In Acts, chapter 15, is the story of the Jerusalem Council, the early church first convening on the crucial question of how a man is saved. And we have been studying it now for two weeks, this being our third week, and we have learned how the apostles defended the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith plus nothing. And then having defended that, they entered into the area of fellowship. It’s one thing to be saved by grace, but are there any rules; if not in salvation, are there any rules to the conduct of a Christian in relation to other Christians?
And that really is the subject which we want to discuss today. But let me give you just a little background. Man, as you well know, from the time of Adam’s fall is separated from God. Every baby born into this world since the time of Adam’s fall has been born in isolation from the life of God; in sin, apart from the knowledge of God, communion with God, and the life of God. But God at the same time desired to draw men back to Himself, and so while man was separated in isolation and darkness, and lost, God set a plan in motion to recover man.
God’s plan was clear. It’s revealed in the pages of the Old Testament prophetically, it’s revealed in the pages of the New Testament actually, and theologically. And the question that ultimately really must be resolved is, if man is lost, and man is isolated, and man is in darkness, and God has a plan to save man, to turn off the darkness and turn on the light, to forgive his sin, to redeem him, to bring him back to Himself, the question is, how then does man appropriate that salvation? Granted that man’s got a problem and God’s got a plan, how do the two get together?
That is the basic question which religion seeks to answer. And the answer in Christianity is, “For by grace are you saved through faith; that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” The answer is this: God’s plan is appropriated by grace through faith, and that – in other words, God freely offers it as a gift; all you have to do is believe that He’s offering it, and take it. There is no works system, there is not doing this, doing that, doing the other, performing, being good, going through ritual, going to church, nothing at all like that.
Simply a matter of accepting by faith the grace gift that God offers. Now, because that is the crucial issue of Christianity – because if you miss that you’ve missed everything, because if you never get to God, then nothing else matters. And because that is a crucial issue, that was the issue first dealt with in the early church as it came to a pinnacle in the Council of Jerusalem. They wanted to settle the question of how is a man saved? How is a man brought to God? Well, the Jews had always felt – many of them, that is – that in order for a man to come to God, he had to become a Jew.
And part of the problem with Old Testament evangelism by Israel was the fact that they – rather than going out and evangelizing Gentiles, they only saw it as – Judaism as a kind of an isolated thing, and for any Gentile to come to God, he had to become a Jew. In the New Testament much was the same. Christianity was introduced, and faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation, salvation through Jesus Christ. But certain Jews - who came to be known as the Judaizers - wanted to make Gentiles Jews before they could be Christians.
It was like going to a Gentile, you’d say, “Now, I want to announce to you that God has a wonderful plan, and He wants to bring you into fellowship with Himself, and He wants to forgive your sins, and it’s all by faith in Jesus Christ, after you have become a Jew, and been circumcised, and abiding by all of the ceremonies of Moses.” Now, they wanted to lay this on Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had, prior to chapter 15, been all over the area of Galatia and Cyprus. They had seen many Gentiles come to faith in Christ.
Little churches had begun in those very areas, and things were really happening, Gentiles were getting saved all over the place. And these certain Jews of the circumcision party were threatened. They could see Gentiles dominating the church. They could see Gentiles overrunning the situation. And they had this nationalistic identity, and this ego problem about everybody having to become a Jew to get to God. And so, they trailed Paul and Barnabas, and started announcing to these Gentiles that “You’re not really a Christian, because you haven’t become a Jew.
“And you’ve gotta go through the ceremonial thing of being circumcised, and you gotta keep all the laws of Moses.” Well, there’s a conflict. You got a couple of people, Paul and Barnabas, telling everybody you get saved by grace plus nothing, and then you’ve got a trail of Judaizers running around, telling everybody you get saved by faith plus works. And that’s the issue that better be settled, because if we don’t have the right doctrine of salvation, then nobody gets saved, and if nobody gets saved, then God’s whole plan goes awry.
And so, the first council met to settle the issue. Now, we saw that the chapter began with the dissension. They were all convening in the city of Jerusalem - because that was kind of mother territory where everything had begun, and the apostles were there, and the elders of the church at Jerusalem –
and they were all considering the problem. And so, Paul and Barnabas spoke concerning their view, and then the circumcision party got up, in verse 5, and talked about the fact that everybody had to be circumcised.
And we’ve got to go back to those Gentiles and perform a medical operation, and then we’ve got to get them into the law of Moses, and you’ll never become a Christian until you become a Jew. And that was the dissension. The question was, do we get saved by becoming Jews, by going through certain rituals and certain works? Following the dissension, we saw the discussion, in verses 6 to 18, and you’ll remember that in the discussion, there were three major speeches, one by James, and one by Paul and Barnabas, and the first one was by Peter.
And Peter defended salvation by grace alone, apart from Judaism; and the way he defended it was in the case of Cornelius. He went back what must have been at least ten years ago, and said, “Don’t you remember” = in verse 7 – “that God a long time ago cleared this issue up. Cornelius was saved purely by grace through faith, God gave him the Holy Spirit, God purified him by faith,” it says in verse 9. And then he says in verse 10 and 11, “Why do we want to put law on these Gentiles when law has been a terrible burden that we can’t even tolerate?
“Why do we want to put a thing on them that didn’t even work for us?” Verse 11, “We consider that we have been saved by grace, so they have. Are we going to have two standards, one for us and one for them? We had law a long time; it couldn’t save us. We realized salvation came by grace. Are we going to ask law from Gentiles?” And so, Peter comes across really, then, with four great proofs for salvation by grace: past revelation - Cornelius was saved by grace alone; the gift of the Spirit - when God gives His Spirit, that validates salvation; the purification of sin - which happened purely by faith; and the inability of law.
And the crowd is stunned, and they’re silent. Verse 12 says they kept silence. Salvation in Cornelius’ case was purely by grace through faith. No works - God never told him to be a Jew, God never told him to get circumcised, nothing like that ever happened to him, or his household. That was followed up by words from Barnabas and Paul in verse 12, and they gave another reason why salvation is by grace, and that is because God approved of the message of grace. If you’ve got two guys coming into town, here comes Paul and Barnabas, and they say, “You’re saved by grace through faith.”
In comes a little group of Judaizers, “You are saved by grace through faith, plus you have to become a Jew first.” Now, you say to yourself, “Who am I going to believe?” And then, all of a sudden, you see that Paul and Barnabas are doing miracles, and performing signs and wonders, and you say, “God is doing that.” Look at verse 12. “They listened to Paul and Barnabas, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” What am I saying? I’m saying when you’ve got two messages, and God is validating one of them by miracles, that’s the one to believe, right?
And their message was grace and grace alone, and God validated that by miracles. And the Judaizers were talking about works, and you never saw one miracle attending the ministry of the Judaizers. God wasn’t confirming their work. And so, one of the great proofs of salvation by grace is the fact that that’s the message Barnabas and Paul preached, and God confirmed it with miracles, proving that this was truly His message. And the last proof was the statement of James, in verses 13 to 18. And James simply says salvation is by grace, because the Old Testament predicts that Gentiles are going to get saved as Gentiles.
The Old Testament says nothing about Gentiles in the kingdom having to become Jews. It simply says in the Old Testament, the residue of men are going to seek the Lord, and all the nations who call on His name are going to be saved. God’s going to save Gentiles as Gentiles in the kingdom; why can’t you let Him save Gentiles as Gentiles now? I mean, the kingdom is the most Jewish time on the earth, in all of the history of man. It’s the most Jewish time there’ll ever be, when Israel will reign and rule and dominate.
And if at that time, God doesn’t demand that Gentiles become Jews to get saved, why should we demand it of them now? And so, the argument is very powerful, and the discussion closes. Then James states the decision, thirdly, and this is where we left off last time. Verse 19: “Wherefore” - which means on the basis of what I’ve just told you, and what Peter has told you, and what Paul and Barnabas have told you, that God has established the way of grace; on the basis of that - “my judgment is” - and we considered this; this is just a review - “my judgment is, that we trouble not them, who from among the Gentiles are turned to God.”
Let’s not hassle them by putting law on them. They are saved by grace. “My judgment is” - the word trouble means to stand on the side of the road and throw rocks at somebody’s feet to hinder their walking. “My judgment is, that we not throw a lot of legalistic bricks in front of these Gentiles, who are walking the right path anyway. All that’s going to do is make them stumble. My judgment is, that we do not hassle them, by putting upon them legalism.” Now, that’s the conclusion, and believe me, that’s what the apostles agreed on.
In Romans 1:16, the apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto” - what? – “salvation…to the Jew first, also to the Gentile.” What is the power of God to salvation? The gospel of Christ. The Gentile doesn’t need to become a Jew; he only needs to respond to Christ. “If we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in our heart that God hath raised Him from the dead” - Paul says – “we shall be saved.” It’s simply a matter of grace, faith, not a matter of becoming a Jew or keeping rules.
Well, that took care of the doctrine issue, believe me. That was tied up in one great big glorious theological knot that could never be undone. Salvation is by grace and grace alone, and no man can add to his salvation by works. And we talked about that last time in detail. But listen to this: as we saw at the very close last time, doctrinal issues don’t always resolve heart attitudes. Now, Paul and Barnabas and all of them could have said, “Now, you Jews, you’ll have to realize that the Gentiles don’t have to abide by the Mosaic ceremonies.
“They don’t have to do all the little ritual things that you have been raised to do.” And then all of the Gentiles could have run out of there, and just lived it up. And you know what would have happened? The Jews would have been unbelievably offended. Why, in a community a Gentile could have realized he was free to eat pork, or he was free to eat a particular animal that still had the blood in it, and he would have invited a Jew over. And even though that Jew was free to eat that, because he’s no longer under the Mosaic law, in his conscience he’s not free to eat it, because he’s had too many years under the restrictions, you see?
And he wouldn’t be able to have the freedom. He would be bound by the laws that he’d been raised with, and it would be offensive to him. And in fact, it would almost be, in his mind, ungodly to do that, because he is so tied to a system of laws that came from God. And so, he would look at that Gentile, and he would think that Gentile was a weak Christian, that that Gentile was a violating Christian. And so, the doctrine was grace, yes; but for the sake of fellowship, the Gentiles needed to be careful, and they needed to watch some things.
They didn’t need to become Jews, but he gives them four things to watch in verse 20. “But we want to write unto them anyway, that they abstain from pollutions of idols.” The great dominant thing in the mind of a Jew, the offensive thing, was idolatry. This is the ringing theme over and over in the Old Testament: no other gods, no other gods, and God continually lambasted Israel about worshiping false gods. And so to the Jew, the whole system of idolatry was just a sickening thing.
And as I told you last time, he’s very - last time, very often a Jew would go to eat at a Gentile’s home, and the Gentile would serve him some wonderful meal, and the Jew would say, “Where did you buy it?” And he’d tell them he bought it at the back of the temple, at the meat market where the priests sell the stuff that’s offered to idols. People would come in and give some to the idol, and they’d have some more left over than they could eat, and so they’d sell it. And to a Jew, this was terribly offensive. Why?
Because he did not have - he was not yet free to understand that idolatry was inconsequential, in the sense that there was no idol there at all. He had been so raised to hate and despise idols, and so raised to think of them as false gods, and so much a part of the opposite, that anything that even smacked of idols was terribly offensive. And so, he couldn’t freely eat this. So, the question comes up, even though we’re free, and we’re under grace, and we don’t need to keep the Mosaic ceremony, we still better watch a few things, or we’ll lose our testimony to our Jewish brothers.
And beyond that, you’ll lose your testimony to unbelieving Jews. So, he says, “Stay away from pollutions of idols” - that’s foods offered to idols, and we dealt with that, remember, in 1 Corinthians 8? Paul says, “There’s nothing wrong with eating that stuff at all. There’s not one thing wrong with it. But,” he says, “if eating it makes my brother to offend, I won’t eat it as long as the world exists.” That’s the principle of caring for the weaker brother.
Then - and this is the statement that I think wraps it up - in verse 21, he says, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him; being read in the synagogue every Sabbath day.” In other words, remember that Moses is still being studied, and Moses is still being read, and many of these Jews are still under the instruction of Moses, and they’re not yet able to make that cut in their minds and be free. Then he says, “Stay away from fornication” - verse 20. Sexual sin, and of course, Gentile idolatry was all wrapped up with sex.
And prophetesses were prostitutes, and priestesses were prostitutes, and temple worship in the big temples, like Diana and elsewhere, were simply orgies. And so the - James says, “We must tell them to avoid any kind of Gentile worship, any kind of sexual activity or implication that has to do with idolatry.” Now, let me hasten to say this: this is also a moral issue, and last week we considered 1 Corinthians 6, where it’s dealt with on a moral basis. It’s wrong to join yourself sexually to somebody outside of marriage, because you’re joining Christ to a harlot; remember that?
Boy, that’s a powerful statement. It’s wrong morally, but it’s also wrong in the sense of fellowship. Because in the Old Testament, the Jews had such a strict law regarding their moral conduct, and in fact, marriage as well, and Gentiles were marrying and unmarrying, and living it up, and Jews couldn’t handle that. And so, he says to them, “In conduct with the opposite sex, in your conduct sexually in general, in your marriage situation, be sure that you are not offensive, that you are not following Gentile patterns.”
It’s a moral issue, yes; it’s also a fellowship issue, because Jews can’t tolerate it. And then he says the third and the fourth thing. He says, “Abstain from things strangled, and from blood.” Those were dietary laws. There’s nothing wrong with eating meat with blood in the new economy. In the old economy, those rules were given to set Israel apart as a distinct nation, so they couldn’t get together. So that they couldn’t eat the same things, they couldn’t have the same schedule in terms of calendar days - they were all different, Sabbaths, and so forth, and so on.
They couldn’t get together, the clothes were different - God did everything He could to keep them separate. Not separate so they would isolate, but separate so they would be a pure witness. But in the New Testament, He’s putting Jew and Gentile together, so God rubs out all those things. Remember the sheet that came down in Acts 10? And the messenger said to Peter, “Rise, Peter: kill, and eat” and Peter said, “I’ve never touched some of that stuff. Lord, I can’t eat that. That’s unclean stuff, and the Old Testament forbids it.”
And the messenger says, “Call thou not unclean that which God hath cleansed.” That’s over, Peter. Jew and Gentile are one in the church. That’s the way God designed it, there’s no more clean or unclean. “Rise Peter, kill and eat, any of it, all of it.” So that ritual is over, but some Jews weren’t free. And the Jews had been restricted from eating things strangled, because the blood hadn’t been drained, and from drinking blood, which was a Gentile religious custom. And so, he says to them, “Don’t do those things.”
Now, watch. Why does James tell them to avoid that? Because it’s for their salvation? Does not drinking blood save you? No. Does abstaining from all those things save you? No. We are saved by grace through faith, that’s settled. But here is not the issue of salvation, but of fellowship. If the body is to be one, and Jew and Gentile are to get together, then Gentiles are going to have to restrict their freedom for the sake of the conscience of a legalistic Jew. And rather than some liberated person stand over in a corner and condemn somebody who’s under bondage to law still, and hasn’t matured to understand his freedom, you ought to love him instead.
We were talking the other day about the fact that you - everybody’s always talking about fundamentalists being intolerant, and the most intolerant people imaginable are liberals. They just sit off in a corner and damn everybody who’s got some standards. They’re only intolerant of intolerance as they view it. Now, we’re not under the law in terms of salvation. John 1:17 says, “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” We’re not under the ceremonial law. We don’t have to be circumcised.
God doesn’t say to me, “John MacArthur, you can’t eat anything that has blood in it, and you can’t do this and this and the other, and you can’t eat any meat that’s offered to idols,” etc. God doesn’t say those things to me. That’s not this economy, God’s not setting me apart as a special nation. God is blending all nations into His church. You say, “Well, does that mean I’m not under the law?” Romans 6 says you’re dead to the law. “The law has no more” - what? – “dominion over you.” You say, “Well, does that mean that now that I’m in grace; I can just do whatever I want to do? Isn’t there anything that governs me?”
And some people, you’d think that that’s really what was true. Some people think, “Well, I’m saved. I’ll just go do what I want. Once in a point of time I got saved. It’s grace, grace, grace. Whee” - you know – “here we go.” That isn’t how it works. You know, there have always been laws? I don’t know if you ever thought of it this way, but even in innocence, there was one law. Before the fall, Adam and Eve in the garden - beautiful, everything was pristine and pure, and everything was great, and God still had a law.
And the law was, “There’s a tree over there; don’t touch it.” Every man who ever lived on the earth was under some kind of law from God, some kind of rule. And then, after that, God wrote the law that He wanted in the conscience of man, and God’s law was in man’s conscience. And then, God used government to be His law-giver, and government was given the control of man, and government was even given the right to take a life to punish. And then, in the Old Testament, came the Mosaic law, and men were subjected to it, and then, in the kingdom - have you ever thought about this?
That in the kingdom, the perfect age, Isaiah 2:3 says, “The law shall go forth out of Zion.” In every period of man’s history, every man, believing or unbelieving, has been subjected to some principles. You say, “Well then, John, you’re saying that in the church age today, there’s got to be a law?” That’s what I’m saying. I am not under the Mosaic Law. I’m not under the Adamic law, to stay away from a certain tree. But I am under a law. You say, “What is that law?” That’s what I want to tell you about, and we’re not going to get any further than this, so just relax.
I got into this thing, and it was so exciting for me to just get some handles on this, that I want to share it with you. What is this law? Well, it’s called by several titles. It’s called the law of Christ. It’s called the royal law - oh, I like that - which means - in James 2:8, it means it came from the King, the royal law, see? It’s called the perfect law of liberty. Now, that’s a - that’s really a different kind of law. That’s a paradox, the perfect law of liberty. Jesus called it this: “A new commandment I give unto you.”
Now, the Mosaic law had a name; the Mosaic law was called, the yoke of bondage. And it was a tough one. Back in verse 10, we saw that Peter says, “Boy, I don’t know why we want to put on them a burden we couldn’t bear.” But the New Testament law is different. It’s called the perfect law of liberty. Now, stay with me, and I think this can be an exciting concept. Now, how can you have a law of liberty? What kind of a law is the law of liberty? It sounds like a paradoxical statement. Now, let me show you.
Now, I’m going to show you several passages, John 13 being first, verse 34; you don’t have to turn, just listen. Jesus said to His disciples, after He’d just washed their feet, and shown them His love, “A new commandment I give unto you” - how about that? Here comes the new law – “that you love one another: as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus said, “I give you a new law;” it’s the law of what? Of love. Boy, that’s different. You know in the Old Testament how the law worked? “Do this, or you will die,” you know.
And the average guy’s, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it,” you know, and it was a law built on fear. And they would make a sacrifice, and then they would sin again, and they would be under the gun again, and they would have to make another sacrifice, and they carried it out in fear of the consequence of not doing it. The Bible says in the New Testament, “Perfect love” - does what? – “casts out fear.” We have a new kind of law. I don’t serve God because I’m afraid of Him; I serve Him because I love Him. It’s a law of love. That’s only one dimension.
Now, go to Galatians 6. This is a terrific thought here, Galatians 6, verse 2, and here you have the phrase the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ? Listen. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Isn’t that terrific? You know what the law of Christ is? It’s get under a load when some guy can’t carry it, and help him. That’s the law of Christ. Go back to verse 13 of chapter 5, in Galatians. “Brethren, you have been called unto liberty” - isn’t that great? No more law, no more fear, no more threats; we’re free!
“Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” - what does that mean? Don’t misuse your freedom to turn it into license. Don’t take grace as an opportunity to sin. “But” - I love this – “But by” - what? – “love serve one another.” Are you ready for this? Serving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ: synonyms, all mean the same thing. The Christian is under one law, beloved, one law: the law of love. It’s a fantastic thing. Let me take you to Romans 13, because here it’s explained even further, in Romans, chapter 13, verse 8.
“Owe no man any thing, but to love.” You know the only debt you ought to owe anybody? To love them. That’s all. Watch. “For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” Oh, the old law said, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but it’s all comprehended in this saying: love your neighbor like you love yourself. Then he says this: “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”
You know, and I’ve illustrated it this way before, but it fits. In our house, there is love, and I thank God for that, and so we don’t have a lot of laws. I don’t need a sign that says, “Remember, do not hit your wife; remember, do not punch the children.” I don’t need laws like that. The reason I don’t need a whole list of rules is because the love that I have for those people precludes the necessity of writing out any specifics, do you see? That’s the law of love.
Now, in James 2, verse 8 - the most beautiful title for it that I love; two of them here in James, but one in 2:8 - “If ye fulfill the royal law” - I like that, the royal law – “‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ you do well.” What’s the law again? It’s the law of what? Love. Every time you find in the Bible the law of Christ, the royal law, the perfect law of liberty, and the new commandment, it always is the same thing: love. The Christian life, beloved, boils down to one thing, and it’s loving others, and that’s it.
Not circumcision, not ceremony, love. And I mean, when you love somebody, it alters your behavior toward them. The perfect law of liberty, and that of course is the statement in verse 25 of chapter 1, where he calls it the perfect law of liberty, James 1:25. And he calls it - I think it’s 2:12 – yes, 2:12, he calls it the law of liberty. So, the royal law, the law of liberty, the perfect law of liberty, the law of Christ, the new commandment, all the same thing: love.
And you know, it’s such an exciting thing to be free to love, and again, I have to think of my family in relation to this, but I take care of my family. I try to meet their needs. If they have something they need, I try to supply that. If they need discipline, I discipline them. If they’re sorrowing, and they’re hurting, and there’s pain, and tears, I comfort them. And I don’t feel like “You must comfort your children, because that’s one of the rules.” I don’t feel like that at all. When they hurt, I hurt. When they have needs, I try to meet their needs. When they need time, I try to give them time.
And it’s not because I fear; it’s because I love, you see. I’m not worried about God smashing me with some divine hammer. I’m only worried about the fact that I feel this tremendous draw to meet their needs. You know, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” - that’s love, and that’s the principle of the new life. You say, “Well I, I want to love like that, and I want to be able to do that,” and really, if your life is governed by love, you know, like somebody said a long time ago, “Love God and do what you want,” and it just about works out like that.
I told you one time, a long time ago, that every time I want to, I get drunk, and every time I want to, I steal, and every time I want to, I do a lot of other things. You know what? I never want to. Why? Because my love for God eliminates the desire for those things and captures me to other things. The strongest force in the world is love, believe it; believe it. Man, you remember back when you first were courting your wife, the silly things you did to be with her, and the crazy things that were going through your head, and you were absolutely dominated by this thing.
Love is a powerful thing. What men have done for the love of a woman, what women have done for the love of a man, what people have done for the love of a cause and a country, something they believed in; love is the greatest thing in terms of motivation. You say, “Well, I’d like to love. I’d like to have my life dominated by love.” And you see, that’s the liberty and that’s in law, to be free to just love and do what you want. I mean, if I love my child, I’m not going to hurt him; if I love my God, I’m not going to violate it; so I don’t need any rules, I only need to love Him fully.
You say, “Well, John, how do you have that kind of love toward God and toward others?” And I’ll give you two principles; and I could approach this from many ways, but here’s a couple we haven’t talked about. Galatians 5 - and this is connected with what we’re talking about, obviously, the law. Galatians 5:13 says this: “Brethren, you have been called unto liberty” - just read this to you, get it again – “use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
“For all the law is fulfilled in you loving your neighbor.” Now watch - verse 16. “This I say then” - do what? – “Walk in the Spirit.” You want to know how to love? You want to know the first principle of really knowing how to love somebody? Walk in the Spirit. You want to know, you can’t really love them with your love. The love of Christ shed abroad in you, and manifested through the walk of the Spirit, will do the loving. I’ll give you a simple illustration.
You know how you know that it’s Christ loving through you? When you love people you can’t stand, and can’t help it. Somebody says to you, “Boy, that person.” “You know, I love him; I don’t feel that way, haha,” you know? Amazing, see? That’s when you really know that it’s the love of Christ, and it begins with the Spirit walk; when your life in under the control of the Holy Spirit, then you’ll be a channel for His love. I mean, in Ephesians, chapter 3, Paul prays a prayer, and he says, “I pray that you would be strengthened by His might through the Spirit in the inner man.”
Then he follows it up by saying, “That you might know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” You’ll never know the love of Christ, you’ll never be dominated by it in your life, you’ll never have it pouring through you, until you’re strengthened with His might by the Spirit in the inner man. The Spirit walk precludes loving. Why? Because you can’t love in the flesh. It’s gotta be the love of Christ, poured through the Holy Spirit. So, to walk in the Spirit, and the walk of the Spirit is a day by day yielding to the Holy Spirit.
There’s a second principle, and we could talk a lot about that, but second principle: James 1, back to the perfect law of liberty. This is excellent information here for us. Now, beginning in verse 18, listen. Now, the key here is the word of God, the Scripture. “Of His own will begot He us with the word of truth.” We were begotten by the word. Now watch - verse 21. “Wherefore put away all filthiness overflowing of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your lives.”
Watch - we were saved by the word; then we are to receive the word. To study, to take it in, to absorb the word. But you don’t want to get stagnant, and verse 22 comes fast on the heels, and says “And then be ye - what? – “doers of the word.” Now, there is the cycle of the word: you’re born again by the word, the word is implanted in you, and you become a doer of the word. Now watch. When you do that, verse 25, you will see the perfect law of liberty operating, you see?
Then, “Whosoever looks into the perfect law of liberty” - the word – “and continues in it, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer, this man is blessed.” Listen, you can’t see the perfect law of liberty, and you can’t see it operate in your life, unless you stay in the book. There are two principles just connected with these two laws; in Galatians, walk in the Spirit, in James, stay in the word. You know, I was talking to those couple thousand kids last night down in San Diego, and I was talking about the fact that we talk about love, you know, and all the love of the brother, and it’s kind of a squishy sentimental thing.
It doesn’t have any guts to it, if you pardon the word. And it just doesn’t have any really solid, rock bed kind of thing. It’s strictly an emotional thing. We all sway, and hold hands, and sing, “We’re one in the Spirit,” you know, and then we go out and nothing has changed; we don’t know anything, see? We haven’t learned anything, and maybe we’re not walking in the Spirit anymore; we just feel lovey-dovey, see? And that’s good until somebody does something to you that doesn’t make you feel lovey-dovey. But love is not a feeling, love is a principle.
Now, if you don’t ever get anything else in your Christian life, but you get that, you’ve got something. Love is not a feeling, it is a principle. And it is a principle that says, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself,” or “Bear one another’s burdens.” It’s a principle. You may not feel lovey-dovey, but you may love by action, by deed. And so, the law that a believer is under is the law of love. You say, “Well, how does this relate to the situation in the book of Acts?”
Just this: that the converted Gentiles, even though they were free, and even though the Jews had tried to push off on them something they didn’t need, were not to come away antagonistic. They were not to stand up in their liberty and say, “Oh, you Jews are all wiped out. You’re all hung up on legalism. We’re living it up, up here, you old fundamentalists, you old legalists,” and all of this kind of thing. They were not to do that, and they were not to condemn; they were to love them.
And if they were to restrict their behavior from certain things to keep them from being offended, that was a good thing. That’s the principle of love in operation. There’s no cause for your liberty running wild, and that’s why, after they had established grace, they fast moved into the area of fellowship, and said, “But there are some things necessary for fellowship, and though God doesn’t restrict them morally, God wants you to restrict them for the sake of your love to one another.”
And so, if I see a brother who’s a legalist, if I see somebody who’s hung up on ritual or ceremony, it’s not for me to exalt myself over him, and mock him, and laugh at him. It’s mine to love him, and to get under his burden with him and help him carry it, and do nothing that offends him. That’s love in action. Now, this principle was hard-learned by the early church, and Paul dealt with it again in Romans 14. I want to show you that, and what he says here is so practical.
In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with the very same issue, and the church had a tough time learning it, because Gentiles who got saved tended to exalt their freedoms. And the Jew, boy, it was tough, the early church, the Jews were still tied to legalism, to what they ate, the way they dressed, the rituals, and the Gentiles were just living it up, and the Jews were just, they couldn’t accept that. You know what they thought? The Jew thought that a Gentile who exhibited his freedom was a lousy Christian.
That’s what they thought, because they equated Christianity with conformity still to Judaism, and with certain things. And when they saw this Gentile really winging it, his testimony to them was destroyed. They thought he was a terrible Christian. Now, look at Romans 14, verse 1: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.” Isn’t that good? It’s so easy to find a guy who doesn’t understand his liberty, and he’s tied up in some legalistic things, and to condemn him. “No,” he says, “open your arms and receive him.
“Not to argue with him” - verse 1 – “for one guy believes that he may eat all things, and somebody else is a vegetarian.” Big deal - that’s not a moral issue. If your thing is vegetables, great. If you come to my house, we’ll have vegetables, and love it. I’m not hung up on that. I don’t feel that I need to damn you because of Acts 10. If you have not yet been freed up from some past conformity, then I want to get under your load and help you with it, because that’s to show you I love you.
And besides, he says, “God’s going to judge,” and that’s the real issue, and he goes through all of that clear down through verse 12. He says in verse 12, just worry about yourself. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Don’t be thinking you’re going to condemn what another does. Let him do what his conscience guides him to do, and as he matures, he’ll get freed up from some of these things. I’ll never forget the time that I talked to a guy who used to be in rock music, and he was saved.
And he was into the drugs, the whole bit, the sexual promiscuity, the whole rotten thing, heavy, heavy, and he was saved. That guy couldn’t listen to any rock music without it conjuring up in his mind all of that whole dimension of life that he once knew. And he hated everything about it. And in fact, it was such a strong thing with him that much of the whole popular music scene was totally distasteful to him. Now, there may have been occasions when I might turn on my radio and listen to some kind of music.
There are some kind that I just won’t listen to, but there might be something that I might tolerate and might kind of enjoy, you know, lilting along in my mind, that would be totally offensive to him. For the sake of the love of him, my place is not to force him to listen to that, and condemn him for not being free. My place is to turn it off, and to show him that I love him, and let him mature in the time that the Spirit of God brings him to maturity, until he understands that there are some things that you don’t need to be quite so hard on.
But it’s for me to accommodate him, since I’m the stronger, rather than condemn him. And I love what it says beginning in verse 15. “If your brother is grieved with your food, you’re walking not in love.” See, if you have a Jewish group to the house, and you’ve gotta have pork chops, you are not walking in love; you’re not walking in love. Why would you want to flaunt your independence and your liberty? All you’re doing is hurting him; there’s no point in that. “Destroy not him with your food, for whom Christ died.”
Christ went to all the extent to gather him in. Don’t mess him up just because of your diet. Good heavens, what a ridiculous thing. Verse 17. “The kingdom of God is not food and drink; but righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit.” Now, I love verse 19. “Therefore follow the things that make for” - what? – “for peace, and the things that are going to build him up, edify.” “For food destroy not the work of God.” You know what he means here? For neutral, inconsequential things that don’t matter anyway, don’t mess up somebody.
“It is good” - verse 21 – “neither to eat meat, or drink wine, nor anything by which thy brother stumbles, is offended, is made weak.” You know, one of the problems of the early church was a problem apparently we still have today. People often ask me, “What do you think about drinking wine?” And this is a common question. Sometimes somebody’ll say, “Do you drink? What do you think about drinking wine? Well, is there a command in the Bible against it?” This is what they always say. “Does it say in the Bible you can’t do it?”
No. In fact, the Bible says Paul said to Timothy “Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake,” see. And they say, “I knew it, I knew it was there,” see? It’s there, and so you say, “It’s there. If you study it long enough, it’s all there, see?” But and then somebody says, “Well, of course, it wasn’t fermented.” Of course it was fermented. They didn’t have any refrigerators. How could they help it? They couldn’t keep it from being - it had to be fermented. That’s why the Bible warns against drunkenness, because it was so easy to get drunk on a hot day, ‘cause that was what they had to drink. It was fermented.
And people say to me, “Well, since the Bible doesn’t say anything against it, do you do it?” And I always say the same thing, “No, I don’t do it. I don’t drink wine.” They say, “Why, because you feel that it’s evil?” No, I don’t feel it’s evil. “Why don’t you do it?” Well, because there are some believers who would be very offended if I did. You see, there are some people that I know who used to drink wine, and then they became alcoholics, and then their lives were destroyed, and then Jesus Christ recovered them, and my liberty to drink wine represents to them a whole way of life that’s distasteful.
And you know something? Then there are some others, kind of supercilious, legalistic people, who think wine is an evil, evil thing, see? You know what? If they think that, bless them; I am going to not do anything to wound their conscience, or to grieve their spirit. I’m going to get under their burden and carry it with them, and I’m going to drink no wine as long as the world exists, lest my testimony be cut off in their eyes. And you know, this is particularly important for me. I recognized this morning that I stand in a place that not all of you stand in.
If I were to come up here and say to you, “You know, I’d like to announce that I drink wine a lot,” see? Some of you would go, “Good. Hey Martha, did you hear that, yeah,” see, you know? And the rest of you would go, “Yuck,” see, and you’d grab your ears, and you’d go join another church. I don’t need wine. Welch’s, Kool-Aid, Funny Face is plenty good for me. Because I’m not going to exalt my liberty to drink wine, and consequently lose my ministry in your life. And I’m not going to condemn you if you think it’s a moral issue.
If that’s your understanding, and you’ve been raised in a situation like that, or you’ve had an experience with it that it represents something evil to you, then that is set aside in my life, and you want to know something? I don’t do it reluctantly, I do it with joy, because you know what happens? I get happy when you get blessed. And if it means you’re going to be rejoicing, and you’re going to grow, and you’re going to know I love you, then I’m happy. And I wouldn’t destroy the knowledge that you’re growing, and that you’re sensing my love, just to do what I want to do.
People say to me, “Do you go to movies?” They, people ask me that all the time, you know? Or you know, “When you’re driving down the road and there’s a drive-in screen, do you look straight ahead?” you know. “What about on the freeway over there by Van Nuys Boulevard,” you know. people ask me questions like that. I suppose they want to know, you know, and they say, “Do you think movies are evil?” Well, I don’t know, I don’t say all movies are evil. Some movies aren’t evil; some movies are just there, you know. Walt Disney makes nice movies, and Tom Sawyer.
I was looking in the paper the other day and there was Tom Sawyer, a nice G-rated movie. I would probably just really enjoy Tom Sawyer, and you know, I was in San Diego - speaking of Tom Sawyer. I didn’t see him there, but I was talking to this guy, and he said, “You know, the other night I went to see Tom Sawyer. And he said, “Do you know what?” He said, “That movie got finished,” and he said, “a guy tapped me on the shoulder, been sitting right behind me. I turned around. Two of my pastors, right there in the theater,” see, you know?
I mean, the guy was - he couldn’t believe it. And I said, “Big deal, Tom Sawyer.” But you know, he said, “I couldn’t believe that my pastor would do that.” You know, isn’t that a strange thing, that for him to allow himself to do that, and to be able to allow his pastor to do that is something else? Frankly, I would probably enjoy going to see Tom Sawyer. But I’ll never forget one time when I went to see a movie. I went to see some earlier in my life, but I went to one particular time, and somebody saw me in the lobby, and just looked like they were aghast, you know, you know.
And you see, there’s a certain sense in which, in my position, though those things in themselves are not wrong - Tom Sawyer - and you know I know some of you would say, “Well, I go to the R movies for the philosophical content, hmm.” Sure, you do. “Oh, well, I’m analyzing them, huh-huh,” you know. But although there may be things that are not in themselves wrong, but are enjoyable, and and relaxing, and fun, and maybe even beautiful in scenery, and maybe lovely in music, and all of that, I have to be very careful in my life.
Because, you see, some people are always watching me, and it’s not that I wouldn’t want to go, it’s that I wouldn’t want to hurt somebody, and I wouldn’t want to eliminate my testimony in their eyes. I’ll never forget - I was raised in Philadelphia as a little kid, and Sunday was absolutely sacrosanct. I mean, Sunday you didn’t do any - you came home in your Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, and you sat on the chair all day, while the fan blew, you know, in the summer. And the paper stayed on the porch, and turned pale.
And I used to say, “Dad, could I please turn on a ball game?” They, always the Phillies or somebody were playing. Nope. No television, no newspaper, and my Dad told me as early as I was, early those years, he said, “We have to learn that for some people, that’s a desecration of what they consider the Lord’s Day. So rather than offend them and lose our opportunity to show them love, we abide by what they’ve set as their principles, and we enjoy doing it for their sake.” Believe me, brother and sister, to love a brother honestly is to be able to limit my life to the things that are going to cause him to grow.
And to believe that the Spirit of God in time will bring about the growth at the rate that He designed it. For me to tread all over the neck of my brother is not to exhibit the perfect law of liberty. Listen to what Paul says in summing up, in verse 1 of chapter 15: “We then that are strong” - that’s us – “we ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” - and watch – “and not to please ourselves.” You know, there are some things I want to do, I would just love to do them, but I don’t do them. Verse 2: “Let every one of us please his neighbor – now, look at this – “for his good to edification.”
Build him up, don’t tear him down, don’t destroy him. And then, this is just the cap stone, just absolutely beautiful. “For even” – I love this; you ready? “For even Christ pleased not Himself.” Boy, if He could do it. But you know something? In the long run, I get the most joy out of not doing what I would want to do, because I know in the back of my mind that thus I’m not offending. Somebody is growing, somebody is knowing I love them, and that gives me ultimate joy. And so, James said to the people that day at the Jerusalem Council, “You’re in grace, and you’re free.
“But there’s a law, a royal law, a law of liberty, and it says, ‘Don’t do those things that are going to offend your weaker brother.’ Get under his burden, help him carry it. Wait till the Spirit of God brings him to maturity.” You know, there are some friends that we all have that are mature, and when we’re with them, we have certain liberties. Not immoral things, but certain freedoms. And we rejoice to be with them, and enjoy and do certain things. And then when we move into other circles we conform to them.
You say, “That’s hypocrisy.” That is not hypocrisy. Paul said, “If I’m with the Jews, I become as a Jew. If I’m with the Gentiles, I become as a Gentile, that by any means I may win them.” I’m thankful to God for mature Christians with whom I can fellowship, and with whom I can share certain things. And I’m thankful for weaker brothers with whom I can fellowship, and restrict my life, and get under their burdens, and love them, and refrain from doing certain things for their sake.
What I’ve shared with you this morning is my heart, and I didn’t give you any way to run your life; all I say is that you want to do what you do with others in mind. And you let God teach you what that means.
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