Acts 15:12-21: Listen!

“12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘listen to me. 14 Simon[a] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 ‘“After this I will return
    and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
    and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
    even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things” –
18     things known from long ago.

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.’” NIV UK

‘A wise old owl sat in an oak, the more he saw, the less he spoke;                                 The less he spoke, the more he heard;                                                                                   Now wasn’t he a wise old bird?’                                                                                                We need to train ourselves to listen more, and even to be willing to learn from people who see things differently to ourselves. I’m not talking about having elastic convictions. That would be a contradiction of terms. Let’s hold firmly to revealed truth. Certain things are set in concrete, but it’s good to be flexible wherever there is legitimate room for manoeuvre.

This was a challenging time for the Jewish church. Prejudices and presuppositions were being stretched almost to breaking point. How could Gentiles become a part of the church? Furthermore, how could they possibly gain admission without being circumcised? However, the willingness to listen to another viewpoint was key in what unfolded (12). As James says in his letter, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. God has given us two ears and one mouth which may be slightly more than a subtle hint. What’s more, He has created a mouth which closes and ears that don’t – unless we deliberately choose to shut them. What won the day at the council of Jerusalem was a willingness to listen, along with the recognition that God was doing something new (12, 14), and an understanding that these events were the fulfilment of ancient prophecy (15-18). The only things asked of the new Gentile believers (19-21) were as a loving concession to enable table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles in the church. There’s a place for compromise for the sake of harmonious relationships, so long as we are not compromising key truth.