“And so off they went to Antioch. On arrival, they gathered the church and read the letter. The people were greatly relieved and pleased. Judas and Silas, good preachers both of them, strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope. Then it was time to go home. They were sent off by their new friends with laughter and embraces all around to report back to those who had sent them there.
“Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren’t alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.” Acts15:30-35 (The Message).
A happy conclusion to a critical time! Satisfaction for the leaders and relief for the non-Jewish believers who could so easily have been burdened with the load the Jews themselves were unable to carry had the decision gone the other way! Mission accomplished, Judas and Silas returned to home base while Paul and Barnabas stayed on in their familiar territory to continue their work of grounding the church in the faith.
Everything settled back into a normal routine, but there was another storm brewing, not a matter of doctrine this time but a personal issue which was to split the team and create a rift which would take many years to heal.
As we have journeyed through Acts, one factor has appeared and reappeared – the apostles and church leaders’ efforts to preserve the unity of the Body. They had been called on many times to make critical decisions which would affect the whole church, probably the most crucial and difficult being the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers.
Theoretically, the age-old rift between them had been healed through the cross but it was up to them to thrash out the practical issues that arose as they implemented the effects of the cross in their everyday lives. Their prejudice ran very deep, centuries of conditioning passed down from generation to generation, and needed a paradigm shift to bring the two groups together in a strong bond of loyalty and brotherhood which would wipe out the old feelings of antagonism and replace them with acceptance and love.
For the church of the Lord Jesus today, the issue may not be Jew and Gentile but we are still faced with prejudices that criss-cross the entire world. Without the official ruling of the early church leaders, those who were advocating that circumcision be imposed on Gentile believers would have been free to propagate their teaching and unnecessarily enslave naive Christians wherever they went.
The decision of the first church council in Jerusalem laid the foundation for the experience of unity in the body of Christ from then on. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul enlarged on this aspect of Jesus’ death, reuniting all people by destroying the reason for their alienation.
“For He Himself is our peace, who made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV).
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians3:11 (NIV).
We are a new creation, a new race and a new culture and all the old ones fall away.