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Acts 14-15

by Chuck Smith

Paul and Barnabas, in carrying the Gospel, have come into the uncharted territories as far as the Gospel is concerned into Asia Minor. They came from Cyprus to the area that is now known as Turkey. They did not remain in the coastal plains of Pamphylia. It is thought that Paul probably got malaria fever. It was a very prevalent thing around the coastal plains of Pamphylia at that time.

And later on when Paul wrote to the Galatians and he spoke to them of how sick he was when he was there with them. So the fact that Paul did not stay in Pamphyliam, but immediately moved into the upper plateau country of Pisidia to the city of Antioch, that he was going up there for actually health reasons as much as anything else. Coming into the area of Galatia.

There in Antioch they went into the synagogue. They preached Jesus Christ, and there was a tremendous response the following week. Practically the whole town came out to listen to them, which created a jealousy in the hearts of the Jews in the synagogues, and they turned the people against Paul and Barnabas. So Paul and Barnabas left Antioch, and as we come into chapter 14, they went from Antioch about fifty miles away to Iconium.

And so when they came into Iconium, [as was their procedure] they went into the synagogue again on the sabbath day, and they again spoke, and a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against Paul and Barnabas and those who had believed. And so they remained there a long time speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and the Lord granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands (14:1-3).

So they were facing opposition in Iconium. And rather than fleeing from the opposition, they stayed there a long time in order that they might really root and ground those who believed in the faith. I think that one of the weaknesses of modern day evangelism is the lack of follow up. It is rather tragic to bring people to a birth in Jesus Christ, but don’t carry them on into a mature state. And that has been one of the great weaknesses of the church today.

So many times the church makes its emphasis upon evangelism rather than the developing of a strong body. And so when they saw the opposition, they remained there in Iconium for a long a time in order that they might really establish the believers in the faith knowing that they were going to have difficulty in their Christian walk.

Now, “they spoke boldly in the Lord, who gave testimony unto the word of His grace.” In other words, in the gospel of Acts, the last verses is that they went everywhere preaching the Gospel. The Lord working with them with signs following. Here again the Lord gave witness to the truth that they declared by signs, miracles, wonders that were done there in Iconium to confirm the truth of what was being declared. Signs following.

Today many have reversed that, and they have signs preceding. And they hope by the signs to attract people. But here and in the New Testament, the signs were for confirming the truth of the Word that had been declared. And so they had declared boldly the Lord to them who gave them confirming evidence to the people of the truth.

But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, and they became aware of it, and fled to Lystra [about forty miles away] and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: and there they preached the gospel. And there sat a certain man at Lystra, who was lame in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never been able to walk: the same heard Paul speak: and as Paul was steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, so he said to him with a loud voice, Stand up on your feet. And he leaped and walked. And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter [or Zeus]; and they called Paul, Mercurius [or Hermes] (14:4-12),

Now they were Greeks; Jupiter and Mercurius were the Roman names of the Greek gods of Zeus and Hermes. Zeus was supposedly born to Croses and Rhea who were of the mythological race of the Titans. When Zeus grew up, he and his brothers rebelled against the Titans and overthrew them. And Zeus became the chief god, the god of the skies. Hermes was born of an illicit relationship, one of the many that Zeus had of the goddesses and the mortal women, and was known as the god of speech. And because Paul was the chief spokesman, they figured he must be Hermes and because Barnabas was probably a very stately looking person, taller, they said that he was Zeus.

Now there at Lystra there was a great temple to Jupiter. And according to the legend, years earlier, Jupiter and Hermes came to the city of Lystra incognito. But nobody recognized them and the people treated them rather shabbily. But there was one couple who took them in and treated them nice. And so for a reward, Zeus made them the perpetual keepers of the temple of Zeus there in Lystra. For he turned them into two trees that stood at the front of the temple. And thus, they were the perpetual guards of the temple of Zeus.

And so when they saw this miracle that Paul had wrought, speaking the word of faith to this lame man. For somehow again by the Spirit of God, Paul knew that this man had faith to be healed. And it had to be just the discerning of the Spirit of God on Paul’s part. So Paul said with a loud voice, the word of faith, “Stand up on your feet!”

Now at this point, the man had one of two choices: either to stand up on his feet, believing the word of faith, or to laugh and scoff at the command of Paul and beg his inability. Notice how many times Jesus gave impossible commands. With the man with the withered hand he said, “Stretch forth your hand.” “Lord, I can’t, my hand is withered. Can’t you see?”

Now those who have been challenged with the word of faith have a choice to obey and to receive that work of God or to argue with Him. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that too many times we’re arguing with the Lord. The Lord speaks His word of faith to our hearts, “Be strong! Go in and conquer!” “Oh, Lord, I would love to conquer. Oh, Lord, I’m so weak. I would just love...oh, You don’t know, Lord, how I’d love to do that.” And we’re telling Him all the reasons why we can’t rather than just obey and going ahead and doing it.

Now if you will just will to obey those commands of Christ to your hearts, you will find, as did this man, that God will give to you all that you need to obey His command of faith. So when God says to you, “Alright now, be strong and be victorious,” you say, “Alright, Lord!” And just accept and be strong and victorious. That’s all there is to it. If you will will to obey, He will give you the capacity to do it.

So Paul spoke a word of faith. The man stood on his feet and began to leap and walk, and the people said, “The gods have come down! He’s come back again!” You know, the legend was that he had been there before. “He’s come back again!” So they ran down to the temple of Jupiter. The temple was there at the gates of the city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and the priests of Zeus would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard it, they tore their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (14:13-17).

Now notice, here are people, and notice there was no synagogue in Lystra. Paul’s usual method in coming into the city would be to go into the synagogue. Because there at least the people had a basic foundation in their knowledge of God, having studied the Old Testament. They knew the true and the living God. Now Paul is getting further and further into the wilds, you might say. He comes now to the city of Lystra where no synagogue existed. Now in any city if there were ten adult Jewish males, they would form a synagogue. So that means there wasn’t ten adult Jewish males in Lystra. No synagogue.

So Paul just goes on the street and starts to preach to the people. But in talking to them about God, he must start with nature. “God has not left Himself without witness in that God has been good. He’s given you the rainy seasons. He’s given you the fruitful ground.” Lystra was the center of the corn raising of the ancient world. It was the Iowa of that time where most of the corn was raised. Very good abundant crops. “God has given to you the fruitful seasons. God has given you the rain. God has made Himself known through nature. So God has not been witness.” And so he starts where they are. They have very little concept of the true and the living God. All they know about God is the legends of Zeus, who through his many affairs gave birth to Apollo, to Athena, to Museas, to Phades, to Artimus, and to all of the other gods that they worship. But they didn’t know about the true and the living God.

And so Paul starts at an area that they can understand--the revelation of God in nature. And so, as they are ready to make a sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, Paul says, “No, we’ve come to preach to you. We’re men, we’re just like you are, and we’ve come to preach to you that you should turn from these vanities, these legends, these beliefs that you have are empty. They’re not true! You should turn from these to the living God who made the heaven and the earth, the seas, everything that is in them and has left His witness by being good to you and giving you rain and fruitful seasons.” So he starts where they are. God has revealed Himself in nature.

David tells us in the nineteenth Psalm that the heavens declare the glory of God. The earth shows His handiwork. Day unto day they utter their speech. Night unto night their voice goes forth and there is not a speech nor a language where their voice is not heard. God speaks to man universally in nature. Every night the heavens talk to you. When you look up into that star filled sky, God is talking to you. The heavens are declaring to you the glory, the vastness, the awesomeness of God. Every day as you look around at the flowers, the fields, the various life forms, God is speaking to you.

The problem is that so often we are misinterpreting and we stop short, and man begins to worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. Paul speaks of that danger in Romans. So a man becomes a pantheist. Yes, he’s aware of God, but everything becomes god. That beautiful green bean field becomes god, though it’s going to turn brown and die and get plowed under. But he begins to nature, animism.

I remember when I was a little tiny kid. Our family was up at Yosemite National Park. And you know how other kids are. There were other kids. We were in camp fourteen by the Merced River. We were looking up at glacier point. And this little kid said to me, “Do you know who made that?” And I said, “Yeah, I know who made that! God made that!” “Oh, no! Mother nature made that!” Well, it’s not right to fool around with Mother Nature. But man stops short of God. So Paul pointed out to them that God has given a witness of Himself to you in nature.

I believe that at this point Paul was facing one of the gravest dangers in his whole career. At this point his career could have come to an end. His ministry and work for God could have halted right here had he taken praise and the glory that these people were wanting to put upon him.

I think the greatest danger of the ministry is not when you’re under severe persecution, but when God has used your life, you’re highly effective and everybody begins to speak well of you, begins to praise you, begins to declare what a marvelous person and all you are. You are facing there the gravest danger of your ministry, because if you accept that praise, you will soon find yourself sitting on the shelf.

It is interesting how that again man wants to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Paul was the instrument that God used and so they were ready to worship Paul. Now Paul could have rationalized in his mind, “Well, this is good. I’ve got them right in my hands. I’ll let them go ahead and worship me and then I’ll point them to the Lord.” And unfortunately, there are many people who follow this policy. They try to draw persons to themselves, and, once they’re really attached to me, they can turn them over to the Lord. “They so admire me and they so love me, now I’ll bring them to Jesus.” It’s a very dangerous rational.

Paul, rather than receiving the praise, said, “No, this is emptiness. I’m only a man! Don’t worship the creature; worship the Creator. We’ve come to preach to you that you should turn from this emptiness, from these vanities to the living God. Don’t stop short by worshipping the creature. Worship the Creator who is blessed forevermore.” And even so, they were almost insisting on going ahead to worship Paul and Barnabas. They were scarcely able to stop the people who were intent upon worshipping them.

Now if you think that the worship of man, glory and praise of man is a very desirable and wonderful thing to have, let me just give you a word of warning. The glory and the praise of man is very fickle. As will testify any ball player who has gone into a slump for a period of time. You can be a great hero, but just go into a slump for a while and every time you come up to bat you will hear the “boo’s” of the people. And how many athletes, every time they step up to the plate they’ve heard the crowd shouting their name, chanting their name, stomping their feet. Standing up and cheering and cheering, “Our hero has come to bat!” But let’s just let him go into a deep slump over a period of time. How the adulation of the world does change. Every time you come up to bat you hear the “boo’s” and the “hisses.” How fickle is the worship of man. Evident there at Lystra. Here they’re ready to worship them as a god. Verse 19:

And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, they drug him out of the city, supposing he had been dead (14:19).

These same people that were ready to worship him have now lynched him because stoning was a form of lynching in those days. It was no justice, just that crowd mob psychology. And these people ready to worship him now stone him and drug him out of the city when they thought they had killed him.

Now, I personally feel they did kill him. Now that’s sort of brash perhaps to say, because Paul himself said he didn’t know whether or not they killed him. But since he didn’t know, I have a right to my feeling! Years later when Paul was writing his second letter to the Corinthian church, no doubt referring to this experience here in Lystra, he said, “There was a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, or whether out of the body, I really don’t know;) but such a one was caught up into the third heaven. And there heard things so marvelous, that it would be a crime to try to describe it with human language. Of such a one I will boast” (II Corinthians 12:2-5).

Paul wrote about this Lystra experience, and he declared, “Whether I was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know. Whether I was still alive and had the vision, or I was actually dead and had an out of the body experience, I can’t tell you for sure. But what I can tell you for sure is that I was caught up into the third heaven and there it was so glorious! The things I heard were so fantastic that there is no language that can describe them. And if I try to describe them it would be a crime, because there are no words that are adequate to describe what I had heard. And because of the abundance of the revelations that were given to me, there was also given to me this thorn in the flesh, a minister of Satan to buffet me.” It could be that Paul received injuries at that stoning from which he never recovered. Paul said, “Of such a one I will boast.”

So the fickleness of the glory of the crowd. Ready to worship him, ready to kill him. So they drug him out of the city thinking he was dead.

However, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city (14:20):

Now, you think he would run. Not Paul. He came right back into the city.

and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra [right back to where he was stoned], and to Iconium [where they were planning to stoning him], and then on to Antioch [where he got kicked out of town shaking the dust off of his feet], as they confirmed the souls of the disciples, and exhorted them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (14:20-22).

They didn’t say, “Well, fellas, it’s a rosy path. Now that you’ve accepted Jesus, all of your problems are over! Isn’t that nice! Jesus is so good! You’re not going to have another problem.” No, they said, “Hey, hang in there, man. It’s going to be tough. With much tribulation you’re going to enter into the kingdom.” But they encouraged them to the faithfulness in Christ.

Later, Paul wrote to Timothy who came from this area. Timothy grew up in this area and, no doubt, met Paul on this first journey, joined Paul later as a companion and as a servant. But Timothy, Paul called him “my son in the faith.” So it was, no doubt, in this journey that Paul met Timothy and he was converted. Paul later wrote Timothy and reminded him of the tribulation that he faced while in that territory and he said how that God delivered me while I was in Iconium and in Lystra and in Derbe, how God delivered me.

Now herein is interesting to me, the different ways by which God delivered Paul from these enemies. In Antioch God delivered Paul by having him kicked out of town. He said, “Well, God freed me from those people.” In Iconium they were plotting to stone him, but Paul learned of the plot and left town before they had a chance. So God delivered him by making him aware of the plot against his life. But in Lystra, God delivered him by having him think that he was dead and then dragging him out of the city.

Now God doesn’t follow a particular pattern, He’s very versatile. He refuses to be confined to a pattern. It is interesting how that man is constantly seeking to put God into a form. I want to somehow put God into a rut because I’m always in a rut. And I want to pattern God so I can say this is how God works. This is how God will deliver you. There are those people who are offering simplistic answers for complex problems, but let me tell you something: there are no simple answers; there are no pattern ways by which God works. God may deliver you by letting you know the trouble is afoot. God may be delivering you by the foot, kicking you out of town. Or God may deliver you through the stoning from the angry mob. God works in different ways, His works in our lives. And He does not confine Himself to one single way or pattern of working, but He works through diversity.

So they encouraged them to hang in there, “It’s going to be tough, but through much tribulation, we will enter into the kingdom of God.” And so in these churches, they ordained elders.

and they prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed (14:23).

Brothers, we just place you into the hands of the Lord. And after the prayer and fasting, anointed and prayed for the elders, appointed these elders over the church.

And after they had passed throughout Pisidia [the upper area where Antioch was], they came back again to the coastal plains of Pamphylia. And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: where they caught a ship and sailed back to Antioch [where they had begun their journey back in the beginning of chapter 13], they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled (14:24-26).

So they fulfilled their first missionary journey, and they came back again to the brethren there in Antioch on the northern coast of the Mediterranean from the area of Phoenicia.

And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode for long time with the disciples (14:27-28).

So they came back to their home church, sharing with them the glorious work of God among the Gentiles, miracles of grace and the number of believers in the body of Christ being expanded into the Gentile world.

Chapter 15 

And certain men which came down from Judea [to the church in Antioch] taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved (15:1).

Unfortunately, there are always those troublers who are going around trying to disrupt God’s work among the body of Christ. When we were over a block away at the other church, sort of the early beginnings of the Jesus movement when so many hundreds of young people were coming to the Lord, and we were having, even as we do now, the baptisms, I was having them then every Monday night. After the Monday night class we would go down to Newport Beach, 19th street, and we would have a baptism every Monday night. And there would be fifty, sixty, seventy kids being baptized every Monday night at that time.

One night after church I saw this little fellow talking to some of the young people. And he had gathered a group around him and he was very into what he was saying, and so I went up to hear what he was saying. And he was telling them, “If you haven’t been baptized in the name of Jesus only, it doesn’t count.” But, boy, I’ll tell ya, FIRE! That’s about as close as I’ve come to hitting somebody in a long time. I went up and grabbed the little guy by the collar and just lifted him up and I said, “Fella, you better get out of here in a hurry because I’ll not guarantee what I’ll do.” And I took him right out to his car, pushed him in his car and said, “Now get out of here!”

It’s unfortunate that there are those people that are going around trying to disrupt the work of God. They can’t stand you having so much joy in the Lord. Those that are wanting to put you into bondage. You know, “You should never be a happy Christian. You should never be a joyful Christian.” And they are always trying to lay their trip on you. It’s existed from the beginning. The fellows from Judea who believed in Jesus, but who at one time were Pharisees, came down, they saw the Gentiles worshipping God and they said, “Look, you’re not really saved unless you’ve been circumcised.”

Now they believed that salvation was only for the Jew and the only way to become a Christian was to become a Jew. And you could not be saved if you were not a Jew. And so there in the church of Antioch they brought this disturbing doctrine.

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension (15:2)

I mean, they really faced these guys and there was a big uproar over it.

they had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question (15:2).

Notice the men came down from Judea and they go up to Jerusalem. Just a little aside. You never go down to Jerusalem. You never say, “Let’s go down to Jerusalem.” Even though you’re on the top of Mount Hermon, ten thousand feet, you don’t say, “Well let’s go down to Jerusalem.” You always say, “Well, let’s go up to Jerusalem.” And from Jerusalem you always go down. “Let’s go down from Jerusalem.” But you never go down to Jerusalem. Jerusalem sits there, of course, in the Jerusalem mountains, and from whatever direction you come to Jerusalem, you’ve got to go up to Jerusalem. And so it’s always going up to Jerusalem. So even to the present day it’s always up to Jerusalem, never down to Jerusalem. So they determined that they should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and the elders about this question. “Let’s get this thing settled.”

And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren (15:3).

Now churches had already been established in the areas of Phenicia, Lebanon, and in Samaria, and so they were sharing with them everywhere they went of God’s work among the Gentiles and great joy came to the brethren because of the work of God. But...

And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them (15:4).

So they gave a missionary report to the church in Jerusalem.

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who had become believers, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider [this problem] this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith (15:5-9).

Peter, first of all, is the one who gives the first witness to the counsel how that God had called him to go to the house of Cornelius to bring him the gospel, and that God obviously worked among them by His grace through faith because they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. God did not make a difference between them, but their salvation was through faith.

Paul tells us in Romans 3:22 that there is no difference. God has taken away the differences. All have sinned, all have come short of the glory of God, but all of us are redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ. Whether we be Jew or Greek, there’s no difference. There’s only one way to salvation and that’s through faith in Jesus Christ. So Peter said,

Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they (15:10-11).

In other words, our salvation is just like theirs. It’s through grace, through faith. So why should we put on them the yoke, that is, the law, which we nor our fathers were really able to bear? Why hang something on them that we weren’t able to handle?

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, who declared the miracles and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through their ministry. And after they had held their peace [that is, the opposition], James (15:12-13)

Who was the pillar of the early church, the leader of the early church? Not Peter. But James was the leader there in Jerusalem. Not the brother of John, but the half brother of Jesus, whom Jesus appeared to in a special appearance after His resurrection.

James answered, saying, Men and brethren, listen to me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning (15:13-18).

Now he brings forth a prophecy from the Old Testament where God declared that after His work… After what work? After His work among the Gentiles, He will return again and build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down. The temple will be rebuilt.

There are those today who try to identify the church as Israel and make all of the prophecies concerning Israel apply to the church. And needless to say, they have so messed up eschatology that they have the church going through the Great Tribulation. They declare that God’s work with Israel is finished, that Israel had their opportunity, and that from now on the church is Israel. But it just totally messes up the whole prophetic picture. And actually, the bulk of prophecies where God declares that He will once again return and put His Spirit upon the nation of Israel and work with them as a people.

Now James in the early church recognized that this work among the Gentiles was to draw out a people for His name. We are still living in that age where the dominant work of the Spirit is among the Gentiles, still drawing out a people unto the Lord. He has drawn out you and He has drawn out me. We’re a part of this work that God intended to do among the Gentiles as He is developing the body of Christ out of basically the Gentile nation.

But through His grace there is no difference. The Jew is saved just as the Gentile. Right now, as far as God is concerned, there’s no racial differences. Salvation is open to every man, Jew and Gentile alike. But the day is coming when the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, then God will again restore His work on the nation of Israel. But here he says he’s visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. God knows exactly who those people are; God has a number. And Paul tells us that when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then God will deal with Israel once more. But God knows exactly what the fullness of the Gentiles is. For known unto Him are all of His works from the beginning. God knows exactly who is going to be saved. God has always known who was going to be saved. “Known unto Him are all of his works from the beginning.” 

I utterly reject the doctrine of the moral government of God that tells us of a God who is limited in His knowledge. A God who is disappointed and shocked by Adam’s sin. A God who was caught by surprise when man fell, and had to hastily devise a plan of redemption through the sending of His Son. How is it then that Christ was crucified from the foundations of the world?

I utterly reject that concept of the limited knowledge of God that He doesn’t know what you are going to do until you do. And then is so disappointed when you make the wrong choice. “Known unto Him from the beginning are all of his works.” He’s known it from the beginning of the world. He’s known exactly who He is going to save, when He is going to save them, the circumstances under which they will be saved. He knows, He has known from the beginning.

There are no surprises with God. He’s omniscient. He can’t learn anything new. When you enter into heaven, God is not going to say, “Well, what a surprise to see you here! I really never thought you were going to make it!” You may be surprised, but He won’t. For known unto Him are all of his works from the beginning of the world.

And so God knew His plan to reach out to the Gentiles, to draw out a people for His name. God knew that Israel was to be set aside as the favored nation status. That God might work among the Gentiles, but yet, one day as Hosea returned to his unfaithful wife, so God will come to unfaithful Israel and restore His work among them, pouring out His Spirit once more among them and drawing them unto Himself. James says,

Wherefore my sentence is, that we not trouble them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and fornication, and things strangled, and blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas whose surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, You must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment: it seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth (15:19-27).

Now Paul and Barnabas had just come back. They said, “Ah, you know, you’re not telling us the truth. And you’ve fabricated the letters, and all.” So the church had wisdom in sending Judas and Silas with them to confirm, “Yes, this is indeed what the council decided in Jerusalem. That you as Gentiles are not under the law of Moses. You as Gentiles do not have to proselytize and become Jews in order to be saved. We’ve recognized the work of God’s grace in your midst and we recognize that you are saved through faith and the grace of God just as we are, and you don’t have to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.” Recognizing that salvation is not a thing of works, but a thing of faith.

And here it was established in the church. Yet, unfortunately, there are so many churches that still insist on a righteousness through works and have established their standards of holiness and their do’s and their don’ts in order that you might have a righteous standing before God.

The Galatian church had the same problem after Paul left this area. There were certain men that came in and said, “Now look, Paul doesn’t have any authority. He has only taken on the role of an apostle himself, but nobody laid hands on him. And Paul is wrong in teaching you that you have been justified by faith. You’ve got to keep the law of Moses; you’ve got to bring forth works that prove your righteousness.” So as Paul writes to the Galatians, he says, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you so soon turn away from the truth. Having begun in the Spirit, are you now going to be made perfect in the flesh? This I would learn of you, did you receive Christ by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or the hearing of faith?” And Paul writes to the Galatians who had been subverted by this undercurrent of judiaising Christianity, which was prevalent in those early days. But the issue was established for the church.

Now there are still those today, Seventh Day Adventist, who proclaim, as did these men from Judea, that you’ve got to keep the law co-mingled with faith in Christ in order to be saved. Herbert Armstrong in his Good News of the World Tomorrow, also advocates the keeping of the law, as do the Jehovah Witnesses. As the works/righteousness emphasis that they have rather than righteousness through faith, which is the emphasis of the New Testament. And was determined by the church at the council here in the fifteenth chapter of Acts.

So Paul and Barnabas came back to Antioch with the letter, along with Judas and Silas. And so they gave the letter, which said,

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things (15:28);

And so they recognized that the counsel that came forth was from the Holy Spirit. Now here I believe that we have an example of the word of wisdom, the gift of the word of wisdom in operation through James. We have disputing parties. We have a strong dispute going on in the church. There is a danger of splitting the church. There are those that are saying they’ve got to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. How can they be saved and keep the law of Moses? How can they be saved without doing that?

Paul says, “Look, it’s obvious that God is working among them. There are signs and gifts and they haven’t been circumcised.” And there is this dispute going on, and James says, “Brethren, this is what I feel we ought to do. Let’s write them a letter and just recognize that God has saved them through faith and just tell them that they ought to keep themselves from pollution and from fornication and things that strangled and from blood, and if they do this, they do well.” And everybody was satisfied. The word of wisdom through the Holy Spirit.

And so they write, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Recognizing that the counsel came from the Lord. “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 (15:29),

So the first thing is this thing of meats, which also was a problem in the early church. The Jew would not eat any meat of an animal that was strangled. They had their special way of killing the animal, making sure that all of the blood went out of the animal because of their respect for the blood and the life that was in the blood. And, of course, it was a part of the Mosaic law. And so they reiterated this part of the law to the Gentiles. However, Paul modified this later as he was writing to the Corinthian church.

In those days, quite often, when you would take your sacrifice to the priest to offer it to a pagan god, they would take a portion of the meat and offer it to the god as a sacrifice. But then they would give you what was left and you could have a feast for yourself and your friends. And then often the priest would take that portion that belonged to the priest and they would sell it in the meat markets.

So when you went to the butcher shop to buy a steak, it was quite possible that that particular steak came from an ox that was offered to one of the pagan idols. So Paul said, “When you go to the butcher shop to buy your meat, don’t ask the butcher, ‘Was this steak offered to an idol?’” He said, “Just buy it, go home and enjoy it without asking questions, for your conscience’s sake. Because the meat can’t hurt you. Eating meat can’t defile you; it can’t make you a sinner.”

As Jesus said, “It isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles a man. It’s what comes out of the man’s mouth. That which goes into a man passes through his system and on out. It isn’t the thing that defiles you. It comes out of the man that is the defiling thing. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and out of the heart issue the fornications and all of these other things” (Mark 7:15-21).

And then Paul said when you’re invited to eat, eat what is set before you, asking no questions. So if a friend invites you over to his house to eat and he lays out this beautiful roast, you don’t say, “Was this roast offered as a sacrifice to an idol?” He said just eat what’s set before you, asking no questions. Again, for conscience’s sake.

So Paul sort of modified these rules in his letter to the Corinthians. And then to the Romans he said, “He that is weak in the faith eats vegetables,” as do the Seventh Day Adventists, “and he who is strong in the faith eats meat. Now don’t let him who eats meat condemn him who doesn’t eat meat.” So they don’t want to eat meat, that’s all right. If they want vegi-weiners and vegi-burgers and all, that’s fine. I don’t condemn them. But yet, on the other side of the coin, they who don’t eat meat should not judge them that do. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:2-5).

So the first rule was concerning their dietary eating habits. They should not eat meat they said that was offered to idols. Paul later on said that’s only for conscience’s sake.

and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well (15:29). I mean, it was not laying out the whole Mosaic law. Nothing here about the Sabbath Day and the ordinances of the law, it’s just, hey, basic, simple things. And if you do this, fine. God bless you. 

So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered this letter: and when they had read it, they rejoiced for the [comfort] consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them (15:30-32).

Now the prophets and he who prophesieth speaks unto the church with exhortation, to comfort, to edification. So they were exercising their gift as prophets within the church, exhorting the brethren and confirming them in their faith.

And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding Silas decided to stay there for a while. Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also (15:33-35).

That Antioch church must have been quite a church! With Paul and Barnabas teaching and preaching, and Silas, and that work that God had wrought in Antioch.

And some days after, Paul said to Barnabas (15:36),

Paul had sort of a restless spirit, I guess. He just couldn’t stay at any one place too long. Always moving around. Always anxious to get out. “Let’s go! Let’s go for it! Let’s head out and preach again!” And he could only stay in one place for long before he got antsy and he had to go and get into uncharted territories again. He was always a man who was ready for a challenge. So after some days, Paul said to 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 (15:36).

Let’s go back and visit them and see how they’re doing.

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark (15:37).

That is, his nephew who had jumped ship in Pamphylia and did not go into the Asia Minor with Paul and Barnabas. He left them in the first journey, and Barnabas was determined to take Mark with him again.

But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 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 (15:38-39);

Interesting little insight that the Bible gives us concerning these beautiful brothers, Paul and Barnabas. The contention became so great that they split company. Can Christians have disagreements? Obviously.

Now, I see this in a very positive light. I believe that the contention was really from God. I believe that God desired to broaden the missionary endeavor of the church. Rather than having one team go out, I think God wanted two teams to go out. You can cover twice the territory in the same amount of time. Both Paul and Barnabas were skilled missionaries. And so for them to go together again was not a good utilization of manpower. Let’s get the gospel out further. So God created this dissension and this dispute with Paul and Barnabas. The net result was the doubling of the efforts.

I think that there is room for disagreement. I think that we must guard, though, in disagreements, that we disagree agreeably, realizing that we are all a part of the body of Christ and maybe God wants to expand His work. So whatever the motive may be for someone starting up another work, God can use it to expand the overall work of His kingdom.

It seems that whenever God is doing a powerful work in an area, there are always those that want to come in and build on another man’s foundation. I cannot really understand a man declaring that he has received a call of God to come to Orange County to establish a new church. When there are counties all over the United States that are crying out for someone to come and share the truth! Every week I receive multitudes of letters from people just crying out for us to send someone to minister in their area, because there is no church where they can really be taught the Word of God.

So I have difficulty with that person that says, “Well, God has called me to Orange County.” Because of all of the successful, powerful works of God in this county. But nonetheless, though there are many powerful works of God in this county, we surely are not reaching all the people that need to be reached. So that other churches are raised up is good, because God is just expanding His work, and in that we glory.

And as Paul, writing concerning those in Rome, some preaching Christ out of contention, some have impure motives, bitterness, or whatever, I rejoice that Christ is being preached. That the work of the kingdom of God is expanding.

And I have no ego problem to believe that I have the message for everybody. I know that there are people that I can reach; I know there are people I cannot reach. And I praise God that there are other ministers that have a different emphasis of ministry who are able to reach those people I cannot reach. There are people who need an emotional experience when they go to church. They need emotional releases. So I praise God that He has developed emotional churches. I’d hate to have those emotional people frustrated here. So God knows the needs of people and raises up various ministries, and I rejoice that the work of God is expanding.

So Paul and Barnabas, I believe, God was in the dispute. It is obvious that the dispute did not last forever. And Paul later writes concerning what a blessing Mark was to him and he said, “Please send Mark as quickly as possible. He’s been such a blessing to me” (II Timothy 4:11).

But at this time, God desired to expand the missionary outreach of the church, and so this dispute over Mark between Paul and Barnabas so great that Barnabas took Mark and headed off and went again to Cyprus where Paul and Barnabas had first gone.

And Paul took Silas (15:40),

This brother who came down. He was a brother of great note in the church in Jerusalem. And Paul took Silas.

and they journeyed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches (15:40-41).

And then back up into the area of Derbe and all, where Paul meets Timothy. And we’ll get into that next week as we move into chapters 16 and 17. And we get Paul’s second missionary journey now with Timothy, as they are moving into areas which will ultimately take them the next leap over into Europe. As Paul in Troas is troubled because he can’t seem to get any direction, and then the Spirit calls him to come to Europe to carry the gospel even further.

So the glorious expansion of the church, as we have it recorded here in the book of Acts as God is working. Even in the disputes, to expand His work. Father, we thank You for Your Word, and we pray now that Your Spirit would just lock it up in our hearts. Thank You, Father, for that grace that we have received in which we stand, in which we walk. Thank You, Lord, for Your work among the Gentiles as You are gathering out a people for Thy name. And, Lord, we’re so thankful that You’ve gathered us according to Your plan which You have known from the beginning. Now, Lord, bless Thy people as we go out as lights shining in a dark place. And may our lives this week just bear witness of God’s love to that needy world that we will be facing. God, help us to be all that You want us to be: Thy witness carrying Thy message of grace to those hearts in need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Chuck Smith

Pastor Chuck Smith began his ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, in 1965, with just twenty-five people.