The notes today are by Beth and are on Acts 21:17-26
“Christianity is the single fastest growing religion in the world. For example, in AD 100 there were 360 non-believers for every believer. Today, there are only nine non-believers for every believer, and only four of those non-believers are from unreached people groups. Today, at least 6,000 Bible-believing local churches exist to support each of the 10,000 missionary teams that will be needed to finish the task of reaching every people group for Christ. We have over 600 million Bible-believing Christians throughout the world.
Every day now the number added to the body of Christ worldwide averages 174,000 and 3,500 new churches are opening every week worldwide. In the 1980s 10% of Korea and 10% of Chile turned to Christ and over 10% in Indonesia – the largest Muslim country in the world. Indonesia is now over 25% Christian.” (www.thetravelingteam.org/articles/the-growth-of-the-church)
Yet again we see a real warmth and bond between Christians in this passage. This is particularly noticeable here because Paul and the Christians in Jerusalem have a lot of differences. Paul’s priority is preaching to the Gentiles; he is a nonconformist. James and the elders’ priority is preaching to the Jews; they are conformists. They were very different. They probably had some very different views. However, they greet Paul ‘warmly’ and call him ‘brother’. Paul is teaching us so much about how to “do” church. It’s not about whether we have the same views on creation or the end times, or Calvinism. What matters is that we love and worship Jesus and want to share the good news. Who we want to preach it to or how we want to preach it is inconsequential. It might not feel inconsequential obviously; when you have a view about how things should be done or if you’re working hard doing something for the Lord and someone thinks you should be doing it differently, that’s really tough. Working with each other can be difficult, painful even, but we need to be more like the Christians in this passage. We are brothers and sisters in Christ after all.
Paul spends time sharing the good news of what’s been happening on his travels and James and the elders spend time talking about the thousands of Jews who have accepted Christ. This is a time to praise God and to celebrate. What’s noticeable is that both groups give praise to God. They don’t put it down to Paul’s commitment – and neither does Paul, even though he is completely committed. They give all the glory to God. Above is a quotation from a website I was looking at recently and it really blessed me. Christians are suffering around the world and we need to pray for them but the church is also growing across the world, rapidly in places, and we need to praise God for this, even if it’s stagnant in the UK and most of Europe.
Despite the admirable way these Christians interact here, there are problems. The Jewish Christians think that Paul is preaching against Moses – he’s not – and they’re uncomfortable with it. James and the elders want Paul to make a gesture of living under the law. The Jewish Christians have accepted Christ but they’re finding it hard to leave the law. They were born under it and know that it was from God. James and the elders seem to have an understanding of the cultural and historical connection with the law and, as long as they accept Christ, they seem to work with it. I think we could learn a lot from this. How people “do” church and live as a Christian across the world is very different because we all live in such different societies but we have to show an appreciation for culture. What’s important is Christ and that he is accepted and worshiped.
However, there’s also a lesson to learn from these Jewish Christians too. They have accepted Christ and the freedom he offers but they’re binding themselves up in unnecessary rules and laws. Let’s remember the freedom we have in Christ and not bind ourselves up in guilt, sin or laws.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)
Give the winds a mighty voice,
Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Let the nations now rejoice.
Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Shout salvation full and free,
Highest hills and deepest caves,
This our song of victory,
Jesus saves, Jesus saves.