Just a few days ago, we hinted at some division in a small portion of the early church. It seems that there were some from the Pharisees among them that were convinced that the new Gentile believers were to be both circumcised and follow the 613 laws of Moses. The apostles and elders came together at the Council of Jerusalem to address the matter. Peter went before them reminding them of his call to take the gospel to the Gentile people and how God, who knew the hearts of these folks, had given them the Holy Spirit and had made no distinction between the Jewish believer and the Gentile believer. God cleansed them all by faith. Then Peter asked the question, “why put God to the test by placing on them a burden that neither our fathers or we could bear?” Peter continued, “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” Acts 15:11-12 (NAS)
James, head of the Council, agreed with Peter citing the words of the Prophets as proof. How could they place a heavy burden on these believers? God had already given them the Holy Spirit upon their believing without condition. Next, James sent Paul and Barnabas along with Judas and Silas to the Gentile followers with a letter with the following message:
“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essential: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:23-29 (NAS)
The body of believers at Antioch was gathered together when the men arrived and the message was read. The fellowship rejoiced and were greatly encouraged. Paul and Barnabas stayed at Antioch for a while preaching and teaching, then Paul began his second missionary journey. Paul and Silas left together to return and revisit all the cities that he had previously taken the gospel message. Verse 40-41 tells us “Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia.”
There is so much to be said for wisdom! When questions and differences of opinion arose it appears to have been handled swiftly and with wisdom. They took into consideration the testimony of the witnesses, the prophets teaching in Word of God and they prayed. The result was a response based on both the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The bottom line for both groups of believers was that it was through the grace of the Lord they were all saved, because of His favor, goodwill, mercy and love.
Two of our other grace verses are also found in Acts. Both were spoken by Paul on his missionary trip to Ephesus; the first is Paul speaking about his life and his mission. He says in Acts 20:24,“But do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. Paul is totally committed to complete the work that was begun in him and the purpose that God had set before him as a minister of the gospel. The second was to those to whom he was ministering. Paul told them to be on guard for their flock; wolves will come in speaking falsely to draw them away from the faith; Be Alert! Then he said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32
All through the book of Acts there are examples of grace upon grace. Grace is a powerful motivator. The more we receive or realize that we have received grace, the more we want to give it to others. My prayer for us all is that our eyes be opened to the great grace that God has extended to us through Jesus. That in itself would have been enough, but may we also be acutely aware of the many examples of His grace in our day-to-day lives and in our circumstances. May your days be filled with the awareness of amazing grace all around you!