Wow! There is so much dissension in our world. There are people who don’t trust each other because of others’ skin color. There are people who hate others because of their political affiliation. There are even lifelong friends who no longer speak to each other because of some controversy or other in the news!
I believe the church can show the world how to have a fight and how to live peacefully through a fight. Otherwise, our society will have to wait for a major calamity to pull together. The repercussions of the calamity may only fuel cooperation for a short time. Disagreeing with each other need not entail the division of a church. Disagreeing with each other need not end in friendships lost, or society polarized.
How then do we get through dissension? When criticism arises, how do we face criticism? This excerpt from Acts 11 helps us to begin to realize how we can have a church fight and come out on the other side still being church. As we continue in Acts, we will find more lessons of how to face criticism and remain Christians and be the church.
A.) The criticism begins after Peter returns from Caesarea (11:1-3)
1. The apostles and believers in Judea heard about those people accepting God’s word
2. Those who thought circumcision set the people of God apart criticized Peter
3. What is their criticism?
a. Holy/unholy (Circumcised/uncircumcised)
c. The gift of the Holy Spirit – who is this meant for?
4. Criticisms can start from a legitimate point. Hearing the situation and not understanding can bring criticism. Not knowing the whole scene can bring a view of wanting to separate from the parties involved. For this is criticism, taking issue with a situation and being willing to separate from the people involved. Criticism need not lead to any separation. We can see from the archangel Michael disputing with the devil (Jude 9), he did not cause himself harm by speaking ill of his opponent. Michael said, “The Lord rebuke you.” After a fashion, that is how Peter answers his critics.
B.) We maintain ourselves when answering criticism (11:4-17)
1. Peter explains the event, step by step, telling what God did
i. God gave me the vision
ii. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
iii. God took me to Caesarea, with these 6 men
iv. The Spirit told me not to make a distinction between them & us
v. I was to bring the uncircumcised the message about being saved
– Hear the word of God
– Turn from living our way (repent)
– Turn to live God’s way (obeying God’s word)
– Receive the Holy Spirit
vi. Then the Holy Spirit fell upon them!
vii. This is the same Holy Spirit that Jesus said would be given to those who believe!
2. Just as the Jews (circumcised people) receive the Holy Spirit upon repenting of their ways, the Gentiles (uncircumcised people) receive the Holy Spirit upon repenting of their ways!
3. God sure was busy. He orchestrated the whole scene. From bringing Peter from Joppa to having Cornelius gather his family and friends to hear the word of God. God did this work. When Cornelius’ household was receptive of God’s word, they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus said it would happen! This silenced those criticizing Peter.
C.) It is hard to speak against what God is doing (11:18)
1. They (the circumcised believers) became silent in their criticism of Peter
2. They (the apostles and believers) praised God
3. The apostles and believers point to repentance (10:43 and 5:30-32)
4. When we repent, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whether we are Jews, Gentiles, or something else, we receive forgiveness from God the same way. We repent of our ways. Experiencing what God does for all people who turn to him is inspiring. For when we find out what God is doing, we cannot criticize one another. We can only praise God for his giving of the Holy Spirit.
Notice two items about the criticism Peter faced. First, the uncircumcised spoke directly to him. There was no grapevine that was spreading rumors about Peter. For when we participate in spreading rumors, we once again need to repent of our ways.
The second item we notice is the circumcised did not attack Peter personally. They wanted to know what caused Peter to do what he did. Otherwise, they would have gone from disputing Peter to living a way that is not of Jesus Christ. Again, when we personally attack others, we need to again to repent of our ways.
Have you criticized someone in the church? When you do criticize someone in the church, be ready to hear what God is doing in the situation.
Have you been criticized by someone in the church? When you are criticized in the church, be ready to speak about what God is doing in the situation.
If we have spread rumors about or personally attacked another Christian, then be prepared to repent of your ways. For these practices are not criticism. They are ways of living that do not come from God.
Today, let us remember our baptism. The baptism that God gave through Jesus to all who repent of their ways of living.