Francis and Edith Schaeffer founded L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland in 1955 as a means of inviting students to ask their most challenging questions and experience genuine Christian care. Christine Pohl was one of thirty students who experienced L’Abri at another site in England. She writes,
“It was there that I first saw how much more powerfully the gospel spoke when those who were teaching opened their homes and their lives to strangers—with no pretense, no perfection, but extraordinary faithfulness and generosity…A mystery of hospitality is how often one senses God’s presence in the midst of very ordinary activities.”1
Once again we have come to a pivotal section of Acts. An extraordinaryevent is about to take place. God, through Peter, is about to openly extend the gospel invitation to Gentiles. And a central component of the story is the giving and receiving of ordinary hospitality.
Read Acts 10:17-29
It is clear that God has appointed these events to take place. Two divine visions have now led to an arranged meeting between Peter and Cornelius. Their meeting reveals the intricate connection between hospitality and the mission of God.
First, we will see how Peter Receives Gentile Guests (17-23a). Second, we’ll see that Peter Becomes A Gentile’s Guest (23b-29).
Peter Receives Gentile Guests (17-23a)
Who sent these men? A) Cornelius, B) The Holy Spirit, C) An Angel of the Lord, or D) All of the above? The Spirit of the Lord confirms the interpretation of the vision by telling Peter not to make a distinction/hesitation about accompanying the men sent by Cornelius (Acts 10:19). He informs Peter, “I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). Yet, previously it was an angel of the Lord who told Cornelius to send them (Acts 10:3,5).
“God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). We see the agreement and unity of the mission within the godhead.
Peter understood that God was doing a significant work. The shocking vision he had just received perplexed him (v.17), but he moved forward in obedience to God’s clear instruction.
Sometimes our personal insistence for clarity can hinder our obedience. We allow our confusion to serve as an excuse for disobedience.
Thankfully, we do not serve a confused God. He will accomplish his will in his perfect timing. We rarely get our timing to lineup with His. God doesn’t waver like we do. If he has called you to a particular task you need to walk in obedience to that calling even if it begins in a state of perplexity.
There may be some ambiguity in Peter’s mind about the implications of his vision, but God’s mind is clear. His mission is obvious.
This first section closes with a reference to Peter (and Simon) showing hospitality to Gentiles, specifically Cornelius’s two servants and a devout soldier (Acts 10:23a). And it prepares us for the next section where the Gentile Cornelius shows hospitality to Peter (Acts 10:25).
Derek Thomas points out,
“Old Testament laws respecting “strangers” (Lev. 19:33-34) and the “poor” (Lev. 23:14) were picked by Jesus as a mark of Christian behavior (Matt. 25:43). Paul urges the church to engage in hospitality (Rom. 12:13), as does Peter: ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9). Elders are especially to be marked by this virtue (1 Tim. 3:2).”2
Hospitality demonstrates the love of Christ and reinforces the gospel about Christ.
This moment was revolutionary for the church. Peter was about to do something his conscience had never allowed him to do before. He risked relationships with lifelong friends the moment he crossed the threshold of Cornelius’ home.
We need to recognize the weightiness of his actions here. His obedience is commendable in the face of so much pressure to keep the status quo. Peter’s recollection at the Jerusalem Council points to the extent his own understanding had come (Acts 15:7-11).
We don’t base our philosophy of ministry on whatever we feel like doing. There is something to be said for utilizing the natural abilities and gifts God has given us, but it is just as important that we are willing to be placed in situations that are uncomfortable.
We know the Spirit was guiding Peter (Acts 10:19), He was also enabling Peter to follow through.
We don’t think in terms of Jew/Gentile distinctions. But we create other distinctions in our minds that frequently hinder our hospitality. How about Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Liberal, Public/Private/Home School, Presbyterian/Baptist, Rich/Poor, White/Black.
These are real distinctions. The gospel doesn’t remove every feature of our identity, but our differences no longer act as barriers to our fellowship. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. From now on, there would be no more ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile,’ ‘circumcision and uncircumcision’ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).
What difference would it make in your current lifestyle if an angel of the Lord told you the barriers you have built up between you and others was removed? Would you keep those walls in place? Would you ignore the clear will of God? Of course you wouldn’t! Well guess what? God has recorded this vision so that we might have a perpetual reminder that God has removed those walls of hostility.
That doesn’t mean everyone will be our best friend. That doesn’t mean we must allow anyone and everyone into our house. Along with compassionate hearts God has also given us wisdom and discernment through the Holy Spirit. Let’s not jump to the extreme examples of hospitality gone wrong in order to justify our reclusive behavior.
Rather, let us seek the help of the Spirit to welcome others into our homes, to allow the uncomfortable conversations to turn into gospel sharing opportunities. If you haven’t seen by now, that is precisely how the Kingdom of God spread.
The fact that Peter received Gentile guests is not as significant as the fact that…
Peter Becomes A Gentile’s Guest (23b-29)
Peter shows that he now understood the purpose of the vision when he is willing to be received into a Gentile’s home.
There were six men from Joppa (Acts 11:12) in addition to Peter and Cornelius’s three men. All of them would have served as witnesses to the miracle God was about to accomplish.
Cornelius was eager to learn and ensured that his relatives and closest friends were there too (Acts 10:24). There is something quite basic about this that can have a profound impact upon how beneficial the Worship Service is for you. Honestly, it is something I didn’t consider until about ten years ago when I began attending a Presbyterian church. It was the practice of preparing for the Worship Service.
When the people of Israel encountered God at Sinai, God gave them two days to prepare themselves. They were told to be consecrated and to wash their clothes (Exodus 19:10-11). They were to direct their hearts to the fact that they were about to meet the Living and True God. On the third day as a storm raged on the mountain where Moses was meeting with God, the people began to draw near with trembling (Exodus 19:16). They had a sense of God’s holiness and power.
Cornelius not only prepared himself for worship, he gathered his household and “relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). He clearly anticipated something marvelous was about to happen. I think that is why we see him falling down at Peter’s feet in the next verse (Acts 10:25). He was showing Peter reverence as a messenger from God. Yes, it was inappropriate, and Peter picked him up and assured him he was only a man and not divine (Acts 10:26). But Cornelius had prepared his heart for this moment and he was overjoyed by its arrival.
After entering the house and noticing all the people who had gathered Peter begins to address them (Acts 10:27). If Cornelius’s actions were inappropriate, I wonder what Peter’s words reveal about his own nerves. It was an awkward introduction to say the least (Acts 10:28-29).
F.F. Bruce explains the difficulties probably running through Peter’s mind,
“Interaction with Gentiles was not categorically forbidden; but it was liable to render a Jew ceremonially unclean, as was even the entering of a Gentile building or the handling of articles belonging to Gentiles. The most ordinary kinds of food, such as bread, milk, or olive oil, coming from Gentiles, might not be eaten by strict Jews, not to mention flesh, which might have come from a forbidden animal or from one that had been sacrificed to a pagan divinity, and which in any case contained blood.”3
Peter was under severe peer-pressure to maintain the separation he had always adhered to. He eventually gave into the pressure while in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-16). But the vision he had received, coupled with the Spirit’s guidance ensured his follow through in Caesarea.
Showing hospitality is one of the first and primary implications of the gospel. If that is true, then we can be sure that the lack of hospitality is one of the primary indications that the gospel has ceased to impact our lives.
Think back to the time when your faith became real. Whether that was as an adult or child. How did you respond to that experience? More than likely, you were excited to be with other likeminded people. You wanted to spend as much time as possible with them.
Cornelius was delighted to have Peter in his house and God has had to overcome Peter’s reluctance. In both cases, it is the deeper application of hospitality that sanctified them and glorified God. And it expanded the borders of the kingdom.
Hospitality demonstrates the love of Christ and reinforces the gospel about Christ.
I’m struck by the fact that hospitality was not something Peter was naturally inclined to do, at least not for Gentiles. He had no problem inviting certain kinds of people into his home, but Cornelius wasn’t even on his radar. Peter had to be prodded by God in a vision and by the guidance of the Spirit (Acts 10:19-20).
Whether Peter was receiving Gentiles as his guests, or becoming a Gentile’s guest, his hospitality demonstrated his faithfulness to the gospel.
The hospitality we extend and receive is a foretaste of the ultimate marriage feast that awaits. Heaven is where our Savior will finally receive us as his invited guests, fully and wholly acceptable unto himself. It is through his obedience and sacrifice that he becomes our host for eternity.
If we expect the gospel to take root and expand in the hearts of our neighbors and communities and city, we might start by purchasing larger tables. Making room for guests at your table demonstrates the gospel. While the meal provides the satisfaction of their hunger, the gospel provides the satisfaction of their souls deepest longings.
I realize this is easier for some of you, and for others it is a struggle. Either way, it should be clear from the many examples in Acts that hospitality was something of an expectation for the Christian community. If it is a demonstration of the love of God, we must be willing to push through our hesitations. If it does reinforce the message of the gospel, then all excuses are eliminated.
Let us all realign our attitudes and actions with the mission of God by showing hospitality to someone this week.