Summary: Exposition of Acts 11:1-18 about the preservation of unity in the early church in the wake of Cornelius’ conversion and Peter’s return to Jerusalem
Text: Acts 11:1-18, Title: Peas and Carrots, Date/Place: NRBC, 2/24/08, AM
A. Opening illustration: Forest Gump, peas and carrots
B. Background to passage: As we mentioned last week, the entrance of the Gentiles into the Christian community through the providentially arranged meeting of Peter and Cornelius would have been a real shock to any Jews. And so as the word spread that the Gentiles, in fact, Romans, had “received the word” the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem nailed Peter about it as soon as he got to town.
C. Main thought: in the text we will see three things that contribute to unity
A. Open and honest dialogue (v. 3)
1. In Nehemiah the other night, we saw where Nehemiah “contended” with the rulers. That word meant to bitterly dispute. This NT word for “contend” simply means to discern or make a distinction. Although from the context, it is clear that the brethren were not happy with Peter, so you could translate the word “criticize” as some of your translations do. The point is that the brethren wanted an explanation, but the root of their concern was held with good intentions. Notice that Peter did not get angry because of their lack of understanding. He simply related to them what had happened in Joppa and Caesarea. He was open and honest and clear about all the details. And they listened.
3. Illustration: “Labor mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds...Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.” Unfortunately, that is not very often how it works. The accusatory rhetoric at the United Nations is not all that different in tone from the way Christians argue with each other. Here is an example from the seventeenth century, when the Puritans and the Quakers were engaged in angry debates: The great Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a pamphlet in which he lumped the Quakers with “drunkards, swearers, whoremongers, and sensual wretches” and other “miserable creatures.” And then—just in case he had not yet insulted them enough—he insisted that Quakers are no better than “Papists.” The Quaker leader James Naylor announced that he was compelled “by the Spirit of Jesus Christ” to respond to these harsh accusations. He proceeded to characterize his Puritan opponent as a “Serpent,” a “Liar,” and “Child of the Devil,” a “Cursed Hypocrite,” and a “Dumb Dog.” This is strong stuff. What makes it especially sad is that the angry talk often makes it difficult to get to the real issues. The debate between the Puritans and the Quakers was actually a rather interesting and helpful one. Both parties engaged in some serious biblical exposition; if the heavy rhetoric were removed, the discussion could easily appear to have been a friendly argument between Christians who had some important things to talk about. But I doubt that either group heard the helpful things the other side was saying. Too much angry rhetoric was in the air. “Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness”