It Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us
This passage relates to us the joy of the Gentile churches upon receiving the news from the “Council at Jerusalem,” as it has sometimes been called. And it was indeed joyous news. We must understand that what was at stake here was not just the threat of circumcision hanging over the heads of the Gentile men, or the inconvenience of having to adopt the onerous Jewish ceremonial laws, which not even the Jews were able to bear (15:10; Galatians 6:13). No. What was at stake was the very gospel of God itself, the good news that one can be saved by grace through faith in the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died and gave himself for us. It was this that the Apostle Paul fought so hard to defend before those who would compromise the gospel with some ceremonial, legalistic requirement that had nothing to do with the spirit of the man and certainly not with the Holy Spirit of God. The threat was to turn the grace of God who alone can save into a work of man who thereby adds something to his own salvation.
So with this news, the Jerusalem church writes a letter with the three conditions listed: to abstain from meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8, 10; Revelation 2:19-20), from meat with blood in it (something we have somewhat relaxed), and from sexual immorality which was rife in the Gentile world – and ours. (Wherever sexuality is discussed in the New Testament, anything outside one man and one woman in the context of marriage is strictly forbidden.) But let us note what is said in the letter they sent to the Gentile churches, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….” No doubt, the people of the churches gathered there in Jerusalem had different minds when they arrived to discuss the matter, and some might have been wavering as to where they stood. But what happened there was not a decree that came down from the apostles but a careful deliberation based upon Scripture, and, we assume, a prayerful attitude to be led by the Spirit’s guidance. Some went away dissatisfied as we know from Paul’s letters, but we still may rejoice at the resolution to which the churches came, and to which the Church ultimately came: We have nothing to add to God’s grace.
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. And then there was rejoicing in the Gentile churches “because of [the letter’s] encouragement.” The Church of Jesus Christ is always encouraged when we can say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” And this is hard work. It takes deliberation, an understanding of the whole of Scripture, and a sincere intention to confess sin, forsake our ways, and follow the Holy Spirit as he enlightens our minds.