acts 15 – essential versus cultural – christ’s law of love "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
Last week we saw that faith in Jesus alone (His life, death and resurrection) is all that is necessary for salvation. This is an essential of the Christian faith. (vv. 1-19) This week we will see how Christ's law of love (John 13:3; James 2:8; 1 Cor. 9:19-23) is culturally sensitive and serves to lead people to Christ and builds unity and fellowship among believers.
"Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, (with circumcision and other Jewish customs/laws) as a requirement (for salvation) 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath." James made two points in these verses: 1) v. 19 – Jewish laws are not required of Gentiles for salvation; and 2) vv. 20-21- but be culturally sensitive to the Jews who are in these predominately Gentile cities so as not to create a stumbling block that would keep them from turning to Jesus and to promote unity and fellowship among Jewish and Gentile believers.
What aspect of our faith is universally essential and what is cultural, lifestyle, values, preferences, political party, etc.? If we try to impose our cultural and lifestyle preferences on unbelievers we may create a stumbling block to the gospel. On the other hand, if new believers stumble over our freedom in Christ to drink alcohol or practice other "gray issues" Scripture calls us to give up our "rights" out of love (not law) for the spiritual good/growth of a weaker brother. Paul teaches on both these points in several of his epistles.
Christ's law of love – First of all Paul gives this teaching on winning Jews and Gentiles to Christ: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law (Gentiles) I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings." (1 Cor. 9:19-23) If Paul were in a predominantly Jewish area he would be sensitive to Jewish food customs and feast days, etc., so as not to offend a Jew he was trying to lead to Jesus. Likewise, if he were in a Gentile area he would be careful not to offend them in what he refused to eat (as seen in Romans 14).
Christ's law of love- Secondly Paul addressed sensitive issues (in love not law) among fellow believers: "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (Rom. 14:15, 19-21)
Christ's law of love – "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Gal. 5:6) Not only does Scripture teach us the law of love but our Lord Jesus lived it and modeled it and Paul (Scripture) calls us to have this attitude in us that was in Christ Jesus. "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (As Jesus did for us.) 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (As Jesus did for us.) 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 (gave up His rights as God the Son) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (He even gave up His rights as a Man and was a servant of man), being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:1-8) (He gave up His life as a thirty-three year old man to an excruciating death and to God-forsakenness as He bore our sins.)
Christ's law of love – "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:13) "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2) We are not under the law for salvation but we are under the law of love. God's Word tells us how to love our neighbor (even our worst enemy) but we can only do it as we continually yield to God the Holy Spirit within us and obey His Word. Natural love will ultimately cease at the point of self-interest but God's love goes beyond self-interest to the interest and needs of others.
Christ's law of love – "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:1-8, 13)
So for salvation we are to trust Jesus (not the law – good works) and for our relationships with people we are to imitate Jesus (the law of love – giving up our rights for their spiritual good – salvation and sanctification -spiritual growth/maturity).
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What are some cultural issues (or personal preferences) today that believers may divide over? How would you counsel people to resolve them based on this lesson?
2) Where have you given up your "rights" to keep from causing a weaker believer to stumble or to remove a possible barrier to the gospel for an unbeliever?
3)"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Gal. 5:6) What does this verse say to you?
4) Jesus never calls us to do anything He hasn't already done for us (and far more than we will ever do for anyone). So what does it mean to you to consider others better than yourself; and to look to their interest not just your own?
5) What is Jesus' new command and how is it different from the OT command to love our neighbor as ourself?
6) Which of the 16 aspects of love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8 do you struggle with the most and why? How does God's Word and Spirit empower us to move beyond natural love which ultimately stops at the point of self-interest?