SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
The Spirit Helps Us Overcome Our Prejudices
Key Verse: While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation.” – Acts -20
Embrace Jesus as Lord and one by one he strips away your prejudices. You cannot embrace Jesus and hold on to your prejudices. Either you must give them up or give Jesus up. A prejudiced Christian is actually a contradiction in terms.
“But wait,” you may ask; “Are there not many Christians who are prejudiced toward people of another race?”
Yes, of course there are Christians who feel superior to persons of another race. This is a sad reality in our society and in the world. How, then, can we explain this dilemma?
This question raises the issue of how we interpret the word “Christian.” Most dictionaries, secular though they are, give us the answer. They offer us two definitions of a Christian person. The first: A Christian is one “who follows the religion based on the teachings of Jesus.” The second: A Christian is one “who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.”
Unfortunately for many Christianity is a “religion.” For these people to be a Christian is to see faith as a smorgasbord of beliefs; you are free to take what suits you and leave the rest. Being a Christian, then, is giving mental assent to a proposition or a code of moral conduct that you pretty much whittle down to the size that feels comfortable.
This, however, is not genuine Christianity. It is a watered down version of the faith God wants for all followers of His Son. To use John Wesley’s famous phrase, it is to “almost” a Christian, but not “altogether” a Christian. Wesley pressed the early Methodists to accept nothing less than the goal of becoming “altogether Christians.”
Genuine Christianity is basically a relationship with Jesus Christ. Out of this relationship there emerges of course a moral code or a set of ethical standards as the Spirit transforms our lives to reflect the character of Christ. The difference is that our motive for moral behavior is to please our Lord, Jesus Christ. Once surrendered to, and related to the living Christ, we fall in love with him. Then we begin to think, act, and live in a certain way to express our love for him. And we love him because “he first loved us” and died for our sins.
This means, of course, that we accept the standard of growing until we are in every way “Christlike.” Back to the dictionary: Christlikeness is “having the spiritual qualities or attributes of Christ.” Have any of us attained this lofty goal? No, but we should be moving in that direction if our minds and hearts are being transformed by Christ.
A song that fits well here is “He’s still working on me,” written by the Gaithers. These words express what I feel about myself as a follower of Christ: “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.” I am not there yet, but by the grace of God, I am on the way.
I remember well when Christ began to “work on me.” I had given up Christianity as a religion and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. It was exciting to have, for the first time, a relationship with Christ. But I had many prejudices that began to embarrass me and made me realize that I had a lot of growing to do. I confess too that it was often painful for Christ to strip my prejudices away. I had to find the courage to stand against cultural attitudes that were ingrained in me from my birth.
So what has all this got to do with our Sunday School lesson? Everything! Until the Spirit, the Resurrected Christ, got hold of Peter, he was comfortable with his prejudice against Gentiles. Peter was a Jew. Any person who was not a Jew was, to the Jews, a Gentile. Gentiles were despised by the Jews; they even called them “dogs,” meaning that they were worthless people. The Jews did not associate with Gentiles or deal with them in any way if they could avoid it.
Sometimes God must use dynamite to dislodge us from our prejudices. In Peter’s case the dynamite was a stunning vision from God that, with the aid of an angel who appeared to a Gentile, jarred Peter loose from his long held prejudice against Gentiles. That life-changing experience is the focus of our lesson.
Cornelius was a professional Roman solder, an officer responsible for the 100 men in his regiment. (“Centurion” comes from the root word that means “century” or 100.) Cornelius, though a Gentile, was also a devout “God-fearer.” The God-fearers were Gentiles who embraced the God of the Jews, gave to the poor, and prayed regularly. But they remained uncircumcised which barred them from the acceptance of the Jews.
So it was nothing short of a miracle for Peter to be persuaded to accept the invitation of a Gentile to visit him in his home. Obviously it was an act of obedience to the Spirit that required Peter to give up his prejudice. Upon his arrival at Cornelius’ home, Peter felt certain that their meeting was God-ordained. He knew that his host was an “unclean” Gentile who had been made “clean” by God himself. As soon as Peter had preached the gospel to the Gentile gathering, God confirmed his involvement by pouring out the Holy Spirit “even on the Gentiles.” This astonished the circumcised believers who had come with Peter. Then, ignoring the fact that they were not circumcised, Peter baptized the Gentiles “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Prejudice is, by any definition, an ugly thing. It is defined by repulsive words: bias, bigotry, unfairness, injustice, discrimination, narrow-mindedness, and chauvinism. None of these can be embraced by one who is serious about living a Christlike life.
Do some of us have a need for improvement in this area of our thinking? Of course we all do. The solution for us is the same as it was for Peter. Obey the Spirit and Christ will strip you of your prejudices. Refuse to obey the Spirit and prejudice will continue to control you and you will gradually fall out of fellowship with Christ. He will not be Lord of a life ruled by prejudice.
Prejudice? Give it up. Get over it. Then you can move on toward perfection, toward the Christlikeness which God wants in your life. And, no matter what your friends think or say, you can enjoy singing your new theme song, “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.”
Glory! + + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)