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God shows no favouritism
Sunday 25th April


Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:34-35 

 

Thought: 

 

God is not concerned with race, ethnicity, gender or status, God wants all to come to the saving knowledge of Christ.

 

Using the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and the writings of Paul to the church in Rome. I want to talk about how God shows no favouritism and by implication we should not either. 

 

Introduction:

 

Background to this passage, written, we presume by Luke, a companion of Paul, Acts begins with Christ's ascension in Jerusalem and concludes with Paul's proclamation of him in Rome. Its message is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit continuing Christ's work by Christians, and using persecution to spread the gospel from Jerusalem to the Roman world's political capital.

 

The book has some political and theological importance. The pivotal chapter (Acts 10) from which we begin to see the switch from Peter to Paul’s activities.  The switch from a church of Jews to an inclusive church for all.

 

Peter arrives at Cornelius' house following a vision he had of unclean animals being lowered from heaven to earth on a sheet and hearing a voice which commanded him to kill and eat (Acts 10:13). Whilst grappling with the meaning of this vision, a delegation from Cornelius arrives and invites him to come to his house in Caesarea. Peter, however, is hesitant to fellowship with Cornelius as he is a Gentile making it unlawful to do such, however Peter states that God has just told him not to call anyone unclean (Acts 10:28).

 

Historically Roman centurions serving in the Roman Empire duties would have included making sacrifices to Roman gods and swearing allegiance to Caesar as lord. Luke is making a political statement to his readers that those with piety and generosity are closer to God than some may think, even though they may be part of an occupied force.

 

Peter Interestingly, rather than act on fear of persecution, is motivated to preach the gospel despite any reservations he may have had, perhaps remembering the commission of Jesus (Acts 1:8). Upon entering the house of Cornelius and hearing of his vision of an angel, Peter seems to elaborate further and connect this encounter with his own vision and states that God is impartial. This interaction further suggests that it may not have been uncommon for Romans to be sympathetic towards those of the Jewish faith as Cornelius, while uncircumcised, is described by Luke in a matter-of-fact fashion as a God-fearer, who, favourable to Judaism, gives alms, is pious towards God in prayer and makes great strides towards living an exemplary life of faith which is repeatedly stressed.

 

Three points:

 

  1. A universal God.

 

Paul takes up this theme and elaborates and makes every effort to eliminate categories and people groups, and break any racial separations.  Paul was sent to the Gentiles to preach good news, (acts 9) and pressed home the point that tribal divisions do not have a place in the new creation. We are made in the image of God, we are created for good works in Christ, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Paul speaks to the church in Rome 

 

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.

Romans 3:22

 

Part of the bigger picture than both Peter and Paul want us to know about is: How the gospel transforms lives, even those of a perceived enemy.  God has all the authority over Rome over the empire, and even Caesar answers to the almighty God.

 

Paul touches on this and speaks of the power that brings change in his teaching in Romans, Paul doesn’t site civil disobedience to the church in Rome rather than honouring the government no matter how corrupt they were, pagan worshipping idolatrous people, paul knows that there was a way that change could be brought about and that was through the different power other than that of revolution

 

Though the church does indeed give allegiance to another king, this allegiance must not be seen by the watching powers to result in civic disturbance, in strife between different sections of a community. God is the God of order, not chaos; the Christian response to tyranny is not anarchy but the creation of a community worshipping Jesus as Lord.

 

2. Diversity in the church

 

Diversity in the church is still the key to the gospel being spread today. Peter it seemed needed convincing, the church at that times was a Jewish Christ’s following church.  Jesus had made it clear in in his directive stated in Matt 28, this gospel will be preached and then and only then will the end come. and Acts 1.8 that the gospel is for the ends of the earth (Rome).  The word matthew used in what we call the great commission is ethnos where we get our word for ethnic or people groups.  Most of the time this word is translated Gentiles or nations.  Jesus is saying that the gospel must be preached to Gentiles ie non Jews.

 

Luke show in the very first chapter the structure of his book. The gospel will go from Jerusalem to Rome.

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8 

 

Luke we see then makes a lot of time and emphasises Cornelius' divine vision, and again Peter's much more intricate vision, and most importantly the Holy Spirit's outpouring, he is declaring that Cornelius' conversion was one of God's will and scheme, which is shown to include Jews and Gentiles. 

 

However, Luke is concerned not just with what God has done, but also with what Cornelius has done, since he is not just any Gentile, but rather one who is the first recorded, and most prominent member of his community, to accept Jesus.

 

Peter shows an understanding of the character of God and his impartiality by making two claims: God "does not show partiality," (Acts 10:34 Deut 10:17-18 Job 34:19) and Jesus is "Lord over all" (Acts 10:36, 2:36), both of which help endorse the gospel's radical inclusiveness

 

Peter knew this prior to his vision and his meeting with Cornelius quoting Joel he states that the spirit would be poured out on all people, and that the gift of the spirit is for everyone who believes.

 

For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Acts 2:39 

 

3. Table fellowship 

 

One of the immediate objections of some Jewish believers to Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ house was the fact that he ate food with him. The first believers we read about in acts two eating together was key to their unity to their faith and to spreading the gospel and teach sound doctrine.

 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:42

All who believed were together and had all things in common;

Acts 2:44

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

Acts 2:46 

 

Some suggest that the meal Peter shared with the Gentiles was more than a simple expression of eating together, especially given the reaction of the brothers from Jerusalem (Acts 11). One viewpoint is that Jews would have required ritual cleansing after contact with Gentiles, even though these ordinary meals were just that: meals. Another suggestion is that this was more akin to them sharing the Lord's Supper which, on the other hand, was a theological practice presented in the form of a meal. 

 

One of the most contentious disputes in Christianity today regards who is allowed to share, and indeed even serve, one particular meal: the Eucharist. This kind of distinction, both in the early church and today, perpetuates the sense of exclusion, reinforcing division among communities. Contemporary Christianity could do well to learn, from Peter’s belief that proper understanding is fundamentally rooted in God's own character in the following way: ‘God does not show partiality’.

 

 “The usual justification for this refusal to make ‘others’ welcome at ‘our’ table (recall Acts 10:23) is that one cannot eat together at the Eucharist as part of a process toward unity, but only after some juridically-perfect unity has been achieved.”

 

However, in the last few years, one of the most radical advances in the study of early Christian practices has been in relation to their meals and their centrality within community life. Unity among the brothers and sisters is a key theme throughout the New Testament and regardless of whether the shared meal is akin to the Lord’s Supper or a simple lunch, the central point remains valid: where there is unity, and no favouritism, the blessing and the Spirit of the Lord Himself is present. 

 

Conclusion:

 

The apostle Peter, by speaking and eating with the Roman centurion Cornelius, opened the way for both the Spirit to fall on the Gentile believer, and their baptism into the Christian faith. The implication of Peter's statement on a universal God who shows no favouritism and accepts all nations, even with the caveat that it only applies to the just and pious, was remarkable in its time. This story as it was retold led to the Jerusalem Council’s decision not to enforce circumcision on Gentile believers and attitudes towards ethnocentric diversity in the church began to change. Paul then takes this a step further in his teachings to the church in Rome, building upon the universalism of God and offering grace and salvation to all regardless of ethnicity. Whilst not completely perfected in contemporary Christianity, I would like to think that without this recorded story, and without the boldness of Peter and later Paul, the Gentile world would not have received the invitation to salvation, as it would never have been extended beyond the borders of Jerusalem.

 

God is not concerned with race, ethnicity, gender or status, God wants all to come to the saving knowledge of Christ.

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