If you’ve ever been part of a business start-up or even a new church plant, then you know the importance of setting boundaries and expectations. Our reading today is about one of those early meetings of church leaders to discuss issues facing the people. After all, anytime people gather, it’s a given that issues will arise.
We’re in the midst of themed readings focusing on “Living as God Desires.” To see how these early church leaders handle a very sensitive issue gives us clues to how we should act when leading groups we’re in charge of. The leaders sought God’s intentions. They had respectful discussion. When a decision had been reached, they were quick and diligent in communicating it with any and all parties who needed to hear it.
It’s helpful for us to know the context of our text, too. The issue focuses on tradition and what should be expected of new followers who have no idea about Jewish traditions and laws. For generations, the Jews had done things a certain way according to the law of Moses. Their neighbors, the Gentiles, lived their lives in a totally different fashion.
Certain rituals, like circumcision, were expected for Jewish males. To Jews, it was considered a pre-requisite to be a child of God, starting with the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 17. Can you imagine how daunting the law of Moses would have been daunting for the Gentiles? It was daunting for the people of Israel!
Peter addressed the council of leaders expressing the key issues at stake. He concludes, “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” Yes, Peter! Our salvation is all about what Jesus did, not what we do! We can live our lives in celebration for the grace we have been given.
That’s how God desires that we live!
A bit later after quoting the prophet Amos, James said, “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” James was Jesus’ own brother and knew their mission was to spread the news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. For the message to be heard and received, it had to be welcoming. James did, however, counsel the new converts to avoid blatantly offending the Jewish believers by following some basic guidelines.
When we listen to what James said, we get the clear instruction to not focus on “rules” when we share about our faith. We should make it easy for people to want to get to know Jesus. We should look for ways to make non-believers feel welcomed and included in the family of God rather than afraid they’ll not meet the “criteria.”
Let’s pray. Father, thank you for the grace you so freely give. I sometimes don’t feel worthy of such a marvelous gift. My gratitude overflows when I focus on your grace and mercy. Help me to reach those who don’t know you or aren’t sure they understand you. Give me wisdom to say the right things to make them feel welcome. Use me to direct their attention toward you and your love for them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.