What does it say?
The tension between Jewish believers and Gentiles comes to a head in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas travel from Antioch to Jerusalem to meet with church leaders and determine how to minimize these conflicts. Hearing first-hand reports from the missionary journey, all agree that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish either before or after putting faith in Christ. Back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas determine to visit previously established churches. John, who left them early in the first trip, becomes a point of serious contention between the two apostles. Barnabas takes John and heads for Cyprus, while Paul takes Silas and they go through Syria and Cilicia.
The second missionary journey begins in Derbe and Lystra where Paul invites Timothy to join their team. God’s Spirit leads them as they eventually come to Troas. There, Paul receives a vision leading them to cross the Aegean Sea into Greece. With no Jewish synagogue in the Greek city of Philippi, they meet with devout women praying on the Sabbath. One of them, Lydia, opens her house to them. Paul heals a demon-possessed young woman and infuriates the men that used her for profit. This results in the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. Praying and singing at midnight, God sends an earthquake to free them that also leads to the salvation of the head jailer and his family.
What does it mean?
We learn here principles that guide us today in sharing the Gospel with those from different cultures. The theological decision in Jerusalem that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish comes with four specific ways that Gentile believers should be sensitive to their Jewish counterparts. Paul displays that same sensitivity by insisting on Timothy’s circumcision, knowing that Timothy’s mother was Jewish and that this will be an issue working among Jews. These apostolic traditions express great cultural wisdom but are not necessarily binding on all believers for all times. God’s truth does not change, but how to communicate and live that truth in specific cultural circumstances can vary greatly.
Perhaps the great significance of this reading is the fact that God intentionally leads Paul and his team to take the Gospel to Europe for the first time, landing in the city of Philippi. Even secular historians argue that this is one of the most significant historical events of all history and that this event completely changes the world.
How will I respond?
Seeing the cultural sensitivity that diffuses tension between peoples, what is one specific way that I can be more sensitive to people of different cultures around me?