethren that unless you're circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

So, here's the issue of circumcision, again, coming up. And the bridging of the divide between the Jews and the Gentiles, which is the great part of the story here in Acts and in the new testament setting, and what they had to surmount, what they had to overcome.

He said that unless you're circumcised according to the custom of Moses, and we know that that is a very important part of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Any male Jew was circumcised. And, you know, it was done on the eighth-day ritual, tradition going back a long period of time, and it set the Jewish people apart from the rest of the Gentile world. Gentiles didn't do that. And we talked about that and what that meant back in this time of the Seleucids and Antiochus Epiphanies and Jews wanting to become Greeks and all.

Well, now, as Gentiles are coming into the Church, this is an issue that has to be resolved. And it shows that some within the Church didn't fully yet accept what Peter had shown by his mission to Cornelius, what had already happened with the Ethiopian eunuch, the baptisms of the people in the city of Samaria, and Gentiles that would've been involved there, and all of this continuing story that was showing that God has opened the door of salvation to all of them.

Remember, we read that back in chapter 9 and 10. Some in the Church didn't yet accept that. Some called this grouping of people, they're Christian, but they've also got...they're holding on to certain Jewish ideas. Sometimes they're called Christian Pharisees. Now, remember, the Pharisees are a sect of the Jews. Paul was a Pharisee. You had the Sadducees. You had the Essenes. But we just read about the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the new testament period. And those of the circumcision then that are called, are those that appear here and they seem to pop up among Jews throughout Paul's ministry.

This is not going to be the end of it, even with this particular settlement of the issue in Acts 15, because we'll see that Paul will be hounded by people for essential reasons in terms of his teaching, what they perceive about his teaching, thinking that he teaches against the law of Moses. And it's the idea of this Judaizing aspect and part of the Church, a wing of the Church if you want to look at it that way. They're not necessarily opposed to Paul and Barnabas going out to the Gentiles and the mission to the Gentiles, but they want these Gentiles, they want circumcision to apply to them. And this is the problem. It's kind of the same... It gets back into some of the other traditions that the Jews had about eating with Gentiles, which was a tradition they added. It's not a part of the Mosaic law, but they had added that.

Remember Paul...or Peter said, you know, when he went to Cornelius, he said, “You know it's not right for a Jew to eat with a Gentile.” That was something added by tradition. And that's important to remember as we go into this particular story here, and what has to be settled in regard to this.

Now understand something else. The early Church is quite different, let's say, than the Church today. There were some in the Church who were, as I say, Christian Pharisees. They maybe even literally were Pharisees, had been still associating with that. But they had become a believer, they had accepted Christ. But they still had their habits, they still had some of their beliefs, and it was difficult to change here and to make a transition to the full understanding of the new covenant that is now in action and that is working its way, massaging its way into the Church because clearly, circumcision to them was something that they felt was still important, still valid and necessary in terms of the actual physical right.

Now, throughout all of this discussion, it's important to remember that circumcision is still a teaching of the Bible. And we still believe in circumcision, but we understand that the circumcision is that of the heart and not a part of a requirement of the Mosaic law. There are other reasons from a health standard and otherwise to continue with circumcision. And that gets into a big debate when you get out into medical fields today. And there are people who think that that is abusive and radical and teach against it in the medical profession. I've heard and read some of those debates.

You know, by tradition, we still do that within the Church, and many other people continue to do it as well. So, it's not just something that we do, it's still done in the world today, but not in all cultures, not across all. But it's not a...except outside of the...except within the Jewish community. It's still a part of the ritual there according to Judaism. But beyond that, it is still done in Christian circles and otherwise for other reasons. But it comes down to here as it says, “Uhat unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.” And that has been settled, but it hasn't been accepted throughout the Church.

Acts 15:2 “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.”

They wanted it solved. I did point this out earlier in a previous class to remember as an important feature of the Church at Antioch, and that was that they didn't want doctrinal unity with the rest of the Church. This group in Antioch started under unique circumstances, gave funds, they gave food during a famine earlier to the members in Jerusalem. Remember that. And they now funded Paul and Barnabas to go out. So, they are part of a Church.

They're not looking at themselves necessarily as kind of the Gentile faction or the Gentile wing. They see themselves as a part of a larger body, a spiritual body, as we would define it. I think that they certainly were beginning to understand that. And they wanted this issue solved so that they were not looked at as second-class Christians, renegades, you know, Gentiles, in that sense, and not fully a part of the Church and just like the Jew, because that's what had already been settled.

Remember when we go back to what Peter had said in Acts 11:17 when Peter gave a report to the Jews in Jerusalem. That's important to remember here, you know. You might want to make a connection to what's happening here in chapter 15 to back to chapter 11, and what Peter said because that's kind of how you connect all the dots here in the story, that they had challenged Peter in going to the home of Cornelius. And he came and explained it to them. And he said, “You know, the same thing happened to them that happened to us. The Holy Spirit is manifest through the speaking of tongues.” And at the end of verse 17.

Acts 11:17 They said, “God has granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

And the people in Antioch knew this. Now, the Book of Galatians, you're going through Galatians right now, shows that even Peter himself had certain, you know, hangups because Paul had to challenge him in Antioch because he himself separated from the Gentiles in some type of communal setting there. And, you know, he had a weak moment and Paul challenged him about it. And that was a tradition, as we're going to see, that had been put upon people. It was a yoke, and it was an unbearable burden.

Acts 15:3 “Being sent on their way by the Church, they passed through Phoenicia, Samaria describing the conversion of the Gentiles, and they caused great joy to all the brethren.”

And so, back in Samaria, remember where Philip had gone earlier. So, if you look at this yellow dotted line from Antioch and trace it down, they had swerved over toward Phoenicia, but then came on down in the northern area of the land of Israel. They had stopped in Samaria where there was a Church, where there was a body of people explaining what was...probably telling them about all their trips through Galatia, and that God was calling people, and that brought joy to the brethren.

Acts 15:4 “When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the Church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all things that God had done with them.”

And so, Barnabas, Paul, and certain others, they're not named, go up. So, there's a delegation from Antioch. No doubt Gentiles were included in this, maybe even some who had been mentioned in Acts 13 that did not...were not chosen to go out. We don't know. We can just speculate about that. And so, they reported what God had been doing and put their...you know, put another seal of proof upon it.

Acts 15:5 Tells us, “Though, that some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed.”

So this is this grouping of Pharisees who what? They believed. So, they're Christian Pharisees. Christian Pharisees is probably the best way to understand it and call it. They said it is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses on this point of circumcision.

Now, it's not the law of Moses that is at question here. And when a careful reading of what ultimately is decided and written down shows that, as well as the teaching of Paul. You're going through Galatians right now, and that letter's the heart and core of the matters of the law and the covenant, how that works. But, as Luke writes it here, it's the law in regard to these ceremonial matters, these matters in this case of circumcision and where all of that fits now within the structure of the new covenant and what is carried into that new covenant, what is not carried into that new covenant, and that's what we're seeing a part of that.

Other letters of Paul, particularly Galatians, and others will, you know, flesh out some of that. Even the book of Revelation does, as we will see in a moment. So, here's this Jerusalem council. I've talked to you about all of the Church councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the fourth century on the issue of the Trinity as we've talked about that topic in doctrines class.

But for all intents and purposes, and the biblical record, this is our first Church council. And it's a true Church council. It is the apostles and elders in Jerusalem that are still holding to the faith once delivered. They're not debating the Trinity, they're not debating the Sabbath or whatever. They're debating this issue of circumcision and the role of the Gentiles in terms of salvation within the Church.

Acts 15:6-7 “And so, they all come together to consider this matter.” And so, they had some type of a facility, a room to meet in, and they come together. Verse 7 “When there had been much dispute, Peter rose up.”

So, how was it organized? Did they just start talking 8:00 in the morning, 7:00 in the morning? Maybe. Maybe they...you know, they were talking in small groups before they came, when they came. Was there a schedule and an agenda? When we have our council of elders meetings, we have an agenda. And when we meet in our annual general conference meetings, we have a detailed agenda. I don't think necessarily they had it quite structured that way at this time, but I could be wrong. I don't want to think...give the impression that we're better at organization than they were. That's not what I'm saying.

But there are things you can look at said here by Luke, and they're, to me, a little bit humorous, you know, because we're dealing here now with the ministry, ministers coming together. And it says there's much dispute. Wow. Who would've thought? A room full of ministers come together to talk about doctrine, teaching, Church affairs, and disputes. What? What's going on here?

Some of you are smiling. You think that you know, yeah, that happens. And strong-willed men have their opinions, strong-willed women have their opinions too. And when it comes to Church issues, we all have our opinions, don't we? And when it comes to doctrine, practice, teaching, we've got it, everybody's got an opinion. And the trick is our opinions have got to be lined up with scripture and then coupled with the right approach and attitude as we work through understanding teaching and everything else. So, at some point, Peter rose up.

Acts 15:7 “And he said to them, ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us that by my mouth, the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.’”

So, he goes right back to the earlier report that we read again. And in his recounting of that, it's a summation. And no doubt, they all did know that. That report of Peter from his trip to Cornelius and Caesarea was known. And that event was solid, it was documented. You know that God has chosen among us that the mouth of the Gentiles should hear the word and believe.

Acts 15:8-9 “God who knows the heart, acknowledge them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,” same thing that he reported on, “and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”

Now, there's a lot in verse 8 and 9 to think about here. God, who knows the heart. Remember back with Cornelius. He was a devout man who gave alms to the Jews, had a good reputation. He was a Roman centurion, a Roman soldier who was thought highly by the Jews. His heart was right before he was ever...received the Holy Spirit. The account shows that. He took pleasure in giving, and he did not treat the Jews as dogs, which most Roman soldiers did.

His heart was right. God knew that, He knew who He was calling Peter to. And Cornelius wasn't the only Gentile at that time. There were other God fearers. And Peter says He acknowledged that by giving them the spirit just as He did to us. You know, conversion is of the heart. The change of mind and repentance is of the heart.

When we come together in the Church and to strengthen one another, brethren, what we have in this Church is a fellowship of the heart. Think about that. It's a fellowship of the heart or it's nothing. If it doesn't begin there with a heart toward God and a heart toward one another, we have nothing but a bunch of teachings, doctrines, yes, structure, yes, but we don't have the...we won't have the love of God, the spirit of God moving through us, producing a unity of the spirit that all of this does.

We talk about unity, and Paul talks about a unity of the Spirit in the book of Ephesians. Unity is a spiritual manner, first and foremost. Again, I'll get back on my high horse about, you know, all the Church splits. And as I said the other day, what are you going to do when it's your Church? What are you going to do when it's your Church?

Well, I hope that you will have a Church that is unified, but I hope that you will have a Church that has a heart, that your heart is right toward God because it's built on faith, right teaching, sound doctrine, which produces a healthy Church and that, you know, you want to have a Church that doesn't do like we did, split. Then you create a fellowship with the heart. You work as a committee of one, to have a heart toward God and to have your heart purified by faith, as verse 9 says. That's the distinction.

“He made no distinction between us and them,” he says. He said, “Between the Jews and the Gentiles, purifying their hearts by faith.” We get crossways with one another. We get crossways in so many different ways because we focus on maybe distinctives and not focus on the heart. Yes, we are different. You keep the Sabbath, you're going to be different. You go to the Feast of Tabernacles and you don't keep Christmas, that's distinctive. You're going to be different.

I was different at age 12 and have been all my life because my mom took the Christmas tree out and I didn't go to the Christmas pageant, and I didn't sing the Christmas carols, and I didn't go trick or treating, and I went to the Feast of Tabernacles every year. I had a distinction. All right? But I was learning something, as you have been.

So, there are distinctions and we have distinctive teachings, but we better be very careful that we let the heart of God, motivated by a love for God and a love for one another be stronger in our thinking toward one another and even toward the world than just focusing only on distinctives because that will divide you, that will divide us. And that will not give you the true love of God to take the gospel to the world and to recognize that people need that truth because we're only focusing on the distinctive that makes us distinctive from them and/or better than them because of who we are. We're not better because of who we are. We're only better because God's forgiven us.

Make sure you have a fellowship of the heart. That's where Peter begins this discussion about circumcision. And so, we'll hold off the remainder of this until the next class. I wanted to lay that down as a foundation to build on what Paul had been already doing as they come together as a group of ministers to consider this monumental issue in the Church. So, with that, we'll pick that up next class and what Peter really begins to talk about in verse 10.