Scripture Acts 15:19-21
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
- Contrast between “difficult” and the expectations that follow (and therefore neither difficult nor a burden)
- What is the purpose of verse 21 in this narrative about the debate over what the Gentiles must do?
- Vs. 21 is substantiation – moving from effect to cause. Because the law of Moses has been preached, these things must be observed
- How do the things James asks of the Gentiles in vs. 20 flow from the reality of the law of Moses being preached?
I have read this story many times – the moment when the first leaders of the church grapple with the question of what to do with these people not like us? people who have been seen as outside the circle of God’s covenant? James rules that the Gentiles need to be circumcised (whew!) and does not lay the entire law of Moses on them. But he does ask them to do these specific things (or to abstain from them). Why these?
Are James’ instructions a kind of basic ritual purity – not the whole law and certainly not asking them to submit to any of the law’s rituals. But to keep from those things that Jews would clearly see and find abhorrent.
Thinking about this for me and for today, I wonder what these things might be for today? Christian people sure don’t agree! Part of the problem in applying this particular part of the story is that the standard of “impure” is not really a cultural norm any more and Christian people have a wide variety of opinions on many of these things. I am not worried about food sacrificed to idols… but what should I abstain from doing to witness to my faith? What does following Christ today mean in terms of abstaining?
Lord of Moses, those who worshiped you in Moses’ and Jesus’ days sought to keep themselves pure. Lord, show me and my fellow believers how to do so today. Some things, like sexual immorality, are still boundaries you call us not to trespass. But others are not so clear and not so easy to discern. May the spirit of wisdom and love that stirred James stir me as a follower of Jesus and as one called to answer such questions for today in my ministry. Amen.