Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trust In The Lord Jesus and You'll Be Saved, and Your Household - Acts 15 &16

Acts is such a high powered narrative, that all you can do sometimes is immerse yourself in what's happening and take a look around.

Tension and anticipation must have been running high at the "Jerusalem Council." In a way, Paul's first missionary journey and Peter's episode with Cornelius all prepare us for dealing with the issue of whether or new converts must also embrace Jewish identity markers (food laws, Sabbath, circumcision, etc.). Interestingly, Jesus must not have made it a point during his public ministry (if we don't include Acts as his ministry :) ) to sort this out since it was apparently such a widespread and contentious issue. To be sure, Jesus showed how he and his people are forming the "new temple" of God where God's Spirit dwells, and by implication making the temple redundant and trust in him the new identity marker over Torah observance. Some scholars have pointed on that this shows evidence for a 1st century date for the Gospels since issues that were nearly irrelevant in the 2nd century, to be sure 3rd century, are addressed in them, whereas other issues more pertinent to the early Church are not. But that's a post for another day...

Anyways, something that struck me in the "proceedings", so to speak, was that there was no clear centralized leadership. The authority on contentious issues was seen to be exercised by God through his prophetic Word, and not one figure, or even a "ministerium" of sorts. For example, I find it significant that neither Peter nor Paul settle the issue, but instead James, who was NOT an apostle. Certainly he had the consensus of the apostles and elders, but no one claimed to be the "head bishop" or have the "final word." We also see that Pharisees weren't all non-Christians. Certainly it seems they had a leaning towards the view that Jewish identity markers need to be taken up, but they aren't "excommunicated" for having such a view, at least at first. The consensus is, the Torah served it's proper and God-given purpose, and the covenant has been renewed and put in people's hearts (Jeremiah 31 comes to mind), and the Spirit dwelling in non-Jews was the proof.

And perhaps the Jerusalem council shows that Paul was working together with the apostles and Jerusalem elders. In other words, Paul's work wasn't quirky or eccentric. And speaking of Paul, we now follow him as he starts his second missionary journey by basically checking up on the assemblies/churches he worked with during his first journey, and then looks for the next great missionary field. I think we can infer that the impetus to revisit places was the nip this problem in the bud in case it develops elsewhere. Many see the letter to the Galatians being written around this time since it addresses similar issues and people.

So Paul starts the journey, and we see that God can even work sharp disputes and bickering together for good. The word παροξυσμός implies a harsh conflict. Luke seems to be indifferent as to who was "right," but I can see Paul's thinking. "John Mark bailed when things got a bit contentious, and I'm looking to go further with this message. In Lystra and elsewhere things got dangerous, so I want a guy who can take the hear this time." Plus, we see later that Silas is also a Roman citizen. This is certainly a perk and makes him a good travel partner who can access certain places or use certain rights. So Silas gets his "big break." Remember, this is probably the same Silas who was Paul's scribe for various letters.

When Paul meets Timothy I wonder what he was doing before Paul came. I mean, his mother and grandma seem quite ready to ship him off, so it seems he was young and ready for the challenge.

Now, Timothy and Titus (whom we see later on) are good test cases for when to not cause undue offense, and when to stand up for the truth. Here Timothy is circumcised for the sake of Jewish outreach. Later Titus will NOT be circumcised since many were still later insisting that it was required for joining God's new people.  The same principle and actions could apply for those who say certain things are wrong that God doesn't command or forbid, such as worship styles, drinking, etc.

16:6 so quickly mentions how the Spirit didn't let Paul go to where he thought was the obvious place, populated nearby cities. I wonder "how" the Spirit did this. Visions? A voice? Logistical pitfalls? And 16:7 is the only place where the phrase "Spirit of Jesus" is used. I like it. This shows that Jesus is the one working through the Spirit to guide his Church. And I should mention that 16:10 is the first of the "we" statements. So it seems that Luke joined them as this point.

Lutherans love 16:14, and rightly so. The Lord opened Lydia's heart. She didn't open her own heart or "make a decision for Christ" on her own. The Spirit works through the Word when and where he wants. And what a woman and helper she was!

In regards to the possessed girl in Philippi, when I was young I also thought it was odd that Paul didn't want someone shouting the truth about them. But when you picture it, you see how awkward it'd be. And it shows us that you NEVER want Satan on your side, haha. And another verse Lutherans and all Christians should all love is 16:31. How are you saved? A crazy fantastic conversion experience? Doing penance? Joining a specific organization? Sending "me" money? No. Believe in the Lord Jesus. Simple. In other words, just receive his blessings! Don't reject him. And once there's faith, baptism follows "at once."

How Paul doesn't use the "Roman citizen" card in Philippi, but does later in chapter 22 is insightful. He's being all things to all people, and suffering as a Jew, using his citizenship only when it benefits his work. Because of his wrongful treatment, I'm sure the Roman authorities in Philippi thought twice before arresting or persecuting Christians there.

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