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Acts 15: Conflict in the church

Continuing the Acts Series, Pastor David takes us on a journey through Acts 15, where the early church encountered conflicts over whether Gentile believers should be required to keep the Jewish law. This passage offers us valuable insights into how Christians can navigate disagreements and divisions within the church.

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David Loader


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Good morning everyone we are continuing sorry good morning we're continuing our our series through acts and and as we are looking at it we've given it this subtitle disciples making disciples and so we come to this um this well this sort of break of this thing in parenthesis in this book of Acts about where the word of God is just spreading like wildfire throughout the then Known World and then there's this there's this little pose this parenthesis here where we start to talk or we do have this section on conflict now fake sometimes we do hear people say oh it'd be really good to be a part of the have a church like the old New Testament or like the New Testament Church and um yeah well certainly many ways but just realize this is that conflict occurred then and we are looking at at this whole area of conflict in this context of discipleship so as Disciples of Jesus conflict is going to occur it's one of the things is as you're preaching through we're working your way through a book you have to cover topics whether you want to or not and so this one has occurred and as you know that Adrian and uh and Dylan are both preaching as well taking we're all taking our Tunes in this when it comes to conflict who's the best to talk about conflict well let's have later to uh to do that he can for whatever reason or something like that anyway so we're not going to talk about creating it today hopefully we're going to be talking about some skills or some methods about dealing with it but we're going to read part of this chapter we look at the whole of chapter 15 today and we don't have time to uh to read all the verses all 41 verses but hopefully you will read them when you go home today but I want to just read well the first Big Slab of it here we go Acts chapter 15 from verse 1. some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers unless she was circumcised according to the custom the custom taught by Moses you cannot be saved this brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with him so Paul and Barnabas were appointed along with some other believers to go up to Jerusalem to see the Apostle and Elders about this question the church sent them on their way and as they traveled through phenicia in some area they told how the Gentiles had been converted this news made all the brothers very glad when they came to Jerusalem they were welcomed they're welcomed by the church and the apostles and Elders to whom they reported everything God had been had done through them and some of the Believers that belong to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses the apostles and Elders met to consider this question after much discussion Peter got up and addressed them Brothers you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe God who knows the heart showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he did to us he made no distinction between us between us and them for he purified their hearts by faith now then why do you try to test God by putting on the next of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear no we believe it through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are that we are saved just as they are the whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them when they finished James Baker Brothers listen to me Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles of people for himself the words of the prophets are in agreement with this as it is written after this I will return and rebuild David's full intent its ruins I will rebuild and I'll restore it that the remnant of men may seek the Lord that the remnant of men may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who bear my name says the Lord Who does these things that have been known for ages it's my judgment therefore that we should not make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God instead we should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by Idols from sexual immorality from the meat of strangled animals and from blood for Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath there's many ways which we could we could describe this um this uh this dispute or this conflict which is happening here in in that we have just read about to me it's it's a combination of of both of culture and of theology now don't get scared by that word theology all this theology Theo is from where we get God and logos the word so it's what we uh what we say about God what we believe about God that's all theology is so are you a theologian yes you are because you have certain beliefs about God that's your belief that's your theology but there's also mixed in with this is that there's all these uh these cultural things that uh that are taking place there's this ethnicity that's taking place between Jews and everybody else you see there's sometimes there can be a culture that can feel so it can feel so dominant or so exclusive that it's them and the rest of the world um so when the Greeks were right in power there were Greeks and barbarians so if you weren't a Greek you're a barbarian and so similar with the Jews they were Jews and gentiles and so here we have this this Clash of cultures uh mixed in with this theology between uh between the Jews and and non-jeus between them and gentiles in fact we were I was thinking about this I started on this project which ended up a lot bigger than what I thought it was going to be because I thought you know in our church here we have a number of different cultures represented here um and there's various ways that we could we could describe that by you know where's your nationality or what's your your cultural things or whatever but what I started looking at and I've only limited to just to this is just looking at places or countries where people were born who attend our church who thinks that we might have more than five who thinks we have more than ten who thinks we have more than 15 who thinks we have more than 20. okay well those two's hands are still up you're doing pretty good so let me just read these are the ones we've been able to identify in our church and I'm just going to read through the list not making any comment but just to read through the list and so if you were born so we're only talking about place where you're born if you're born in a country that that I do not mention this morning will you make sure you either let somebody on the desk or let me know because we just try to compile this list so here we go alphabetically Australia Brazil Canada China dystonia Ethiopia Fiji Germany Holland India Indonesia New Zealand Papua New Guinea Philippines Poland Solomon Islands South Africa Spain Ukraine United Kingdom which including all of the United Kingdom United States and Vietnam that's 23 different places different countries where people in our church were born now as I say if you were born in another country let us know now let me just say I we had a conflict about this on Friday morning um Adrian is our senior pastor gets us together the team so there's Adrian and David Herron and me and Dylan we get together every Friday morning for a coffee and Adrian you know gives us the third degree and gives us our orders and everything for the next week and yeah he's a real the slave driver he is and anyway I was saying about this is what the sermon was about and whatever and we had this dispute is New South Wales should it be regarded as a separate country and they're the other three said and I I didn't say this but it was the other three who said if Alan grieve is there on Sunday morning you've got to highlight it as being a separate country and I disagreed vehemently about it and so I'm not going to mention it this morning Alan that uh well it went something like that anyway but we certainly had that discussion that was said that Alan say we had to mention that I have no idea why but I'm just doing what Adrian tells me to do so why is it important for us to be even in our church just as it was for the early church to consider ethnic differences and cultural differences why is it important for us to be aware of that we need to be aware that there are people sitting here this morning where English and our culture where English is either their second or their third language for for instance number of years ago and I spent a week in um in Bangladesh and when we were in Bangladesh what we had to learn there is learn how to eat Bangladesh style and um and so when the meal is served there is no utensils there quite different from if you go to a formal dinner in our culture there'll be utensils you know nice forks and spoons by the million laid out you've got to know how to use them correctly Bangladesh there's nothing and not only that but when you're eating there you have to use a particular hand now if you're going to go to Bangladesh check I think this I'm going from memory we're only there for a week but if my memory says me correct your right hand is used for everything else and so your left hand is your clean handed so you eat just with your left hand um and and so all your food just with your hand whatever kids love it wouldn't wouldn't wear kids and so we had to learn to eat that way um sometime after that back in Brisbane we've got a number of non-english speaking churches and I was having a meal with uh with a couple of our African past African pastor and his wife and they are from Sudan but I sat down for the meal and guess what there's no utensils there and so thinking of my uh of my experience in Bangladesh I said so which hand do I do I use to eat with doesn't matter use either both hands whatever just get in and help yourself you see in a different culture we have to respect those cultures and and and adapt and learn to eat that way just by the way I have tried to master chopsticks and you know what I'd just be so skinny if I was dependent upon Chopsticks because my apologies but I've got to have chopsticks with the four bits on the end you know it's a fork to eat and I don't know how many people have tried to teach me and you know in Asian countries and back here as well how to use chopsticks and and just doesn't work it's not just eating and of course different cultures will will eat in different ways but it can also just say like even for church things can be done differently I've been in many services which is both in some places in the Pacific and also in some parts of Europe as well where the men sit on one side of the church and the women sit on the other and I was visiting one of our churches one of our European speaking churches a Romanian Church in Brisbane and and so the men were seated Seated on the right the women on the left and they say well because your visitors David and Anthony can sit together if you want to we said no we will respect your culture and and sound on one side and um and I sat on the other um and so we we just need to remember things like that except us in one other culture where the men and the women sat on different sides but sometimes I went some Services I went to the men were on the right hand side women on the left and the other times the men would be the other way around me would be on that side of the women on the other and I said to haste I said how come that sometimes the men are on the right hand side sometimes on the left and and it's explained to me that the men always looking at the out outside always sit on the high side of um of the lay of the land and but the thing was as I looked outside where we were and it was like a billion table fake so I said so in a place like this how do you determine which side the men sit on he just looked at me said we know so I didn't pursue that any further because I just didn't want to show how dumb or how stupid I was because everybody we know which side the men and the women sit on you know I was in one of our other churches and there's some of this ethnicity here this morning is that I was preaching one of our other ethnic churches in Brisbane and just like this morning sitting like five raised from the back and I came in and we sat three or four Rays back and uh they came and spoke to say oh would you mind would you like to come and sit in the front row like Adrian was here so I know we're all righty you know sitting back a bit Baptists generally aren't good at sitting in the front row whatever and I said oh no please come and sit down the front and I sort of looked a bit quizzically they said well in our culture it is not um it is not etiquette to sit forward in front of the the guest and so if you sit three seats back nobody's gonna sit in the in the front three rays and so would you please come and sit down in the front row so we did I mean we respect the cultures like that you understand that and so we need to understand that with the 23 or so cultures that we have here that for some people today they've had to go to some level of discomfort to join us together in worship today we need to acknowledge that and to say thank you thank you thank you so much for your willingness to persevere and and be your be brothers and sisters with us it's sort of well I was going to say it's a bit like the United Nations it's more than that it's a touch of Heaven Folk to touch at him that we're all together like this well how does this fit in with this story by the way there's all different sorts of cultures that are listed some of them up there ethnic religious we've talked a bit about that where class cultures demographic cultures some family differences any of any of us who've been married know that the husband brings in his experience of what a family is like the wife brings into the marriage her experience with families like and it's not always the same is it it's got to be some negotiation give and take in all of that and so in all of these things where there's differences conflict occurs in fact I want to say from my observation I want to say thank you Jesus that I've never been involved in in a church where I've been a pastor where there's been a significant conflict um I want to say that I mean there's always been some level of disagreements and we we live with some of that but not as significant however in my previous role I've just been involved in some helping churches or trying to help churches through man just some just some really really deep issues and really really really has it been a theological issue but it's been one of these other issues but what we have here is both a cultural issue and a theological issue that's that's come together in all of this and and so we just need to understand something of this background of how these differences when they occur how it can cause rubbish up the wrong way so let me just run through a bit of a bit of background in all of this using an old military term a sitrepid situation report the sit rep became a common thing in World War II I think but remember this that when we it talks about antiochea and let's not get confused that there are two antiochs more than two but there's two talked about in the Bible one in Presidio which is in modern turkey in that area and there's one in Syria which is the one we're talking about today this Syrian Antioch became a real big Center for Gentile Christians remember it was at Antioch that Believers were first called Christians and so it became a center it was this such a large sentence it's estimated that Paul probably spent over time probably about five years of his life in in this Antioch so this is the one in Syria and we hear about people going from Jerusalem down to Antioch if you look on a map it's Jerusalem and Antioch and you might say how can they go down well Jerusalem's up high antiox down on the coast and so they went down downhill as it were which when we read that doesn't sound too much but the distance from Jerusalem to Antioch is pretty well exactly what it is from here to Gladstone if you've ever driven that if you get to Rockhampton you've gone too far but uh but from here to to Gladstone gives you some idea of the distance so we're talking about 460 K and this is before Jetstar and it's before Tesla cars and whatever is that what the travel was is by by walking mostly and so these Christian people in Jerusalem who are so concerned that these new Christians in Antioch got it right that they are prepared to walk 460 kilometers down and address them and say folk we've just got to sort out what it is to be a believer to be a disciple of Jesus then there's a walk back and so there's not only the concern but there's time that's taken I don't know how many K's a day you you'd walk but you could work out yourself how long all of that is how long that would have taken all of that and and so that gives us some of the geography but where this sits this surge Council of Jerusalem as it's commonly called is that Paul went on three missionary Journeys Adrian took us through the first missionary journey last week in looking at Acts chapter 13 and verse chapter 13 and 14 and the second missionary journey starts at the end of this chapter chapter 15 and verse 36 and stuck in the middle between the first and the second missionary journey is is this Council this is sorting out this this dispute this conflict here so let's keep moving on this is how it all occurred firstly the Jewish Christians State their case in verse 1 and verse 5. and what they were saying is this is that yes you might be a believer in God but to be a True Believer in God not only must you believe in God but you must also obey the law of Moses as well now understand where these Jewish people are coming from they understood that for the last two thousand years from their time that the people of God were Jews Abraham Moses gave the Lord Jew King David was a Jew Jesus was a Jew remember Jesus didn't speak with an American accent like we often see on the movies he spoke aramai that his complexion was Jewish so if all of them so for a couple of thousand years God's people have had followed this Jewish idea folk you need to understand if this is how it's been for 2 000 years things don't change and while Paul and Barnabas may have told you some things you not only have to believe in God but you also have to obey all the law of Moses so Paul and Barnabas they've been the ones there who who brought the gospel there and Paul his Pharisee by the way he Paul and Barnabas get up and they had this big argument with them no you don't yes you do no you don't yes you do no you don't yes you do and however long that debate went on for it became obvious soon that this issue was not going to be resolved here in Antioch so what did they do they said well let's escalate this issue up to Jerusalem to where the uh this is the the this is the Cradle of Christianity it's where Jesus did his ministry around this where he's crucified this is where the church was born this is where the day Pentecost first occurred so let's go up there and talk to all the leaders there and get them to settle this dispute interesting that Paul about us don't miss an opportunity so walking from Gladstone to caboolture Antioch to Jerusalem they stop along the way and as they go along there sharing the message about Jesus isn't that tremendous I just like that that byline there and and then this meeting takes place this Council takes place and and out of this meeting an outcome an outcome is reached this is what the outcome is what we read on from there we're going to refer to it a little bit more is that just right at the end even after settling this one conflict Paul and Barnabas what do they do have a fight with each other and it's a Mr personal fight but we're going to look at that in a bit more detail a bit earlier a bit later so that's the context and we just want to look at it a bit bit um in a bit more detail and so what is the issue here the real issue is this what is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus that is the core issue what is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus some people look at the Cancer Jerusalem and say hey this is all to do with where where the uh the Mosaic law all fits in or whatever that's a byproduct a primary issue here is what do you need to do to be a disciple of Jesus in fact this argument still happens today the question is is it's God's forgiveness alone or is it God's forgiveness Plus I think I can say where this occurred because it saved far back in history but when I was a pastor at the church in Bowen so we're talking you know 250 years ago were thereabouts but when I was when I was a pastor there we had a few fake who um who came became Christians he came to Faith and through the ministry of our church had several Faith but there's some of the fact became influenced by people in another church in Bowen and what these other people say oh yes you might be saved in the Baptist Church at our church we've got a bit more to offer which you won't get at the Baptist Church they tossed some people to go from our church to their Church where that not just get salvation but get salvation plus a bit there's the same church by the way which you know how often when people come to town same here that people do the rounds of three or four churches seeking God and say God where do you want me to where do you want us to settle and this church whenever people would come I might even be to the Baptist Church to go to this church but whenever they went to that church there's always someone there who had a word of Knowledge from God so God has told me that this is your church and you're to stay here isn't it interesting that God had to use someone else why didn't God ever tell them Direct and some people insisted on that and so you see it's not an issue which happens 2 000 years ago around Jerusalem that can be a real issue today and it can be an issue for us and you see new Believers new Believers always want to make sure they get it right new Believers always want to know that they have done everything right and they've got everything that God can give them and so here are these new Believers in Antioch and Paul and Barnabas led him to Jesus but now there's these other Christians who are coming down from Jerusalem say oh Paul and Barnes what they're saying is right but but you need not only to believe in Jesus but you need more you need to uh to obey the Mosaic law and so this was the primary issue what's it mean to be a disciple of Jesus and in Acts chapter 15 and verse 11 this is the answer that came out of the council we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved underlined Circle highlight that sentence how do you become a disciple how do you become a Believer we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saying where's the law well that will come into play somewhere down the track but not as far as becoming a Christian there is only one thing necessary to become a Christian and that's to believe in the Lord Jesus in fact we can even appeal to Jesus himself when a crowd of people came along to Jesus and said Jesus we want to do God's work what is it that we need to do to do God's work and this is Jesus answer in in John chapter 6 and verse 29 Jesus answered this the work of God is this to believe to believe in the one he has sent hey believe the grace of God believe that's it or the Amplified version puts it a bit more it says this is the work of God that you believe adhere to trust and rely on and have faith in the one he has sent in fact that's what's necessary to become a disciple of Jesus that's all that's necessary now is that all that's required to know we know that once we say that God continues to do a work in our lives but that's subsequent to our Salvation our Salvation is just at that point is just that to believe in the Lord Jesus and his death and he your dependence upon him so for what are the discipleship lessons for us in all of this what's the meeting process that we can learn from here now there's a lot more can be said about handling conflict and handling disputes I've got eight things I want to just say this morning and and this morning it's just did a bit of alteration just as often I I do on a Sunday morning I appreciate go for a walk preach a sermon in my head and I thought I haven't said that haven't said this and something else and so so there is more that could be said about handling conflict but here are eight things which I think are key for us to be thinking about when there's conflict when when it occurs and that's this number one firstly we've got to acknowledge that there's a problem sometimes when there's a conflict we try to sweep it under the carpet we try to ignore it in fact that never works it might work for a while but sooner or later the same issue it might be in a different form but sooner or later that issue is going to raise its head again and so we need to admit that there's a problem and to face it secondly we need to clearly Define the issue just like I said some people look at this cows of Jerusalem say oh this is all to do with the Mosaic well no it's not it's dealing with what it means to be a Christian is that sometimes when an argument or when a problem occurs what presents is a problem and this is a common thing what presents is a problem is not the real issue sometimes vast it's sometimes a symptom and sometimes this is in a church but sometimes it's in an interpersonal relationships as well with it husband and wife family or just friends or leaders or whatever is it you've got we've got to be wise and say well this is a presenting problem but is this the real issue so clearly Define the issue deal with it openly is the best thing well as openly as a problem is um it doesn't mean that we hang out all our dirty laundry in front of the whole church I've been in situations where that's occurred where there's a dispute between between two individuals in the church it should have been handled in that way and it was wrongly handled and uh and the victim as it turned out was paraded in front of the church and said this is the problem whatever should never have occurred however the the issue needs to be dealt with as openly as as the problem is itself here both sides of the argument did you pick that up when they went to Jerusalem they heard the sides of the Pharisees and they also heard what Paul and Barnabas said as well and I don't know about you but I've been in situations where well two people A and B A comes to me and and says Ah B is a bad person and this is what B did to me and whatever I think well we're a dirty rotten scoundrel B is how could they be that sort of a person and then I hear B-side of the story and I think oh maybe it's eyes the dirty Robin scoundrel um have you been in that situation every parent has when you eat from your kids don't you but it's not only it's every leader should have done that and so sometimes when I'm talking with people people come to me and say I've got an issue I don't do this every time but sometimes I say to say to the person A's come to see me I sometimes say now person B we're sitting here right now what would those be saying about this situation that does a couple of things it opens them up to thinking about how the other side might be experiencing all of this but it's just opens up this this whole issue that's more than just me getting my own way here both sides examine scripture to see with with James James by the way it's not clearly identified but commonly believe that he's the half brother of Jesus so he's the son of Mary and Joseph probably the author of the book of James became a leader in the church so this James gets up and starts speaking but he starts quoting from the Bible Amos and other places as well and he starts saying hey this is what the Bible says about the issue that also cases seeking wise counsel as well so Paul Barnabas the Pharisees his group so let's go to the church let's go to church and and James is this wise leader sitting there by his leader probably in his 30s still late 30s maybe 40 who knows but he's sitting there and um and he's listening in fact we've got some really really wise people in our church and you know we we do ourselves a disservice if we don't take advantage of of hearing him not that they know all the answers of course but just to hear their advice seek wise counsel make a decision and that's what John said this is what I believe the Bible is saying this is the outcome and so what they do they announced it and that's the decision and it's it's a really a funny thing because I say yeah it's only belief in the Lord Jesus but there are some other things that we'd like you to do now these other things that James talked about which I sent the letter to the church out as it were not necessary for salvation but just saying hey when you're living in our culture these these things are important to our culture so you really just respect us in our culture to live that way and you know that's really important just like there's Anne and I over years of ministering in other cultures around the place we do our utmost to fit in with the culture and eat their food and when we stay they sleep in new places amazing some of the things we've eaten sometimes we haven't seen Grace we pray for protection before meals but but just to to fit in but to be aware that round about us if I just say don't don't just say it's it's thoughtless to say well you're here now you'll have to put up with us let's be sensitive so if that's important to you then it's my salvation doesn't depend on her but I just want to live I just want to live in a way that won't be offensive to you there are eight steps there's said there's more to it than that the more that we can that we could say books are being written about it but hopefully that gives us some guidelines there so what do we learn about all of this if we go on to the end of the chapter verses 36 to 41 . Paul and Barnabas after being together in a fight and now opposed to each other they have how the Bible describes as a sharp disagreement Barnabas wants to take John Mark Paul says no remember he was with us one other time and let us down I don't want to give him another chance Barnes said hang on we he deserves another chance that was Barnabas who came down gave Paul another chance yeah about so let's give John Mark a chance Paul says no this mission is so important we dare not risk it had such a sharp disagreement they couldn't resolve it that they went their separate ways um Paul took Silas Barnabas took John Mark and what was the result of well there are two missionary Journeys that were there as a result of that there's better ways to multiply Ministry than having a fight you see just be aware of this conflict is I met with churches over the years and I've said to them folk it's not a case of if you as the church you'll face conflict but when and anybody who knows the history of this church and we don't want to drag it up or anything that this church has experienced significant conflict in the past as has pretty well every Church we are no different so conflict will occur and folk if you haven't been in a conflict yet the time is coming when you will be just be aware of that Disciples of Jesus will always seek to deal with conflict in an appropriate way it's not always easy to put these principles into practice Paul and Barnabas did it right the first time now it's a personal thing they are just all caught up in their emotions and their personal biases and experiences but in the end discipleship and Ministry we're now focal just got one final thing to say take the two minutes or less or thereabouts don't hold me to it but years and years ago somebody wrote a book wrote a book and it was called The Seven Last Words of the church and it was talking about differences in church and about change in the church and you know any with the seven last words of churcher if you can read you'll know this is what this author said seven last words of the churches we've never done it that way before that over the years I've come to realize this is that there are seven first words of every disciple the seven first words are I can do all things through Christ now the third cross is a significant thing there let's not just stop it I can do all things is there a marathon next week I might answer that no it's a through Christ what Jesus calls me to do he will give me the enabling to do it through Christ and that's important for us we're talking about differences cultural theological whatever but coping and living together this taste of Heaven that we have in the caboolture Baptist Church of 23 plus places where we've all been born been born we can now live together and express to the world hey there's no ethnic issues here fake the culture of Heaven the culture of Jesus overrules at all let's stand and we're going to say those those seven first words together I'm going to pray and then we're going to sing Our Last Song or whatever okay so the seven first words of the disciple out loud on three one two three are I and that's our prayer father God that through the Lord Jesus the one who calls us enables us our prayers is that we will be your people your disciples when we do have conflict we pray that we'll deal with it appropriately openly in a way which will glorify and honor you our lord Jesus in his name we pray.