Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 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, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
One of my weaknesses is that my facial expressions too often portray what I am thinking. Sometimes someone is telling me some news and my facial expression is bursting with joy and amazement, like when I heard the news that a couple in our congregation who have wanted to have a family for so long are now expecting a baby. Sometimes though when the news is less encouraging, or is something that isn’t what I would have wanted or expected, well my face portrays my disbelief and on a number of occasions, I guess like many of us, I’ve heard that phrase, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger – I’m just passing the message on.’ In this passage we hear of the messengers that are sent from the Council of Jerusalem to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to communicate the decision made. Regardless of whether Judas and Silas actually agreed with the decision of the council (well, James, really) they now have a crucial role to play in fulfilling the unanimous decision of the church to send them.
First, Judas and Silas confirm the decision for the church in Antioch. By sending representatives, with the consent of the whole Church, this confirmed that this was a decision that the whole Church was standing by, not just what Paul and Barnabas wanted to see happen in their particular part of the Church family.
Second, Judas and Silas bring clarity of the decision for the church in Antioch. It would have been so easy for Paul and Barnabas to head back to Antioch telling everyone that they had argued well, and had won the debate. Paul and Barnabas would be seen as local heroes who had won a victory. I wonder whether part of Judas and Silas’ role was to bring a clarity of the decision – for when we are about decision-making in the Church it is not about winning or losing debates or arguments, claiming victory or being defeated. The only question is whether God’s will has been done – and so the letter makes no reference to Paul’s wonderful oration but simply that the decision made ‘seemed good to the Holy Spirit.’
Third, Judas and Silas are sent to further communicate the decision. I have on occasion found myself in trouble having written an email that has been read by the recipient with an un-intended tone of voice, or with a nuance that I wasn’t expecting. I have learnt the hard way that when a careful decision has been made, a difficult decision has been made, it is much better, and much clearer, if news is shared face to face rather than simply by letter or email. And so Judas and Silas are sent so they can tell the ‘same things to you’ as contained in the letter – so news can be shared clearly, with the correct nuances and with pastoral concern.
It seems to me that whether we think of decisions made by the Councils of the Church today or the messages we want to communicate to the world about Jesus Christ, we need those, like Judas and Silas, who are called to confirm, bring clarity, and communicate well.
Lord God, We praise you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. Thank-you for the way in which the Spirit moves amongst us as your people and Church. Thank-you for the Councils of the Church today and we pray that your Spirit would move in Church Meetings, Elders Meetings, Synod, Mission Council and General Assembly. Forgive us when our attitude is to win our point, rather than search for that which seems good to the Holy Spirit. We pray for all those that you have specifically called, like Judas and Silas, to communicate, bring clarity and confirmation of decisions made and in particular we think of our own Communications teams within Synods and Church House. Help us, Holy Spirit, to each take our part n communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our communities and throughout the world.
These things we ask of you Father, in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Rev’d Paul Robinson is the minister of the United Church in Rhyl.