Problems. Humanely speaking, they are as inevitable as ‘death and taxes.’ Amazingly, some people thrive in an atmosphere of challenge and conflict while others feel crushed by it all.
Today, however, problems take on a new dimension: deeper, more frequent, more complex, crisis-riddled and chaos-laden. Leaders today, though often possessing above-average intelligence, are scratching their heads about what to do with the issues of the day. Even wise Solomon would be stumped at some of the global, economic, social and spiritual challenges we face today.
While some problems seem ‘unsolvable’ and ‘impossible,’ let us never forget that with God, all things are solvable and possible. If we are going to exercise sound judgement and leadership, we need to take our cue from the Word of God.
The early church, which initially was Jerusalem-based and 100% Jewish, began to spread into areas inhabited by the Samaritans and Gentiles. This was God’s will all along (Genesis 12:3; Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8). Yet with growth comes complications. The unexpected yet glorious windfall of Gentile converts to the Christian faith attracted problems in the form of unauthorised teachers.
They approached these Gentile congregations saying unless you get circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. Remember that circumcision was not the end result but a package deal to more rules and regulations. With circumcision, Gentile believers would be obligated to keep Sabbath, observe strict dietary requirements, and other parts of the 613 laws of Moses. These self-appointed teachers were demanding Gentiles to keep a standard that even Israel, with 100s of years of history, struggled to achieve.
In essence, the message to the Gentiles was that in order to be a Christian, you had to be a Jew first. This teaching caused great distress to the Gentile believers and threatened the integrity of the young church. A Godly solution needed to be found to solve this dangerous situation, before a serious rupture occurred.
The Council of Jerusalem gathered the Jewish apostles and leaders to determine what to advise the Gentile believers. Wisdom of the highest order was required. Fortunately, the Council succeeded and their was a Godly resolution of the problem.
Let’s look at the text and draw some problem-solving principles from it.
Acts 15:22-29 (NKJV)
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. 23They wrote this, letter by them:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment— 25it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
Principles of Problem-Solving:
1. Unity: The early church and the apostles gathered ‘in one accord’ (vs. 22, 25). When the decision-makers are united in heart and mind, solutions will be forthcoming. Remember the power of Psalm 133: unity brings anointing, blessing, and life forevermore.
2. Authorised men: People are the problem and people are the solution. The brethren from Judea who came to the Gentile believers with false doctrine were unauthorised. They were self-appointed and presumptuous. Rather than bringing truth, they delivered opinions and instead of edifying, they placed baggage and burdens. These teachers were ‘the problem.’ Yet, God also raised up ‘chosen’ (v. 25) ‘authorised’ and ‘anointed men’ to be the solution: Paul, Barnabas, confirmed (v. 27) by Judas Barsabas and Silas. These men risked their lives for the gospel (v. 26), so they had credibility.
3. Divine leadership: God is always the solution! Verse 28 says ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us ….’ With the crazy nature of today’s problems, why do we insist on muddling along, hoping to make the best of it, when we can be filled and led by the Holy Spirit? Jesus says that the Spirit makes things alive but the flesh in unprofitable (John 6:63).
4. Simple solutions: The solution that was offered to the Gentiles was disarmingly simple - they had to keep only four commandments, not 613!
5. Practical solutions: The recommendation to the Gentiles asked from them to abstain from four things:
A) Food offered to idols;
C) Things strangled; and
D) Sexual immorality. It couldn’t be more practical or simple.
6. Humane solutions: Problem-solving means lifting burdens, not adding to them! The apostles told the Gentiles they did not want to lay on them any greater burden than these four necessary, simple and practical things. When dealing with church matters, put aside the corporate mindset, which is obsessed with numbers and money, as well as the political, traditional, and/or religious mindsets. With a renewed mind (Romans 12:1-2), focus on what matters most to God: people and His kingdom. The former mindsets will use, abuse, and totally miss the mark. The latter. ‘kingdom-first’ mindset will be humane and nurture people to great fruitfulness. Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
What was the final result? The churches were encouraged (v. 31) and strengthened (vs. 32, 41). When this happens, growth and revival will be your portion.