August 2, 2019
The Acts of the Lord
The Great Commission Isn't All We Have
With the Great Commission the new "fishers of men" were not given a blueprint to use. The "nations"--gentiles--were unclean to these Jews, who were following the holiness code of the Mosaic Law. Recall that the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate, "but they themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled." (John 18:28)
In the eyes of observant Jews like Paul, the Gentiles were living "in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness." (Eph. 4:17-19)
But Paul also discovered that the Cross made Jewish believers and Gentile believers "both one, and has broken down the wall of hostility," so that Gentile believers are now "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." (Eph. 2:14, 19)
But that wall of hostility did not come down quickly. The pious Jewish disciples, with a faith in Jesus, who had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, faced an unclean gentile world: uncircumcised Greeks and Romans, plus barbarians-Scythians and Celts. How could they become one with such as these?
It took a divine shove. It took an angel's message to Cornelius and a divine command to Peter for him to visit Cornelius. Peter said to him, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit" a Gentile.
But God had also told Peter to "not call any man common or unclean." So, Peter preached the gospel to these gentiles. While he spoke, the Holy Spirit suddenly fell upon them. Response? "Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these [gentiles] who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47)
If gentiles can become members of God's household, don't they first need to be circumcised? Paul was sent from Antioch to pose that question to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem. It was debated and settled. No, they need not be circumcised.
Paul was given a letter explaining this decision to share with Antioch's Christians. After doing so, he traveled to Derbe and Lystra, where he had founded churches on a previous trip. There he found a disciple named Timothy. "Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:3)
Had Paul forgotten about the letter? No, for in the next verse: "As they went on their way, through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem."
The letter was clear that circumcision was not required. But it was not forbidden either, and between Paul and Timothy it was decided that Timothy would be circumcised. Why? Our only clue suggests someone was concerned about Timothy's acceptance by the Jews to whom they were going. Luke didn't need to explain further.
The Book of Acts is not a blueprint for building the Church, but it unveils the synergy between God and man as the Church was built, which began when God poured out his Spirit on Pentecost.
Luke's book is The Acts of the Lord. His angel sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, after which "the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip." Jesus came to Saul on the Road to Damascus. The Spirit chose Saul and Barnabas for a mission; during a second journey the Spirit forbade Paul to preach in Asia, but an inspired dream directed Paul to Macedonia. The God "behind the scenes" certainly has a speaking and directing part!
When Luke joined Paul and Timothy at Troy (Troas), they crossed over to Macedonia. Not only Jews and Greeks, but Romans were being saved. The Great Commission was getting done.
We know the plan: "So there shall be one flock, and one Shepherd." The Shepherd seeks faithful servants to help, not take over. He didn't need to leave a blueprint with the Great Commission, for he said, "I will be with you always, till the close of the age," and "I will build my church."
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.