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”
4. Whether you are talking about conflict and unity in a marriage, in a church, in a business, or in another organization, this text offers practical advice. The congregation was concerned about theological matters. Theology is not left up to theologians, we should all be committed to and concerned about proper theology, and the carrying out of that theology. Husbands and wives, proper understanding of marriage and the scripture related to marriage will smooth out much conflict. The congregation and the brethren also did not allow tensions to go undealt with. They didn’t gossip, make late night phone calls, rally support for their position. They just went to the source of the problem and spoke to them about it. What a novel idea! We also should be teachable, willing to accept criticism where valid. You don’t always have to be right, nor do you always have to win. Let your first reaction to criticism be honest evaluation of the concern. Realize that many times a clear explanation of things will help alleviate concern. Don’t jump to conclusions with your spouse or coworker. Learn to listen to what people are saying, instead of thinking about what you are going to say next. And we do all these things because we love Christ, and are committed to demonstrating Him and His love to a watching world.
B. Submission to the head (v. 17)
1. The main thing that Peter communicates is that God is responsible for this. He tells them the story from his perspective about the vision, the angels, their messages, and his actions. He demonstrates that God was clear in preparing and instructing him to give the gospel to the Gentiles. And then as he concludes, “if God gave it to them, who am I to stand in the way.” His understanding of the situation was affixed to the clear intervention of the Lord. Remember, that before the vision on the roof top, he would have thought the same thing. But he has now bowed the knee in humble submission to the head of the church.