God’s Word for You
Acts 15:4-6 Doctrine and Practice
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 9, 2020
4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done by helping them.
Sometimes it’s easy to read right through a seemingly unimportant verse like this to try to get to “the good part.” But look at how Luke presents the arrival of Paul in Jerusalem. He and Barnabas were welcomed by everyone: Church, apostles, and elders. No one grumbled or complained in the least about their arrival. No one questioned their word about their work. Look again at the message they brought: “all that God had done by helping them.” This would have included the many miracles God caused to happen along the way.
Paul and Barnabas didn’t bring up anything about the doctrinal problem that was the reason for their return. They only talked about their success, or rather the success of the gospel. Their mission had produced abundant fruit for the Master to harvest. By leaving out the dispute, they allow us to ask a question: Didn’t God bless their work? Was there anything that they did wrong? If something else beyond Christ is necessary for salvation, why did Christ bless their work? Why did so many come to faith?
But wait: That last question isn’t really what it’s all about. Success isn’t in numbers, it’s in faithfulness. And that’s really what this controversy came down to: Being faithful to Christ and the new covenant. But we could continue to ask some questions about the success of Paul and Barnabas: Were the miraculous conversions of the Gentiles the work of the Lord, or the work of a demon (on behalf of the Lord)? Can a demon do God’s work? No: God is the one who was helping them. God and no other.
5 But some believers from the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to look into this matter.
Here Luke shows us that the circumcision group (who had once been Pharisees) carried their false doctrine to its natural conclusion. Before this, the circumcision group in Antioch only said that it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to be saved. Now, their counterparts in Jerusalem insisted that not only was circumcision necessary, but complete obedience to the whole law of Moses, too. They were ready to throw Jesus away altogether.
Take a look at verse 6 once again. The phrase “were gathered together” is passive, not active. In other words, it’s not that they decided to gather, but they were called, gathered together by a leader or a group of leaders. They were not just curious; they were called together in order to look into it. They were going to search the Scriptures, discuss what was being said, and draw a conclusion based on the Word of God and not on any human opinions.
Our churches sometimes have differences in the way we do things. Lord’s Supper at one church is presented in a different way than it is at another. Councils and boards are organized differently. Does Pastor need to lead every Bible study? With things like that, we don’t need to worry. They fall under the heading of “practice” (the way things are done). But when things fall under “doctrine” (what the Bible teaches and what we believe), then we need to teach, discuss, remind, and remember. This is what the leaders of the churches in Jerusalem were called together to look into. Pray for your pastors and leaders as they continue to be shepherds of the flock, but also guardians of our Christian doctrine. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them wisdom, patience, insight, and a firm, unflinching faith.
From Luther’s Table of Duties (Small Catechism)
What We Owe to Our Pastors and Teachers
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” (See Galatians 6:6.)
“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (See 1 Corinthians 9:14.)
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” (See 1 Timothy 5:17,18.)
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (See Hebrews 13:17.)
Pastor Timothy Smith