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Christians are better together. But unity is hard–so hard, that praying for unity was one of the last things Jesus did before he went to the cross. How can we do unity well? And maybe more important, how can we do dis-unity well? Pastor Luke preaches from Acts 15:22–41 in “Better Together,” the concluding message in his series “Signs of Life.”
Talk It Over
GETTING STARTED. What’s the worst controversy you can remember seeing in a church? How much of the church was involved in it? How long did it last?
EXPLORE THE PASSAGE. Read Acts 15 (particularly verses 22–41).
1. Using a study Bible, locate Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia relative to Jerusalem, where this first Church Council occurred. Considering the ease and safety of travel in Bible times, what do the distances say about the importance of what was discussed at the Council?
2. What can you tell from verse 22 and 25 about the Council’s decision- making structures?
3. Verse 24 says the Council is trying to help the churches by correcting a false impression, but verse 28 talks about not imposing burdens. From those verses, how much authority do you think the Council claimed over the remote churches? Why?
4. What impression was the Council trying to correct? (Consider 15: 24–29 in light of Acts 15: 1–2.) How would you restate the Council’s decision?
5. When the letter was read in Antioch, what was the result? What happens to the believers as a result of Judas and Silas’ speaking?
6. Who proposed the second journey? For what purpose? (Verse 36.) What did Paul and Barnabas disagree about? (See Acts 13: 13.)
7. How do you suppose Barnabas’ journey with Mark turned out? What did happen with Paul’s journey with Silas? (Consider verse 41.)
APPLY THE LESSON. 8. Based on Paul’s description in 1 Timothy 1: 15–16, was Paul being consistent when Barnabas proposed bringing Mark along? What sort of reaction might we have expected Paul to have?
9. “Barnabas” means “one who encourages others” (Acts 4: 36–37). From his nickname and his behavior in Acts 15, what kind of things might he have said to Paul during this argument about Mark?
10. Should Paul have let Mark come with him and Barnabas? Explain.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Monday. Re-read Acts 15. What was at stake during the Jerusalem Council? If it had gone the other way, what is one negative outcome that would have resulted? Can you think of any possible positive outcomes?
Tuesday. Read Matthew 18: 15–22. What should Christians do when someone in the church sins against them? What’s the easiest part of the process Jesus gives? What’s the most difficult? (Consider 18: 21.)
Wednesday. Read 1 Corinthians 5. What was the man’s sin? What did the congregation do wrong? How does what Paul writes align with the procedure Jesus gives in Matthew 18? (above) What is the goal of discipline in the church? (1 Cor. 5: 5) How should Christians judge people outside the church? (1 Cor. 5: 11–13)
Thursday. Read 2 Corinthians 1: 23–2: 11. Why did Paul put off his trip to Corinth? What are some ways you can tell when someone is ignoring a problem and when they’re being patient? Which do you do more?
Saturday. In John 17: 20–24, Jesus prays for a group of people. Who are they? How did they become his followers? What does he want for them? How will they receive it? When they do, what will be the result?
Bonus. What does your Bible say about Acts 15: 34? Does it have a footnote?