As we study Acts 15, we see that the moral high ground becomes the servant low ground, and the challenge for us is how to adopt this servant spirit in all we do.
The theological argument of salvation by grace through faith alone (summarised in Eph 2:8-9) was decisively settled at the Council of Jerusalem, yet Gentiles were asked to agree to a compromise which prevented them from causing needless offence to Jews by abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. (Acts 15:29)
They could have argued it was up to the Jew to ‘get over themselves’ (in modern parlance) and simply let go of the issues. The dietary laws no longer had to be obeyed. Circumcision no longer had to be practised. ‘Get over it!’
But acting in love – the new moral high ground, so to speak – meant considering the needs of others and not using their freedom to indulge the flesh. (Gal 5:13-14, Phil 2:3-11) There is always a paradox at the heart of the Christian message, always a potential stumbling-block to our rational way of thinking.
It was hard for Jews to let go of centuries of rule-keeping to enter into the new covenant made by Jesus. It was hard for Gentiles to learn to embrace a faith built on centuries of revelation and tradition. Both sides had to compromise, and the principle behind the compromise, strangely enough, was not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but servant love.
Jesus repeatedly taught that ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’ (Matt 20:26, Mark 10:43), demonstrating this visually by taking the basin and towel and washing His disciples’ feet, even though He was their Lord and Teacher. (John 13:1-17) If we stand arrogantly proud of our theological stance, we risk missing the point entirely. The early church navigated the storms of disagreement and dispute not through division and disunity but by mutual respect and servant love. Can we do the same?