Read Acts 15
Focus on verse 5
Seems like there is always at least one in every group; you know, that person who is a nitpicker about the rules? If you you’ve never noticed this in the groups you have been in, it is likely because you are that person. Now, before you start getting defensive about why rules are important, let me add that I believe every group needs at least one of these folks. We need a Pharisee because we need to be reminded that life has rules. On the other hand, I would also suggest that there are times when rules need to be changed, and Pharisees find this difficult.
In today’s reading Luke records the first official council meeting of the church leaders in Jerusalem. The ticklish topic of the event was what to expect of the non-Jewish people who were being added to the church. How many of the Jewish traditions should they be required to follow? The big question of the hour was whether it was necessary for the men to be circumcised.
But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (v. 5)
So, the Apostles called a meeting and after much discussion they concluded that it would not be necessary to ask the Gentile believers to follow the Jewish customs except for a few points.
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. (v. 19-20)
It would appear, given the lack of commentary regarding any opposition to that decision that the believers from the party of the Pharisees agreed to go along with this amendment to the church constitution. As a result the church rejoiced and the gentile believers were encouraged.
The lesson I take home from this account is not just that sometimes God approves of rules being amended, but that God also approves of and uses Pharisee-like believers at times to remind the church of the rules. Jesus told His followers He had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Perhaps it is because He has fulfilled the law that we can know freedom from the law through Him. We often understand freedom to be the ability to do as we please, and in a sense Jesus sets us free to do just that, however, He also gives us a new set of desires, so that when we do what we please, we also please God. I believe this is what the Psalmist was speaking of when he claimed that God would give one “the desires of His heart” (Psalm 37:4). It is not my desires that God is fulfilling – it is new desires that He is placing in my heart. Then when He fulfills those desires, He is also fulfilling the desires of His own heart.
The only time we have real problem with a Pharisee-like believer, is when that person has not yet allowed God to reprogram the desires of his or her heart.