Deep and Wide: Part 2 - 'Reaching Wide'
This Sunday, Simon Lace brings us the talk in the latest of our EBC services. We encourage you to reflect on the bible text and join us in the prayer that follows below.
The talk will be available via live stream at 9.30am on Sunday 15th January, on our YouTube channel.
Once you have listened, here are some questions to consider:
Acts chapter 15 (NLT)
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:
‘Afterward I will return
and restore the fallen house of David.
I will rebuild its ruins
and restore it,
so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,
including the Gentiles—
all those I have called to be mine.
The Lord has spoken—
he who made these things known so long ago.’
“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. This is the letter they took with them:
“This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
“We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”
And of course this played out in the way the Apostles ministered to the Gentiles. I always think of what I call Paul’s chameleon approach –
1 Corinthians chapter 9, verses 19 - 23 (NIV)
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 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. 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. 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. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Prayer and Reflection:
Loving God, we are sorry for the times when we have stood in judgement of others and stood between them and you, or between them and your church. Lord, we confess our own sinfulness in this and we confess too the sins that you already know about in each of our lives. We thank you again for your love and mercy and grace, that you wash us clean and declare us to be welcome in Your house, even as Your own beloved sons and daughters. Amen.
Questions to Consider:
Have you ever been, or felt, excluded in some way? What was the situation – what happened, what did you do – and what are your reflections all of this? Could you, or other people, have acted in a better way? What space is there for forgiveness?
Do you consider yourself to be worthy to be a part of God’s holy church, and if so, why?
Are there any people you would exclude from church – who are they?
If you have identified any people, or groups of people, that you would exclude, why is that – and what would need to be true for you to change your mind?
What part does repentance play in your thinking – and do you apply the same standard to yourself?
Do you consider yourself a hospitable person within the church and do you put the needs of new people before your own?
How does being hospitable play out in the following areas: your inviting people to come to church, where you park your car, your demeanour in church and out, your giving of time to people, your service, your giving, your giving of encouragement?