Grace Notes

Chapters 15-18 Notes

Introduction: Paul and Barnabas have completed their missionary journey and are back preaching and teaching in the sending church in Syrian Antioch.  The news from this missions report must have filtered back to the “mother church” in Jerusalem.  It was becoming clear to Jewish Christians that their Jewish heritage was being threatened.   More and more Gentiles were joining the ranks of “The Way” without paying homage to long standing Jewish traditions and practices. 

Q:  When dissension arises, how should the church resolve the dispute?

A:  Paul and Barnabas are sent to meet with the apostles and elders and to trust the Holy Spirit to guide a council of believers to decide the issue rightly.  This sets a pattern for how churches still seek to settle differences.

Acts 15:1-21 – The Council of Jerusalem

  • church leaders met to decide a crucial question–do Gentiles have to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be accepted by God?
  • Peter’s guidance: God showed that He accepted the Gentiles by giving them His Holy Spirit–He made no distinctions so we should not either.
    • If we press requirements on the Gentiles we are actually contradicting (being disobedient) to God’s clear direction.
    • He points out that the Jews have not been able to keep God’s laws and need the same salvation that the Gentiles are embracing–saved by divine grace not through outward and inconsistent acts of obedience.
  • James, the half brother of Jesus,  summarizes the speeches given by Peter, Barnabas and Paul.  His words gather up the wisdom that had been shared and settled the issue for the moment.
    • James highlights that what had been experienced among the Gentiles had been prophesied by God in Amos 9:10-11.
    • He reminds the group that the Messiah was depicted in Amos as having a universal rule not an exclusive one.

Outcome:

  1. Pharisaical Jews were not to add any requirements to salvation for the Gentiles–acceptance with God comes by faith alone– in Christ alone– through grace alone.
  2. Gentiles would show loving wisdom if they would cease worldly habits that offended their Jewish brothers and sisters in whom “set apart” traditions were deeply ingrained. These suggestions were for the sake of unity in the body of believers.
    • avoid anything that has to do with idols
    • avoid fornication
    • avoid eating meat that has been strangled or still has blood in it.

Q: What role does the law of God play in a believer’s life?

  1. As a Mirror – The law is an expression of the character of God–perfect and holy.  When we read the law of God it reflects His perfection and our fallenness. It shows us our “dirty faces” that we could not see before gazing into His Word.   It reflects to us how misguided we are to think we can perfectly keep the law which is the standard set by God.  Measured by a perfect standard we are driven to look for someone who can keep the law—we become aware of our need for a Savior!
  2. As a Revealer – As we can see in the decision of the Council,  that though God accepts us through faith as we are, the goal of our salvation is not to leave us as we are when we first believe.  The law becomes our owner’s manual for transitioning from self centered to God-centered living.  The law that was perfectly fulfilled by Christ our substitute casts a vision for our living.  The more we read what pleases God the more the Holy Spirit works to bring our living in line with that Word.  This is beautiful since our position is secure–our acceptance settled,  we do not have to fear that our daily failures will alter our relationship with God.  We will never be more loved or less loved by God as we practice the “art” of holy living.
  3. As a Restrainer – Society has learned that God’s law brings order out of chaos in corporate living; so that the basis of civil law is God’s law.  Governemtnts punish people who murder, steal, bear false witness, etc.  The threat of being punished for breaking laws serves as a restraining influence on sinful activity.  These outward restraints aid believers who are learning day by day to be inwardly restrained by the Holy Spirit from evil that we hide form others. 

Key Point: The law is not a means of salvation but it is God’s means of sanctification following salvation.

Application:

  1. How do I seek to mix law observance in with the gospel of grace?
  2. How am I guilty of imposing behavioral standards on others before I am willing to freely fellowship with them?
  3. What is my motive for raising higher standards of acceptance than God does? 

Acts 16:1-10 –  Paul travels to Macedonia

  • Paul travels overland back through the cities that he had visited on the first journey.
  • Paul was introduced to Timothy on this journey and wanted him to join him.
    • Paul who was willing to forfeit his individual freedom for the sake of the gospel, encouraged the Greek raised Timothy to do the same. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
    • Timothy voluntarily submitted to be circumcised for the sake of the Jews that he would ministering among. It was not necessary for salvation but advisable for fellowship.
  •  Paul demonstrates that we can trust God to communicate His guidance to us–He is sovereign over out stops and starts.
    • believers express their faith by trusting that the Holy Spirit is indwelling and influencing our thoughts and feelings in such a way as to guide us in service to our Lord.
    • believers stay Spirit sensitive through prayer, and listening to God in His Word.
    • Paul understood that God’s “no” to entering Bithynia was in preparation for a “yes” in another direction.
    • Paul shared his vision with his companions and all concluded that the Spirit was indeed directing toward Macedonia.  The Spirit working in one is often confirmed by the Spirit in others.
  • Note:  Luke begins to use the pronoun “we” instead of “they” — scholars believe he joined the missionaries when Paul stopped in Troas.

Acts 16:11-40  Paul in Philippi

  • Philippi was a port city that had become a retirement center for Roman soldiers.
  • Upon arrival, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke followed the Jewish tradition when a place did not have a synagogue of seeking the faithful under the open sky and near a river or sea.
    • They met a Gentile merchant woman named Lydia–she was a woman who had seen truth in Judaism so was considered a God-fearer like Cornelius and others.
    • Luke emphasizes the power of gospel proclamation.
      • It was while the Word was being proclaimed that the Holy Spirit opened her heart to respond–her open heart manifested itself in a new desire to open her home.
      • The testimony of Acts has been that it is God who initiates salvation–it is God who opens closed hearts and blind eyes to see Jesus as God.
  • Luke continues the theme of power in the gospel as Paul cast out a demon from a slave girl and opened the heart of the Philippian jailer and his household to believe in Jesus.
    •  
      • The jailer washed the wounds that the missionaries had received by flogging and immediately received baptism as a sign of the washing away of sins that he had received by faith in Jesus.
      • The Holy Spirit manifested the truth of His indwelling by filling the jailer with abundant joy and a new desire to express hospitality.

Key Point:  As the gospel is taken to Europe, the Holy Spirit confirms the truth delineated at the Jerusalem Council– salvation comes by faith in Jesus to all who believe in Him.  A Spirit filled life begins when we respond decisively to the truth of the living Christ.

Note:  Paul was encouraged by the new believers to leave Philippi after his release from prison.  Think of the make up of the church that he left behind:  a female Gentile merchant, an ex-demon possessed girl, a Philippian jailer, his family and servants and perhaps some ex-inmates who had heard the hymns and prayers of Paul and Silas!  The churches Paul left behind exeplified the verse, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Gal. 3:28)

Q:  What does it suggest that today our churches look more homogeneous than the diverse populations that emerged in the first centruy church?

Acts 17:1-15  Thessalonica and Berea

  • After a three day journey of about 100 miles, Paul found a population of Jews and a synagogue in Thessalonica.
    • Longing for his brothers to see what he saw in Jesus, he spent three Sabbaths reasoning from the Scriptures explaining how Jesus was the fulfillment of the long expected Messiah.
      • Some Jews believed but he found more receptivity in the Gentile hearers.
      • The message of salvation by grace seemed “too easy” and too contrary to the Judaic hearers experience of God.
        • The Hebraic mind set demanded submission to the sovereign authority of God as expressed in His law as the way to be right with God.
        • Whenever the gospel was preached it was met with one of two reactions–either conversion or hostility.
  • Paul had to flee the city when a riot began–he traveled 50 miles to Berea.
    • In this city Paul encountered hearers who were receptive, fair minded, interested in testing the claims of the gospel to determine if they were truth or not.
    • Interestingly, though they were more receptive we have no letters to the Berean church and two to the less than noble Thessalonians!
      • Application: We might need to correct our thinking that the Holy Spirit is working best when we are experiencing the least resistance and the most ease!

 Acts 17:16-34  Paul in the intellectual center of the world — Athens

Q: What kind of thinkers did Paul encounter in Athens?

A: The Hellenistic mindset emphasized the abstract over the concrete, valued autonomous human reason and invested it with authority, and demanded that religion “make sense.”  If the gods existed, they were remote and uninvolved and no cause for concern by mankind. The Hellenists were always pursuing “wisdom” with a rather detached approach–they were not too interested in allowing their ideas to impact their living.  They were fascinated by the “latest” ideas, the more sensational and entertaining thoughts grabbed their attention.  (Kind of like us today, right?)

Paul’s Address:

  • Paul kindly acknowledged that the Athenians seemed to be serious in their pursuit of God — he noted that they thought He was unknown but that he could make Him known to them.
    • the word translated as “unknown” is the root from which we get our term “agnostic”  which means “without knowledge.”
  • He identified God as the Creator and Life Giver — not contained in creation but outside of and the source of creation.
  • If He is outside of creation and we are His offspring, we have to think differently–we are not autonomous but dependent creatures.
  • We did not make God — He made us and it would be ignorant to reject the truth that He has plans for His creation.
  • It is degrading to God to build things with our own hands and call them gods.
  • He wants us to repent of our arrogant assumption of His authority.
  • Our existence is heading toward a time of judgment not nothingness.
  • We know this to be the truth because a man he appointed to be Judge and the authority in the universe was raised from the dead.

Outcome:  It was the “idea” of resurrection that caused the Athenians to sneer–a few in Athens believed but to most–Paul’s religion did not make sense and therefore could be rejected.  When he crossed the line from theoretical and asked for a living response to his ideas the Athenians were not willing to allow his ideas to make them repsonsible or accountable.  Are we?

Note: Paul models for us the importance of knowing the worldview or mindset of the hearer.  He met each audience on the ground that they most understood and used their thinking styles as a bridge to share the gospel.

Application:

  1. When I hear the Word of God, do I think of it as theory rather than a living word calling forth a living response?
  2. Am I guilty of dispassionate interaction with God–am I detached when it comes to the fundamentals of my faith?
  3. How do I demonstrate intellectual flippancy rather than willingness to repent when engaged in Bible study?

Acts 18 – Paul in Corinth

  • A theme that seems to surface in Luke’s description of Paul’s time in Corinth is the theme of how God ministers to His servants and encourages them in their call.
    • His experience in Athens seemed to bear meager results.
    • He had been in the mission field battling unbelief for a long time.
    • As he arrived in Corinth, Luke highlights that he found kindred spirits in Aquila and Priscilla.
      • He found community and work that would give him income while he continued to preach the gospel.
      • Consistent with his pattern, he began in the synagogue reasoning with the Jews and pleading them to see Jesus as their long awaited Messiah according to the Scriptures.
      • God brought Paul trusted helpers to come alongside him in minstry — Silas and Timothy joined him and he was able to begin a house church and Luke shares, “Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.”
      • God spoke to Paul in Corinth. Perhaps the most encouraging thing Paul experienced during his year and a half  in Corinth was that he heard directly from the Lord.
        • Tender words of comfort that called to Paul’s weary heart to continue on and trust the Lord who had brought this far.
      • Luke seems to suggest that Paul set off renewed in his heart for missionary service  and he expressed his new commitment by taking a Nazarite vow. (vs. 18)
        • These vows were voluntary vows of abstinence from alcohol and from cutting of the hair or being near anything dead–usually for a period of 30 days. 
        • At the end of the committed time, the worshipper would cut his hair and present it as an offering–signifying self -sacrifice.  Other items offered were bread, wine, doves, and a lamb.
      •  Verse 23 is notation made by Luke that after returning to Syrian Antioch to report on the 2nd journey, Paul began his 3rd missionary journey by setting out again through Galatia.

Application:

  1. Have you ever thought of expressing your commitment to the Lord through times of fasting and prayer?
  2. How would fasting from things that are not forbidden — food, TV, or reading secular materials heighten our awareness of God?

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