The first half of Acts 15 teaches that life in a faithful church is never easy. Conflict develops quickly and eats away at the priority movements in a church: Keeping the Great Commission by Keeping the Great Commandments. When problems like legalism develop, a pastor must carefully and prayerfully consider them. Pastors must also carefully articulate their concerns to the church body as they themselves are fed and led by the Holy Spirit. The conflict is resolved when the church unifies around the will of God through the Word of God. Every other form of unity is an affront to a holy God.
The pastor of the church at Jerusalem was James, the half-brother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was quite capable as a leader. Our text this morning begins with the solution that the church faced because of the rabble-rousing of the legalistic Pharisees, who came from Jerusalem to Antioch in order add circumcision and law-keeping to the Gospel.
Conflict is inevitable for a church which seeks the glory of God and purity of doctrine (Acts 15.22-35). Both must be maintained through biblical separation (vv. 22-29). Some went out from Jerusalem and troubled believers with words. They unsettled the souls of the saints (v. 24).
These people who started the problems in the first half of this chapter are effectively silenced. The church at Jerusalem sent four men to Antioch with a letter recorded in these verses. Paul and Barnabas had come to Jerusalem with news that a conflict in the church at Antioch was threatening the very nature of the Gospel.
We are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. But Pharisees from Jerusalem came to Antioch saying that Gentile believers had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be followers of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is another Gospel that must be condemned.
Judas and Silas are both leading men in the church at Jerusalem. We learn that they are prophets in v. 32. The letter tells us that these men will prophesy and preach that which the letter states is indeed the will and Word of God on this matter.
The church at Jerusalem never sent the Pharisees that caused all the trouble in Antioch. As a matter of fact, this kind of teaching hadn’t taken root in Jerusalem because of the strong leadership there. The key to the letter, however, is what seems good to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led the church to conclude that the Jewish believers should lay no greater burden upon the Gentile believers than the necessary things which James already stated in the first half of Acts 15. Both Jewish and Gentile believers should abstain from idolatry and everything related to it.
Conflict in the church comes when people trouble believers with words, and unsettle souls with false doctrine. It is a ravaging of the church of God. It chips away at the glory of God and purity of doctrine within the church.
We need the comfort of the Holy Spirit to not only confirm truth, but to provide confidence so that we as a group might be led by Him. When the Scripture says that the Holy Spirit wants to separate us to necessary things, we should take heed. Conflict often arises in a church because they compromise doctrine and fail understand necessary principles of separation. Anyone who denies the necessity of separation, is a denier of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit Himself.
Righteousness does not have fellowship with lawlessness nor light with darkness nor Christ with Belial nor a believer with an unbeliever nor a temple of God with idols (see 2 Cor 6.14-7.1). We must be separate, cleanse ourselves, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. We go forth to Christ, outside the camp, and bear His reproach (Hebrews 13.13). We must not be swept away with those who are denying the Lord who bought them (2 Peter 2.1).
Conflict in a faithful church is inevitable because of the false teachers who clamor to get in and sow their destructive heresies. The letter from Jerusalem in Acts 15 tells the Gentiles that they are saved by grace alone through faith alone. But it also calls them to a standard of purity and glory in ministry, which comes only when one dedicates His life to God. Therefore, the glory of God and purity of doctrine are both maintained through separation. But unity around truth is also extremely important.
Psalm 133.1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”