Note from Jesus
I hate racism! Bigotry and racial prejudice are unacceptable. It comes in all sorts of forms, some overt and some cloaked in apparently acceptable language. On the other hand, racial inclusion nearly always requires that people must be tolerant, kind, and patient if social, racial, and cultural differences are going to be accepted among My people. The evil one loves to use racial bias and bigotry to fuel suspicion and divide peoples into warring groups. My first followers couldn't see their bigotry and prejudice because it was so close to them and so much a part of them. Unfortunately, this can still be true in your day.
During My disciples' first several decades as a movement, my people had to deal with deep-seated racial issues. Some of these prejudices were social and were related to the handling of food and table fellowship. Others were seated in hatred and suspicion of people of different races. Some used the Scriptures as their basis for exclusion. In other words, there were social, ethnic, and religious prejudices that My early followers had to overcome all while often being a persecuted and oppressed people.
As you have seen in your readings from Acts about the early Christian movement, My disciples were slow in taking My good news to those outside of Judaism. Then suddenly, "outsiders" (non-Jews) came pouring into My family of faith. The question that My early church faced was very simple to state, but very difficult to navigate: What is the requirement for non-Jews to become Christians and live in fellowship with Jewish Christians?
Paul and Barnabas had experienced My hand of grace enabling them to reach "outsiders" in Antioch, in Galatia, and in places in between. The church in Antioch became a shining light of Jewish people and non-Jewish people coming together as My people (Acts 11:19-24). They then were called by the Holy Spirit to send Barnabas and Paul (then known as Saul) to reach even more "outsiders" (Acts 13:1-3). Led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, these two great missionaries joined with other believers in sharing My saving grace with those who were lost, including those in Galatia. (The last two Scriptures below are from the letter Paul later wrote to the Galatian Christians.) Barnabas and Paul shared My gospel regardless of people's race, ethnicity, or culture. Many "outsiders" believed and followed Me. At some point, there were more non-Jewish Christians than Jewish ones. The church at Antioch along with the churches in regions outside of Judea and Galilee was overjoyed at what God was doing among the "outsiders" (Acts 14:26-28; Acts 15:1-4).
But, as Luke puts it in the verses below from Acts, "Their peace was disturbed..." Paul wouldn't back down, as you've already seen in the book of Galatians. There was also a group that became known as Judaizing teachers. They were just as adamant as Paul but said it was "not acceptable" for non-Jews to join into Christian fellowship without requiring circumcision and the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Paul knew his position would not be popular with the Pharisees and Judaizing teachers, but Paul and Barnabas weren't concerned about popularity; they were defending grace. In their minds, this disagreement still all boiled down to an issue of the flesh — racial hatred tinged with racial pride — and to an issue of fear — not wanting to be ostracized by fellow Jews.
Led by the elders, apostles, My half-brother James, along with Barnabas and Paul, the church met in Jerusalem to decide this issue. For Me, however, the issue was clear. The Father sent Me to save the world (John 3:16-17), not one race of people. The Father sent me into the world so the people of the world could know that I love them (1 John 4:8-10). I died to bring all people to Me (John 12:32-33). When I commissioned My disciples shortly before ascending back to the Father, I told them to go and make disciples of all nations. The word I chose for nations literally means "outsiders" (Matthew 28:18-20).
I shared My vision of the future for My people with John in the book of Revelation. There will be "a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language" (Revelation 7:9 NLT). Anyone who believes in Me and trusts in My death, burial, and resurrection can be baptized and added to My people regardless of race, culture, social standing, ethnicity, or accomplishment. I do not want prejudice existing in My people. I do not want anything added to My simple gospel of saving grace. Prejudice is unacceptable for anyone who claims to follow Me! (1 John 4:20)
Verses to Live
The issues you find in the different readings that follow took a while to be resolved appropriately in the early church. You know how We — Father, Son, and Spirit — feel. We want all people included in Our family. We want no racial or prejudicial barriers to be placed in the way of anyone coming to Us and receiving salvation. If the early church could overcome these huge barriers, you have to know that you can, too!
They [Paul and Barnabas] then passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. They preached their message in Perga and then went to the port of Attalia. There they set sail for Antioch, where they were first entrusted to the grace of God for the mission they had now completed. They called the church together when they arrived and reported all God had done with and through them, how God had welcomed outsiders through the doorway of faith. They stayed with the disciples in Antioch for quite a while.
Their [the Antioch church's] peace was disturbed, however, when certain Judeans came with this teaching: "Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic custom, you cannot be saved."
Paul and Barnabas argued against this teaching and debated with the Judeans vehemently, so the church selected several people — including Paul and Barnabas — to travel to Jerusalem to dialogue about this issue with the apostles and elders there. The church sent them on their way. They passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, stopping to report to the groups of believers there that outsiders were now being converted. This brought great joy to them all. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders welcomed them warmly; and they reported all they had seen God do. But there were some believers present who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. They stood up and asserted,
No, this is not acceptable. These people must be circumcised, and we must require them to keep the whole Mosaic law.(Acts 14:24-28; Acts 15:1-5)
Therefore it is my [James'] judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles [not require them to follow the law of Moses], 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.
Do you think I care about the approval of men or about the approval of God? Do you think I am on a mission to please people? If I am still spinning my wheels trying to please men, then there is no way I can be a servant of the Anointed One, the Liberating King.
The troublemakers who are putting pressure on you to be circumcised are trying to impress the flesh. They want to avoid the persecution that comes from preaching the cross of the Anointed One, the Liberating King. But even those who receive circumcision can't keep the law — although they think they can — and they hope to influence which way you go with your own skin so they can have bragging rights over your flesh.
Response in Prayer
O Father, forgive us — forgive me — for the prejudice that we let divide Your people. I am deeply troubled and sorry that we have let prejudice separate and divide us. I ask Your forgiveness for the times I have been a part of bigotry toward another group or individual. I ask that the Holy Spirit make my heart burn for the lost of my world and yearn to see all prejudices that divide people swallowed up in the grace You provided when You died for us, Lord Jesus. I ask for Your help, O Lord, that I can love others into Your family so we can enjoy Your family together forever. It is in Your name, dear Jesus, that I pray. Amen.