The world of the day is “withstand .” In every breakthrough of the new, some cling to the old. When what seems to be right and true arises, the wisdom of the Jewish sage Gamaliel applies; you must beware “lest you be found to fight against God” (OSB Acts 5:39). Today in our reading of Acts 10:44-11:10, Peter must defend the baptism of the Gentile centurion and his household. Luke reports, “But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning…” (OSB vs. 4). The apostle ended with the question, “Who am I to withstand the work of God?” (OSB 11:17). Today, we study the example of the opposition to Peter’s action. The instance of that resistance warns us not to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
We might think that the Holy Spirit had settled the matter of the acceptance of Gentiles into the church when He confirmed the faith of Cornelius and his household. And we might suppose that when the centurion and his family were baptized, the early church had taken a bold and irreversible step in its growth. However, this advancement caused a new division in the church.
First Bewildered, Then Opposed
The group of Jewish believers who accompanied Peter from Joppa were “astonished” because the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles so that they spoke in tongues as the disciples had done on the Day of Pentecost (OSB vs. 45). The translation of “astonished” (OSB vs. 45) or “amazed” (NASB) is much too weak to capture the sense of the reaction. The term in Greek means “to be thrown out of position” (Strong’s #1839, 92). We might say, “thrown for a loop.” That means they were dumbfounded or stupefied. Nothing like this had ever even crossed their minds.
When Peter came back to Jerusalem, the bewilderment had turned to outright opposition. Luke reports that “those of the circumcision contended with him” and accused him of eating with Gentiles (OSB vs. 11:2). This is the first reference to the “circumcision party” (“Judaizers”) that would hound Paul throughout his missionary work among the Gentiles.
Peter’s Defense of His Acceptance of Gentiles
Peter offered a vigorous defense of not only sharing a meal with Gentiles but preaching the “words by which you and all your household will be saved” (OSB vs. 14). And he recalled the Word of the Lord that “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (OSB 11:16). In fulfillment of this Word of the Lord, the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Gentiles as he spoke. Peter argued that this outpouring of the Spirit confirmed the Almighty’s approval of what he did, for he observed that this was the same gift of the Spirit that had been distributed to the original believers at Pentecost (OSB vs. 11:17).
Peter then concluded his report of the Holy Spirit’s work among the Gentiles, “Who was I that I could withstand God (OSB vs. 11:17), that is “hinder” or “restrain” the Almighty (Strong’s 2967, 148).
Opposition Rises Again
Luke writes that Peter’s report silenced the circumcisers, and they praised God for granting the Gentiles “repentance to life” ( OSF 18). Yet by Chapter 15, the historian of Acts narrates that “certain men came down from Judea” to Antioch, the center of the Gentile mission. They began to teach that to be saved the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (OSB 15:1). Their interruption into the life of the Gentile church caused a huge argument. And Paul and Barnabas had to travel to Jerusalem to meet with the elders to settle the matter. In later readings, we will study the outcome of this “Council.”
As Peter said, we must be careful lest we put roadblocks in front of the Holy Spirit’s work. How would we do this? One way would be to insist on requirements to be met before one is accepted as an equal part of the communion of believers. Another would be setting up unscriptural constraints on participation in the Holy Mysteries, the church’s sacraments.
Ways of Withstanding the Spirit
Language barriers may not be an issue in your circle of believers. But they represent the kind of obstruction to reaching both newcomers to the faith and the next generation. However, to be sure, demanding money to forgive sins or perform other sacramental acts and peddling the Gospel for power and profit are hindrances.
Then too, we can resist the Holy Spirit by stirring up discord in the Body of Christ. We can quench the Holy Spirit by discouraging the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our fellowship or by judging others. We can hamper the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives by applying the Word admonition to others and not ourselves.
In short, how many ways are there to obstruct the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst? There are as many as the devil can devise. Let us, therefore, pray that the Spirit would break down any blockade that we or others may put in front of His gracious work.