Read: Acts 15:1-35
“We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19
In the early days of the church there was some disagreement about what was required to be a follower of Jesus. For the Jewish religious leaders who had converted to Christianity, they wanted everyone to become Jewish first, then they could become Jesus followers. For Paul, who was preaching to the Gentiles (non-Jews), this was outrageous.
So they all convene in Jerusalem with the rest of the apostles and hash out the official decision.
I love the heart of James in this… he basically says…. look guys, we can’t even keep all the Jewish laws and traditions and we’ve been raised to live that way. They don’t have a shot at following Jesus if they have to do all this stuff. In other words, let’s not let our religiosity and legalism get in the way of people coming to Christ.
It’s not about that anymore anyway. It’s about faith in Christ expressing itself through love. James basically suggests that we need to take down the roadblocks of religion (because it’s not about religion anyway) and throw open the doors of the Kingdom to everyone on earth, not just the Jewish people.
They asked the Gentile believers to observe four things, three of which (the blood/sacrifice ones) were offensive to Jews and would be a stumbling block for them, and one of which (the abstaining from sexual immorality) was about personal morality. In other words, they were asking the Gentile believers to go out of their way to not offend their Jewish brothers and sisters (the law of love) and to keep their lives pure sexually and morally. They went from 600+ Jewish laws and thousands of traditions to 2 things.
I am sure the men of Antioch breathed a sigh of relief that day, when they found out that circumcision wasn’t in their future.
So what does this mean for us today? I think sometimes, like the Pharisees, we create unnecessary barriers to people coming to Christ. We require them to become like us before they can come to Jesus… or we welcome them to Christ initially (just as they are) and then let them know they had better become like us culturally. They had better vote a certain way, like a certain kind of music, dress a certain way or only spend time with certain kinds of people.
Foreskin is no longer the issue, but cultural assimilation is. I wonder, as Christian culture becomes more and more foreign in post Christian America, if we don’t need to revisit James words. Not that we compromise on issues of love and morality (they didn’t and we shouldn’t), but that we don’t make it difficult for the people who are turning to Christ by demanding they look just like us.
God – give me wisdom to love and live well. Help me to get my head and heart out of the Christian subculture and meet the world around me where they are. Help me to not be the kind of person who makes it harder for people to come to Jesus, and at the same time help me not to compromise on your law of love and on the personal morality that you have called me to. In Jesus’ name, amen.