The events of today’s passage caused “no small disesson and debate”! A big barney. It was a big deal. At issue is what is salvation? Are we saved by grace alone through faith alone, or are we saved by grace and works. The “Judaisers” who will pop up constantly in the rest of the New Testament want to add works to grace – specifically getting circumcised. They argue without circumcision and obeying the rest of the law you cannot be saved.
When Paul and Barnabus report how Gentiles are getting saved and filled with the Spirit, but some Pharisee background believers are really not happy. So a “council” is called to discuss the issue.
Firstly Paul and Barnabus tell them what God has been doing in v6-12. Then James gets up to show they are right from the Word of God. That clinches it. There is consensus over the doctrine of saved by grace alone through faith alone.
But then he adds some practical instructions which have caused difficulty over the last nearly two thousand years!
Some of the instructions are about holiness – abstaining fom sexual immoralty and idols. Others are about what most commentators argue to be harmony – avoiding strangled meat and blood. In the end Paul would say while the harmony issues are secondary issues and less important (see a previous post), but we go for harmony to be kind to the weaker brothers.
Paul and Barnabus are sent out again to Antioch to read the letter, which the church are happy with. Antioch becomes an amazing teaching centre and place to send out more church planting.
Then the passage finishes with another disagreement. John Mark has let Paul down and Paul will not give him another chance. Barnabus, the encourager, can still see potential in Mark. Paul & Barnabus split on the issue. Years later though it’s clear that Barnabus was right to give him a chance as Paul calls him a “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24). Near the end of Paul's life, Paul sends a request to Timothy from a Roman prison: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
So what do we learn? Primary issue of the gospel are worth fighting over. Harmony on secondary issues is important but less so. Conflict happens and sometimes can’t be resolved for a while. Different leaders will have faith for different people and that is okay too! It resulted on twice as many church planting teams getting sent out.