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God makes no distinction
Sunday school lesson for the week of November 8, 2015
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson scripture: Acts 15: 1-12
So why do you now tempt God by placing on the necks of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we had the strength to bear? Acts 15:10 NRSV
This morning God allowed me to visit a dear friend whose life is full of love and light. She is resting peacefully in a hospice facility surrounded by the love and care of family. I was privileged to visit with her, kiss her hand, sing to her, and read the Psalms. She tenderly opened her eyes during the scripture reading and said, “I love you.”
This quiet disciple of Jesus lives a life of hospitality and care for all people. She made no outward distinctions of race, color, or class system. She supported me and encouraged me very early in ministry and sat through countless sermons. She exemplified the fact that God does not make distinctions among God’s people.
The scripture reading today speaks about the division that existed as an acceptable norm within the early church. Paul and Barnabas are the two leaders who admittedly oppose the tradition of Gentiles being unacceptable unless they first become Jewish through the act of circumcision.
I invite you to read the commentary below from William Barclay. Upon reading, ponder the following questions for discussion and reflection:
What does the Bible say about unity in Christ?
What are some of the church’s traditions that support division instead of unity in Christ?
Who are the Gentiles among you today (those persons rejected and despised)?
How can you as a Christian believer move toward a greater understanding and effort to remove the barriers of division within your own heart, your church, and your community?
THE CRUCIAL PROBLEM (Acts 15:1-5)
The influx of Gentiles into the Church produced a problem, which had to be solved. The mental background of the Jew was founded on the fact that he belonged to the chosen people. In effect they believed that not only were the Jews the peculiar possession of God but also that God was the peculiar possession of the Jews. The problem was this. Before a Gentile became a member of the Christian Church was it necessary that he should be circumcised and take upon himself the Law of Moses? In other words--must the Gentile, before he became a Christian, first become a Jew? Or, could a Gentile be received into the Church as such?
SECONDARY PROBLEM SOCIAL LIFE AND HOSPITALITY
The strict Jew could have no intercourse with a Gentile. He could not have him as guest nor be his guest. He would not, as far as possible, even do business with him. So then, even if Gentiles were allowed into the Church, how far could Jews and Gentiles associate in the ordinary social life of the Church?
These were the problems that had to be solved. The solution was not easy. But in the end the Church took the decision that there should be no difference between Jew and Gentile at all. Acts 15:1-41 tells of the Council of Jerusalem whose decisions was the charter of freedom for the Gentiles.
A PROBLEM BECOMES ACUTE (Acts 15:1-5)
15:1-5 Some men came down from Judaea and tried to teach the brethren, "If you are not circumcised according to the practice of Moses you cannot be saved."
It was almost by accident that the most epoch-making things were happening in Antioch so that the gospel was being preached to Jew and Gentile alike and they were living together as brethren. There were certain Jews to whom all this was quite unthinkable. They could never forget the position of the Jews as the chosen people. They were quite willing that the Gentiles should come into the Church but on the condition that first they became Jews. If this attitude had prevailed, Christianity would have become nothing other than a sect of Judaism. Some of these narrower Jews came down to Antioch and tried to persuade the converts that they would lose everything unless they first accepted Judaism. Paul and Barnabas argued strongly against this and matters were at a deadlock.
There was only one way out. An appeal must be made to Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Church, for a ruling. The case which Paul and Barnabas put forward was simply the story of what had happened. They were prepared to let the facts speak for themselves. But certain of the Pharisees who had become Christians insisted that all converts must be circumcised and keep the Law.
The principle at stake was quite simple and completely fundamental. Was the gift of God for the select few or for all the world? If we possess it ourselves are we to look on it as a privilege or as a responsibility? The problem may not meet us nowadays in precisely the same way; but there still exist divisions between class and class, between nation and nation, between color and color. We fully realize the true meaning of Christianity only when all middle walls of partition are broken down.
*Barclay, William. "Commentary on acts 15." "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible." "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/print.cgi?bk=43&ch=15&vs=1". 1956-1959.
God makes no distinction. As we close this lesson today, may we grow deeper in our love for God and others. Amen.
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.