My recent conversations with friends have included our mutual agreement about the sovereignty of God and his overarching providence during the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that our good, holy, and purposeful God is the first cause and administrator of all events helps us tremendously. I have also realized how the kindnesses of my neighbors, friends, dog trainer, retirement staff, and even my vet have encouraged me to trust God and boldly step out in faith to serve him. It’s counter-cultural to put kindness first—those who do are either excessively flattered or scorned for being soft. Kindness is not always soft, but it is always active. In the past, I valued proactiveness, skillfulness, adaptiveness, and effectiveness more than spiritual fruits. Now, each time I study the fruits of the Spirit, I am under conviction to change my values and thinking—such is the work of sanctification. I pray the same for you. Today, we will consider three passages about kindness to the apostles in the first-century church planting. These three examples show how God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. My goal is to stimulate all of us to recognize, appreciate, and respond biblically to the considerations of others, for the sake of Christ and our witness for him.
The first passage is from Acts 10 when God extended an invitation to the Gentiles beyond Jerusalem to come to Christ through Peter’s ministry. Peter was finally convinced by God’s visions to go to Caesarea (10:17-23), which Cornelius considered a great kindness. “So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:33) Cornelius’s “thankfulness to Peter for coming…not only doing that which was right in the sight of God, but was kind in him, and acceptable to Cornelius and his house” blessed the entire group. (1) Peter’s thinking was transformed, as was his heart and conduct. This work of sanctification is what we should all pray for, in ourselves and others. He was starting a journey toward unbiased respect and compassion for all people, regardless of their past beliefs. Peter didn’t enter Cornelius’s home to convince him to change; the man had already heard from the Lord and was at the point of conversion. Perhaps an aside here is called for—may we all be drawn to those primed by God’s Spirit, curious and interested—and not push on those who are disinterested. The work of redemption is God’s—but he will use us to accomplish it and others’ kindness to grow his kingdom.
On the other side, Cornelius’s kindness resulted in Peter’s encouragement to preach, and without it, far fewer people would have been reached. “Never did a preacher have a better prepared audience.” (2) He did everything possible to assist Peter and comply with God’s calling. “Cornelius had prepared his whole household, and now they were all waiting to hear Peter. I suppose Cornelius had figured out how long the trip to and the return from Joppa would take. He knew that those he had sent would not delay. He knew exactly when they would arrive. So there he was. He had everybody assembled. God had prepared Cornelius, the preacher, and the audience.” (3) Many received the gift of regeneration that day, because of Peter’s and Cornelius’s submission to the Lord and their great kindness toward each other.
Now, let’s jump to the end of the book of Acts, after the third missionary journey when Paul was in route to Rome “…when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius…The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for…” (Acts 27:1, 3). After that, Paul advised the Romans that they should not try to traverse the sea. A dangerous storm arose and the ship was in danger of capsizing. “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.’” (27:21-26) Maybe the other men thought Paul was out of his mind, except Julius. “But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:43-44) Paul and Julius became friends, which resulted in mercy and compassion for all those on board—prisoners and guards. The fact that the soldiers feared the prisoners’ escape makes Julius’s choice even more commendable—he risked his career and probably his life to helping Paul.
John Gill comments: “Sailing at this time was dangerous, as the saints’ passage through this world always is, and especially now in these last and perilous days; partly through the abounding of immorality on the one hand, and partly through the spread of error and heresy on the other…the word of the Lord being precious, there being a famine of hearing the word; or for want of appetite to it: and last of all, there was a design formed by the soldiers to kill Paul, and the prisoners, but were prevented by the centurion.” (5) God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. In Acts 28, Luke writes, “After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold…Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him.” (vs.1-2, 7-8) Once again, deliverance from danger and the opportunity to witness the healing power of Christ resulted from the kindness of all parties. “God can make strangers to be friends; friends in distress…The Lord raises up friends for his people in every place whither he leads them, and makes them blessings to those in affliction.” (6) “Though the inhabitants could not understand their language, they understood their case, and were very civil and humane to them, and showed them extraordinary kindness: for they kindled a fire…for a large fire it must be to be of service to such a number of people, in such a condition as they were…nothing was more needful and more agreeable to them than a large fire.” (7) Then, “…the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.” (28:9-10)
The kindness of the island residents to build a fire led to Paul getting bitten by a snake, which led to them witnessing Christ’s power in another healing. What chain reaction of kindness have you seen in your family, neighborhood, or church lately? What might happen if you started one, after praying for God’s provision and opportunity? How has the kindness of others encouraged you in your ministry or witness? Isn’t this exact time when we should be thinking, praying, and choosing to extend the gospel to the kind people all around us? Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18) Let’s not underestimate the power of Spiritual fruit in our witness for Christ.
(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 10:33,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-10.html
(2) Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Acts 10:33, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts 10:33, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 27:44, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-27.html
(5) Gill, Ibid.
(6) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Acts 28:1-10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.html
(7) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 28, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-28.html
(8) Gill, Ibid.
July 3, 2020