“They have to keep the rules, just like us!” Yeah, that’s true. We should all be held to the same standard. But wait a tick, have you kept the “rules” you expect others to keep? I know it’s hard to get your mind to shift from “what should be” to “what is,” but that’s what our lesson requires today.
And there’s the rub, dear ones. But what if the purpose of the “rules” in the first place wasn’t about “keeping” them as much as learning from them? What if the “rules” aren’t “rules” at all, but wisdom?
Look at our lesson today in Acts 15:5-12:
IN THOSE DAYS, some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “it is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Here’s the first real crisis among the newly formed Church. And it’s a big one! In fact, this moment we are reading about today is the shift, the “tipping point,” that transfigures the early Church from just one more group of Jews who differ in theology to a Church that will spread through the whole world. In other words, this is a big deal! And it all has to do with identity.
Some said Jesus is a Jewish Messiah and anyone who follows Him has to keep the Jewish Law! Others said that this wasn’t necessary for Gentile converts. Peter has to set up some clear principles to deal with this conflict! After all, he witnessed the first Gentiles becoming Christians when he preached to the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his family.
Notice the principle St. Peter declares: “he (meaning the Holy Spirit) made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. St. Peter makes it clear: The Gentiles became believers and now you want them to follow the rules set up for we Jews even though we Jews were NEVER able to obey them ourselves! Peter makes it plain that the purpose of the Law of Moses wasn’t to make us follow rules as much as prove to us we will never be able to say to God “I’ve kept all your rules, now You have to let me into heaven.” We ALL need mercy. We ALL need to say moment by moment “Lord, have mercy.” AND we all need to constantly offer our lives, our daily lives, to God and ask for the strength to be Christian, and not just wear “Christian” like some label. After all, the Rules are Good, especially if they reveal to you how much you don’t live up to them and need to have God’s mercy. We should extend that mercy to everyone else as well.
Today, do you expect others to keep rules you, yourself, don’t keep? Do you expect that God expects you to make sure the rules are kept by others? Perhaps it’s time to realize I have more than enough to take care of in dealing with my own sins before I can ever judge someone else. It’s only by God’s grace I will ever be Orthodox on Purpose!