Impartial God, Part II (Acts 11:1-18) | Jared Betts

Impartial God

Within our text this morning we revisit the truth revealed in the previous context with the salvation of a gentile named Cornelius, as well as his household, through the preaching of a Jew named Peter, which is that God is not one to show partiality.

It is important for us to remember that the account of Cornelius’ conversion is ultimately not about Cornelius or Peter. It is about Jesus Christ brining a person whose mind had been thoroughly permeated with partial thinking for all of his life to a greater comprehension of the character, nature, and will of the living God who shows no partiality. As Peter says in Acts 10:28:

“God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”

He says again in verses 34-35 of Acts 10:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’” 

To say that God is not one to show partiality is to say that God is not a respecter of persons. Partiality is the inclination to favor someone or something over another from an unwarranted bias of mind which is apt to warp judgment. The Scripture is emphatically clear in Deuteronomy 10:17 that:

17 The Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.”

It says in Romans 2:11 that:

            “There is no partiality with God.”

Paul says in Galatians 2:6 that:

            “God shows no partiality.”

Consider Jesus’ instruction to slaves and masters through Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9 where he says:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

            There are at least two things to understand about God’s impartiality:

  1. His impartiality is directly related to His being just.

God will always do that which is right regardless of one’s age, sex, race, social status, familial ties, et cetera. He will render to all according to their deeds without any respect to their person.

  • In regard to who is welcome to God, He does not discriminate.

Whoever turns to Him, He will not cast aside. All who call upon Him will be saved. In the economy of God’s salvation, God does not give preference to certain ethnicities. He does not show favor to one gender over another. One’s age is irrelevant to Him. Social status is inconsequential. A person’s physical ability means nothing, and their temporal wealth is of no worth. He is not one to show partiality. Whoever fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. All who revere Him and do what is right by leaning upon Him for mercy and forgiveness will be accepted by Him. As Galatians 3:28-29 says:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek (Ethnicity), there is neither slave nor free man (Social Status), there is neither male nor female (Gender); for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

This is clearly seen with Cornelius and his household and it is such a significant truth that the Holy Spirit has chosen to bring it to bear upon our minds twice through the hand of Luke.

Partial Thinkers

Though the plague of partiality may have been chiseled away in Peter, this was not the case with his fellow believers within the Jewish community. We see this in verse 1-3:

1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 

These men were partial thinkers.

If I may take a moment to say that it is reasonable for us to conclude that partiality is as natural to us as is breathing. According to 17th century English philosopher and political theorist, John Locke, people should not be judges in their own cases because “Self-love will make men partial to themselves and friends.” Given that the love of self is our default setting, it is only logical for us to realize that partial thinking is not far behind wanting to break out in our lives in various ways and degrees. For instance, racism and sexism are two serious out breakings of the sin of partiality. Partiality, however, can rear its ugly face under the guise of loyalty to friends and even family.

We must, therefore, be diligent to guard against partiality breaking out not only in our lives, but even having footing in our minds. To be partial in judgment is to think and live contrary to the character, nature, and will of the living God. The Scripture is clear in Deuteronomy 1:17:

17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike.”

Proverbs 24:23:

“These also are sayings of the wise.
To show partiality in judgment is not good.”

Paul said to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:21:

21 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”

James 2:9:

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Partiality is seen among the men in our text when Luke says that those who were circumcised took issue with Peter. They contended with him, and they did so because he went to uncircumcised men and ate with them. He associated with folk he ought not to. Remember what Peter pointed out to Cornelius when he went to his house, that according to man’s tradition within the Jewish community it was unlawful for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.[1]

We should recall that the law Peter spoke of was not the Law of God, but the twisted teaching of man. Gentiles were viewed by the Jewish community as those who were inferior, unclean, and incapable of ever having the same status as a Jew in the kingdom of God. This is not because God’s law had declared gentiles to be either inferior to the Jews, or unclean, but because of the Jews corrupted oral traditions which had been passed. Man’s laws, and not God’s law, are what Peter is referring to in verse 28 when he says:

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.”

God did not command this. Man, who possesses a propensity to partiality did.

Gentiles were, therefore, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. There was a court within the temple for gentiles to gather in and worship at from a distance. A wall of partition was erected to mark the divide between Jew and Gentile, and to indicate to gentiles that they could only go so far in their relation to God. It showed that they would never be of equal worth and value in the eyes of God, because according to their faulty understanding God only had relations with Jews who followed every rite.

It is especially tragic when we consider that the people of Israel were His chosen vessel to be the light to the nations. Isaiah 42:6-7:

“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”

Isaiah 49:6:

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Not only were they to be a light to the gentiles, but it was through the people of Israel that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives and from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

This is of course referring to Jesus Christ. He is the seed of Abraham.

The fact that they took issue with him is tragic when we consider God’s love for the nations and His desire for His throne to be surrounded by people from every tongue, tribe, and ethnicity whom He has purchased for Himself with His own blood. Christ here works through Peter to help them rediscover this.

Peter’s Reductio Ad Absurdum

In verse 4-17, Peter provides a defense for why he gathered with Cornelius without hesitation. Through his defense, he shows his audience that he is not the one at odds with God. They are! Their issue is not with him, but with Yahweh.

His defense essentially amounts to a Reductio Ad Absurdum, which is a form of argumentation where he shows his listeners the logical folly of their position. Those who were circumcised had taken issue with him, but what he gets them to see is that they ultimately take issue with God Himself. They are the ones who are standing in the way of God.

Peter does this by recalling how God proved His impartial character, nature, and will through:

  1. A vision –

Acts 11:4-10:

But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.”

  • Providence –

Acts 11:11-14

11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’

  • The Gift of the Spirit –

Acts 11:15-16:

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 

Listen to Peter’s beautiful conclusion to his defense:

17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 

Verse 18 records for us the conclusion of the circumcised:

18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Life in Christ

This is a wonderful truth worthy of repetition, which is that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 1 John 4:9-10 tells us that:

“God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

There is forgiveness and life for all who turn from themselves and cling to Him through faith. God has granted the repentance that leads to life to dead, depraved, underserving dust. He has done it all in Christ according to the gospel.

Let us never forget that there is not a single person that resides upon this earth that does not bear the image of God and is not considered our neighbor whom we are to love as ourselves. Let us guard ourselves against our predisposition to partiality, especially when it come to proclaiming the glorious truths of the gospel. As John Wesley said many years ago:

“I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation.”

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