Were watching two estranged portions of a family trying to figure out a way to come together in peace. One side came from a rough, troubled background with no knowledge of the Bible whatsoever. The other was a very disciplined and exclusive group whose parents taught them to memorize Scripture from early childhood. They dressed differently, they ate different kinds of food, they came from different ethnic backgrounds, they spoke different languages at home. In fact, they were so different its hard to imagine how they could be part of the same family, but about 15 years earlier a marriage had taken place that had pulled these two groups together. For years they barely acknowledged the others existence, but members from both groups had started spending time together recently and that brought to the surface feelings that had long lain hidden. A few aggressive individuals told the other side of the family what was wrong with them, and that had created a crisis. People started arguing bitterly, so a meeting was called to try to reconcile the different sides so they could love each other and act like a family.
The Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:19-22)
An outpost of heaven
Notice, it wasnt okay to stay separated: Jews in Jewish churches, Gentiles in Gentile churches. Regardless of what Jesus had originally commanded them to do (Mt 28:19; Ac 1:8), it had been that way for the past 15 years. They knew He wanted them to melt together into one new people, and they were finally determined not to ignore Him any longer. In the past, He had allowed them to stay separate (Gal 2:7-9), but it didnt represent His highest will. He wanted the world to see those walls come down, and people who would not naturally love each other, love each other (Mt 5:43-48). He wanted His church gatherings to look like heaven. He wanted believers to be able to invite someone to church and say, Come with me and Ill show you what heaven will look like, people from every tribe and tongue and nation worshiping God and loving each other.
But as we can see in this chapter, that kind of unity is difficult. It requires a costly decision to bring our lives into submission to Gods will. It requires us to see spiritual realities as more important than cultural realities.
Spiritual realities (Eph 2:11-22)
Paul is explaining to the Ephesians how God put two very different cultural groups together to form His church. He says the true basis for relationship between any two Christians is:
Not that we come from similar backgrounds.
Not that we agree on how the Christian life should be lived (within reasonable Biblical boundaries).
Not that we even like being with each other.
The true basis for relationship between any two Christians is that we both believe in Jesus Christ. Paul is pressing the Ephesians to see that when believers put aside their differences and come together they are submitting to Gods eternal plan. He said we belong together because:
We belong to a spiritual family. (v19)
We believe the same truths. (v20)
God has designed us to function in harmony, in unity. (v21)
When we obey, God dwells among us. His presence is among us when we gather and His power goes with us when we minister.
Our calling (Eph 4:1-6)
Later in this same letter Paul challenges the Ephesians to live up to this calling. He tells them,
walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being (eager) to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is: one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6)
In other words:
We are joined to the same church.
We are filled with the same Holy Spirit.
We are headed to the same heaven.
We follow the same leader.
We believe the same gospel.
We confess Jesus by the same water baptism.
We have the same Heavenly Father.
These realities bond us together and demand we be at peace with one another, no matter how different we may appear to be. What pulls us together is far stronger that what pulls us apart.
At the Jerusalem Council we watched God bring down the dividing wall between two very different groups of people. Paul tells us Jesus is our peace, and in this chapter Luke allowes us to observe how that peace becomes a reality. It wasnt an instantaneous miracle. It was a difficult process which people chose to do, at first, only because it was the right thing to do.
For Gods will to be done, both sides had to change. Jewish believers had to acknowledge that faith in Christ is enough. Gentile believers had to change their lifestyles to bring them into accord with Biblical values. The solution wasnt compromise, each side giving up a little bit. It was a choice each person had to make to obey Gods truth at a deeper level. The legalist had to confess Jesus as Savior. The lawless had to confess Him as Lord. Nobody in that council came out without being wounded. Each person had to confront their own flesh and count the cost. Each person had to decide if they would live by the rules of a new kingdom, one the earth had never seen before.
Would they seek to please Jesus, not themselves?
Would they put spiritual realities over cultural realities, and become part of a new creation? (2Co 5:17).
Would they accept persecution from those in their old culture that wouldnt understand?
Would they change offensive behaviors, putting others needs ahead of their own?
What is so amazing is that they answered yes. They chose to put an end to the separation between Jews and Gentiles and to live together in peace. Of course, there would be many struggles in the future, and some failures. But, at least, they started down the right road, and every one of us should be deeply grateful they did, because those who walked down that road brought the gospel to us. Now the question is, will we walk down that same road to carry the gospel to people who are different from us?
The questions the Jerusalem Council puts in front of us are questions only an individual can answer:
Will I seek to please Jesus, not myself?
Will I put spiritual realities over cultural realities, and become part of a new creation?
Will I accept persecution from those in my old culture that dont understand?
Will I change offensive behaviors, putting others needs ahead of my own?
These are decisions of the heart. My heart. And if I say yes Ill find myself part of a family that looks like heaven.
1) Whats the most cross-cultural experience youve ever had? How did that experience change you?
2) Have you ever gone to church where people worshiped very differently than you? Were you able to join them?