If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well - As Seen On Sunday
Forgive us that we make things all about works and try place extra yokes on others when we know better.
The Inclusion of non-jews (gentiles) was a long process. This was mainly due to the fact that once God had made it clear that gentiles were included, some of the already existing Jewish- Christians had a hard time with that this meant. Two groups emerged. The first group wanted gentiles to have to become Jews before becoming Christians.
In Acts 15, when we encounter this group, they are telling gentile Christians that they need to be circumcised in order to be saved.
If we are being honest, it is understandable WHY they would want this new group to be circumcised. Abraham was circumcised, Dinah’s brothers used it as a trick for revenge, and it was solidified in Leviticus. The Jewish - Christians were just that, Jews who believed in Jesus, and their heritage and background influenced their beliefs just like anyone else. Circumcision was engrained in their culture. The history of their people was based on circumcised vs uncircumcised.
But there is another group: Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus were all apart of this group. They didn't believe that gentiles had to be subjected to the same Jewish laws. They said that since the Holy Spirit came on them without circumcision, there was no need for it. In fact, Paul goes as far as saying that to be circumcised is to place oneself under the old law that Jesus fulfilled for all.
So both sides get together to hash things out.
Peter first speaks, making a reference to his vision in Acts 10, which leads to the Gospel being expanded to the gentiles.
“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Some believe that as much as 10 years may have passed between the events in Acts 10 and Acts 15, which makes sense since Peter says in the early days. But it is also interesting that it has taken this long from the inclusion of the Gentiles to a council deciding that is important for the Gentile Christians to keep in mind. That is years of “fake news” telling people to cut something off to be saved.
So they come to a consensus or its more like James, the brother of Jesus, comes to judgment after hearing everything and adding a bit of Amos in as well.
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
So no pagan banquets, pre/extra-marital sex, or rare meat? But is that all this is getting at? One scholar I read said that these things are still relevant today and in fact, we should avoid these things because of their connection to Levitical law and, concerning blood, the Noahic covenant. I think we could do well the keep this in mind, but I also look to that these things meant to the Gentiles at the time.
Some say that these rules were to help the Gentiles not to offend the Jewish Christians. Others say that they were ways for the Gentiles to leave their old religious ways behind.
I see them all as both, separation points from their old religious culture and helping the culturally different groups of Christians to come together.
- Not eating beat polluted/sacrificed to idols certainly would have helped separate them from their previous religious rituals. Whether it was the feast that was used to worship pagan gods like Paul condiments in 1 Corinthians 10 or buying leftover meat knowing that it was used in idol worship, obtaining from both would have separated the gentiles from their old ties.
- Sexual immorality is something that was associated with temple prostitutes and would have been apart of the idol worship.
- Both talk about the blood of the animal which could have been related to some blood practices.
For the gentiles to obtain from tainted meat, it freed both groups to be able to commune together over food. Sexual immorality was something that was pervasive everywhere. We have a church where a son is with his “fathers wife.” This was good advice for all believers.
After thinking about how these things were significant at the time, I came up with some cultural equivalents for today.
In Today's Culture
- This first one took me a while. I thought about what idols are worshipped in this culture. If we wanted to harp on consumerism, then we could say certain flashy items. Thinking about apathy and how we are numbed to life, we could ask to avoid various types of media that keeps us mentally occupied doing nothing.
- I’d keep the sexual immorality thing because that's something that hasn't changed a bit.
- Although I often view drinking alcohol as a scruple, I think it would be good to abstain from so that it wouldn’t interfere with the connection between the two.
So if you were telling a new believer “how to do well” what would you tell them?
Should we tell them to follow those things literally for that they were intended at the time in that culture? Or can we see the idea behind the instruction for that culture and apply that to our culture?