Monday, August 07, 2017

Paul Novel 5.1: Letter from Jerusalem

Finished chapter 4 last week. I usually take previous chapters down after a few days.
The next weeks were tense among the Christians at Antioch. The Christian Jews met and ate together with the Christian Jews, and the Gentile believers met and ate with other Gentile believers. Peter and the messengers from James did not stay long. Peter felt especially awkward. Had he done the right thing? It didn't feel right.

Paul of course met with the Gentile believers. He tried to convince Barnabas and Menaen to stop what he considered not only nonsense but a trick of Satan to divide God's people. Barnabas agreed that the situation could not continue as it was but insisted they needed to wait on word from Jerusalem. He had talked to Peter and made some suggestions. He was convinced James would agree with them.

Paul finally stopped meeting with them because he lost his temper every time. Barnabas finally told him that he was only polarizing the community against himself more and more.

Barnabas did meet with the Gentile believers outside of the evening meal. He tried to make it clear that he was only submitting to authority. Menander and the others understood, but it still hurt.

The church at Antioch would never return to the kind of innocent unity it had before the blow-up. There would be forgiveness to be sure. There would be fellowship again. But tracks of separation were set down that never completely merged together again.

And Paul pretty much determined that he would not stay in a place where the powers that be did not see what was so obvious to him about the gospel. He felt like God was using the situation to push him to his true calling. God was calling him to be an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was to the Jews. He did not say anything to anyone at first. He wanted to see what word would come back from Jerusalem.

And God had used the conflict to clarify to him that these sorts of works of the Jewish Law were irrelevant to the justification both of Jew and Gentile. God had already provided the atonement for sins through the faithful death of Jesus Christ. It was trust in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead that secured believers a right standing with God. It was allegiance to Jesus as Lord that made you a part of his kingdom. This fact put Jew and Gentile on an equal footing before God.

Word arrived back two weeks later with two men named Barsabbas and Silas. They brought a letter from James with the solution that Barnabas had proposed. Certainly the Gentile believers would need to refrain from sexual immorality. That one was obvious. Shouldn't even have been brought up--although Paul was quick to point out that Jesus had eaten with prostitutes, something that had steamed James at the time when he did not yet believe.

The other instructions had to do with how meat was prepared. The blood had to be drained--the animal could not have been strangled. And they needed to make sure that any meat that was consumed had not previously been offered to a god at one of the nearby temples.

"Wonderful!" Barnabas said. They planned a great love feast in Menaen's house for all the believers in the city, Jew and Gentile. Menaen was rather wealthy and so had a very large house. But they planned for eating outside the house if necessary. There was much rejoicing and great fellowship. The food was prepared appropriately and no meat was used to spare expense. Some Jews in the city already abstained from meat as a matter of conscience, so that they would not accidentally consume meat that had been sacrificed.

"It didn't have to be this way," Paul said to Barnabas. "Damage has been done." But at least fellowship had now been restored and the church was again at peace.

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