Thursday, 30 March 2023
that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
Farewell. Acts 15:29
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The letter from the council just noted that there were “necessary things” that should be laid upon the Gentiles. Those necessary things are now listed, starting with, “that you abstain from things offered to idols.”
This thought responds to the “things polluted by idols” found in verse 15:20. It is a new word in Scripture, eidólothutos. It is a compound word coming from words signifying “idol” and “to sacrifice.” The idea is the slaying of animals to idols. In eating the meat from such an idol, it is as if one is participating in fellowship with the idol. As such, it is essentially what the fellowship (peace) offerings designated under the Law of Moses were for. Instead of to the Lord, however, it is to an idol.
This precept is explained and amended by Paul later in 1 Corinthians 8 and 2 Corinthians 10 where he uses this same word six times. Paul explains there that idols are nothing and so if someone eats meat sacrificed to an idol, understanding that the idol had no effect on the meat and it is just being consumed as regular food, he has not done wrong.
In his instruction, he brings this matter back to the thought of conscience. If one’s conscience is defiled because of the idol, he should not eat the meat. Likewise, if it would defile another’s conscience, he should not eat the meat. However, if it is understood that the idol is nothing and the meat is just meat, there is no defiling of the conscience. Thus, the meat is perfectly acceptable to eat. Understanding that, it next says, “from blood.”
The Greek simply says, “blood.” The word “from” is implied for the first clause. As for the word blood, this was the last item listed in verse 15:20. As explained there, the main intent of this was to have the people consider why they were drinking blood.
As the life is in the blood, such a practice is usually intended to assimilate the power of the one whose blood was being drunk into the person drinking. Another reason is idolatry where the blood of an animal that was sacrificed was consumed by the offeror as a way of fellowshipping with their god or gods. Hence, it was a part of the ritual of “things offered to idols” just mentioned.
Also, the shedding of blood has almost universally been considered a means of atoning for sin. This is seen in cultures around the world. But Christ’s blood is the only effectual sacrifice for the atonement of sin. This then is an object lesson concerning the nature of Christ’s sacrifice as much as anything else. After this, it next says, “from things strangled.”
Rather, it simply says, “strangled things.” This was stated in verse 15:20 and was a measure so as to not give offense to the Jews who would bleed out any meat that was to be consumed. To not do so would cause offense to them. Hence, it was given as a way of alleviating that. The list ends with “and from sexual immorality.”
Rather, it says, “and sexual immorality.” This word began the list in verse 15:20. It is a subject Paul refers to and explains in detail, explaining it in six of his epistles. Of these things, the letter says, “If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
Note that the council does not command these things, as if they were a matter of law. It also does not say, “You cannot be saved if you don’t do these things” as was stated by the Judaizers in Acts 15:2. There, they had said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
The council clearly understood the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. The word “repent” is not used by them, as if they had to “repent in order to be saved” as is falsely claimed throughout the world today. It is necessary to know what one is doing wrong before he can change his mind about what he is doing wrong. The council takes it as an axiom that they are writing to saved believers. Only now are they telling them what is good for sound living in Christ.
With these prescriptions laid out for the Gentiles, the letter ends with, “Farewell.” It is a word found only here in Scripture, rhónnumi. It is a perfect imperative literally meaning “Be strong.” As it is a perfect imperative, it gives the sense of “you have been strengthened and so remain strengthened.”
Life application: The council has written to believers who may or may not have previously received any of this instruction. Paul and Barnabas likely told them not to be sexually immoral. If they did, it is still unknown which of the other prohibitions they had previously conveyed to those they had talked to. And yet, these Gentiles were saved.
Suddenly, they are now told things that they may have not been previously told. Does that mean they were not “really saved” until they started obeying the precepts laid down by the council? Of course not! And more, if they decide to obey only three of the four, does that mean they will lose their salvation? Of course not. The council never even hints at such a notion.
The issue of salvation is not the same as that of learning what one is to do after he is saved. And yet, the categorical boxes are constantly overlapped by people during their evangelistic efforts. It is as common as shells in the ocean for people to tell about Jesus, explain that He died for our sins and that all we need to do is to believe that message to be saved, citing Ephesians 2:8, 9, and then to say, “And so you need to repent of your sins and He will save you.”
This is a huge problem because the person, at this point, may not even know what sins he is committing. In fact, unless he is discipled, he may never know what things he is doing to offend God. And yet, the person evangelizing him has just added turning from every sin in the person’s life as a condition for salvation. It is totally unscriptural, and it is not the gospel.
A person is saved by believing that Christ died for His sins, was buried, and rose again. That is what saves. The sin in the person’s life is forgiven upon belief. Now, after that has occurred, the person can start to learn what he has done wrong or what he needs to keep from doing.
For example, that saved person may have never had sex in his life. So, he doesn’t need to “repent” of that, meaning change his mind about fornication. But more, the person who led him to Christ never gave him a copy of the Bible and never told him that having sex outside of marriage is wrong. And so three weeks later, he has his first encounter with a woman. Is he saved? Did he lose his salvation?
Think this through. In such matters, one can only do what he is instructed to do. Keep the categorical boxes separate so that confusion in thinking does not arise.
Lord God, help us to never taint the pure gospel by adding to it. Rather, help us to tell people what it takes to be saved. And then, Lord, help us to instruct the saved about what it means to live a holy life in Your presence. May we do these things so that the people of the church are built up soundly in You. To Your glory, we pray! Amen.