If I were to title this study/post I would call it, "The problem of legalism and the profitability of teachability".  This title is what happens in Acts 11:1-18.  In the first verse we something to be joyful about: the Gentiles has received the Word of God.  But a problem happens here.  When Peter returns to Jerusalem the circumcised group in the church criticised Peter because he had visited with uncircumcised people.  This was a problem of legalism.  The circumcised group believed that you couldn't be a true Christian if you weren't circumcised and that the circumcised could not have fellowship in the home of an uncircumcised.  The problem with this is that circumcision was a sign of being a Jew and not a Christian.  The circumcised group was wrong and legalistic.

Now, let me be clear here on legalism.  There does need to be a measure of legalism because it points us towards holiness, but when legalism gets in the way of Scripture and what God is telling us to do it is wrong and misses the mark.  In this situation, Peter was right because the Lord told him to go to the household of Cornelius.  Since Peter obeyed and went to Cornelius' home those who gathered became Christians and received the Holy Spirit.  We cannot get in the way of obeying God? 

I was pasturing a church where the elders were becoming legalistic about baptism.  The elders said that I had to do a baptismal class first before baptising someone who has come to salvation and wants to be baptised.  One elder said that we first had to see fruit before we baptise someone; to see if they will stay a Christian.  Is not obedience a sign of fruit?  In addition, where does it say in scripture that before we baptise someone we must do a baptism class and see fruit first?  It doesn't, only says to repent and be baptised.  Baptism is an act of obedience which shows fruit for the change that has already happened in the heart and mind of the new Christian.  The elders had placed a restriction on me that I had to let the elders know when someone was going to be baptised.  One week an adherent at our church expressed that he wanted to be baptised.  I had informed the elders that I would be doing a baptism that Sunday.  Unfortunately two of the elders had not received my message.  So one elder attempted to confront me before the morning service and after the service he had approached the person being baptised and apologised for the baptism being handled wrong.  This elder had made a mockery of baptism, the step of faith and obedience this man had made.  All because one elder had gone to the extreme of legalism.  This is the problem we have when we are to legalistic and attempt to withhold someone from being obedient to God.

We then see in our story in Acts 11 that Peter explains what had happen; from God calling him to go to the Gentiles receiving salvation and the Holy Spirit.  Then there is a completely opposite reaction.  The church praised God and had no other objection.  The lesson in this part is the teachability of the church.  When the church heard the story of what had happened they learned that they should not object to obeying God and praise God for the work that He did.

From all of this we learn that the church must not be legalistic to the point of causing people to disobey God and placing them in bondage to things that God has not established, that is, traditions of man.  The second thing we learn is that the church must be teachable so that we will remain in line with God's calling and direction; so that we love and obey Him.

We come to the chapter where Peter has his vision of the sheet of unclean animals being lowered down.  God tells Peter to eat and Peter refuses because he is unwilling to eat anything unclean.  God then tells him not to call anything common what He has made clean.  This was setting Peter up for what He was about to do.  Earlier we find that God had spoken to an Italian named Cornelius and told him to call for Peter.  The men Cornelius sent called on Peter and the next day Peter goes with them after God had told him that these men came for him and he was to go with them.  In verse 34 Peter says, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-35, ESV)  Peter learns that with God there is no partiality.  God wants all people to come to faith in Him.  Peter then preaches to the gathering.  Something remarkable happens here.  The Holy Spirit falls upon the people and they begin to extol God and speak in tongues (46).  These gentiles had received forgiveness of their sins and received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Peter's response then was to baptise these people right away. 

From this story we learn two things.  First, that one does not need to be baptised first before receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This is not a reason for not being baptised because we are commanded to do so.  It is our first act of obedience as a new believer.  The second thing we learn is that with God there is no partiality.  He wants all people to come to Him in faith, to receive salvation.  It doesn't matter what a person has or is doing that is sinful.  God doesn't expect us to change before we come to Him.  It is after we come to Him that He changes us and we turn away from sin.  So it doesn't matter if you are an atheist, homosexual, liar, thief, a thought to be "good person" or the most vilest of offenders in the world.  God wants you to come to Him in faith and confess your sin to Him, so that He will forgive your sin.

In regards to what we learn about the church: we do not judge the unrighteous (2 Cor 5:12-13).  That is God's responsibility.  Our responsibility is to love all people who are lost, present the gospel and treat them with love so that they may want to know Jesus.  We are not to show partiality to any unbeliever over another nor are we to do the same within the church.

We are skipping a chunk of Acts because it teaches some of what we have already learned about the Church.  The focus of this post is on Acts 9:26-31.  This is the story of Saul coming to Jerusalem and the church being leery to welcome him.  They were leery of him with good reason because Saul had persecuted the church heavily; with intense hate.  However, something extraordinary happens here.  Barnabas brings Saul before the apostles and vouched for Saul's conversion and it is upon Barnabas' testimony that the apostles accept Saul.  This is amazing because Saul was a part of stoning Stephen who was a highly respected man in the church.  For the apostles to accept Saul they would have had to forgive Saul.  Later the Hellenists where wanting to kill Saul.  When the church learned of this they sent him to Tarsus.

What we glean from this is that the church listened and accepted the recommendation of Barnabas, a respected leader in the church.  This shows respect towards those who are worthy of respect.  It also shows support and encouragement for the brethren.

There is one more thing to note in this section.  In verse 31 we see that there is a time of peace for the church.  In addition, the church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  A result of their walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit was that it multiplied.  When the church walks in the fear of the Lord and relies on the Holy Spirit it will always multiply.  Thus we, the Church, must take care of each other, fear God and rest in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Today I am looking at Acts chapter 6. Until now we have only seen unity in the church. We see that they had everything in common and they were in agreement over everything. Now we come to chapter 6 and we see a little disunity. The Hellenist widows were missing out on the daily distribution and some of the Hellenists made exception to this. So the Apostles called a meeting of all the Christians. This would have been no small task. Remember in Acts 2 that there were three thousand added to the church on the day of Pentecost.  By the time we come to this story in Acts 6 there had been multitudes added to the church. So there would have been a gathering of thousands, possibly even tens of thousands. As a result this would have been a grand assembly. The Apostles instructed the Church to choose seven men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom and then the apostles would appoint them to oversee the daily distribution (v3). The reason for this is that the apostles said that they needed to be devoted to prayer and ministry of the Word (v4). Then the apostles laid their hands on the seven men to set them apart for this responsibility.

Now we see the start of the forming of leadership in the church. However, this is not the elders or the pastors/apostles of the church. These seven men were the deacons. We do not see the term used here but that is what they are. In 1 Timothy 3 we see the word deacon used. The Greek word behind deacon is diakonos and is defined as one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master, a servant, attendant, minister 1a) the servant of a king 1b) a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use 1c) a waiter, one who serves food and drink.  So the position of deacon is a position of serving and fulfilling the directions of the church leadership (elders/pastor), not a role of directional leadership.  It is important for the Church today to understand that deacons do not set policy or direction for the church, that is for the elders (including the pastor) to do.  There is still a definitive standard for a deacon and it starts here in Acts with the apostles saying these deacons must be of good reputation and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  That is because it was still an important role that still needed Godly wisdom in order to fulfill the role.  These deacons had to depend upon God for fairness and correct distribution.  It is also important to note that there is not indication of a church vote for choosing the seven men.  They were instructed by the Church as to the qualities of the deacons and the Church recommended these seven men.  The apostles had the final say as they commissioned them to their role.  It is important that the deacons and leadership of the church to be appointed so that it is Godly men who are listening to God and obeying His direction for the Church.  This saves the church from having divisive and destructive people in the deacon and church leadership roles.

As a result of the wisdom the Apostles used in handling the situation we see two things happen.  The apostles are released to continue to pray and to the ministry of the Word through teaching the Church and preaching the gospel.  It freed the apostles to do the role that God had given them for the building of the church.  The second thing that happened was it brought unity back to the church.  This passage is a great example of keeping proper boundaries around the roles in the Church as well as dealing with conflict in the church.  It is sad that not all conflict in the church is handled in this way in many cases today.  Most conflicts in the church ends up being about personality and power rather than what God wants to happen.  The Church needs to wake up and be diligent to handle conflict and various roles just as we see handled here in Acts 6:1-7.  May we as the Church seek to be unified in all matters so that we can be focused on the work God has called us to do.