Acts 15:12-21 :
All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. After they were silent, James answered, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations, to take out of them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written,
‘After these things I will return.
I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen.
I will again build its ruins.
I will set it up,
That the rest of men may seek after the Lord;
All the Gentiles who are called by my name,
Says the Lord, who does all these things.
All his works are known to God from eternity.’
“Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
The problem about whether the Gentiles should follow the Law of Moses was pretty much settled at this point. The Gentiles didn’t have to do it. James came up with an idea that they should be asked to follow a few rules, however.
It is clear from what had been said so far that God didn’t expect the Gentiles to have to follow the law, but, it was a time of transition and there were many people who had a difficult time separating evil from certain practices. There may not be anything wrong with eating meat sacrificed to an idol, but, some people may believe in their heart that doing so is an act of willing defiance against the God of Moses. I think that this is what James is talking about when he mentions the fact that “Moses… has in every city those who preach him.” People were aware, to some extent, what the God of Moses was like and that He didn’t like any other gods. Certain acts, like eating food of “gods,” could be personal acts of sin against this God of Moses even if it is no longer a sin on its own. If you do something as sin, even if it isn’t, God sees your heart and the act against God is still rebellion. This may not all be in this passage, but from other parts of the Bible, such as 1 Corinthians, I believe that this interpretation makes sense. I think that it was also important not to imply that it is now ok with God to do any lawless thing just because the Law is not a requirement for Christian living.
We know, however, that James is not telling the believers to follow “law” because he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to “trouble those from the Gentiles who turn to God.” It is good know, however, that freedom from “law” doesn’t mean that there aren’t any rules. The rules, the reasons for following them, and the penalties may be different than it is in “The Law”, but in God’s family there are always rules, just as there are in any functional family.