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Applying the Bible as the apostles did

August 24, 2022
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Daily Scripture

Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 15:4-19

Genesis 17

9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants in every generation. 10 This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Circumcise every male. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it will be a symbol of the covenant between us. 12 On the eighth day after birth, every male in every generation must be circumcised, including those who are not your own children: those born in your household and those purchased with silver from foreigners. 13 Be sure you circumcise those born in your household and those purchased with your silver. Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male whose flesh of his foreskin remains uncircumcised will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.”

Acts 15

4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders all welcomed them. They gave a full report of what God had accomplished through their activity. 5 Some believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed, “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

12 The entire assembly fell quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles through their activity. 13 When Barnabas and Paul also fell silent, James responded, “Fellow believers, listen to me. 14 Simon reported how, in his kindness, God came to the Gentiles in the first place, to raise up from them a people of God. 15 The prophets’ words agree with this; as it is written,
16 After this I will return,
and I will rebuild David’s fallen tent;
I will rebuild what has been torn down.
I will restore it
17 so that the rest of humanity will seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who belong to me.
The Lord says this, the one who does these things [Amos 9:11-12]
18 known from earliest times.
19 “Therefore, I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles who turn to God.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

As Resurrection faces issues like same-gender marriage, we do not “discard” the Bible—we apply it as the apostles did. (We respect that some Christians read parts of the Bible differently.) Some first-century Christians thought Genesis 17:9-14 made it wrong to welcome uncircumcised Gentiles to the faith. But that didn’t deter Peter, Paul or James. Based on other Bible texts and Jesus’ example, the apostles said God was leading differently, sending the Holy Spirit to all who had faith in Jesus.

  • These readings are a useful case study because few Christians today divide over the issue of circumcision. After the Christian Pharisees (Acts 15:5) urged requiring circumcision, we read that James quoted a Bible passage (Amos 9:11-12) that said God wished to reach all nations. On what grounds did the apostles decide it was better to follow Amos than Genesis in dealing with Gentile converts (Acts 15:7-12)? What does their example teach us about how to apply the Bible?
  • Scholar N. T. Wright wrote of the Acts 15 decision: “This looks strongly like a way of saying something to the Gentile Christians out in the wider world while really saying something to the Pharisees back home: ‘It’s all right; admitting these Gentiles who have believed won’t mean a total collapse into idolatry and immorality; it needn’t result in chaos or church/synagogue disputes.’” * How can Christians today learn from the experience of those early Christians?
Prayer

O God, show me how to stick unswervingly to your eternal, loving principles, while (like the apostles) adapting them in ways that show your caring and compassion for all your human children. Amen.

GPS Insights

 Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar is the Community Assistance Coordination Director in Resurrection's Congregational Care Ministry. She is married and loves spending time with her family, and she enjoys writing and photography.

What does a Christian look like? In Genesis, God gave Abraham a covenant for all his male descendants to keep so that they would be physically identifiable, and identified by their willingness to undergo this process, in order to bear an outward sign of their covenant with God. For generations, that was what God’s people looked like.

Then God reached out to all people, through Jesus. Gentiles and Jews. Tax collectors and women, fishermen and thieves. Leaders who had jailed and terrorized Jesus’ followers. Roman soldiers and citizens. Foreigners. Children. As Peter said, “…we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:11) God’s people didn’t have the same identifiable appearance anymore. The people who are offered the chance to be saved by the grace of Jesus don’t look alike, think alike or act alike. The grace of the Lord Jesus saves us all.

So what does a Christian look like? Most important, how can I be sure that people see a follower and lover of Jesus when they see me? I could start by being someone who doesn’t “…create problems for Gentiles who turn to God” (Acts 15:10). I shouldn’t do anything, say anything, or act in any way that creates a problem for someone looking toward God for love, acceptance, help, or welcome.

Jesus said his followers would be identified by love. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). I know that every act of love, every kind word or effort I make to bring comfort and care to another person shows God’s love to them, and to others. Christ makes me welcome in the community of his people, and if I want to look like his follower, I will extend that welcome to anyone who seeks God, no matter who they are or who they used to be.

Jesus, please help us look like you so that we can show your love and grace to all people. Help us put away our prejudices, judgments, and fears and welcome everyone with your love and in your name. Amen.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* Wright, N.T. Acts for Everyone, Part Two: Chapters 13-28 (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.