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Responding to Criticism (1)

Acts 11:1-8
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.' Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 'I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." 'I replied, "Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth." (NIVUK)

Peter's visit to Cornelius' house was a landmark in the history of the church (Acts 10:23-48). For the first time a group of Gentiles had heard and responded to the gospel message, and been filled with the Holy Spirit and were baptised in the Name of Jesus. You might have thought that all the apostles were thrilled and were praising the Lord. No. Instead they were horrified, and criticised Peter.

They genuinely believed that Peter had failed in his duty to keep ceremonially pure. A Gentile's house was a religiously contaminating environment. How could someone claim to be close to God and break God's law? They did not understand that Jesus had established a new covenant which superseded the old law (Hebrews 10:8-10). And so Peter simply explained how the Lord taught him to learn a new way of ministry (Acts 10:28), which was completely consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 11:10, 60:3).

In telling the story to the other apostles and leading Jewish believers, Peter was honest about his confusion; seeing unclean animals in a vision he told the Lord that he could not have anything to do with them. Even when the Lord told him to eat them, Peter rebuked the Lord and protested his own religious purity (Matthew 16:21-23). His openness would have impressed the believers that he was not arrogantly going against the Old Testament law.

Believers are often criticised for obeying the Lord (2 Timothy 3:12), sometimes by those who they thought were their brothers (Psalm 55:12-14). Whenever there is opportunity, for the sake of the gospel, simply explain the reasons for the course you took. Humbly admit the difficulty in overcoming personal and group-held traditions in following a different ministry track according to the Lord's guidance, which will always be consistent with Scripture. It may be hard or even impossible for your critics to accept your explanation, but give it humbly, honestly and with love for those who may not want to support you (at least initially). The Lord's leading will often lead you in paths which are unfamiliar to you, and to those who are close to you. That does not mean the guidance is wrong, but that you must handle the criticism in a godly way (1 Timothy 4:7).

Lord God. Thank You for the way You have led me even though some of the paths have been unexpected. Forgive me for the times I have resisted Your will and refused to obey. Forgive me also for failing to respond rightly to criticism, displaying more arrogance than humility. Please help me to keep on following You, and please teach me godly ways to respond to the criticisms of those who are close to me. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams