Acts 15:24 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,
Jewish Christians around the city of Antioch were taking it upon themselves to tell the new Gentile believers that they would need to be circumcised or they would not be saved. None of this instruction came from the Apostles, but it was simply the opinion of a few people. However, by sharing their thoughts — and doing it with “authority” they had disturbed a whole lot of people. What would it mean to be a Gentile and a follower of Christ? Rumors were spreading throughout this Christian community and it was causing quite a stir.
The Apostles had to get together and hold a council meeting in Jerusalem. From there they had to issue a decision, in writing, to be sent to Antioch. What you read above is a portion of the letter that was sent, apologizing for the unsettling rumors. Hopefully the rumors were put to rest by this communication, but as we all know, they probably were not entirely. Peoples’ feelings had already been hurt and damage was done by those who had been willing to speak for the Apostles.
These were good, well-meaning, Christians who were spreading the unsettling rumors. Without going to the authorities they simply surmised what must be truth and were willing to spread this around the community. They had never taken the time to consider the consequences of their action.
Unfortunately unsettling rumors continue to be a trend within Christian communities today. Sadly, we seem to be attracted to bad news on an unhealthy level. The twenty-four hour news cycle hasn’t helped this in any way, shape, or form. We seem to be drawn to hearing and sharing the negative. However, just as we see in the city of Antioch, this can have negative consequences on a community of faith and the effort to reverse the rumors can be great!
What are some lessons we can learn from this incident in Antioch?
1) Don’t speak for others unless they have given you authority to do so! We may think that we have heard something, or that something in particular is going to happen, but unless those involved in the process have spoken directly to you and have asked you to be a voice for them — don’t offer to do so! By surmising a particular situation you may actually be saying things that are disturbing and unsettling to many people and there may be long-term consequences.
2) Don’t act on unconfirmed information. We don’t know if it actually happened or not, but we might guess that there were those who went ahead and circumcised some of the Gentiles because they thought it was the right thing to do, without getting confirmation that it was! I’ve seen this happen in the Church when a well-meaning member goes to a new person and begins to berate them for certain behaviors. The person who is new in their faith, or simply exploring their faith is so hurt that they leave, never to return. The problem is that often people have incomplete information. They make judgement decisions based on what they think they see or hear, or what they would imagine the pastor would want them to do. Never jump to conclusions and don’t act on unconfirmed information.
3) If untrue rumors have been spread, you need to take action to clearly communicate the truth. The Apostles knew that this was a very serious problem that would need to be tackled. They went to Jerusalem and gathered together the very first council meeting. There they came to conclusions as a leadership team for the Church. After reaching a consensus they knew they would need to communicate their decision in writing to try and speak to the rumors. In their communication they were willing to admit that disturbing and unsettling things had been said, and that this was done without their authority. Then, after making that clear, they made clear what the exact instructions would be. There was to be no doubt in the minds of those Gentile believers! No one was to be able to come in and persuade them otherwise for they were to have the truth before them in writing.
May we not be found guilty of spreading unsettling rumors. If you don’t know the whole truth, and if you’ve not been dispatched to proclaim the truth, then don’t surmise you know what’s happening. These unsettling rumors can be very divisive in the life of the church and can unsettle the minds of the members. Instead, we are to have a spirit of unity. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another. May love for one another rule the day. Seek the best. Report the best. Put the rumors to rest!
Lord, please help me not to be one that unsettles the minds of others. Amen.