The Yoke’s On You: Acts 15
Back in the dark ages, I was a Boy Scout. I spent a few summers at beautiful, spacious, illustrious Camp Nile Montgomery, and did my fair share of hiking through the woods and hills of Arkansas carrying everything I needed for the trip in my backpack. It was heavy.
What was worse, though, were the weekends that some of us went out to backpack, which involved carrying everything we needed, while others were just there to camp. One group of us would be dropped off at a trailhead with our packs and the rest? They’d stay in the truck and drive on in. If you’re wondering, we did for practice, as there were some trips that you had to have a certain number of backpacking miles/nights to take part in.
When we had those weekends, there were always a few guys who should have been prepping alongside us but were not. They were part of the same program but had whatever reason for not participating in the full activities.
And they would heckle those of us who came hiking in some three hours after they had ridden in the rest of the trip. There would be the digs about how slow we had been. There would be the shots taken about why weren’t ready to do something else or the being sent out right then to gather firewood. There was the ever-present needling about how we should have packed our packs differently, what we should have done differently, how much better they would have done it.
Except for this one issue: it was all coming from people who refused to attempt it themselves. Sure, they had read the book. Of course, we had all read the book about how it was done. It’s just that some of us were actually doing it, while a few others were, well, not.
And the ones who were not? They were the most critical
Now, let us take that scenario and turn to Acts 15 (link). The whole chapter is of great value: here even the early church recognizes several important facts that have to be reinforced throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Not least of these facts is that one need not become fully Jewish to become fully Christian, but there are others as well. Here we see that there are moral imperatives for believers, even though we live “under grace.”
I want to focus on two points. One is properly in context, and the other mostly takes the verse, rips it from its context, and broadly interprets it.
One: in context, the Acts 15:10 points out the foolishness of expecting new converts to follow the Law to become Christians. After all, there was general agreement that the Law had been impossible to fully, properly follow in the first place. Why, then, would you look at the Gentiles coming to the church and say “You have to do what we never could”? Seems foolish and illogical.
Two: out of context, Acts 15:10 puts another important point out there for believers: those who never do have little business adding to the burden of those who actually do. That’s not to say that a nursery worker cannot instruct a pastor of the burden his hour-long sermons have become. Both are “doing” though they do different things. However, there is a tremendous gap between that scenario and the one that we often face: people completely disengaged but trying to dictate what ought to happen.
You know the person: always has an excuse why they cannot participate. They can’t do the food pantry; can’t help with the kids; can’t fit this in—but then tell church people that “church folks don’t do anything to help people.” Except that church folks do, that person doesn’t. Then there’s the pious one, who is even more frustrating. This one cannot dirty his hands with such things as garbage duty because “he’s praying” or, even worse, “he’s getting ready to preach.” Guess what, pastor? The bag’s got to go out, and you know that the slightly shorter ladies in the kitchen can’t lift it. Go get it, Th.D. boy. It needs done.
We must never put a burden on someone that we cannot bear ourselves. Especially if it is a burden we have been offered and we have declined.
Now, do not go over the edge here: the Word of God puts burdens on us all as believers and they are not optional. That’s the balancing portion of this passage: sure, we can’t put out the burden that we could not bear, but the Word of God burdens us to control our lusts, worship with purity, and live with grace. That’s not us, though, that’s the Word.
Today’s Nerd Notes:
1. We see a “James” as the spokesman of the Jerusalem Council here. It’s likely that this is James the brother of Jesus and also the author of the book of James. That’s uncertain, but likely. This is likely part of the development of the church as Peter and Paul and the other Apostles were apparently engaged in extending the reach of the Church. Some go, some strengthen. All serve.
2. Greek note: Along the way, the habit was to translate the Greek “Iacwbus” as “James” even though it is pronounced close to “Jacob(us).” The Jacob of the Old Testament is named the same way in the Septuagint. So, be careful looking for “James” in eternity. He may be going by Jacob like he did all his life.
3. The idea of addressing questions via committee has lasted to this day in the church. Many of the basic concepts of Christianity were fleshed out in the first major Councils of the church as the leaders gathered to examine what Scripture said and to argue about what Scripture meant. These choices were then reconsidered within local bodies of believers, called churches, and we see the long-range testimony of their effects. Many of the “bad decisions” that are associated with Christianity in general come from times where one person made a decision or issued a plea for action and no one put a check on his ego or power. Insulate the reputation of the body of Christ from anyone born with a sinful nature. It’s a necessity and what bodies of elders or democratic church processes do.