19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.
What is striking to me in this passage is the reason for the three requirements given to the Gentile Christians. Or to be more precise, not so much the requirements, but the motivation that was behind them. Simply put, there was a shift from being motivated by strict adherence to law and tradition to being motivated by love and respect.
Let me explain. Those who were calling for circumcision for the Gentiles, along with imposing all of the Mosaic law, were doing so out of a desire for strict faithfulness to the law and the traditions surrounding it. So the Gentiles would be expected to fulfill certain requirements (including the three that were ultimately given them) because it was the lawful and traditional thing to do.
But Christ’s death and resurrection changed all of that. All the ceremonial law pointed to Him and was fulfilled in Him, and so was no longer necessary. Circumcision and dietary laws were obsolete, as shown by Peter’s visions and the conversion of Cornelius’ household.
Then why did the church at Jerusalem impose these three requirements? Because, as James said, the law of Moses is preached everywhere. In other words there are Jews and Jewish Christians all over the empire. They asked the Gentiles to adhere to these basic requirements so as not to offend the Jews and Jewish Christians. In other words they were asked to do them out of love and respect for others, instead of mere adherence to law and tradition.
That’s a huge shift. And in a nutshell, an illustration of the ethical motivation of our lives in Christ, life in the New Testament, life after the fulfillment of the law. Love and respect for God, and for the people around us – whether they are Christians or not.
Jesus said the whole law is summarized by love. My prayer today is that love would be behind my actions, that the things I say and do flow from a desire to live the love of Christ.
What is the Word leading you to pray about today?
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 The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 15:19–35). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.