“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
“Farewell.” (verses 28-29)
There’s a phrase in this passage I’ve found endlessly inspiring, for years.
It’s motivated me as I’ve huddled together with the leadership team at our church time and again, seeking a clear sighting of vision that seems evasive, or struggling through a potentially explosive issue, or trying to unravel some unyieldingly perplexing crisis. This phrase gives hope.
This phrase is like the feeling I have setting out with my wife and sons on an hour-long hike through the forest near our home. If we go up through the trees, there’s an outcropping of rock on the mountainside that gives a birds-eye view of the whole valley. It’s spectacular. So, in the midst of sweat and upward climb, it’s the goal that beckons us on. Sometimes we’ve gotten completely lost! But the lookout’s still there, calling us to try again (*see the rewarding view in the picture attached to this post).
This phrase is like the lookout. It’s the goal I want to reach in the midst of sometimes taxing discussions. Even when we get bogged down, it’s worth pressing on.
Here’s the phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.”
I marvel that the apostles and elders in the church at Jerusalem got to this place. The issue they confronted was weighty. The Gentiles had received the grace of Jesus, but then the question arose as to whether they were also obliged to carry out the requirements of the Jewish law. The answer wasn’t at all obvious in those early days.
But they got to this rock-solid place: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.”
What “seemed good” was to simply embrace grace. Keeping the rest of the Jewish Law would not be required. The leaders in the church at Jerusalem, working through the issue, came to that glorious outlook. They saw the goodness of simply placing faith in Jesus. Yes, they urged the Gentiles to put aside sexual immorality. Yes, they gave them some food-related guidelines that would keep them from offending their Jewish brothers and sisters. But the key issue was resolved: salvation is a gift of grace received from Jesus by faith alone.
How did they get there? As they themselves indicate, the Holy Spirit was directly involved. But as these leaders met together, the Spirit doesn’t seem to have intervened with a prophetic word or vision. Rather, on this occasion, he made himself known through the discussion and openness of conversation in which these leaders engaged together. There was much discussion back and forth – presumably they were attentive in listening. Then Peter rose and recounted again his experience of being led to Cornelius’ household and seeing the Spirit poured out into the open hearts of that Gentile gathering. Barnabas and Paul also shared stories of God’s miraculous signs and wonders worked among the Gentiles. James spoke out, with wisdom and conviction, drawing on the Old Testament scriptures to give insight into the present moment.
In it all, the Holy Spirit made himself known. Those leaders thought through the issues together, listened closely to one another, honoured each one’s contribution, and then concluded that Gentiles and Jews, equally, were all saved by grace.
So they could truly write, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.”
When we find ourselves in similar circumstances of confusion and conflict and debate, may we so honour the Holy Spirit that we honour one another, listening attentively, weighing each contribution, and sensing the Lord’s direction.
Holy Spirit, give me ears to hear your direction. Help me to honour you by honouring my brothers and sisters in Christ, listening to their words. Amen.
Reflect: Are you willing to listen? Is anything currently in the way? If so, confess it.