• Acts 11:4-18
We live in a world where we are confronted with new ideas or perspectives on an almost daily basis. Most of the time when we hear about one of these, we take at least a moment and consider whether we can accept it. In many areas of our life we may even find that we are willing to alter previously held ideas in light of the new insight. Yet when it comes to issues concerning the Bible or religious beliefs, many will immediately reject any idea or thought that appears to be “new” without considering it. The attitude seems to be “that cannot be true because it does not fit with everything that I have always been taught.”
Within the realm of personal religion, “new” is seen as evil. Yet God did not stop speaking when the final words of the Bible were written. God is continually speaking in order to reveal new insights into His character or to correct erroneous beliefs. Often the beliefs one holds are based more on centuries-old church tradition than on biblical revelation. Yet when someone suggests an alternative interpretation of biblical teaching, many reject it as heresy instead of weighing it against the Bible. There is an old Hebrew prayer that expresses this well: “From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths, and from the laziness that is content with half-truths, and from the arrogance that claims to know all truth, O Lord of Truth, Deliver us.”
The book of Acts tells the story of when Peter came to understand this. From this story, we can learn that God desires for His followers to be always open to the possibility of new spiritual insight and attentive to hearing and applying those “new” truths.
Listen to God (Acts 11:4-10)
Peter had had a special relationship with Jesus. Not only was he one of the twelve apostles who traveled with Jesus during his earthly ministry, but he was also one of three (along with James and John) who seem to have made up a sort of inner circle. It was these three who Jesus often invited to significant events such as the Transfiguration.
It was Peter who boldly professed that Jesus was the Messiah shortly before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And it was Peter who had stood before the masses at Pentecost and preached the first post-resurrection sermon at which 3,000 people become new believers. In all of this, Peter maintained his firm devotion to his Jewish religious heritage. He knew and kept all of the law, including the dietary regulations. It is this characteristic that God chooses to use to teach Peter and future generations of believers an important lesson.
As a leader in the early church in Jerusalem, Peter would soon be faced with a question that would shape what we now call Christianity for many years: could non-Jewish people join this new movement? Dealing with this question would involve many of Peter’s traditional beliefs. God needed Peter to view people differently than that tradition had taught him.
Just as it was for Peter, today God desires to give new insight to the church which will help the church accomplish the mission God has given. This may require members of the church to throw out old deeply held beliefs based on tradition in favor of Truth. This can only begin as we commit to genuinely listening to the voice of God.
Look for Confirmation (Acts 11:11-14)
While it is important to be open to new ideas and perspectives, it is also important to avoid simply accepting any new thought even if it sounds good. We need to test such new ideas and look for support for its truthfulness. Peter had heard God calling on him to give up his traditional ideas of clean vs. unclean animals, but those ideas had been such a central part of his religious life, how could he be sure that this new way of thinking was correct and, more importantly, how was he to apply it to his life?
Confirmation came quickly as three Gentile men arrived at the home where Peter was staying at the very moment that the vision ended. These men were there to ask Peter to return with them to Caesarea. God does not want us to be lost in uncertainty about his call on our lives, so, along with the call, He will provide us with some form of confirmation.
This may come through the words of a trusted friend or through circumstances that arise which seem to point us toward following what God has said. It may also come as we pray and study God’s Word in a search for confirmation. However it comes, we can be assured that, if the new idea was truly from God, God will confirm it if we only look.
Learn the Application (Acts 11:15-18)
Finally, any new idea which God gives is given to us for a reason. God wants us to do something with it. It will either be for our personal growth, so that we can teach or help someone else, or to lead us into a new area of ministry. It is therefore important that, after we confirm the truthfulness of a new idea, we look for how God intends for us to live the new truth.
For Peter, a message which seemed to concern a new perspective on dietary laws was intended to teach him to be open to sharing the Gospel with all races and nationalities. While we today may not explicitly refer to any groups of people as “unclean,” we most often tend to minister only to those who look like us. One thing we may learn from this story of Peter is thus to be more consciously inclusive with the message we proclaim.
But this story also teaches us the way God desires for us to encounter new ideas. Even when they appear to directly contradict what we have “always been taught,” they may be part of God’s revelation to us of His Truth. We should therefore always be open to consider new ideas, looking for how God will confirm the truth, and ready to adjust our own thoughts and lives to align more closely with God’s full revelation.