Acts 10:1-23a (AD 42)
Verse two is not a comprehensive statement of what it means to be a good Christian, but neither is it incidental.
The Roman Centurion Cornelius was a “devout and God-fearing” man (not just him, but also his family). Furthermore, “he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (v.2).
God repeated the point for emphasis, two verses later: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God”.
James shared similar thoughts from God when decrying moral hypocrisy, stating that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
In both instances, a point of emphasis is a dual perspective on what being a Christian looks like: holy living (involving personal relationship with God and behaviour) and caring for those in need.
Cornelius – a righteous Gentile and a man of authority – was then told by God to send for a nobody; a mere fisherman, a poor man with no-one under his command. Cornelius had no problem with what God said, and did as he was told.
Peter, on the other hand, did not immediately do as he was told. In his vision (v.11-16), God told him what Jesus told him – that the old civil and ritual codes were fulfilled and therefore no longer relevant. He needed to change his understand of right and wrong.
Does that mean that other aspects of God’s teaching might have reached their sell-by date and need to be traded in for more enlightened perspectives?
Well, that depends.
Is the teaching in question, part of the system of civil and ritual law that Jesus said was fulfilled and therefore ended? Or is it part of the moral law, the nature of God himself, reaffirmed by Jesus or the apostles?
Cornelius, with his upbringing surrounded by idol-worship and sexual immorality, knew that his culture didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature must and did change him.
Peter, with his upbringing dominated by hypocritical leaders, was struggling to understand that his nature wasn’t exactly the same as God’s nature. God’s nature must, and would eventually, over time, change him.
Fight the part of you that doesn’t care about the eternal destiny of people you don’t like.
And hold firm to God’s calling on your life; pursuing your relationship with Him in prayer and holy living, and helping the needy.