These were the early days of the Christian church and they were going through great periods of growth and change. Any time there is such a fluid process of change there are bound to be situations arise where questions are asked and people need to be convinced of some matter or other.
It was no different in Peter’s time, for when he returned to Jerusalem after spending time proclaiming the gospel to the household of Cornelius and the people in Caesarea, he was questioned as to what he had done. Word had reached the church in Jerusalem that Peter had spoken and eaten with the Gentiles, and they wanted to know why.
If you read my previous few posts you would understand that the Jews in that time believed they were the chosen people of God and that the Gentiles were less than second rate citizens. Such prejudice was a form of racism and a great generalisation and to do or think that way is wrong.
Generalisations are Wrong
To generalise about a person or people on the basis of anything is wrong. A generalisation occurs when someone believes something about a person on the basis of some trait they may have observed in others.
Paul gives us a good example in his letter to Titus, and he shows how bad it is to generalise at the same time. In Titus 1:12 Paul writes,
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
Were all the people of Crete in those days liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons? Of course they weren’t. And to use the word “always” condemns the whole community of Crete labelling them as one and not to be trusted.
Paul continues with incredulity that the man who made this statement was a Cretan himself and thus condemns himself out of his own mouth. He then tells Titus to, “…rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith.” (Vs 13)
This is the problem with generalising. Not all Cretans were lazy, gluttonous, liars and evil beasts. In fact probably most were not. Just as in every nation and race on the earth there are people who are good and bad, righteous and evil. But it is wrong to lump all people together in a generalisation, especially when it denigrates, downgrades or is harmful to the person and the race.
As The Lord said, God knows those who are His and he can protect and keep His people from evil and a generalisation that portrays the people of God badly will not go well for the person making the generalisation.
Instead we must treat every person as an individual. Just as The Lord calls us as individuals to Himself and deals with us on a person by person basis, we too must deal with our fellow man in the same way, not making any distinctions or generalisations about who or what they are based on the experience of or from someone else.
Convincing the Early Church
Which brings me back to the issue that Peter faced when he returned to Jerusalem. The circumcision party took Peter to task over the fact that he had spoken the gospel to the Gentiles and worst of all, he actually lowered himself to eat with them! Shock! Horror! They were probably wondering how could he have lowered himself to do such an abhorrent thing as to spend time with those disgusting Gentiles and even eat their food!
But of course the Jewish church had not had the advantage of the vision Peter had, nor the leading and the direction of the Holy Spirit showing him what to do and to make no distinction.
Peter’s prejudice against the Gentiles that he had known his entire life was wiped away by The Lord. And now he had to go through the story explaining to the church why he had done what he did. He told them of the vision of the unclean animals. He told them of the spirit telling him to go with the three men sent from Cornelius. He told them of the similar vision of Cornelius telling him to call for Peter to come and speak to his household. And he told them how The Lord had given the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues to the Gentiles just as he had done with the Jews earlier.
And Peter had six others with him who bore witness to everything Peter told the church. It was only after hearing the testimony of Peter and the confirmation of the witnesses that the circumcision party of the believers were finally silenced, recognising at last that God had welcomed the Gentiles into the fold and who were they to stand against the will of God.
Learning the Lesson
And so that was that! All was now hunky dory and things were well with the church. They learned that lesson and moved on…didn’t they?
Ummm…no! One of the things we all find out is that when we learn a lesson in The Lord, we are often tested on that lesson to see if we learned it, remembered it and are applying it in our life. Peter went through this very same process and he failed.
When you think that it was by the mouth of Peter that the Gentiles first received the gospel, and that it was he who had the visions and directions to first take the word to them, you would think that of all the people in the early church Peter would have got the message that there was to be no distinctions made and no prejudice shown on the basis of Jew versus Gentile. Well, as we see in the letter to the Galatians by Paul, Peter failed and Paul had to take him to task over the issue. Note his words in Galatians 2:11-14.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter in this case feared the circumcision party, even though earlier it was he who showed them right from wrong in the matter of living and eating with the Gentiles. Peter slipped back into his old ways, and what was worse, because of,his,position in the church he dragged others down with him.
It took a sharp rebuke from Paul to set him and the others right so that the truth of the gospel would prevail and not this biased and prejudiced path that he was taking.
And we must learn this lesson also. We may slip back just as Peter did and need a sharp rebuke at times either from The Lord or His servant. When it comes we must listen and be prepared to repent and change our view to seek the truth of the matter. We have been called to walk with Jesus and the path is not always an easy one. Sometimes it can be very difficult, especially when we need to learn difficult lessons. But we can also take comfort knowing The Lord chastises those whom He loves and that He will come Himself to restore, establish and strengthen us when we have passed through the situation.
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