PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL MAINTAINS THE INTEGRITY OF THE MESSAGE AND STRENGTHENS BELIEVERS IN THE FAITH
Acts chapter 15 fills some of that transition gap between Paul’s first and second missionary journey. If you think of missionaries you know who have come home from the field for a time of rest and deputation, Paul and Barnabas performed similar duties:
– Reporting back to the church at Antioch – good communication is always critical; you need for your partners in ministry to be engaged and to understand the challenges and the successes of what is happening out on the field
– Recharging their spiritual batteries in preparation for next missionary journey – nobody can go at full throttle all of the time (although Paul seems to have less of a need for vacation time than we see today); you need time to sit back and reevaluate your missionary strategy and objectives as well
– Resolving conflicts that threaten the progress of the gospel – We are going to look today at the interesting juxtaposition in these verses (22-41) of two very different types of conflicts that threaten to undermine partnership in the gospel; probably more common for preachers to keep these two incidents separate, but we are going to look at them together because of the similar outline points for these two different situations – both a Positive Example and a Negative Example:
o Magnitude of the Issue involved
o Unity vs Division involved in the resolution
o Nature of the Communication
o Results of the Resolution
PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL MAINTAINS THE INTEGRITY OF THE MESSAGE AND STRENGTHENS BELIEVERS IN THE FAITH
I. (:22-35) POSITIVE EXAMPLE – DOCTRINAL ISSUE – PARTNERSHIP OF JEWS AND GENTILES CEMENTED BY UNITED DECISION OF THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
A. Magnitude of the Issue – Review of 15:1-21 – the Heart of the Gospel Message – Salvation is by Grace Through Faith Apart from Circumcision or the Works of the Law
Everything in the Christian life is about the Grace of God – thinking about that this week – all of the pressures and challenges – “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
– Consequences of a Division
B. (:22) United Decision
“Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas– Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren,”
How pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity
Look how many leading men there were in the church at Antioch – a fertile ground for the development of church leaders and for the exercise of spiritual gifts
Verbal communication by letter is important – but look how they placed the priority on face-to-face communication – we must make sure we don’t lose this emphasis in today’s world of emailing and text messaging and tweeting – when you are together in person, the communication is so much more effective – how do you show someone you love them? Love letters are great – but they better bring back memories of love expressed in person or excite the anticipation of renewed face-to-face enjoyment – not enough to have a verbal relationship over the air waves
Kent: This would alleviate any possible criticism that the results of the Council were unfairly reported by Paul. Of the two chosen from Jerusalem, Judas is not otherwise known to us. He has the same surname as Joseph Barsabbas, the other candidate with Matthias for the vacant apostleship (1:23), and it is commonly supposed they were brothers. Silas is apparently the same person who is called Silvanus in the epistles (II Cor. 1:19; I Thess. 1:1; II Thess. 1:1; I Peter 5:12).
C. (:23-29) Conciliatory Communication
How can the new Gentile believers meet with the approval of the Jewish church at Jerusalem and enjoy fellowship on an equal footing?
1. (:23) Brotherly Tone
“and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.’”
2. (:24) Disassociation from the Troublemakers –
having presented themselves as authorized in some fashion by the church at Jerusalem
“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls,”
a. Their Deceptive Independence
from the church at Jerusalem – but not sponsored in any way or authorized by the church leadership
b. Their Destructive Insinuations
– disturbed you with their words
– unsettling your souls
3. (:25-27) United Delegation
“it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth.”
Bock: The key term in the letter is the repeated expression “it seemed good” (vv. 22, 25, and 28), pointing to the judgment they have all reached.
4. (:28-29a) Holy Spirit Wisdom
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication;”
5. (:29b) Closing Exhortation
“if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
D. (:30-35) Result: Encouragement, Joy and Edification – It’s All Good!
1. (:30-31) Encouraged by the Wise Decision to the Point of Rejoicing
“So, when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.”
Foolish decisions bring grief and heartache – cf. those in OT times who rejected wise counsel –
1 Kings 12:7-8 — King Rehoboam rejecting the counsel of the older, experienced elders who had served under Solomon
2. (:32) Encouraged by the Strengthening Ministry of the Word
“And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.”
This verse is my excuse for sometimes preaching too long!
If a short message is helpful … then a lengthy message must be even better!
3. (:33) Encouraged by Returning the Jerusalem Delegates Home in Peaceful Fellowship
“And after they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out.”
[34 But it seemed good to Silas to remain there]
Kent: Verse 34 is found in the Western text, and also in the Byzantine, but does not appear in the manuscripts usually regarded as most reliable. Apparently it was thought that Silas had to be retained in Antioch in order to accompany Paul on the next journey, in plain contradiction of verse 33. There is no problem, however, if we understand a reasonable period of time between the events of verses 33 and 40, sufficient for Paul to send for Silas before the next journey.
4. (:35) Encouraged by the Ongoing Ministry of Edification in Antioch
“But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching, with many others also, the word of the Lord.”
Amazing how many gifted teachers and preachers there were in the church at Antioch
II. (:36-41) NEGATIVE EXAMPLE – RELATIONAL ISSUE AND MINISTRY PHILOSOPHY – SPLIT BETWEEN PAUL AND BARNABAS OVER THE INCLUSION OF JOHN MARK ON THE MISSIONARY TEAM
A. (:36) Magnitude of the Issue –
“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’”
Motivation: encourage brethren to persevere in persecution; protect them against heresy of Judaizers; renew fellowship; minister the Word
Consequences of a Division
B. (:37-38) Divided Discernment
“And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.”
Paul seems to have a solid argument – one that is not refuted; Barnabas seems to have more of a personal preference – perhaps influenced by his family relationship to Barnabas
No indication of repentance on the part of John Mark; even if there were Paul may have thought it wise for there to be a time period of further proving and testing before entrusting him again with so much responsibility – not saying that Paul was writing him off – just did not want to elevate him to this level of leadership again yet
C. (:39a) Contentious Communication
“And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another,”
After all they had been through together, how could such a serious rift develop now?
Painful to separate from former co-laborers in the gospel
Bock: parosysmos, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement
MacArthur: You know what the word is for departed asunder? It’s only used one other time in the New Testament and that’s Revelations 6:14 when an apocalyptic disaster, the Heavens departed. So when they departed, they departed. There wasn’t a lot of love there. They were a little bit bitter, and they blasted off in two directions and Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus.
D. (:39b-41) Result: Hurt Feelings but Maintaining Focus on Ministry –
Goal of Strengthening the Brethren
“and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Is someone right and someone wrong in this dispute?? There seem to be indicators in the passage that Paul stands on stronger ground here – mainly arguments from silence so don’t be dogmatic here:
– God had put this missionary team together
– Paul offered reasons for not taking John Mark; Barnabas did not
– Thinking of Barnabas was impacted by family relationship = cousins
– Church ended up commending Paul and Silas; don’t seem to have commended the other team in the same fashion
– Don’t hear any more about Barnabas in Acts (went to his home territory in Cyprus and tradition says he ministered there in relative obscurity) – of course you don’t see ministry of Peter any more either
Having said all of that, there were probably wrong reactions on both sides
Having said that, God providentially overruled to create two powerful teams and to mentor both John Mark and Silas
Division turned into multiplication
Note that neither Barnabas or Paul felt it was appropriate to set off alone – they understood that partnership in the gospel ministry is essential
The grace of the Lord is what is key to spiritual success
What we need today are stronger churches –
– those would be churches that understand and feed on the Grace of God;
– those would be churches that understand the importance of partnership in the gospel
CONCLUSION: What applications can we make from these two examples dealing with striving for partnership in the gospel??
We need to protect the integrity of the gospel message at all costs. We cannot compromise the fundamentals of teaching people that salvation is by grace through faith in the person of Jesus Christ apart from any works or law keeping on our part. We need to go on and continue to live by grace as well.
In non-essential areas we must have a conciliatory spirit that is willing to make concessions regarding personal preferences – just as the Jerusalem Council advocated for the new Gentile converts regarding certain Jewish practices.
We need to value the partnership in the gospel which we have. Sometimes you don’t realize the value of something until you lose it – that is true in marriage – think of the calamity of what is lost when a couple divorces; but this is also true in ministry. We need to appreciate what we have by way of partnership – regardless of how small our group may be.
We need to understand that we are all wired differently – even as Paul and Barnabas were; and we must seek to communicate in love and patience in a way that would help us to avoid splits over matters of personal preference or ministry practice. Yet understanding that the providence of God can overrule our sinfulness and brokenness to still bring good out of difficult times.