“But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20).
I have always understood this verse in an absolute literal way and I think that was the intention of James and the others when they issued these guidelines to the new gentile converts. But, why those in particular? In our time praying to stone figures is not a big issue. In those days, however, idol worshipping was widespread. And what about the other guidelines? Do they carry any weight in our day? And if so, in what sense?
From Paul’s later writings it should be quite clear that these commands or guidelines are a compromise between the elders in Jerusalem and Paul. Paul was just as zealous in his fight against legalism as he had persecuted Christians before his conversion, but in this case he was willing to swallow a couple of camels for the benefit of all. It was evidently a compromise he could live with.
Since the Jewish Christian church was obliterated by the Romans in 70 AD the only church left was the “christian” church and the division between Jews and non-Jews more or less ceased to exist. Hence, the Law of Moses was no longer the big issue it had been. But, as we all know Legalism would continue to haunt the church and still does.
When I read this verse the other day I felt a prompting to examine these admonitions from a different angle than the literal. It was like the Spirit said: “There is more here than what meets the eye.” We well know that for instance the command to abstain from blood has resulted in all kind of absurdities. The following is hence an attempt to penetrate behind the veil and see the deeper meaning of these exhortations, as I felt the Spirit prompted me to do, and which then point to the deeper life with God in freedom.
To abstain from pollutions of idols points to that we no longer see ourselves as apart from God. The Spirit calls the believers to see God only manifesting Himself as us. Idols are whatever we consider to be our source or god, what we put our trust in besides God. Jesus said: Have faith in God. That’s it.
Whenever we return to the law we go back to our former husband. The Spirit says we are to abstain from such fornication and live freely in Christ. The law is not only the Law of Moses, but everything that is not of faith and which lay heavy burdens on our shoulders which we are not meant to carry.
We are further to abstain from everything that strangles life. That is whatever which infringes our freedom and life in Christ. The most subtle of these are our attempts to be good. Jesus quite plainly expressed that there is only one who is good: Our Father. To partake from the tree to knowledge of good and evil launches us into a realm of morality and ethics which leads to condemnation and shame and which further awakens a consciousness of sin.
To abstain from blood means that we abstain from everything that we perceive to be “blood”, that is things we believe will cleanse us including self-effort, self-torment, self-flagellation, self-accusations, false humility etc etc. Jesus’ blood is the only blood that cleanses from sin. He was the One who spilled His blood publicly which testified to His sacrificial death – the perfect offering. The law against eating blood was given because “the life is in the blood.” There is only One who is our life, Christ, whose blood we now partake from.