The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers was written after a meeting of the Jerusalem Council. Earlier in Acts, chapters 13-14 we read about God opening doors. Paul and Barnabas had been travelling throughout Antioch, Cyprus, Iconium and Lystra, preaching the word of God to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27 'And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles'.
At the beginning of Acts 15, we read that some Jewish teachers had come, and taught that in order for the Gentiles to be saved they must be circumcised in accordance with the custom of Moses. We see that Paul and Barnabas had quite some debate with the teachers, and that after this time Paul and Barnabas along with some of the others were appointed to take this question to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
The Jewish teachers were coming from a place of legalism, they were concerned with doing things in what they determined was the 'right' way. In essence they were saying that the only way for a Gentile to become a Christian was if they first became a Jew. They were disregarding what Jesus had done for them. Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ...
God was breaking down these boundaries!
Barnabas and Paul together with Judas and Silas are sent with a letter to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The letter explains that the apostles and elders have come to one accord and therefore felt it was good to choose men to send with their beloved Paul and Barnabas.
The decision made by the council set out in the letter to the Gentiles presents a united witness. The Gentiles are instructed that they must 'abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality'. Acts 15:29
Furthermore upon receiving the letter and after reading it 'they rejoiced because of its encouragement' Acts 15:31.
What strikes me about this scripture is that the Gospel is for everyone. Perhaps this isn't much of a revelation, but really stopping and taking time to think about this is important. There maybe some groups of people who think that the Gospel is not meant for them, that what they have done is just too awful, or maybe they think they are undeserving, perhaps they are ignorant to the word, or have chosen not to hear it because of a preconceived idea of who God is. There is no doubt that the letter is very clear about what the Gentiles needed to abstain from.
Our love for God changes us, it shapes our innermost being, we are transformed and find that we no longer want to continue in our sinful behaviour (I'm not saying that's always easy!). No wonder they rejoiced and were so encouraged by the letter, the burden that they had felt before had been lifted from them, they had been transformed through love.
Out of this conflict and challenging situation a unified church was emerging, a church that was for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike. I think this must have been such an exciting time.
It's also a challenge for us on how we resolve issues in the church today, are we willing to let ourselves be transformed, or do we hold on to what we think is right ?