This week we are continuing our study on being an Inside Out church. Week 1 we looked at Jesus sending the 12 in Matthew 10. The 12 answered their own prayer for workers in the harvest.
Last week we looked at Acts 17 and Paul’s presentation of the Gospel to the philosophers in Athens. Remember he used their culture in order to present the Gospel. Paul didn’t quote Scripture, he quoted their great thinkers. He didn’t point to the Bible, he pointed to a pagan altar in order to preach the good news about Jesus to the lost.
This morning we’ll also be in Acts, Acts 15 and Acts 16 this morning. But first we have to understand what is being discussed in Acts 15.
Circumcision was the way male descendents of Abraham participated in the covenant God made with Abraham. It started with Abraham and was for Abraham, his descendants, every male among his family, any male born or bought into his household from a foreigner. So were non-Jews circumcised? YES!
Genesis 17:23, 26-27 - EVERY MALE in his household...however he got there, was part of the promise of Abraham.
A foreigner who wants to eat the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.
IF YOU WEREN’T A CIRCUMCISED MALE IN THAT COMMUNITY, YOU WERE CUT OFF FROM YOUR PEOPLE.——YOU ARE AN OUTSIDER THAT WE WON’T ASSOCIATE WITH!
14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
THEY ARE TO CIRCUMCISE THEIR HEARTS...God is after the condition of their hearts, MOSES REPEATS THIS IN CHAPTER 30 OF DEUTERONOMY! External circumcision was always supposed to be a means of producing internal commitment.
Notice also that they have been called to love the foreigner... that would be the uncircumcised, unless they had decided to convert to Judaism. God makes no distinction. Israel is to circumcise their hearts and to love the foreigners among them.
Here’s the problem...Jews were VERY diverse in their beliefs surrounding the salvation of Gentiles.
Some thought they needed to simply follow the 7 laws of Noah (look at Noah post flood and what God commands him to do).
Others believed that the Gentiles had to convert to Judaism by being circumcised, and baptized (in the case of Christian Jews).
Others felt they just needed to be baptized.
You can see the problem, right?
There are already Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Paul & Barnabas have made a missionary trip. And now there is a debate about how these people need to live...do they need to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses in order to be saved?
WE LOOKED AT THIS WHEN WE LOOKED AT ELDERS AND THEIR ROLE IN THE CHURCH.
7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” 12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “ ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— 18 things known from long ago.
There are three approaches here!
The issue wasn’t “Can Gentiles be saved?” The issue was “Must Gentiles be circumcised to be saved?” Do they have to go through Moses to get to Jesus?
Peter argues from recent history - you remember Cornelius! The Holy Spirit poured out! (God moved then...Recent history)
Paul argues from ministry - If I was preaching a false gospel, why was the Holy Spirit be doing miracles to endorse it? (God is moving now!)
James argues from Scripture! - (God’s Word told us he would move!)
THEREFORE! Now that we see how God has moved, and is moving, WE TOO MUST MOVE!
Acts 15:19 - It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
They make a list of a few things that mirrored pagan worship and prevented table fellowship with the Jews. That’s it!
Gentiles DO NOT have to be circumcised. AND THE APPEAL TO WHAT MAKES THIS EASIEST FOR THE GENTILES...THAT’S CONTEXTUALIZATION...MISSIONARY MINDSET!
“We should not make it difficult” for people to come to God!
“We should not make it difficult” for people to come to God!
Notice that they never said it is wrong to be circumcised. They never said it was right to be uncircumcised. They simply said we aren’t going to make this a test of fellowship. It’s too difficult, and Scripture gives us leeway to make it easy.
This shaped their mission moving forward!
So let’s see it in action!
1 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. 2 The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
They are traveling to deliver the decision that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised, and Paul starts this trip by circumcising a Gentile! WHY?
Because Paul knew his audience! “Because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
You’re only saying this because Timothy doesn’t want to be circumcised!
This is motivated by personal reasons!
Paul doesn’t want that kind of distraction.
Paul knows what is missionally strategic in this situation. In this situation, it’s circumcision. In others, it is not.
The comfort of “rules.”
The comfort of “rules.”
We really like rules. We want them to clearly state that this is wrong and that this is right, thus sayeth the Lord. But he doesn’t!
And Paul tells us about how he goes about his mission work:
1 Cor. 9:19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
This is Paul’s mission! Everything he does is "to win” the lost, and he changes what he does depending on who he is trying to reach! Everything Paul does is “to win” the lost.
Without being sinful, Paul is willing to do anything he can to reach the lost...to become like them in order to reach them.
WHAT ARE WE WILLING TO DO TO “BECOME LIKE” THE LOST PEOPLE WE NEED “TO WIN” FOR JESUS?
Acts 15 shows these Jewish Christians giving up their very identity...the defining characteristic of who they are! Their circumcision, and finding their identity in Christ alone. Would we be willing to be so bold? IF NOT, WHY NOT?
Why would we be willing to let anything get in the way of accomplishing our mission? Unless our mission isn’t the most important thing to us.
Would we be willing to combine multiple approaches to reach the lost?
Gordon MacDonald - Who Stole My Church? “You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We’re not talking decades—we’re talking just a few years.”
“Christians have no effect in the world as long as they refuse to engage the world.” - Lesslie Newbigin
I’m never worried about the survival of the Church. God’s Word will never fail, and God’s people will always exist in this world until he brings us home. But individual congregations will come and go if they are not willing to engage the community around them, to execute the mission that Christ has set before us. And I honestly don’t believe that God is finished with East Side yet! And if that’s the case, we sure better be acting like we’re not finished with his mission for us!