No close relationships are without some conflict. The test of a strong relationship is not whether there is conflict but how that conflict is handled. The same is true for the early church, and in today’s reading we see an example of how they handled a serious conflict.
Scripture tells us that “certain people” came down from Judea to Antioch with a message: faith in Jesus is good, but Gentiles must also be circumcised in order to be saved. This was no minor issue; at stake was the question of salvation! Must Gentiles add law-keeping to their faith or not? Paul and Barnabas, of course, sharply disputed this teaching. So the believers in Antioch sent them to Jerusalem for what is known as the first council of the church.
Apostles and elders gathered together to discuss the issue. In the end, they would decide that Gentiles did not need to submit to circumcision in order to become part of the people of God. Notice the reasons for that Spirit-led decision. First, Peter spoke of his experience with Cornelius. God had granted the Holy Spirit even to Gentiles on the basis of their faith alone. Why require Gentiles to be circumcised if God Himself did not require it for them to receive the Spirit? As Peter summarized: the means of salvation is the same for Jews and Gentiles—the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11).
Then Paul and Barnabas also spoke of the work of the Spirit among the Gentiles through signs and wonders. And finally, James corroborated these experiences with Scripture: “The words of the prophets are in agreement with this” (v. 15), citing Amos 9:11–12. That message was then delivered by a united church back to the Gentiles: faith alone in Jesus marks you as a child of God.