Acts Devotionals

The Jerusalem Council (Part 1)

A few months ago we had two families visit us. The one came down from California and the other from Georgia, the State next to us. There were three lady friends and a brother who had not seen each other in years as well as a mom. All of these people used to live in Dubai where Roy and Angela (son-in-law and daughter) has been members of the same Church. All are Christian and the meeting was a gathering of joy, gladness and happiness. We spent from lunchtime to suppertime together, sharing stories, having a meal and enjoying each other’s company. It is always exciting and joyous to meet us with brothers and sisters in Christ whom you have not seen for years. This is the sentiment as we start our next reading:

Ac 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.

1) Reaching their destination.

Ac 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem.

Everything that Paul had in mind would now start to unravel. He was aware of what lay ahead, being warned by the Holy Spirit. What the prophet Agabus and others had feared would be realized. We have the whole Book of Acts so we know what shall transpire … but apart from that, God has mysterious ways of working … at least to us … but not to Him. One of the issues that is extremely important for us is to grasp the absolute obedience of Paul. Suffering, pain and death would not be obstacles to achieve God’s will for the Gospel. Without being negative as most people today only want to hear good news and uplifting messages … it might be within the will of God for you to endure hardship for the Gospel. It could come in many shapes and forms. I am not saying it will happen … only that it might happen. However, we need to be ready should it happen.

2) A joyous reunion.

Ac 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.

This gathering did not include James and the elders as Paul and his missionary team only went to see them the following day. The “brothers” referred to here would be the Christians who were available to welcome the missionaries. Notice the words … received us warmly …

(1) “Received” in the original means “to receive to hospitality”. That is, they were received in a hospitable manner and they were received into the hospitality offered by the brothers.

(2) “Warmly” means with joy or gladly. The receiving of the missionaries into the hospitality offered them by the brothers was a joyful and happy occasion. One’s thoughts go back a few years to Pentecost and the days that followed.

Ac 2:46 They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

The world is a lonely place for true believers. We need to meet up with each other, not only at Church or Bible Study, but in our houses or other gatherings. Amongst many missing ingredients in the Church today are:

(i) Fellowship and (ii) Hospitality.

Few will practice fellowship and hospitality unless it is taught. Many Christians are lonely and in need, others again are, might I say it carefully and lovingly … selfish. Often they are not aware they are like this. They are organized and so is their day … and often this excludes having Christians from Church around for a meal or coffee. Those who are lonely might not appear to be so. From the outside everything looks good, yet deep inside there is a pain, a need, a craving for fellowship. All they need it to talk to a brother or sister in Jesus. Let’s pray and see how we can find these lonely ones and meet their unseen needs.

3) Meeting up with James and the Church elders.

Ac 21:18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

This is a meaningful verse with three specific issues to be raised.

(1) Luke, under inspiration writes … “Paul and the rest of us”. Just because Paul was an apostle does not exclude his missionary team from meeting the ruling body of apostles and elders. I include apostles here even though the text does not because the apostles were elders too. Often it is only the pastor (teaching elder) that represents a local Church at a Presbytery Meeting or a Synod. If Church Council Members (Session Members – Ruling Elders) are present, they would be limited in their input. This verse implies that all elders ought to be present when delegations do deputation, reporting or discussing and debating doctrine and theology. Always remember that elders are equal and the body is plural.

(2) James as we discussed previously in chapter 15 of Acts was the leader of the Church. Some might refer to him as the president or the chairman of the leadership in Jerusalem. Again, James was one amongst equals. It would be incorrect for a Church to have one person acting as the leader who has authority over the others.

(3) All the elders were present. It was important that they were in attendance because of what would follow further in the passage. However, they were a collective of equals representing the leadership of the Church. Let me stress this point again … there is no warrant or proof in the Bible that one man has all the authority to lead the Church. The likes of popes, cardinals, archbishops, etc. are not found in Scripture. The office of prophet and apostle has also ceased. Today God uses a plurality of elders to lead, teach and rule His Church.

Our Father, stir within the hearts of the elders of our Churches to see the great importance of fellowship and hospitality within the Church of God. Grant also that all elders see their calling and ordination as requiring a plurality of leaders who are equal in ruling Your Church. Amen.

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