1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
There was; at the time, a tendency of Jewish believers to incline toward keeping the Law of Moses; to nationalism; to be swayed by Judaistic doctrine, claiming that it was obligatory and necessary for the Law of Moses to be kept in every respect for salvation.
Therefore these Judaising believers had to be restrained and be shown their teaching was erroneous and would destroy the faith in Christ and the real meaning of his sacrifice. It was obvious at the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) that there was a force of Jewish believers endeavouring to superimpose the Law of Moses as being essential to justification, so that the rituals of strict observance of the letter of the Law began to submerge the Truth.
Christ was being overshadowed by Moses as their ardour and zeal for the Law started to replace faith in Christ. This had to be stopped for the sake of their salvation.
There was a need to reinforce the ecclesia in the Truth, giving a right balance, by showing that, whatever the Law was, and whatever it taught, there was a "better" counterpart in Christ.
Judaistic teachings and their implications had to be powerfully countered as the apostle had done throughout his ministry. The harshness of his attitude might even turn some away completely from the Law and encourage them to adopt an extreme attitude against it. This would have destroyed the important principles contained in the Law, which remained
"a schoolmaster leading them to Christ" (Gal. 3:24);
it was, after all, a system of righteousness pointing to the need for a redeemer and advocate for all seeking true and eternal justification.
Therefore there remained an urgent need to show the supremacy of Christ over the Law; of the New Covenant over the Old; without detracting from the true reasons and purpose of the Law.
Thou desireth truth in the inward parts - Psa. 51: 6.
God has made certain revelations concerning His purpose. What He has revealed is truth and fact, and He has revealed it so that man may have a necessary foundation of truth to guide him. It is sheer presumption to assume that it is superfluous. God alone is the judge. "Many false prophets have gone out into the world," says John (1 John 4:1), and the Word of God is the only defense against them. We must have the facts as surely as a ship's pilot must have a true chart of the course he is to follow. Otherwise we have no stability, no security, no assurance. We read (Acts 15:11),
"Certain men which came down from Judea said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."
Here is a case in point. There are always men rising up and saying we must do this or that. To withstand them and follow a straight course, we must know the facts. Only the Truth can make us free-free from the shackles of self-deception and baseless imagination. The fuller our knowledge, the deeper our understanding, the keener our perception, then the freer and safer we are.
Truth is precious above all things-not only truth in knowledge but in life and character-
Bro Growcott - Through Much Tribulation
18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
This was said in relation to a certain purpose not yet accomplished; but quoted by the apostle in justification of the admission of believers from among the Gentiles, to fellow-citizenship with the saints of the Commonwealth of Israel; upon the principle of "calling upon the Name of the Lord," without the observance of ordinances peculiar to the Jews. Amos 9:11, 12; Acts 15:18; Eph. 2:19.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, Feb 1855.
As to shot pheasants and pigeons, you probably class them with "things strangled," and therefore have a scruple as to eating under Acts xv. 20. Well, there is no hardship in abstaining, though probably if Paul were alive he would say you might eat. The forbidding of blood had reference to blood drained out as a liquid - a common thing for the heathen to eat. Paul makes light of what we eat and drink, provided it all be done in wisdom and gratitude and to the glory of God.TC 10/1894
28 For it seemed good to the holy spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
"Observations on the Sabbath"
If the observance of the Sabbath be a matter of so much importance as our Sabbatarian friends contend for, is it not incomprehensibly strange, that neither our Lord nor any of his Apostles ever said a word about it?
The New Testament is perfectly silent on the subject. Trace our Lord's teachings, as contained in the four gospels. Did he ever utter a word, from which even a fair inference might be drawn, that he intended his followers should observe the Sabbath?
Not one such word. But on the contrary, he does teach that his followers are no longer placed under the obligations of the Sabbath law, Matt. 12:1-8.
The hypocritical Pharisees had found fault with Jesus' disciples, because they had rubbed the ears of corn in their hands, and eaten it on the Sabbath day. What did our Lord say about it? "The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day," evidently implying that he had the power to abrogate the Sabbath law, and that he would do it. I would especially commend the entire story to the Pharisees of this generation. They may derive a great deal of instruction from it.
Not only has Christ given no command to his followers to observe the Sabbath;-but Paul,-the voluminous writer Paul,-is also equally silent. More than one-fourth of the New Testament is from his pen. Fourteen epistles were written by him, to various ecclesias and persons. Every doctrine and duty connected with Christ, is commented upon in one part or another of his writings.
If anything be omitted, surely it must be a matter of very small importance indeed. How then is it to be accounted for, that Paul says nothing whatever about the keeping the Sabbath? On the other hand, he does tell us that the Sabbath law is abrogated. See Col. 2:14-17.
But there is one part of the new Testament, to which I would especially call the attention of our Sabbatarian friends,-viz. the xv. chap. of the Acts. From the history recorded in this chapter, it appears that serious disturbance had occurred in the infant ecclesia at Antioch, in regard to Circumcision, and keeping the Law of Moses. The dissensions arising therefrom became so violent, that, in order to settle the question, it was deemed advisable to send Paul, Barnabas, and other brethren, as a delegation from the ecclesia, to the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem, to take their opinions and instructions in the matter.
In this extremely interesting history there are several very noteworthy particulars. 1st. The Council convened at Jerusalem to discuss this subject, constituted the highest authority which then existed in the Christ[adelphian ecclesia]. This is evident from the deference paid to their decisions; as well as from the authority, with which these decisions were promulgated.
It was not composed of ordinary men. Its members were Apostles:-divinely inspired men:-and that their deliberations were guided by the Holy Spirit, is evident from the 28th verse.
"It seemed good to the HOLY SPIRIT, and to us, &c."
2nd. The 5th verse tells us distinctly the business for which the Council was convened.
"There rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees, which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, (the Gentile converts) and to command them to keep THE LAW OF MOSES."
This was the sum and substance of the whole matter. In the 6th verse we read,
"And the Apostles and Elders came together, for to consider of THIS MATTER."
From this it is impossible for us to mistake the subject of their discussions. It was simply this,-Is the Law of Moses, or any part of it, to be imposed on Gentile believers? Now, then, follow the minutes of the Council to the close,-and what was the result of their deliberations?
"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
Now it must be evident to the merest child in intelligence, that, if ever God, or his Christ, or the Holy Apostles, ever designed or intended that christ[adelphians] should keep a Sabbath, this was, of all others, the proper time and place to make the announcement. And yet the record is silent as the grave on the subject.
3rd. This was undoubtedly intended to be a final settlement of the question, whether any of the Mosaic law is still in force under the Christian dispensation? That must be a bold man indeed, who will dare to affirm, that these men, acting under such inspiration, overlooked, or neglected to notice, any part of the law of Moses, which it was necessary or desirable for christ[adelphians] to observe.
In reviewing the history of this council, I would ask the advocates of Sabbatarianism, how they can account for such perfect silence on the subject. If keeping the Sabbath be a matter of such immense importance as is contended for in these days, how can it be accounted for that the Apostles neglected to inform the infant ecclesia at Antioch of the fact?
- Bro Dabb
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, Jan 1859
29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Prostitution, and eating the sacrifices offered to the idol-representations of the dead, whose souls were said to be alive, were institutions of Baal-Religion. When Israel were seduced by the Moabitish women to worship Baal, at the suggestion of Balaam, they committed whoredom with them, and ate the sacrifices of their gods. The Balaamite clergy were guilty of the same thing. They privily introduced idolatrous practices among christians. They taught them to eat of the sacrifices sold as holy meat, by which they became partakers of the idol-altars, and propitiated the heathen, for in so doing, they contributed to the support of the pagan priesthood. But Paul objected to this sort of compromise in toto.
His argument was, that the things the Gentiles sacrificed they sacrificed to demons, to the ghosts of dead men, and not to God; and that in eating of them knowingly, they had fellowship with their imaginary demons. He told them that when they went to the butcher's they should ask no question, but just buy whatever came to hand. They would then buy in ignorance, having no knowledge whether there was sacrificial meat or not. But if any one said, "this is offered in sacrifice to idols," he told them not to eat it, for the eating then involved a principle of fellowship with deified ghosts, in the judgment of him who invited to eat.
Paul's anxiety was that the Corinthian brethren should "not have fellowship with demons," or deified imaginary ghosts, called "immortal souls." These demons had a table and a cup, as well as the Lord; and Paul taught that they could not partake of both without sin. The same demons have a table and a cup now, modified, however, in this, that bread cut up into pieces, emblematic of the divisions of antichristendom, is substituted for meats offered to the demons.
The table spread by the clergy, and called by them "the sacrament," is the modern table of the demons. It is the table of those who believe in deified immortal souls, who are the gods of the clerical system. It is Jezebel's table, at which a saint cannot eat without having fellowship with the demons she funeralizes to glory, which is sin. Her churches are a synagogue of unbaptized "miserable sinners," as they proclaim themselves to be in their prayers, and consequently, her table cannot be the Lord's, for his teaching has no place for such there -- the miserable patrons of demons belong to Jezebel, not to the spouse of Christ.
32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
When a physican is successful in prolonging a patient's life, his services are regarded as invaluable. How far more important are the services of one who helps his neighbour to reach the life that knows no ending!
The kind word, the sympathetic shake of the hand, the quiet, patient, consistent walk, the homely but hearty exhortation, the sowing of the seed by means of word, tract or pamphlet, become when looked at in this way very weighty matters.
Let us ever keep the object of our work in view-the work of preparing ourselves and others for life eternal. If our intended word or action is not calculated to advance this end, let us repress it. If we cannot help, do not let us hinder. Let us beware of discouraging others by receiving their labours in a carping, fault-finding spirit.
Criticism is good if used kindly, wisely and justly. If by criticising, no laudable purpose is to be served, then let us refrain from it. Those who employ their time in condemning the work of their fellow-labourers are not the ones to do much towards building the temple of God.
The future will, unquestionably, open out wonderful revelations in regard to this. When the time comes for God to glorify His elect, we shall see to whose instrumentality their enlightenment, edification and success have been due-whether those whose constant endeavour it has been to unhinge everybody and everything, or of the feeble, unassuming, industrious, plodding, faithful servants of Christ.
Bro AT Jannaway
The Christadelphian, Oct 1887
36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.
At the close of chapter 15 he set out with Silas on the second of his three great journeys of proclaiming the Gospel to the world. It was about 50 AD, 20 years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
He suggested to Barnabas that they revisit the ecclesias they had established in western Asia Minor on the first journey. From this arose the dispute over taking Mark, who had left them and turned back on the first journey. This disagreement between Paul and Barnabas could not be settled, so after working together for over 15 years, they parted.
Paul and Barnabas had been close from the beginning. It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to the brethren at Jerusalem, when they were afraid of him. And it was Barnabas who got Paul to go to Antioch to help him with the work there.
Both these men had the Holy Spirit in great measure. Of Barnabas it is said he was "full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:24). At the beginning of the first journey, the Holy Spirit specifically selected Barnabas and Paul (mentioning Barnabas first) to go forth together to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2).
Yet still, they could not solve this point at issue between them, and this divinely appointed team broke into two. There is much food for profitable thought here, and much comfort for our present dark day. Why did they not appeal to God, and why did not God settle it for them by the direct guidance of the Spirit?
Doubtless they DID fervently appeal to God, and doubtless He DID settle it, but not necessarily in the way we might desire or expect. Of another trouble of another kind at another time, Paul said it had worked out
"to the furtherance of the Gospel" (Phil. 1:12).
So here. Two expeditions set out instead of one. Of Barnabas we do not hear again, but this is no reflection on him, for the record is concerned with Paul and we hear very little about any other at all.
Of Mark, Paul later speaks very highly more than once. In Col. 4:10-11, he was with Paul in his first imprisonment in Rome, and Paul says he was a "comfort to him." And in 2 Tim. 4:11, at the very end of Paul's life, again in prison in Rome, the one person he tells Timothy to bring to him is Mark, and he speaks of him as "profitable to him for the ministry."
Of these two Holy Spirit-filled men, Paul and Barnabas, which was to blame? Which was wrong?
Not necessarily either. Nor is there any evidence that either behaved in an unChristlike way. The word in Acts 15:39, translated "contention" is more often used in a good sense than a bad one. It denotes very strong feeling, but not necessarily wrong feeling. It is the word translated "provoke" in-
"Provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24)
It is the word used for "stirred" in Acts 17:16 where Paul's heart was compassionately and zealously stirred by the ignorance of the Athenians' pitiful, intense worship of what they knew not.
Bro Growcott - Tribulation worketh patience
38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.
There was very strong feeling on both sides of this disagreement, each for his own unshakably determined course of action. Paul was determined he would not take Mark on this trip. Barnabas was determined he would not go without Mark. Both may have been perfectly right in their judgment. We are not specifically told their reasons, but they seem quite clear and both legitimate.
Paul would not take him because he had failed them on the first trip. Paul's reason may have just as much out of love and consideration for Mark as Barnabas' was. The hardships of this second trip were greater and more prolonged than those of the first. We have only to think of the terrible beating with iron rods the apostles suffered in Philippi, and the mob uproars and vicious treatments at Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth. He would know young Mark was not ready, and another failure could be disastrous for both Mark and the expedition.
Barnabas, on the other hand, would not go without his nephew Mark. He too was probably right. Clearly Mark wanted to go. Clearly therefore he regretted having abandoned them on the first journey. Clearly he was anxious to redeem himself. To deny him the opportunity might have destroyed him by remorse and disappointment.
So two expeditions would clearly be the answer, dividing the proposed field of visiting the ecclesias they had established, one by Barnabas and Mark to more familiar and less hazardous territory, until Mark was more fully matured as a soldier of Christ.
There are many lessons for us, but what surely is the great one? That even very outstanding apostles filled with the Holy Spirit may sincerely and irreconcilably disagree. God does not always choose to give all the answers to everything, for He is testing us to see how we react to problems and difficulties.
If we always react with gentleness and kindness and fairness and meekness and patience and brotherliness and love, all will at last be well for us, and God will in His good time clear all the clouds away. But if the flesh comes to the surface, and we react with harshness and bitterness and rudeness and unkindness, and believe and spread false reports about our brethren, then woe betide us, for our just condemnation will be terrible indeed!
We shall never know all the answers to all problems. But if we do not consistently manifest the meek and loving spirit of Christ in all our dealings with our brethren, and scrupulous truth and fairness in what we say about them, then we might as well forget everything and join the world, for we are the world's biggest hypocrites.
We cannot possibly be right if our spirit is wrong, for God will only guide those of the right spirit. If we cannot control our own tongue and temper, then that-and that alone-is our number one life-and-death problem, and we had better worry about ourselves and forget about condemning others.
Bro Growcott - Tribulation worketh patience
39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
Truly there is no greater joy than to take sweet counsel together with others who realize and appreciate divine values, and to work with them, but this blessing, like many others, must be subject to the best interests of the Spirit. There are times, as we have seen, where companionship must end and an individual course must be followed. There are times when higher considerations intervene.
We refer in this instance to the separation of Paul and Barnabas over the question of Mark. For 10 years these two men had laboured together in God's service, through privation and hardship, in spite of severe physical abuse and often in imminent danger of death. Here each saw his duty differently and joint action was no longer possible.
Men like Paul were no special creation exempted from the weakness of the flesh. They worked under the same limitations as we do. Revelations from God and possession of the powers of the Spirit did not smooth or soften the rough road they trod. Paul, beside the physical handicap of his "thorn in the flesh," often felt and expressed the need of his brethren's prayers for courage.
...The issue upon which Paul and Barnabas divided was a matter of considered and legitimate difference of opinion. Barnabas wished to take Mark on their proposed circuit of the newly established ecclesias: Paul objected to this because Mark had failed them on a previous occasion.
As to which of them was more justified in the viewpoint he took it is impossible to determine, though our sympathies would favour Paul's view. Paul's outlook was the more impersonal one. To him the paramount consideration was the success of the work. He was completely imbued with the inner conviction that he was a vital tool in the vast and eternal operations of the Spirit and he felt he dare not allow any personal motives to jeopardize the result.
Mark had failed them, and doubtless it had been a serious and discouraging handicap and inconvenience at the time. Paul felt that he could not knowingly take a chance of a similar occurrence again and that, for the dangerous and arduous work in hand, he must take someone with a record of resolution and steadfastness.
There is no evidence on Paul's part of personal feeling against Mark, and knowing Paul's loving and sympathetic character from his writings, we can be sure he found it very difficult to take the unpleasant stand that he felt it was his duty to maintain.
Barnabas, on the other hand, was moved by other considerations. It seems clear that he viewed the matter more from the angle of Mark's position and welfare. Mark, of course, was his sister's son. Barnabas would know his characteristics very intimately. He would feel able to judge his position much better than Paul could.
He must have had strong reasons for believing that Mark could redeem himself, and strong assurances from Mark that there would be no repetition of his earlier desertion. He doubtless felt that to refuse to give him the opportunity of offsetting his former failure would leave a permanent and unjustified stigma upon him and might discourage him to the extent of affecting his future.
That Mark did subsequently prove faithful and illustrate with what "hardness he could endure as a good soldier of Christ" does not necessarily prove that Paul was wrong. Paul's principle was that the work should come first and that any doubts should be resolved in its favour.
And he probably thought too that if Mark had the disposition and qualities that were required for the rigors of the proposed journey, then he would be able to see the reasonableness of Paul's stand, and would not be permanently deterred by this unpleasant but necessary setback.
Perhaps, furthermore, Paul's clear-cut attitude at this time, bitter though it may have been for Mark to receive, furnished the incentive for the faithful labours with which he later retrieved himself.
At least we have positive assurance (Col. 4:10-11; 2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Cor. 9:6) that a full reconciliation between these 3 men was later effected on the firm basis of mutual labour and respect in the work of the Lord. And so though a conscientious difference of opinion unfortunately separated them for a time, still an honest and God fearing pursuance of steadfast endeavor finally reunited them in firmer and deeper companionship, for Mark was of much value and comfort to Paul in the end.
God did not permit the incident to erect a permanent barrier or cause permanent damage, but rather "all things worked together for good" and "turned out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel" by 2 parties setting out instead of one.
Bro Growcott - Through Much Tribulation