Saturday, November 12, 2022

2022.11.12 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 15:23–35

Read Acts 15:23–35

Questions from the Scripture text: What did the assembly write (Acts 15:23)? By whom did they send it (cf. Acts 15:22)? From whom did they write it? To whom? Where? How did it start? What was the occasion of the letter—what had some done (Acts 15:24)? With what effect on their souls? Saying what? Even though what had not been done? How had the letter been decided upon (Acts 15:25)? With what type of men is it being sent? With whom? What have Barnabas and Paul done (Acts 15:26)? For What? Which chosen men are being sent (Acts 15:27)? What will they do? Who, ultimately, has given this judgment (Acts 15:28)? Through whom? What has He determined to do? What things are laid upon them? From what four things must they abstain (Acts 15:29)? With what benefit if they do? How does the letter close? What is done to the four men in Acts 15:30? To where do they come? Whom do they gather? What do they deliver? How does the multitude respond (Acts 15:31)? What do we learn about Judas and Silas in Acts 15:32? As preachers, what do they do to the brethren? With what? What do they do for how long (Acts 15:33)? Then what is done with them? What do they bring back? From whom to whom? But who doesn’t wish to go (Acts 15:34)? Who also remain (Acts 15:35)? Doing what two things? With whom else?

Who deliver the judgments of the church? Acts 15:23–35 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these thirteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that while it is preachers who deliver judgments from synods, and exhort, and strengthen, and teach, and preach, yet ultimately it is the Holy Spirit Who is doing all these things in the church. 

This passage relates the writing, delivery, and reception of the decision of the first general synod. 

The writing of the letter. The letter itself communicates the brotherhood of the entire church under Christ and the Spirit. Although the decision was made by the assembly of apostles and elders, the whole church has concurred (Acts 15:22), and now the letter identifies itself as being from “the brethren” (Acts 15:23) as much as from the apostles and elders. It is important for the members of the congregations in Antioch to know that this brotherly view of them has not just been “decided by the leadership” but embraced by the whole household of God.

This brother-recognition is even more strongly stated in identifying the letter’s addressees as “the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.” All of the members of these churches are, of course, brethren. But the letter singles out the Gentiles as equally members of the family of God as the apostles themselves. They are demonstrating that the decision in the letter is not a concession for second-class Christians, but an acknowledgement that they have faith that is of the same status (cf. 2 Peter 1:1). 

By calling them “brethren,” the apostles and elders place themselves on a level not just with believers in Antioch but specifically with Gentile believers. This sends a strong message in light of the fact that this was all made necessary by those who had come from Jerusalem and “troubled them with words, unsettling their souls” (Acts 15:24). 

The letter relates, as we saw in Acts 15:20, that they are to refrain especially from those things that participate in the idolatry of their Gentile neighbors and breaking of the Noahic covenant (Acts 15:29). The order is slightly different here, but the big addition is that in doing this they will “practice [what is] good.” This is not a burden being laid upon them (Acts 15:28) but an invitation to the service of Christ. 

Finally, notice the phrase at the beginning of Acts 15:28, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.” It’s not that Paul and Barnabas won an argument, or even that a particular position won the day, but that the Holy Spirit has led His church into the truth. He brings them to the conclusion that is consistent with the rest of the Scriptures that He has produced (cf. 1 Peter 1:11; 2 Peter 1:20–21).  

This means something frightful for assemblies where the Scriptures are not faithfully adhered to: rather than men serving under the power of the Spirit, men in those assemblies have themselves taken the reigns instead of the Spirit. But it means something wonderful for those congregations and presbyteries who follow the biblical prescription for Synods: what they are aiming to do is to be ruled and led by the Spirit.

The delivery of the letter. The delivery of the letter is a vital part of the Jerusalem church’s affirmation of the joint council with Paul and Barnabas and others from the northern church. As they say in Acts 15:24, the troublers had gone out unbidden and against Paul and Barnabas (cf. Acts 15:2). Now, instead of being unbidden, Judas and Silas are “chosen,” which the letter itself emphasizes in Acts 15:25. And instead of opposing Barnabas and Paul, thy are “with” Barnabas and Paul.

Furthermore, the assembly heaps affection and admiration upon Barnabas and Paul. First, affection: they call Barnabas and Paul “beloved.” Then, admiration: “men who have risked their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This means much to the church in Jerusalem, where many had been martyred. It gives them a kinship with Barnabas and Paul and admiration for them.

Carrying such a letter, Judas and Silas “will also report the same things by word of mouth.” The word for “report” is built on the word for “angel” or “messenger.” They will be able to see the sincerity of the letter in Judas and Silas’s manner with Barnabas and Paul, and in Judas and Silas’s countenance toward the Gentile believers in Antioch. As Judas and Silas read the letter, the gathering in Antioch can study them and know that this is true.

The reception of the letter. The delegation from Jerusalem arrives in Antioch, gathers the multitude together, and delivers the letter (Acts 15:30). Now the multitude rejoices over its encouragement, and Judas and Silas add their own encouragement (“exhorted” in Acts 15:32 is the verb form of the noun in Acts 15:31). Not only have they gladdened them in verse 31, but now they strengthen them as well (Acts 15:33). 

By what means do they strengthen them? By means of “many words.” As “prophets also” their ministry, like that of Paul and Barnabas is “reaching and preaching the word of the Lord.” Christian ministry is first and foremost a ministry of the Word. 

So they minister the Word long enough among them that they can now speak on behalf of the Antioch church, and are sent back to the apostles with greetings. The synod, its decision, its letter, and its mission have had the intended effect; there is peace and purity in the church!

How is your church participating in the Spirit’s leading His church by way of synods? What are some of the theological questions before your synod? Whom do you pray is leading them? What do you pray will be the outcome? Besides the actual decisions, how may this be accomplished?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving Your church both peace and purity. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and how He helps and uses the men whom You call and gift for the eldership. Please sustain our elders by Your grace, and grant that our synod would stick to Your Word. Grant that the way decisions are delivered and received would gladden and strengthen Christ’s people, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH409 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”

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