Not a or b, but c – making wise decisions (Acts 15)
Have you ever had to make a really difficult decision, but were just not sure which way to go? King Solomon faced a difficult decision early on in his reign (1 Kgs 3:16-28). He was called upon to adjudicate on a matter involving two prostitutes and their babies, one of whom had died. Who did the living baby belong to? There was conflicting testimony from the mothers. At first glance, it appears that Solomon had to decide between the mothers – a or b? But Solomon discerns a third option – not a or b, but c, and he is commended for his wise decision; the living baby is reunited with his biological mother (3:24-28).
In our text today, Acts 15, the early church faced a difficult situation. In the historical context, the Apostle Paul had been preaching a law-free Gospel with God’s blessing. At this point in the narrative, we know that Paul is in the right. However, some unnamed believers from the party of the Pharisees oppose Paul’s message, arguing that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised and observe the law of Moses (Acts 15:1, 5). Given the religious context of the day that gave prominence to the Law of Moses, their argument gains traction.
The church in Antioch discerns the significance of this issue: Not only the truth of the Gospel is at stake, but also the prospect of a divided Jew/Gentile church if the matter is not satisfactorily resolved. The issue is discussed at a council in Jerusalem involving the church, apostles and elders. Once again, it appears as though the leadership must simply decide between the opposing parties – a or b? But after receiving testimony from the relevant parties and consulting the Scriptures, a consensus is reached by the leadership – not a or b, but c: Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be saved, but Gentile believers should be aware in their actions of Jewish sensitivities to the law of Moses (Acts 15:19-21). This was a wise decision that sought to preserve not only the truth of the Gospel, but also Jew-Gentile unity in the early church. When confronted again by a really difficult decision, biblical wisdom demands that you look for that third option – not a or b, but c. Such decision-making honours God and brings blessing to His people.