One of my favorite stories from the book of Acts is found in chapter ten, when God calls Peter to go to the home of Cornelius. Cornelius is a god-fearing Roman Centurion and a Gentile. God speaks to Cornelius in a vision telling him to send men to Joppa and to ask for a man named Simon Peter. As the men are on their way, God speaks to Peter as he was on the roof top praying. God instructs Peter to not hesitate to go Cornelius’ home even though it would mean entering the house of a Gentile, which was considered wrong for devout Jews. As soon as Peter arrives, Cornelius explains the story behind his asking him to come.
“So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:33-36 NIV)
Peter continued to share the good news of Jesus to Cornelius and the gathering of Gentiles that had assembled. What followed has been called the “Gentile Pentecost” because the Holy Spirit moved in the same way that is recorded at the birth of the church in Acts 2 (which involved an exclusively Jewish gathering) Peter realized that God was moving in a clear and unmistakable way.
“Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their (these Gentile believers) being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” (Acts 10:46-11:1 NIV)
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. What you would hope to follow is something like this… “the Believers throughout Judea were excited to hear, or “amazed to learn” that the good news of Jesus had reached Gentiles as well. That is not the case. The next verses tell a different story.
“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2-4 NIV)
Notice their initial response, they criticized him. Before Peter had the opportunity to explain the vision from God, how God spoke to Cornelius, and the amazing hand of God in this whole story, they criticized him. As I reflect on this story a question comes to mind. Why is it so easy to respond to something we don’t understand with criticism? Why is it that the story focused on Peter going into the home of a Gentile and not the miraculous salvation of a Gentile?
Rather than reserve judgment until they had the full story, they opted instead for criticism. What is your initial response something you don’t understand? Do you rush to judgment or give the benefit of the doubt? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us against rushing to judgment.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV)
Did you catch verse two? “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” I don’t know about you, but I want others to be generous in their assessment of me. I want others to be slow to judgment and choose instead to believe the best of my motives and actions. I guess you do as well, so ask God to help you to choose a more generous and gracious response to others. I am reminded of the story Steven Covey tells in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, illustrating this principle.
Covey was riding the New York subway when a father with three unruly children entered the same train car and sat across from him. The kids were out of control and made a ruckus. Covey scolded the father for letting his kids disturb others. The father answered sadly that they were returning from his wife’s funeral. He explained that the children were usually well behaved but were acting out their grief. The father said that he didn’t have the energy to correct them right now. Covey felt like a jerk for pre-judging and he shifted his thinking immediately. Now he felt compassion, empathy, and support for this family, once he knew the larger story.
So, when you find yourself choosing between a generous or critical response, why not choose the more gracious?