We’ve been walking through Acts at our church, and last week we came across this statement made by Cornelius the Centurion as he and his household welcomed Peter who had come to preach the good news of Jesus to them:
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
The attitude that Cornelius displays here is instructive to us today as we wait on the Word of God to be delivered during worship services, Sunday School classes, Bible classes at school, college, or seminary, and small group Bible studies. The listener should be:
- Eager to hear from God. As soon as Cornelius heard from the angel that God had a message for him, he “sent for [Peter] at once.” He had been anxiously and expectantly waiting to hear more about this God he feared and worshiped (Acts 10:2, 24). Are you anxiously and expectantly waiting to hear from and about God when you sit under the teaching or preaching of His Word?
- Grateful for the messenger. Cornelius knew the difficulties that Peter endured in order to deliver God’s Word to him, including a 30 mile journey from Joppa to Caesarea and Peter’s willingness to go against his religious tradition which banned association with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). Cornelius also recognized that Peter was under God’s authority and had been commanded to deliver this message (“all that you have been commanded by the Lord”). Cornelius understood some of what Peter had sacrificed to bring God’s Word to his household, and he commended Peter for being “kind enough to come” as if to say “it was good of you to come and bring this message to us.” What is your attitude toward the messenger, the teacher or preacher you are about to hear? Are you grateful for the time and sacrifice of preparation that the messenger has invested? Do you respect the preacher as one who speaks on behalf of the Lord?
- Conscious of and committed to community. Cornelius was aware of and attentive to the others around him who were also gathered to hear from God. As the head of the household (which included family, friends, and servants) and the one who received the angel’s message, Cornelius could have asked for a private audience with Peter. But Cornelius wanted all of the people in his sphere of influence to hear God’s good news, so he sought and gathered them (Acts 10:24). He then listened to the content of the message and showed that he was cognizant of the context of community when he said “we are all here” to hear what God has to say to us (vs. 33). Do you listen to God’s Word in the context of a community to which you are committed? Are you actively seeking others with whom you can learn from God’s Word?
- Paying attention to the presence of God. Cornelius was not only aware of the presence of fellow hearers, but that together they were “in the presence of God.” When you sit under Bible teaching or preaching, are you actively pursuing God? Are you practicing the presence of God by praying throughout the teaching time, asking God to speak to you and to give you “ears to hear” His Word?
- Listening intently to the message. Cornelius said that he and his household were ready to hear “all” or “everything” that Peter had to say to them. This kind of listening requires an active attentiveness that seeks to receive and understand the message as a whole, including each individual part of the whole. Do you employ whatever means necessary to hear the whole message? Do you try to understand both the overall flow and the individual parts of the message? What do you need to do to overcome distractions? Are you willing to hear everything God might be saying to you, or are you going to pick and choose the parts that are easier to swallow?
- Hearing from God. As a Roman soldier and commander of soldiers (a Centurion was in charge of 100 Roman soldiers), Cornelius knew what it meant to deliver and receive messages from a higher authority. When Cornelius told Peter that they were ready to hear everything that he had been “commanded from the Lord”, he showed that he understood that Peter was the messenger, but the message was from God. Are you listening for what God has to say to you? Are you letting the messenger distract you from hearing from the One who sends the message?
Oh, may our churches and schools and homes be full of Corneliuses, who stand ready to hear and to do whatever the Lord has spoken in His Word through His messengers!
Stay tuned for thoughts on what preachers and teachers can learn from Peter’s part in this story…