THE BATTLE WON, THE WAR BEGUN. The Judaizers lost the debate at Jerusalem, but they were not about to give up. They will follow in Paul’s train and dog his steps, maligning his name and preaching the gospel of ceremonialism, while Paul proclaims the Gospel of grace. Paul will win the lost to Christ. The Judaizers will seek to save the saved, to rescue from Pauline doctrine and save them to Pharisaic orthodoxy. The Judaizers will make inroads into Galatia and Corinth. Paul will go forth with these foes in front and in rear.
Old ways and prejudices do not die easily. There are people in the church today who are born again. They have abandoned their former conviction that the way to heaven is found by doing good works. They now know it is by grace through faith in Christ. But the idea that they can buy God’s favor still lingers in the back of their minds. The truth is God loves with a steady everlasting love. He never changes. His love is strong, firm, and secure. It is the believer, who abandons God’s love and grace.
Obviously, the decision of the Jerusalem Conference contains a degree of compromise. If Paul wrote Galatians before the conference, he accepted guidelines for the Gentiles that he opposed:
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 (Acts 15:29).
Paul was at heart a conciliatory sort of man. Having said his piece in the letter to Galatians, and having won the theological debate in Jerusalem, he was content to accept that regardless of theological differences Jews and Gentiles had to live together within the local church, and the acceptance of these guidelines was a simple means of achieving harmony.
As we go on to look at Paul’s experiences in other churches, we will see that time and time again he bent over backwards to accommodate people whose viewpoint was different from his own (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). In fact, he will have Timothy circumcised so the ministry is not hampered.
Paul realized that a divided church was a poor witness to the non-Christian world, and at this stage of his ministry, this decision seemed the best solution for a pressing problem. Satan’s attempt to destroy the church has failed. Pharisaism had killed Jesus, but not Christianity!
With the door wide open to Gentiles, Peter drops out of the picture in Acts. James is the leader of the church. The work of the pioneering propagandists has been endorsed in Jerusalem and Antioch and the Gospel is clearer. The difference between Jew and Gentile was erased. Jew and Gentile were one in Christ. The Gospel and its pioneers were ready to probe deeper into the Empire.
We can learn a great deal from these disputes in the early church. To begin with, problems and differences are opportunities for growth just as much as temptations for dissension and division. Churches need to work together and take time to listen, love, and learn. How many hurtful fights and splits could have been avoided if only some of God’s people had given the Spirit time to speak and to work.
Disputing, dividing and doubling occur next. Inconceivably, Barnabas and Paul are two dedicated men who helped bring unity to the church, but are unable to settle their own dispute. Yet, God’s providence overrules a nasty situation in securing two missionary teams instead of one.