Day 22: Accountability: Good or Bad, and To Whom? (Acts 11:1-18)
Today’s Passage: Acts 11:1-18
Some would quickly say it is good that people are held accountable. They would just as quickly rail against someone trying to hold them accountable.
Human nature being what it is, reveals we all need to be accountable. The United States Constitution was created, in part, with this idea in mind. Its three branches of government, set to work together to both govern the country and hold the other branches accountable and in-check.
History is replete with examples of rulers amassing unchecked power and reeking havoc on people.
Yet, we don’t need to look to the megalomaniacs of history. If we are honest with ourselves, we each need accountability. It is healthy. Finding someone, or a group, that you trust enough to hold you accountable is the challenge.
For those who commit to a life of following Jesus (you know, the person whom we call LORD) we are in essence committing to a life that has voluntarily surrendered itself to God. A life that is willingly desires to become obedient in all things—a life fully accountable to God.
But how do we do this? After all, we don’t wake up every morning with Jesus looking at us. Jesus has ascended from this earth. The episode we read of today is an early example of the way the church has practiced this idea of being accountable to God; and it contains some specific elements.
We read of those elements in the text today with Peter, making himself accountable to the church. To be sure, it is an infant church. There is no hierarchy, no building, none of those other things that come to your mind when you think of the institutional church. None of that exists.
In Peter’s day, the church was simply the people who followed Jesus. This is technically true in our day, yet most of us, when we hear the word “church”, think of a building or institution.
When Peter witnessed God doing something amazing, yet new, he went to “the church” and presented himself—remarkable. The text is clear, he was greeted by people who were criticizing him. People did not come up to him and slap him on the back saying, “Great job!” No, the scene was tense.
Those who challenge him are not trying to be difficult. They are trying to be obedient to God. And it is reported that Peter is doing something which he claims God is leading him to do, and it is different.
Peter, in his report makes it clear that it was God’s doing. Peter did not wake up with his mind set on welcoming the Gentiles. In chapter 10 he argues with God. Now in verse 11:11 he notes that at the completion of the three-time vision and voice of God, men arrive at the house. Except for arguing with God, could he be more passive?
Again, in verse 14 there is a report that an angel spoke to the Gentiles and in verse 15, the Spirit falls on them- NOT after Peter speaks, but rather as he begins.
Peter’s testimony is clear. It is God’s action in the world, not Peter’s reasoning.
This episode is not men and women coming up with a new idea, and trying to bend God’s will to their (our) way of thinking. No, rather it is God’s supernatural action that confounds and confuses.
It is instructive to see how the the fledging church behaves and how it tries to sort out this situation—they come together, they pray, they debate, they listen, and they turn to the Word of God to guide their decision. These are the elements of seeking to be accountable to God.
And just to put a point on this statement, when I write Word of God, I am talking about the Old Testament.
It is in the Old Testament he finds GRACE and MERCY for the world. It is there. It has been and continues to be there all along.
The scene is remarkable. There is true tension. People’s way of thinking is completely challenged. Peter shares what he observed and how he processed it all.
How many of us actively seek to submit to the Word of God, never mind submit to the Old Testament? So often we see the Old Testament as so separate from the New Testament, that we expect it to stand against God’s grace and mercy.
The key, I think, is TRUST. Do we trust the author of the Old Testament to have our best interests at heart? Do we TRUST God, so that we will trust His counsel.
To be clear, the church gathered, they listened, they prayed, they turned to the Word of God for counsel and direction. No one was operating as a Lone Ranger. And Peter did not base his decision singularly on a vision. Under all of their decisions is their trust in God, so much so, that they were willing to be accountable to Him and His Word.
You and I might think this was easy, after all, they received reports of angelic visitations and godly visions. Might I suggest that you and I live in a world where God is still moving in the lives of people around us—opening hearts and minds. This is just as miraculous. So, we too should receive these reports, we should listen, we should pray. I have sat in church councils and received reports of visions and visitations. Yet, visions and visitations should not govern our decision. Rather, we should submit to the authority of the Word of God.
It is not easy. However, if we truly trust God, then it will be best.