Worth Fighting For


Ryan Hayden Acts

I am probably the LEAST confrontational person that I know. I'm the kind of guy who, when he gets his value meal at McDonalds with the sandwich missing, says to himself "I guess it's God's will for me not to eat a sandwich today." I hate arguing with people and asserting myself. It's actually probably a character flaw and something I need to work on.

There are some people on the opposite end of the spectrum. When we were in New Hampshire, I went into a McDonalds to use the restroom and there was a man at the counter who was literally screaming at the workers because they got his egg mcmuffin wrong. I thought "dude, it's an egg mcmuffin - it's not worth risking a heart attack over." But he was angry.

Some people love to fight. They love to argue. They are always on the lookout for a fight.

There are some preachers who are that way. There is this guy in Arizona who pastors a small church about our size and manages to get in the news all the time because he says off the wall things. After the Orlando shooting last Sunday (was it only last Sunday) he got up on his pulpit and said "Good" and then posted it on youtube. Can I tell you I run as far away as I can from people like that.

What we are going to see in our text this morning is a fight. It's a theological knockdown - draggout bout. And there are some really, really interesting things we can learn from it that still apply to us today. So let's read Acts 15:1-21 together:

"1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. 12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood. 21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."

This passage is one of the most important passages in the book of Acts and it's all about a fight. It wasn't a fist fight. No one was physically harmed. That was never the intention - it was a fight of ideas.

All we are going to do is work through this passage this morning, and then I want to give you three lessons from it that we can all apply to today. Before I get into our outline, let's pray and ask God's blessing on the reading of His Word.

The first point in our outline is:

1. The Problem

Look at verse 1:

"And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."

Paul and Barnabas have been preaching all over the region and there is a group of men from Israel who are going around and they are preaching something new - namely, that you have to be circumcised like a jew if you want to be saved.

Now, why is that a problem?

It's a problem because they are changing the rules of salvation.

When I was a kid I played a lot of pickup football at recess. There was always someone who wanted to make up the rules as he went along. I'd count my 5 missisippi and then tag the quarterback, and then he'd say "No, we just changed it, it's ten mississippi now."

Nothing is more frustrating than when the goal is always moving or the rules are always changing.

But that's just a game. Games have very little consequence. But our salvation is of eternal consequence. Our salvation is the difference between heaven and hell. Nothing could be more important.

There is nothing more important than the question "What must I do to be saved?" and if the answer to that question is always changing - then we are in real trouble.

So these jewish believers come to Paul's area and they start teaching that you have to be circumcised to be saved. They are adding works to salvation.

Let's look and see what Paul did about it:

2. The Response

Look at verse 2:

"When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, "

The verse says that Paul and Barnabas sprang to action. They did something about this false teaching. They did something about this new doctrine. Specifically - they had a "dissension" and "disputation" - what does that mean?

Well, I looked it up and here is what I found. The word dissension basically means they rose a ruckus. They made a big deal about this. They openly resisted this.

They threw down a flag. They jumped to their feet and they said "That's not right - that's wrong." They rose a ruckus.

Now listen to me - too many people are ok with a basketball player raising a ruckus on the court when the call doesn't go his way. They are ok with a politician raising a ruckus when they feel like the government isn't listening to us. Steph Curry or Rush Limbaugh can contest and protest all they want and no one raises an eye. But the moment a Christian or a preacher starts saying "that's not right, that's not fair, that's not what God intended, that's not what the Bible says" people get real squirrelly and very uncomfortable.

Why is that? Why is it ok to get upset and be vocal about a football game that doesn't matter at all for eternity but it's not ok to get upset and be vocal about false doctrine?

So they dissented. It also says they disputed. That just means they had an argument, they had a debate. They had a battle of ideas.

These pharisee teachers said "you have to be circumcised and obey the law to be saved" and Paul said "No - no you don't, that's false doctrine and let me tell you why."

But it doesn't end there. Look at the verse again:

"When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."

This brings me to my third point:

3. The Appeal

You see, they couldn't just leave this one hanging. They had to have an answer about this. They had to know what was right.

So they appealed to the highest order they had - they went to the apostles that were at Jerusalem to see what they had to say about it.

And that's what most of this chapter is about - it's telling us the story of how that went. Let me quickly summarize it for you:

Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem and they give a kind of missionary report. Just like when we have missionaries here that show slides and tell about their ministry in Ghana or whatever, Paul and Barnabas went to this Jerusalem church and gave a report of their ministry in the gentile lands and everyone rejoices about it.

But then, look at verse 5:

"But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."

So this group in the Jerusalem church stands up and they say "now, hold on a minute - it's good that these gentiles are hearing the gospel and all - but we need to make them get circumcised and keep the law of Moses."

Last Sunday we had Dr. Riechman here - and that sure was interesting, and he told us about what "keeping the law of Moses" meant to these people. These Pharisees wanted to say that if you didn't go to synagogue, if you didn't wear the phylacteries, if you didn't eat kosher - then you weren't really saved.

And this was a big deal. Because listen, at this point, almost everyone who was a Christian was a jew. They kept the law of Moses from birth. They grew up with prejudices about gentiles. They grew up thinking they were superior. So when they saw these Gentiles in the church - they acted like some of you act when someone comes in here that has Tattoos all over them and smells like cigarrettes. They had the "ick" factor and they weren't even trying to hide it - they were trying to spiritualize it.

So this was a problem. And the apostles got together and they had a debate. They had a big argument over it. There was back and forth. Finally, Peter stands up and says

"Listen folks, you remember how a little while ago God made it clear to me that God wanted the gentiles to be saved, and then we saw God work in their lives and give them the Holy Ghost. God put no difference between them and us. He declared them to be clean."

And he concludes with verse 10:

"Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"

In other words, let's just leave the gentiles alone. God is obviously doing something there. This isn't our idea, it's God's idea. So let's just leave them alone.

Then they talk some more and James talks and they come to this conclusion that you see in verse 20:

"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood."

In other words - let's not add anything to them. Let's just tell them that after they get saved, they need to avoid idolatry and fornication. They need to stay sexually pure and stay away from idols.

Ok. So this happened. We have the record of it. We can see this theological fight going on here. What do we learn from it today?

I think there are four lessons that we should learn from this:

4. Lessons:

The first lesson is this:

A. Some things are worth arguing over.

There are lots of people today who call themselves Christians who absolutely refuse to take stand on anything. They say things like "doctrine divides" and they talk a lot about "unity." Their watchword is "don't ever make a ruckus, don't ever call foul, leave it up to God."

Can I tell you church, that might sound good - but it's a cop-out. It's totally unbiblical. In the New Testament, whenever false doctrine was taught - especially when it was something about salvation - it was war. The fight was on.

The book of Jude commands us to "earnestly contend for the faith once given to the saints."

Paul tells us that we are to "Mark them that cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine that you have learned and avoid them."

In several places he says about people preaching a false gospel "let them be anathama." In one place the Bible says "Don't even wish them godspeed." In other words, don't even give them a cordial greeting.

People don't like that. It doesn't sound nice. But make no mistake about this - it's biblical. It's all over the New Testament. You can either take a stand for the truth or you can be an unbiblical disobedient Christian. Those are our options.

And let me tell you - the world might not call that nice - but it's really the nicest thing you can do. When someone is poisoning themselves - they may not want to hear about it - but there is nothing nice about letting them drink poison. The Doctor in the third world country might not want to hear about anesthetic and hand washing - but letting him go on killing people isn't being nice.

We have to contend for the faith. Some things are worth arguing over.

The second lesson I think we can apply to today is:

B. You can find certainty in apostolic doctrine.

When the church had a problem they couldn't answer - where did they look? They looked to the apostles. They looked to the teaching of that special group of men that walked with Jesus and they got a definitive answer.

Now, we don't have a group of apostles that we can appeal to today - but we still have the apostles teaching - it's called "The New Testament" and we can still appeal to it and to the rest of the Bible to find certainty.

Let me tell you church - the very idea of truth is under attack today. People say things like "That may be true for you, but it's not true for me." and "It's not about the truth, it's about a conversation." Every cultural fight in our country right now springs from an attack on the notion of truth. And there are people who hate the idea of absolute certainty and absolute truth and absolute moral right and wrong.

But just pretending like something isn't the truth - doesn't make it stop being the truth. We have the truth church - it's right here. One of our baptist distinctives is that this book is "the sole authority for our faith and practice." When we take a question or a truth to examine it in the light of the scriptures - we are doing exactly what Paul and Barnabas and the believers did in the first century.

And we will find certainty here.

Two more lessons...

C. Whenever you add something to the gospel you destroy it.

I want you to notice that these false teachers - they didn't take anything AWAY from the gospel. They wanted the GOSPEL AND JUDAISM. But by adding Judaism to the gospel, they destroyed the gospel.

Do you know why that is? The gospel is about the grace of God. It's a free gift. It's not of works - lest any man should boast. It's all God's free gift and none of ours. Whenever we say "To be save you have to believe AND" Whenever we add that AND we destroy the gospel. Because the AND makes it stop being a free gift.

So the gospel plus morals is no gospel. The gospel plus works is no gospel. The gospel plus church membership is no gospel. The gospel plus culture is no gospel.

It has to stand by itself, as soon as we tell people there is something they must do ON TOP OF believing the gospel to be saved we fundamentally change what the gospel is.

And that brings me to my last lesson:

D. Salvation is by grace - and we have to guard that with everything we have.

I want to close by having you turn to another passage of scripture. This is a passage that most likely was written by Paul as a response to this episode in Acts. So this is talking about the same thing Acts is talking about. Look at Galatians 1:8-12

*"[Gal 1:8-12 KJV] 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. 11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.""

Church - the gospel matters. We've got to get the gospel right and we've got to fight for it with everything we have.

Maybe there is someone here this morning that's been hearing about "the gospel" but you've never had a time in your life when you believed the gospel and were saved by the grace of God....