Daily Bible Reading for November 15, 2014, with Commentary: Acts 15-16
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Context: Today’s reading covers the first disagreement within the Christian church. Many churches throughout history have had some sort a disagreement. By studying this chapter, we can understand how disagreements in the church are to be handled. It’s AD 49, less than two decades since Jesus returned to heaven. What was the problem? How should Gentiles be saved? Many held the belief that salvation for Gentiles would continue to come the way it always had: by following the laws of Moses. It was the tradition. With Jesus, however, the rules, the traditions, had changed. Salvation is available to all, by God’s grace, through faith, as Peter had witnessed. After deciding the matter, the council sent a letter to many churches telling of their decision. They also sent out missionaries to spread the word. In the final part of chapter 15, we have a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about taking Mark with them on a second missionary journey. Paul had not forgotten that Mark had previously deserted them and did not want him along, while Barnabas supported bringing Mark. We do not know why Mark previously deserted them or even his attitude and behavior prior to this journey. This disagreement caused Barnabas and Mark to journey in one direction, while Paul and Silas journeyed in another direction. Chapter 16 begins Paul’s second missionary journey. As you read, follow along with the map to the left! Paul and Silas are joined by Timothy, who Paul insists is circumcised. Wait! Doesn't that contrast the previous chapter?! The answer to that question requires knowing the history of the region and the Jews. Timothy’s mother, while a Jew, married a Greek. In Greek law, the father dominated, the opposite of Jewish law. By being uncircumcised, Timothy was considered an apostate. Notice, Timothy was already saved when Paul insisted upon the circumcision. Timothy circumcision had nothing to do with salvation! Rather, it removed the stigma attached to him within the Jewish community. The highlight of this chapter is when Paul and Silas are thrown in prison for allegedly disrupting the peace of Rome by exercising a demon. Paul uses every opportunity he is given, in this case prison, to share the Word of God and live a life for Christ. Paul has the opportunity to free himself and the other prisoners, but he did not. This resulted in the salvation of the jailer and his family. Paul further demonstrates a life of Christ by using secular legal means to secure their release.
World History: Acts is not the only book of the Bible to tackle this difficult subject. Paul frequently addresses salvation by faith and warns against those who add on additional salvation requirements. As Paul mentions in one of his later letters, he eventually forgives Mark for his desertion, and even asks that Mark visit him while he is in prison!