Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Acts 15:19 (KJV)
Trouble – Don’t trouble the Gentiles with the law, right? They don’t need this because they have Jesus! And so James establishes an edict stating that the Gentiles just need to adhere to 4 things: abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
That’s it, right? Just those 4 things. All the rest of the law is just too burdensome. So basically they can still murder, steal, lie, and give false testimony about their neighbor. No, that doesn’t sound right does it? Let’s take all this in context.
The Gentiles were being grafted into the people of Israel by their belief in Yeshua. They were coming to the synagogues during worship services and trying to partake with the Jews. But some Jews didn’t like this. In verse 5 we read there was a certain sect of Pharisees that believed in Yeshua, but wanted to maintain the established set of rules for becoming a Jew. These rules included circumcision. If you wanted to be a proselyte, you needed to be circumcised. And their argument is that only Jews could be saved because Yeshua was the Jewish Messiah. So the Gentiles would have to jump through a bunch of hoops so that they could be considered a proselyte and an established member of Israel… then they could be saved by the Jewish Messiah.
But the evidence according to Paul, Barnabas, and Peter was that these Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit without having to jump through all the hoops to be considered Israel. This is the debate here. They all knew the law of God was to be kept, and that there was nothing wrong with it, but at this point in time, the Gentiles were like babies in the Word of God. You can’t force all the rules of life on a baby – it doesn’t work like that. When a baby is born, they are allowed to urinate in their pants, spit up food, cry loudly in the middle of the night. They’re allowed to crawl around naked and not do any chores. They’re babies! As they grow, they are expected to start keeping various rules. They no longer cry in the middle of the night, or soil their pants, they eat properly, start helping out around the house, and even clean up after themselves. This is evidence of growth. And at this time, the Gentiles weren’t grown in the Word yet. There had to be an established simple set of rules for them to adhere to which would get them started.
The 4 rules (which are found in God’s law) were given to help them break immediate pagan practices. But, James states in verse 21, that they are expected to be in the synagogues every Sabbath to learn the rest of the law of Moses. It’s about growth, it’s about study and learning and drawing closer to God. And this edict was satisfying for the whole congregation – even for those Pharisees who wanted the Gentiles to jump through all the hoops first.
So where are you in your growth? Are you a new-comer to Yeshua, the Word of God? If so, just start out simple with the law of God. It’s about relationship, not a checklist. If you’re a Christian raised in a Christian house, and have known about Yeshua and the Scriptures all your life, then I’d recon you’re not new to this thing. This means you should have already learned the law by now and committed your life to the teachings of God so that you can help teach others who are new. Have you done that? Or are you still fighting against the teachings of God because they don’t fit your lifestyle? That’s like a baby fighting against the rules of their parents. The Apostles expected the Gentiles to learn the law every Sabbath, how are you any different?
The word trouble is parenochleō in the Greek. It means to “harass” or “annoy”, and is only used here in Acts. That certain sect of Pharisees was harassing the baby new-comers. Imagine harassing a baby today, and pushing them to do things that just aren’t possible to be done. It would seem a bit foolish, right? The point was to start simple, and teach them as they grew. The other half was the expectation that they would grow and become more knowledgable in the law, and more obedient to God.