Acts 11: No Need to Argue

Why did you do it? (11:3)

That was the question the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Judea asked Peter about visiting and eating with the Gentile Cornelius and his household.  This sort of thing was not done.  God’s people are Jewish not Gentile, or so they thought.  Why would Peter of all people extend table fellowship to uncircumcised and therefore unclean Gentiles?

So Peter tells them his story.  I am amazed at how it ends.

“As I [Peter] began to speak, the holy spirit fell on them, just as the spirit did on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.’  “So, then,” Peter concluded, “if God gave them the same gift as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was I to stand in the way of God?”  When they [the Judean brothers and sisters] heard this, they had nothing more to say.  They praised God. (11:15-18)

It sounds so easy.  Everything was so clear-cut for them all: We Jews had this experience.  Then those Gentiles did too.  So that confirms God’s will here.  Nothing more to say.  Praise God for His generous grace!

When Christians today argue with each other over who is acceptable to God or not, I am afraid it is rarely that easy to resolve.  Each side has a whole litany of reasons why there is “more to say.”

It seems to me that the best way to explain why consensus was so easily attainable in this passage is that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” mentioned here in Acts 11 was manifested as speaking in tongues.  It did say in 10:46 that Cornelius’ family spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit “fell on everyone.”  Therefore, this phenomenon was immediately observable and objective.  They must have been thinking: We received this.  They received this.  That is how God works.  So, there is nothing more to say.

I am afraid it just isn’t that easy today.  How I wish it could be.  For many of us the tradition we come from does not believe speaking in tongues is still a common experience at salvation (or that it ever happens anymore).  Maybe we could point to the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life as a testimony to divine election and approval, but that is not completely visible, it takes a long time to develop, and even non-Christians are observably and objectively patient and gentle many times.

What I really want to say is maybe we just need to stop worrying about who is accepted by God and not.  Most of those debates involve groups of people who both claim to have faith in Jesus.  Maybe we should focus our attention on other matters, like those who don’t believe at all.  But there will always be people amongst us who would say like Peter did, “I can’t do that.  I have never done that before.  I don’t think that is right.”  And for those people these debates are very real and important.  I just wish the way to resolution could be as easy as what we are seeing here.

What do you think?

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Acts 11: No Need to Argue

  1. Michael Do

    Mr. Knight, I love what you’ve written here. I agree completely that if our biggest problems are that we are arguing amongst ourselves, then we really have greater issues that we are totally neglecting. Unfortunately, the importance of various things in the life of a Christian, no matter how big or small, will remain a big deal to some and those people will never relinquish those things. One of the things that completely turned me off to my relationship with God and the church when I was in high school was the constant bickering “people of God” that I constantly saw. I came to decide that differences are inevitable and that God’s purpose surpasses all of these petty differences.

    • Sounds like a good conclusion to me. Also a generous and sympathetic one. There are some for whom what we think is nothing, is something — and vice versa. I have been spending a bit of time in 1 Cor 13 the past week. I am struck by how Paul seems to acknowledge, like you are, that differences are inevitable. I find 1 Cor 13:13 so provocative: faith, hope, love still stand, but the greatest of these is love. Greater than faith? Is it more important to find a way to be loving to a person with which we disagree vehemently than it is to be right and draw a line in the sand?

      Blessings, Michael!

  2. Melanie Semore

    Mrs. Ruth French, a teacher of history for many years at Harding Academy, a much loved and greatly respected teacher, used to say, “I’m glad I’m not on the committee that decides who is going to heaven.” The unspoken corollary was, of course, “And in don’t believe you are on that committee, either.”

    I am so grateful for the wisdom and insight (and charity) in Michael Do’s comment. There is plenty of disagreement and arguing in the world without us Christians’ quarreling among ourselves while most of the world doesn’t even know Jesus.

  3. In our theology, vision have 2 meaning; vision of truth, and another one is vision of false (demon).

    Again, the same verse (5-9) repeated and Peter still refuse to take the bait. Yes, you may think this is the verse that make all animal clean. I don’t see that way, because Peter is pious man and fearful God, there must be a reason behind it that he refuse to kill it.

    v26- Christians name is founded by Antioch. New information for me.

    • Peter doesn’t interpret the vision as a message about eating food. He interprets it as a message about what people are okay to associate with and allow to become full members of the Christian community.

      • Jason,

        Are you talking about v5-9, because I try to read many time but I can’t get your meaning.

        The nearest meaning that I can get is this:

        Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

        11:1-18 The imperfect state of human nature strongly appears, when godly persons are displeased even to hear that the word of God has been received, because their own system has not been attended to. And we are too apt to despair of doing good to those who yet, when tried, prove very teachable. It is the bane and damage of the church, to shut out those from it, and from the benefit of the means of grace, who are not in every thing as we are. Peter stated the whole affair. We should at all times bear with the infirmities of our brethren; and instead of taking offence, or answering with warmth, we should explain our motives, and show the nature of our proceedings. That preaching is certainly right, with which the Holy Ghost is given. While men are very zealous for their own regulations, they should take care that they do not withstand God; and those who love the Lord will glorify him, when made sure that he has given repentance to life to any fellow-sinners. Repentance is God’s gift; not only his free grace accepts it, but his mighty grace works it in us, grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives us a heart of flesh. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.

  4. Courtney

    I love where Peter said he felt in his spirit that he should follow the men that came to call him. We don’t necessarily give “feelings” a lot of credibility these days. But I think that is part of walking with the Spirit. If we believe God has something to say to us, and we listen for it, we might just hear God talking.

    • I think you are right that we need to put more credence to feelings. As one who has had a lot of experience in recent years discerning feelings, what advice do you have for us about how to do that faithfully and wisely?

      • Honestly, I feel like I am in Kindergarten of the school of the Holy Spirit. But what I have learned about myself recently is that I have not had because I have not asked and believed at the same time. I believe the Holy Spirit can do all kinds of things, but I do not ask Him to very often. But when we are asking and believing, I believe we are able to recognize and discern His voice more clearly.

  5. “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd?”

    Of course we can rub shoulders in all the wrong ways, but it seems to me that in the context of evangelism that a comment like this might be a really good indication that you headed in the right direction!

  6. Pingback: Cornelius And His House Hold Conversion – Raymonds Christian Teaching

  7. “Nothing is unclean if God declares it to be clean.” (11:9)

    What is right and wrong? That is a common and usually complex question these days. I am totally cool with the first part. I will gladly accept things as okay if God says so. It is the “declaring” it so the I struggle with. What is God really saying he is okay with.

    Then later in the chapter it says Peter “remembered the words of the Lord” and he “concluded.” So it would appear there is a definite place for reason in discernment. Something to think about.

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