Tuesday, 11 April 2023
And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:41
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The previous verse noted Paul’s choosing of Silas to join him on his second missionary trip. Upon their departure, they were “commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” Now, that continues with, “And he went through Syria and Cilicia.”
The singular shows that the journey is currently conducted by Paul while Silas is merely there as an assistant. This is probably like Acts 13:5 where John was noted as their helper. This will continue in Chapter 16, noting Paul as the main subject. At times, it will say “Paul and his companions.” However, Silas will begin to take on a more prominent role, being noted alongside Paul, while in Philippi.
As for the region they are going through, Syria and Cilicia, those are, along with Antioch, the areas noted in the letter from the council earlier in this chapter –
“The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings.” Acts 15:23
As these areas are not where Paul and Barnabas had gone on their first missionary journey, and yet they are areas that had churches as evidenced by the letter and the travels of Paul now, it is probable that these churches were either established during the dispersion of the Jews at some unrecorded point or, more likely, by Paul.
If by Paul, it may be during the time when he had left Jerusalem after visiting the apostles as is recorded in Acts 9:26. In Acts 9:30, Paul returned to Tarsus which is in Cilicia. It was quite a bit later when Barnabas went to bring him to Antioch as is recorded in Acts 11:25. Therefore, during that period, Paul may have gone to the synagogues in the surrounding areas and spoke about Jesus, establishing churches that included Gentiles.
This appears to be the case as is recorded in Galatians 1:21 where Paul says he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” This can be also assumed because of the council’s letter which specifically addresses the Gentiles in those churches. It is evident that Judaizers had gone to those churches and countered the true gospel they had at first received.
Therefore, with Silas as a representative of those in Jerusalem, it was a wise time to personally go to those churches and spread the truth of the matter that had been resolved. Salvation is by grace through faith, and law observance has no part in one’s standing before Christ. It is this message they carried, “strengthening the churches.”
In other words, the churches had certainly been put into a quandary when the Judaizers had shown up and started teaching their false gospel of works of the law in order to be saved. Now, to shore them up and strengthen them, Paul had determined to bring them the true gospel once again, establishing that word with the authority and backing of those in Jerusalem.
Life application: Acts 15 has now come to an end. The main message of this chapter is not unlike the overall substance of the book of Galatians. But it is a message that permeates both Paul’s writings and the rest of Scripture as well. It is that man under law is at enmity with God but in the coming of Jesus Christ, there is grace.
From the first verse of the chapter to the last, this is the preeminent theme –
“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Acts 15:1
“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:10, 11 (Peter’s final recorded words in Acts)
Acts 15:23-29 provide the decision of the council, excluding any hint of law observance.
He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:41
Interspersed throughout these select verses is the constant theme that salvation is by grace through faith and that works of the law are excluded from the process of salvation. Stand fast on this precept and stay away from any teacher, church, or denomination that imposes some type of works as a needful requirement to be pleasing to God. Rather, God is pleased with faith in the works of His Son –
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28, 29
O God, how grateful we are for Your grace. Thank You for Jesus Christ who has made it possible for us to receive it by faith. Help us to never add to the purity of the gospel. May our deeds be deeds of faith because of who we are in Christ. Amen.