Sweet Fellowship - Acts 15:30-41

This is a sermon by Viv Whitton from the evening service on 30th December 2012.

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Acts 15: 30 – 41        'Sweet Fellowship....'
Introduction.
This last year has seen a a number of high profile equality cases which reflect the growing antagonism in our society to anyone holding biblical Christian values. Take for example the Manchester housing officer who was demoted for commenting privately that same sex marriage was a step too far – yet the thought police who promote this politically correct nonsense would do well to check out their Bible history for Christianity has been the most important agent of all time for promoting equality and justice.
St Paul – caricatured as a mysogynist – was central to the first major doctrinal dispute in the Christian church which brought together the first great council of the church in around xx AD . The outcome was absolutely clear gentile christians did not have to convert to Judaism for as Paul wrote later in unequivocal terms to the Galatian church 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, Male or female, slave or free. All are one in Christ Jesus'
This thinking was absolutely revolutionary to the Jewish mindset yet the principle was established and even if the institutional church subsequently ignored it and played politics it has fundamentally affected our society for the good.
This thinking was liberating to the new church at Antioch, for gentiles had come to Christ, yet inevitably some of the Christian Jews were uncomfortable, after all Jesus was a Jew and the thinking that one could socialise with Gentiles was anathema – The letter they received from the apostles in Jerusalem was short and to the point: no distinction, just be sensitive with regard to diet etc.. The church was on a roll, they took advantage of the two emissaries from Jerusalem who were gifted speakers and essentially had a convention Keswick New Wine the fellowship with like minded believers was 'out of this world', the teaching was brilliant – there was that sense of belonging and unity that characterises believers wherever you go!

What next? Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the churches they had founded on their first Missionary journey, but Barnabas wants to tak along Mark his cousin yet Paul won't hear of it because Mark had gone home in the middle of the last journey.They could not agree on a course of action – Luke diplomatically tellsus that the disagreement was so sharp that they parted company in other words there was a major row. Why? What can we learn?

1.    We can and should expect better from Christian leaders. I'm just so thankful that the bible is honest about failure. Leaders aren't perfect and events like this are sadly too common.
2.    This sort of dispute happens when we least expect it – when we're off our guard. Remember devil roaring lion waiting to pounce typically just after a time of blessing like Christmas
3.    The issue wasn't some major theological or doctrinal dispute – it was a practical matter. Neither Paul or Barnabas were wrong in their assessment of the situation but neither would give way!
4.    Their judgement may well have been clouded one way or the other by the fact that Mark was a relative – churches are relatively small inevitable and good that many young people will fid a life partner within the fellowship – beware though of family ties affecting sound judgement of a persons capabilities or not as the case may be.
5.    How should this have been dealt with? Go back two chapters and we find the church leaders praying and fasting together – and the holy spirit spoke to them to set aside Paul & Barnabas for missionary service. This later dispute would have benefited from a similar approach, what an example it would have been to the church! Who knows what inspirational solution God would have brought to their minds if only both parties had been willing to humble themselves in that way. The outcome may well have been the same Barnabas home to Cyprus with Mark, Paul off with Titus to xxxx
6.    Were God's purposes thwarted by this? No of course not – He wanted to Bless the Cypriots and the xxxx's However I do believe that Paul and Barnabas missed out . They were in fact reconciled np doubt with some embarassment we later find Paiul asking for Mark to join him because 'he is a useful servant' and he refers to Barnabas as 'beloved'. And of course Mark authored the second Gospel!
7.    What conclusions do we draw from this?
1.    Don't put leaders on pedestals – they did and do all from time to time make silly mistakes. I've made my fair share – be prepared for reconcilliation whatever the cost.
2.    Remember that leaders are wired up differently – some are people persons, they have a pastoral heart, they recognise potential in people like Barnabas who nurtured Paul and then John Mark. No wonder he was called the encourager. Remember too that such people are sensitive and get hurt more easily than pioneers like Paul who had incredible focus and resiliance to see the gospel planted amongst the unreached – or as he put it 'where no man has preachedxxxx' Without the pioneers the gospel would not have spread. Today we ask who will be the pioneers to take the gospel to central asia and the middle east who will take the risks for the sake of the Saviour?
3.    God takes and uses both types a good team will have both types who, crucially, recognise each others strengths and weaknesses– all He asks is that we are sold out for Him
 

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