Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.
My heart is ready, O God,
my heart is ready.
I will sing, I will sing your praise.
Awake my soul, awake lyre and harp,
I will awake the dawn. (R./)
I will thank you Lord among the peoples,
praise you among the nations;
for your love reaches to the heavens
and your truth to the skies.
O God, arise above the heavens;
may your glory shine on earth! (R./)
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
As we have seen, after a vigorous debate the Christians in Jerusalem accepted what Paul and Peter had done, by welcoming gentile converts into the church. Both the decision of the Council and the call to love without limit are at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Some people reject all change as the opposite to fidelity. Yet the Jerusalem Council agreed that change was needed. They decreed that “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours too, not to lay any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary.” This term, strictly, indicates that there would be some relaxing of the rules; and it was a Spirit-inspired solution which resolved a crucial issue. If the conservatives had rejected Paul’s vision and held to their narrow view of church, the Jesus movement would have remained just a branch of Judaism, and not blossomed into what Jesus intended, a faith for the whole world.
Naturally, Christians of a conservative disposition disliked the verdict of that synod. They grumbled at the idea that traditional Jewish practices would no longer bind the gentile converts. But these would soon far outnumber the Jewish Christians and the torch was being passed to a new generation. The synod’s radical decision makes one wonder what kind of changes are called for in our church, today.
Turning to the Gospel, we see how Jesus calls his disciples friends, “I shall not call you servants any more.. I call you friends.” He makes it clear that each of them has been specially chosen: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you.”
It was his initiative that began this friendship with his followers; he chose to befriend them just as he chose each of us. And he tells us what is most personal to him, his relationship with the Father. His ultimate act of friendship was emptying himself on our behalf, laying down his life for us. He has given his all, but if this radical friendship is to bear fruit, we also need to do our part, to choose him as he has chosen us. To remain in his friendship we must love one another as he has loved us, befriending others as he has befriended us.