Script for the July 7th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.
Welcome to the July 7th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis, and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.
Today’s reading is Job 34-35 and Acts 15, but we will focus only on the New Testament in this podcast.
If you have questions about anything in the Old Testament or New Testament reading assignment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may answer it on the next podcast.
The pendulum swings again. I can only imagine the excitement everyone experienced as Paul and Barnabas gave their report and the people heard how God had blessed their mission trip with converts.
But all good things must come to an end. If we anticipate that bad things frequently happen, we aren’t surprised by them when they occur.
Acts 15:1 (CSB): “Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
Some self-righteous believers from Jerusalem felt like they needed to travel 300 miles north to make sure the believers in Antioch were doing it right. When they arrived, they threw water on what God was doing by calling it all into question. They demanded that circumcision was necessary for the males in order for them to be saved.
We are told in verse 2 that Paul and Barnabas spoke passionately against the necessity of circumcision. In fact, Paul would later write Romans 2:25-29, claiming that circumcision only benefits someone if they fully comply with the Old Testament law; and no one except Jesus has ever done that. So, circumcision was of no benefit anymore. Faith in Christ alone is what saves us.
But the arguments and debates didn’t achieve a mutually held conviction. So Paul, Barnabas, and the Judaizers decided to head to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles/pastors of the Jerusalem church.
In verse 3, we read that as Paul and Barnabas passed through cities on their way to Jerusalem, they found believers and told them about how God had saved so many Gentiles. The believing brothers and sisters were filled with happiness at this news.
Acts 15:4 (CSB): “When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.”
They continued to tell the stories of what God had done through them. There is something powerful about telling stories like this. That’s why so many churches always give a time, like on a Sunday evening, to report back to the church after events like youth camp, mission trips, and other activities. God has created us to enjoy stories, and these stories move us to praise and joy.
We expect the pendulum to swing again with all of this happiness and praise. It does. In verse 5, we read that legalists (those who focus on the law as a way of gaining God’s favor) stood up and threw water on the excitement. They continued to demand that circumcision is a part of salvation.
In verses 6-11, Peter spoke up. He pointed out that the Gentiles had been saved and filled with the Spirit just like the Jews had been. He noted that God had clearly made no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. Then he stated the obvious: the Jews had never been able to fully obey the law, so why set the Gentiles up for failure by requiring them to obey the law of circumcision.
Then, Peter gave the essence of the Gospel in verse 11!
Acts 15:11 (CSB): “On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
The Gospel isn’t experienced by obeying the law. It’s not obtained by what we do. Instead, it is received by grace which means it’s a completely free gift from God. So the Gospel shouldn’t be diluted by including circumcision or any other law in the Old Testament.
In verse 12, we read that the whole assembly became quiet. They were reflecting on what Peter had said, and they were apparently in agreement.
In that quiet moment, Paul and Barnabas recounted how God was clearly moving among the Gentiles. The purpose of telling these stories would have been to say, without saying: “Don’t do anything that would seek to stop the good work that God is doing!”
After Paul and Barnabas stopped speaking, James spoke up beginning in verse 13. It seems that James was the leading elder of the church. He was Jesus’ half-brother and would write the book of James. The matter had not yet been resolved, and so he would speak up and give what would be the final word on the matter.
As we read verses 14-18, James started off by affirming what Peter had said. The church needed to know that its leaders were in agreement on this matter. Then, James quoted Amos 9:11–12 to say that God’s Word also agreed with what Peter had said.
Then, in verses 19-21, James gave his conviction about how the matter could best be resolved. James acknowledged that the Jewish believers who were steeped in the Old Testament law might “cause difficulties” for the Gentiles. “Cause difficulties” in the original Greek language means: “to cause extra difficulty and hardship by continual annoyance.”
James didn’t want the Judaizers to continue to annoy the Gentiles. So he seemed to have come up with a compromise. He provided three specific prohibitions that would satisfy the Judaizers but would not add law to grace for the Gentiles.
Acts 15:20 (CSB): “but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.”
These three prohibitions, while part of the Old Testament Mosaic law, were even more importantly moral laws that God has given to humanity. They weren’t part of the dietary or ceremonial laws that were done away with. They were part of the moral law that still applied.
Here is a brief word about each of the three prohibitions:
First, “abstain from things polluted by idols.” We read in 1 Corinthians 10:18-21 that Paul continued to speak against this practice many years later.
Second, “abstain … from sexual immorality.” Sexual immorality was forbidden in Exodus 20:14 in the Ten Commandments. But there were so many other places that prohibited this sin. Paul also addressed this periodically in his letters.
Third, “abstain … from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.” This actually predated the Mosaic Law. Food with its blood still in it was prohibited when Noah was walking the earth in Genesis 9:3-6. The life of a living being was in its blood (we now know about DNA in the blood), and so blood was forbidden to be eaten.
These three prohibitions were apparently agreeable to everyone. With a desire to show comradery, a group of Jewish believers from Jerusalem accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, where they would share the convictions of the Jerusalem leadership.
One of the Jewish men who went to Antioch was named Silas, according to verse 22. Paul apparently got to know him and developed a friendship with him. Silas would be Paul’s partner when he went on his second missionary journey in the not-too-distant future.
In verses 23-29, we read the letter that was sent to the Christians at Antioch. The warmth of this letter is so obvious to the observant reader.
This letter made it sound like the folks who had traveled to Antioch and caused some trouble were an embarrassment to the church in Jerusalem. The letter then said that the Jerusalem church leadership approved of Paul and Barnabas and then asked that the Gentiles would only comply with the three expectations.
In verses 30-32, the letter was read in the church at Antioch, and the Gentile believers were pleased. Judas and Silas then gave a long sermon that encouraged and strengthened the Gentile believers.
According to verses 33-35, the Antioch church sent Judas and Silas back to Jerusalem as Paul and Barnabas taught the Word of the Lord in Antioch.
However, you might not have noticed that there is no verse 34 in some of the new Bible translations. That’s because it doesn’t appear in the most reliable manuscripts. What does that verse say in the KJV?
Acts 15:34 (KJV): “Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.”
Honestly, this doesn’t make sense because verse 33 seemed to say that Silas went back to Jerusalem with Judas. A likely explanation is that a scribe looked at how Silas would join Paul on his second missionary journey very soon, and the scribe thought that meant that Silas must have stayed behind in Antioch. So, with good intentions, he wrote that sentence into the story. Regardless, most biblical scholars who deal with manuscripts do not believe Luke wrote the verse.
Acts 15:36 (CSB): “After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit the brothers and sisters in every town where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they’re doing.’”
Paul apparently was a man that liked adventure. He also loved the Lord, the truth of God’s Word, and people who desperately needed to hear the Gospel. So he asked Barnabas if he wanted to go back on a mission trip to check on the people they had met before.
Acts 15:37 (CSB): “Barnabas wanted to take along John who was called Mark.”
Barnabas, always the encourager, wanted to take John Mark. He’s the one who had started on their previous mission trip but left after times got tough. It may be that John Mark expressed his desire to Barnabas and said he had grown since then. He wouldn’t quit this time. So Barnabas was willing to give him another chance at joining him on a mission trip.
Acts 15:38 (CSB): “But Paul insisted that they should not take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.”
Paul wasn’t ready to forgive John Mark for deserting them. He didn’t have time for quitters. And he wasn’t going to give in. He refused to take John Mark along.
Acts 15:39-41 (CSB): “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended by the brothers and sisters to the grace of the Lord. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
The argument got so heated that two friends, who had been through so much together, separated. Barnabas took John Mark on a mission trip, and Paul took Silas in another direction on mission.
Fortunately, we eventually see that Paul became more like Christ (and Barnabas) as the years went by. When we get to Paul’s last letter before being martyred, he was asking for John Mark.
2 Timothy 4:11 (CSB): “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”
As wonderful an example of godliness as the Apostle Paul was, let’s strive to be more like Barnabas when it comes to how we relate to others. Let’s strive to be encouraging. Let’s be patient. And let’s love, knowing that love overlooks a multitude of offenses.
If there are unresolved conflicts in our past or present, then let’s strive to be like Paul, who apparently came to a point where he recognized his error and reconciled with John Mark. We won’t always treat others well. So we had better get good at acknowledging our sin and seek reconciliation.
But realize that even as we look at flawed examples with a desire to emulate their good behaviors, it’s really about becoming more like Jesus. He is ultimately who we desire to imitate.
Lord Jesus, thank You for not treating us like the Apostle Paul treated John Mark. We have failed You more times than we could possibly count. If it weren’t for Your patience and love, You would easily and justifiably write us off and move on to more competent and reliable people.
So we want to say, “Thank You, Lord.” You have been so good to us. There’s no way that we could have ever earned Your favor. But it’s never been about our effort, only Your free grace. So, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”
I hope today’s episode has helped you to understand and enjoy God’s Word so that you can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If looking over the script for this podcast would be beneficial to you, hop on over to my website at mattsmusings.net. I will provide a link in this episode’s show notes.
The “Enjoying the Bible” podcast is a ministry of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida. Check us out at fbcpolkcity.com. See you next time!