“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 NIV
Happy New Year! It’s difficult to believe that 2018 is already here. 2017 just flew by like no year I can remember. I pray this New Year brings you health, happiness, and a new measure of God’s grace as you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ. May 2018 be the best year yet for our relationship with Jesus.
Have you ever gotten involved in something that was truly difficult? Have you ever found out after the fact that it didn’t need to be as difficult as you made it? I have lived both of these realities. When Debbie and I lived in Corinth, Kentucky our home had an unfinished basement. We decided that we would finish part of the basement as a home office. I would be the one doing most of the work over the summer when my class schedule was lighter. I began my research and we developed the plans we thought would work best. I purchased all of the materials and they were delivered to the house. We were ready to go. Everything was going along really well and the walls were framed out and electric was run. We were ready for drywall. I started with the walls and hung all the drywall for the walls without too much trouble. Then came the ceiling. I made a support and we had a small ladder I would use, since the ceiling was pretty low. As Debbie and I began to hang the drywall on the ceiling I learned two things. First, I learned that the ladder we had was about two inches shorter than I needed it to be to reach the ceiling. Second, I learned that drywall is really heavy when holding it above your head and trying to screw it onto the framework. The work we were doing was really difficult and I became very frustrated. After much frustration and backbreaking work the drywall was all installed. This was the part where I got myself involved in something that was truly difficult.
About a week after finishing the drywall project I was talking to my uncle. My uncle has a lot of construction experience in his background. As I was telling him about my experience he stopped me and asked a question. It was a very annoying and highly frustrating question. He asked, “Why didn’t you rent a drywall lift?” To which I replied, “A what?” He proceeded to tell me that there was a lift that existed that you could place the drywall upon and it would effortlessly life the drywall to the ceiling and hold it in place while you leisurely screwed the board into the framing. As he described it I could hardly imagine the person using it even breaking a sweat. When I hung up with my Uncle I went and looked for this amazing machine. What I found was that, in fact, the work I had done hanging the drywall on the ceiling did not need to be as difficult as I had made it. It was mostly my ignorance that made it so difficult, but there was a little bit of arrogance there also. I never even asked anyone at Home Depot about the best way to do ceiling work. I didn’t call my Uncle who knew far more about this than I. The reality is the work did not need to be anywhere near as difficult as I had made it. That was a very difficult lesson to learn.
In essence, this is the same lesson that is learned in The Book of Acts by the Apostles. The Jewish followers of Jesus were expecting the Gentile followers of Jesus to follow everything they had followed. This included circumcision. There is a little difference in having this done at eight days old and when you are an adult. So the question came up, “Is this necessary?” It seems to some like an unnecessary bar for following Jesus. So the Apostles met at what is known as The Jerusalem Council to discuss this situation. There were many who were coming to faith who were Gentiles. They were experiencing everything that the others had experienced. They received the Holy Spirit, there was real fruit being born out of their life, and they were an active part of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, there were some who felt they hadn’t done enough. So they decided they needed to make following Jesus Christ more difficult than it really needed to be.
It was at this council that The Apostles made a decision. James summarizes the decision when he says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They decided that people were making the decision to follow Jesus Christ too difficult for the Gentiles. This did not dumb down or cheapen what Jesus had done. It was simply a realization that human beings were making it more difficult than it needed to be. The Apostles decided that we are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing more. The Apostles did give instruction to the new believers concerning how to live out their newfound faith in Jesus. The Apostles decided extreme grace was more important than exact adherence. They decided not to make it too difficult for those who were turning to God. Their decision meant that thousands more would come to experience God’s grace through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Praise God!
This Sunday we will begin a two week message series looking at our Vision for 2018. These messages will help us consider what it means to offer extreme grace and grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope you will join us as the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!