Week 9 Discussion – ACTS: We Are The Church.

Published November 19, 2023

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Week 9 Discussion – ACTS: We Are The Church.

Table of Contents

Welcome to our 12-week Bible study, ‘Acts: We Are The Church,’ delving into the Book of Acts—a continuation of Jesus’ ministry through the early church.

Throughout this study, you’ll gain a profound understanding of how the early church carried forward the mission of Jesus, performing miracles, spreading the gospel, and facing challenges with unwavering faith. We’ll explore the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the formation of a vibrant community of believers.

Each week, we’ll dive into a different aspect of Acts, examining themes of faith, courage, and unity among believers. Together, we’ll discover what it means to be part of the body of Christ and how these early church experiences can inform our lives as modern-day Christians.

Discover a profound understanding of the Scriptures, relish the fellowship with fellow believers, and experience the delight of nurturing your faith while sharing the Gospel of Jesus with others. Don’t miss out!

Week 9: The Jerusalem Council

Here’s a quick recap of what we covered in week nine using Justin S. Holcomb’s Acts: A 12-Week Study (Knowing the Bible) as our weekly discussion guide:

  • The core elements of the Gospel that were preached in Cyprus, Antioch of Pisidia, and Iconium.
  • Who opposed the gospel and why.
  • How and to whom God’s grace spread.
  • How the Gospel displays God’s gifts of grace, mercy, and faith.
  • The determining factor in who believed the Gospel.

Acts 15 opens up with a debate. Should Gentile Christians be circumcised? A small group of believers who “belonged to the party of the Pharisees” (15:5) say that “it is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” Read Genesis 17:9-14. For a faithful Jew, what did circumcision mean? What was its significance for being a member of the covenant people of God?

Circumcision was a meaningful practice in Judaism, signifying one’s belonging to God’s covenant people. It marked God’s promises, called for holiness, and represented obedience to His laws. It was a significant aspect of their identity and commitment to God.

Read Paul’s narrative in Galatians 2:1-21.  How does this help you understand more fully the issues in Acts 15?

Paul’s account in Galatians 2:1-21 sheds light on the issues in Acts 15. It reveals the disputes surrounding circumcision and the application of Mosaic law to Gentile believers, illustrating Paul’s opposition to these practices. This narrative deepens our understanding of the theological and practical dimensions of the debate and why it was a significant concern for the early Christian community. It emphasizes the central role of grace and faith in Christ’s work for salvation rather than legalistic adherence to rituals like circumcision.

Up to this point in Acts we have seen how the inclusion of the Gentiles and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them was unexpected paradigm shift for many Jewish believers. In Acts 15:7-9, Peter refers to the outpouring of the gospel at the house of Cornelius in 10:34-43. Peter then refers to the manner in which the Gentiles received the Spirit. In 15:7-9, to what does Peter refer?

In Acts 15:7-9, Peter refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, as described in Acts 10:34-43. He also refers to the Gentiles receiving the Spirit, emphasizing that God made no distinction between them and the Jewish believers, as both received the Holy Spirit. This reference highlights the unexpected and transformative nature of God’s work among the Gentiles, challenging the traditional Jewish paradigm.

In Acts 15:9, Peter’s reference to God having cleansed the Gentiles’ hearts by faith may allude to the content of his vision prior to visiting Cornelius: “What God has made clean, do not call common” (10:15: 11:9). The faith of the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house is only implicit in Acts 10-11, but Peter referred to it explicitly here: they were saved by faith in their hearts, not by circumcision in their flesh. How does the argument here recall points made in 11:11-17?

In Acts 15:9, Peter’s reference to God having cleansed the Gentiles’ hearts by faith recalls the points made in Acts 11:11-17. In Acts 11, when Peter recounts the conversion of Cornelius and his household, he emphasizes the role of faith in their salvation. He speaks of how they received the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers had, and he points out that God made no distinction between them and the Jewish believers. This underscores that their hearts were cleansed, and they were accepted by God based on their faith, not on circumcision or adherence to Jewish customs. The argument in Acts 15 reaffirms this point by emphasizing that salvation comes through faith in the hearts of believers, regardless of their ethnicity or adherence to Jewish rituals. It connects the current debate in Acts 15 with the earlier events in Acts 11, highlighting the continuity of the message.

In Acts 15:10, Peter refers to the law as a “yoke…that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” The law informed God’s followers how to walk in integrity with him, but it never provided the power to obey it; instead, it only revealed the inability of God’s people to live up to God’s perfect righteousness. Through its system of sacrifices, the people of Israel were to look forward to the sacrifice that was to come, the true spotless lamb that would take away their sins forever (John 1:29). Consider Matthew 11:28-30. Who is Peter echoing when calls the law an unbearable yoke?

When Peter calls the law an unbearable yoke in Acts 15:10, he echoes the words of Jesus Christ. The language and sentiment are similar to what Jesus expressed in Matthew 11:28-30. In Matthew 11, Jesus invited those who were burdened and weary from the demands of the law to come to Him for rest. He referred to His yoke as easy and His burden as light, contrasting it with the heavy burden of the law that people could not bear. Peter’s statement aligns with this teaching of Jesus, emphasizing the idea that the law was burdensome and that true rest and salvation were found in Christ.

Peter concludes his speech in Acts 15:11.  What does he say?  How does this support the unity of the church that would include both Gentile and Jewish believers?

Peter concludes his speech in Acts 15:11 by emphasizing that both Jews and Gentiles will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus. This statement supports the unity of the church by highlighting that salvation is not based on circumcision or adherence to the Mosaic law but on faith in Jesus and the grace extended to believers. It underscores the common ground shared by Jewish and Gentile believers, emphasizing that all believers are equal recipients of God’s saving grace. This message unites the church, reinforcing that it is not divided based on ethnicity or adherence to the law but is united in Christ through faith in Him.

In Acts 15:13-21, James responds emphatically that the Gentiles do not need to be circumcised.  In the letter sent to the Gentile churches (vv. 22-29), James writes, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.” What are these “requirements”?

In Acts 15:22-29, James outlines the requirements for Gentile believers. They are asked to:

  • Avoid consuming things associated with idols.
  • Refrain from engaging in sexual immorality.
  • Abstain from consuming strangled animals.
  • Avoid consuming blood.

These requirements aim to promote harmony and unity between Jewish and Gentile believers, respecting Jewish customs and traditions.

How do the Gentile Christians respond to the letter from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:31)?

In Acts 15:31, it is noted that the Gentile Christians responded positively to the letter from the Jerusalem council. They receive the message with joy and encouragement, which indicates their willingness to accept the council’s decision and the instructions provided in the letter.

Take a few moments now to ask the Lord to bless you, change you, and help you understand and apply the unique light Acts throws on the gospel to your life.

We hope these notes have helped catch up on what we’ve covered. We’re excited to continue our study of Acts together next week in week ten!

In the meantime, explore a very engaging animation video from the Bible Project team that explains the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts.

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