1. A GENERAL CONFERENCE SESSION
a. What item was foremost on the agenda of what was essentially a general conference meeting of the early church? Acts 15:1–6.
“The Gentiles, and especially the Greeks, were extremely licentious, and there was danger that some, unconverted in heart, would make a profession of faith without renouncing their evil practices. The Jewish Christians could not tolerate the immorality that was not even regarded as criminal by the heathen. The Jews therefore held it as highly proper that circumcision and the observance of the ceremonial law should be enjoined on the Gentile converts as a test of their sincerity and devotion. This, they believed, would prevent the addition to the church of those who, adopting the faith without true conversion of heart, might afterward bring reproach upon the cause by immorality and excess.
“The various points involved in the settlement of the main question at issue seemed to present before the council insurmountable difficulties. But the Holy Spirit had, in reality, already settled this question, upon the decision of which seemed to depend the prosperity, if not the very existence, of the Christian church.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 192.
b. Amid the disputing, what were Peter’s comments on the matter? Acts 15:7–11.
2. KEY DECISIONS
a. What news did Paul and Barnabas report at the meeting in Jerusalem? Acts 15:12. What should we learn from the way James, as chairman, then applied those news into forming a resolution? Acts 15:13–21.
“The Holy Spirit saw good not to impose the ceremonial law on the Gentile converts, and the mind of the apostles regarding this matter was as the mind of the Spirit of God. James presided at the council, and his final decision was, ‘Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God’ (Acts 15:19).
“This ended the discussion. In this instance we have a refutation of the doctrine held by the Roman Catholic Church that Peter was the head of the church. Those who, as popes, have claimed to be his successors, have no Scriptural foundation for their pretensions. Nothing in the life of Peter gives sanction to the claim that he was elevated above his brethren as the vicegerent of the Most High. If those who are declared to be the successors of Peter had followed his example, they would always have been content to remain on an equality with their brethren.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 194, 195.
b. With what conclusion did the assembly agree? Acts 15:22–31. Why was it so important that even Gentile Christians should abstain from consuming the blood of animals? Genesis 9:1–4; Leviticus 3:17.
“The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question [whether to enforce the ceremonial law upon the Gentiles]. The ‘apostles and elders,’ men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches. Not all, however, were pleased with the decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the first the church has had such obstacles to meet and ever will have till the close of time.”—Ibid., pp. 196, 197.
c. When the time came for all to return to their respective fields of labor, what triggered a dispute between Paul and Barnabas? Acts 15:36–38.
3. NEW COWORKERS
a. What task did Paul soon undertake together with Silas, and who was the youth that Paul soon added to their company? Acts 15:39–41; 16:1–3.
b. Why did Paul feel impressed to go to Philippi in Macedonia? Acts 16:9–12. In what sense does this “Macedonian cry” echo down even to our day? John 4:35; Isaiah 6:8.
“All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109.
“God will accept many more workers from the humble walks of life if they will fully consecrate themselves to His service. Men and women should be coming up to carry the truth into all the highways and byways of life. Not all can go through a long course of education, but if they are consecrated to God and learn of Him, many can without this do much to bless others. Thousands would be accepted if they would give themselves to God. Not all who labor in this line should depend upon the conferences for support. Let those who can do so give their time and what ability they have, let them be messengers of God’s grace, their hearts throbbing in unison with Christ’s great heart of love, their ears open to hear the Macedonian cry.”—The Southern Work, pp. 16, 17.
c. How are we, in our busy generation, to be inspired by the way Lydia proved to be a blessing to the apostles? Acts 16:14, 15, 40; 1 Peter 4:9.
“Lydia . . . and her household were converted and baptized, and she entreated the apostles to make her house their home.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 212.
“Among our own people the opportunity of showing hospitality is not regarded as it should be, as a privilege and blessing. There is altogether too little sociability, too little of a disposition to make room for two or three more at the family board, without embarrassment or parade. Some plead that ‘it is too much trouble.’ It would not be if you would say: ‘We have made no special preparation, but you are welcome to what we have.’ By the unexpected guest a welcome is appreciated far more than is the most elaborate preparation.”—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 343.
4. WITNESSING BY EXAMPLE
a. Why were Paul and Silas cast into prison, and how were they treated? Acts 16:16–24. What did they do there? Acts 16:25.
“[While in the Philippian dungeon,] the apostles were left in a very painful condition. Their lacerated and bleeding backs were in contact with the rough stone floor, while their feet were elevated and bound fast in the stocks. In this unnatural position they suffered extreme torture; yet they did not groan nor complain but conversed with and encouraged each other and praised God with grateful hearts that they were found worthy to suffer shame for His dear name. Paul was reminded of the persecution he had been instrumental in heaping upon the disciples of Christ, and he was devoutly thankful that his eyes had been opened to see, and his heart to feel, the glorious truths of the gospel of the Son of God, and that he had been privileged to preach the doctrine which he had once despised.
“There in the pitchy darkness and desolation of the dungeon, Paul and Silas prayed and sung songs of praise to God. The other prisoners heard with astonishment the voice of prayer and praise issuing from the inner prison. They had been accustomed to hear shrieks and moans, cursing and swearing, breaking at night upon the silence of the prison; but they had never before heard the words of prayer and praise ascending from that gloomy cell. The guards and prisoners marveled who were these men who, cold, hungry, and tortured, could still rejoice and converse cheerfully with each other.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 75, 76.
b. What happened when Paul and Silas praised God in the dungeon? Acts 16:26–34. What does this teach us? Matthew 5:44–46.
“The apostles might have fled when the earthquake opened their prison doors and loosened their fetters; but that would have been an acknowledgment that they were criminals, which would have been a disgrace to the gospel of Christ. . . .
“The Philippians could but acknowledge the nobility and generosity of the apostles in their course of action, especially in forbearing to appeal to a higher power against the magistrates who had persecuted them. The news of their unjust imprisonment and miraculous deliverance was noised about through all that region and brought the apostles and their ministry before the notice of a large number who would not otherwise have been reached.”—Ibid., pp. 80, 81.
5. JOYFULLY BEARING FRUIT
a. Why did the apostles leave Philippi, though not in haste? Acts 16:35–39. In time, what was the fruit of Paul’s labors at Philippi? Philippians 1:1, 2.
“Paul’s labors at Philippi resulted in the establishment of a church there, whose numbers steadily increased. His example of zeal and devotion, above all, his willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake, exerted a deep and lasting influence upon the converts to the faith. They highly prized the precious truths for which the apostle had sacrificed so much, and they gave themselves, with wholehearted devotion, to the cause of their Redeemer.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 81.
b. How did Paul consider the Philippian believers, and how did he exhort them regarding the persecution they would face? Philippians 1:3–7, 27–30.
c. Like the Philippians, on what are we to focus? Philippians 2:5–11; 4:6–8. What testimony of Paul can inspire us? Philippians 3:7–11.
“The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the former rain, but the latter rain will be more abundant. The Spirit awaits our demand and reception. Christ is again to be revealed in His fulness by the Holy Spirit’s power. Men will discern the value of the precious pearl, and with the apostle Paul they will say, ‘What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:7, 8).”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 121.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Why did the Jewish Christians insist that the gentiles be circumcised?
2. How did God guide the assembly to correct the problem faced?
3. Even if we cannot answer the Macedonian cry, how can Lydia inspire us?
4. Why was the Philippian jailer and his family softened to conversion?
5. What attitude of Paul is needed in order to receive the latter rain?