Today Pastor Miles spoke about discrimination in the church. Maybe you have heard the common phrase, “I don’t see color,” but Pastor Miles discouraged its use. God made variety in all people – skin tone, background, facial features, talents, education, jobs, language, etc. – which reveals His diverse and amazing creativity. To pretend this diversity doesn’t exist seems ignorant and insulting. Instead, rather, we can explore and learn about our differences with admiration and curiosity while striving to treat others as our equals. This goes way beyond just racial discrimination; we may be disinclined to voluntarily reach out to people with whom we have nothing in common and we may even be fearful of people who are different from us.
So, what does the Bible have to say about discrimination in the church? In Acts 10, we find a story about Peter and a man named Cornelius and Peter to give us wisdom on the subject.
The early church was made up of mostly Jewish people who had accepted Christ as the Messiah. Jews in this era were so used to being separated from everyone else that they held fast to the things that made them different and often discriminated against others. But God shows us in this story that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everybody and anybody who will believe.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. Acts 10:1-2
Cornelius is a Roman soldier and a devout man—he prays, gives money to the poor, fears God, and seeks God—but he doesn't know God personally and he doesn’t know about the Gospel. This is a key point, because many of us know people who are not Christ followers who are kind, generous, and may even act more “Christian” than some Christians we know. But unfortunately, nice doesn’t get us to heaven. God doesn’t look at the outward appearance that man sees, but at the heart. He is not lining people up to discover who is nicer or more generous than whom, but rather, He looks for those who are seeking Him. He looks for repentance from sin and forgiveness through Christ.
God sends an angel to Cornelius, asking him to send some men to fetch Peter from Joppa. In this day, Jews and Romans did not associate with one another, yet Cornelius doesn’t argue or question the directions he has been given. Although Cornelius doesn’t know Peter and has no assurances that Peter will even come, he sends the men in obedience to the Lord’s message and even prepares for Peter’s arrival by inviting all of his family and friends to gather in expectation of what Peter will say to them.
Meanwhile, Peter is in Joppa, receiving his own message from the Lord. In a vision, Peter…
…saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Acts 10:11-15
Diet was one of the ways that the Jews had always been separated from the pagans. Many foods had been unclean for them, but now God is removing the old separation, breaking down the walks of division. He wants Peter to move beyond the separation he has always experienced, to be prepared to share the Gospel with a Gentile.
Notice that God has a plan and He is preparing hearts on both ends (Cornelius’ and Peter’s). Let this be an encouragement to you; if God tells you pray for something, He is preparing in the other end. He is organized! Just as Cornelius prepared for Peter in faith, we can do whatever God asks of us, trusting that He will fulfill the parts that we don’t understand.
Peter goes to Cornelius and finds the crowd he has gathered. He preaches the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, having understood that God loves the Gentile as He loves the Jew.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Acts 10:34-35
You may think that you are not good enough for God or that you don't belong in church because you aren’t like the other people around you, but none of this is true. God loves you! Anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. Acts 10:44-45
He loves everyone and desires to reveal Himself to anyone who seeks Him.
We can let this story of Peter and Cornelius be a lesson to us. God shows no partiality – by race, by background, by sin, or by any other division we can identify on earth. He loves everyone and desires to reveal Himself to anyone who seeks Him. In knowing this, our challenge is to be available to go to whomever God sends us.
Be willing to reach out to those who are different from you. Take interest, be humble, and share the Gospel of Good News to any and all of His people!