Jerusalem Council: Facing Conflict

Explore the Bible Series

July 27, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 15:1-35

Lesson Passage: Acts 15:1-2, 6-15, 22-23a, 27-28



Conflict is inevitable, even in the best of churches and among the best of people. The question of Godís people is not ďWhy does conflict arise?Ē; rather, they should focus on how to resolve conflict in an appropriate manner, when it occurs. This passage gives some invaluable counsel for the resolution of disputes that occur among the Lordís people.


  1. Clearly identify the point of disagreement:The early church, in this important case, centered its attention on a single issue, the circumcision of Gentile converts to the Christian faith. Often, church conflicts take place in the context of long-term, personal resentments; indeed, old issues tend to resurface in periods of dissention.The conflict becomes difficult, therefore, to resolve because emotional impulses take control.These apostolic leaders did not allow peripheral issues to divide the church and distract their attention of the single, critical issue of circumcision.
  2. Hear all sides in the debate: As the leaders sought to resolve the conflict, they determined to allow an open dialog about the issue at stake.Many do not find this kind of discussion pleasant (I certainly fall in this category!), but the apostles found it wise and necessary.In Acts, the discussion grew intense, and I feel certain many of the participants experienced some discomfort; nevertheless, they determined to hear out all perspectives.
  3. Exercise kindness and grace: The discussion, though intense, apparently did not degenerate into unkindness and division.Intense passions gave way to a genuine willingness to resolve the problem.Something had to give, and the church found a way to settle the issue that divided them.Pardon my Southern way of stating this, but it seems that these men remained gentlemen despite the visceral emotions they felt.
  4. Stand by Christian convictions: Paul, Barnabas, and Peter did not come to this council to compromise on the issue of circumcision.Sometimes, compromise is wrong, and circumcision was such a situation.Some people, by nature (or nurture), come to the conclusion that the church should reach peace at any cost. These well-meaning folks seek to preserve peace by unseemly compromise. In doing so, they may concede at the cost of righteousness and enable ungodly people to dominate the church.Not only do they ham the long-tern health of the church, but people with these tendencies may do irreparable damage to their own dignity and sense of self-worth.We do not serve the interests of the Kingdom of God by becoming spineless doormats.Exercise some caution here.Make certain that the cause is right and your position reflects the will and purpose of God.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   Conflict in the Early Church (vv. 1-3)

A.    The arrival of the Judaizers in Antioch (v. 1a): The events recorded in the chapter, according to Curtis Vaughan, occurred in 48 or 49 A.D. A group of men came to Antioch, from Jerusalem.Acts 15:24 implies they came to Antioch without the approval of the church in Jerusalem, and they brought a message that deeply troubled Paul and Barnabas.Salvation, according to these false teachers, hinged on the willingness of Gentile converts to submit to circumcision.

B.     The concern of the apostles (vv. 1b-2): Paul and Barnabas challenged these men, and the conflict intensified to the point that the church in Antioch commissioned the apostles to go to Jerusalem for a meeting with church leaders. Galatians 2:1f records that God directed the apostles to take their case to Jerusalem, and Titus, a Gentile convert, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the journey.

C.     The journey to Jerusalem (v. 3): On the way to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas encouraged the believers in Samaria and Phoenicia.They recounted Godís mercy to the Gentiles, and the believers greatly rejoiced at the message the apostles shared.


II.                The Council of Jerusalem (vv. 4-21)

A.    Greetings in Jerusalem (vv. 4-5): When Paul and Barnabas arrived in at their destination, the church leaders welcomed them warmly, and the messengers from Antioch recalled all that God had done among the Gentiles.Immediately, the quarrel surfaced.Certain believers, of the party of the Pharisees, took exception to the claims that God had shown his mercy to uncircumcised Gentiles.

B.     The public debate (vv. 6-21): Galatians 2:3-10 reveal that, before this pubic meeting, Paul met privately with influential church leaders, perhaps Peter and James. Paul may have brought Titus to this private conference, and he vigorously condemned the unworthy motives of the Judaizers who came to Antioch.

1.      Peterís testimony (vv. 7-11): Peter gave a brief account of his experience with the conversion of Cornelius, and the apostle concluded that God had shown mercy on the Gentiles in just the same way as the Jewish Christians.

2.      The testimony of Paul and Barnabas (v. 12): Luke summarized the experiences of Paul and Barabbas, on their missionary journey in Cyprus and Asia Minor.Again, they testified that God had saved and bestowed the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles.

3.      The judgment of James (vv. 3-21): After hearing the evidence, James spoke for the church leaders and affirmed the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. James appealed to Amos 9:1 and 12 to confirm the councilís decision.The Jerusalem leader concluded his remarks by encouraging the gentile converts to abstain from any remnants of idolatry, sexual immorality, and eating meat from strangled animals or from blood.James made these statements to protect the Gentile believers from prevailing immorality and to keep from unnecessarily offending Jewish Christians.


Conclusion: The Aftermath of the Jerusalem Council (vv. 22-35)

The letter to the church at Antioch (vv. 22-29): As Paul and Barnabas planned to return to Antioch, the council leaders determined to send representatives, Judas Barsabas and Silas, to deliver a letter explaining the resolution of the circumcision controversy.The brief epistle expressed love and respect for Paul and Barnabas, and implied that the Judiazers had no authority from the Jerusalem church.The believers in Antioch rejoiced in the councilís decision. Luke further observed that Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch and continued to minister the gospel.