Uniform 10.25.2015: A Help or a Hindrance?


Acts 11:1-18

When someone is doing a truly good work, most of us want to help them—or at least not hinder them. This time last year, I worked at an annual fundraiser for a local nonprofit that helps families with children who have cancer (the Jay’s HOPE Foundation). We spent all of Friday (including the midnight hours) and most of Saturday setting up, overseeing, and then taking down all the components of a major road race called Trek or Treat (this year’s race is on Halloween!). The sun was still asleep on race day when we arrived to add the finishing touches.

One group of teenagers worked hard inflating balloons and sewing them together with fishing line to create a colorful arch for race participants. I could not help them. I have no idea how to make a good balloon arch. So I stayed away and didn’t hinder them.

In another area, though, a group set up tables and tents, then folded and stacked race-day T-shirts. I could help them. So I joined them and worked as hard as I could.

When the crowds arrived, I didn’t hinder the announcer, the chip timers, or the food vendors. Instead, I helped by registering racers, selling extra T-shirts, and answering various questions about Jay’s HOPE. The foundation does a good work, and I want to help—not hinder. Most of us would like to be helpers.

The idea that people can somehow hinder God’s good work is frightening, but that’s exactly what is suggested in our passage from Acts. Passionate, headstrong Peter learned many lessons from his friend Jesus’ life, and now that Jesus has died, risen, and ascended, Peter wants to put those hard-learned lessons into action. He travels from city to city sharing his firsthand experience with the Lord in human form. Some people recognize what a good work God is doing, and they willingly join the effort. Others, though, put up roadblocks to God’s work, claiming that the gospel is for certain people—and certainly not for everyone. They think they are helping God, but they are actually hindering God. That’s a frightening frame of mind, and they don’t even realize it.

Peter knows where they’re coming from, because he used to try to hinder God too. He thought he knew, better than Jesus, who should be included in God’s family. But he knows the truth now, and he refuses to be a hindrance any longer. Instead, he preaches about the vision God gave him: “The Spirit…[says] not to make a distinction between them and us” (Acts 11:12). In God’s family, everyone is welcome—Gentiles and Jews, men and women, young and old, sick and healthy, educated and uneducated…and the list goes on.

“All of these have the same gift of the Holy Spirit,” Peter insists. “Who am I, then, to hinder God?” (see vv. 16-17). And he didn’t hinder God. He helped in the best way that he knew, by sharing from his experiences and visions and lessons straight from the life of Jesus.

God is doing a great work and will do it regardless of our participation. But it would be so much better for our corner of the world—and for us—if we found a way to help God instead of hindering this great work. How can you help God today?


1. When have you participated in a good cause in a way that was helpful? What were the benefits to you and to others?
2. When have you hindered—even unintentionally—the work of a good cause? What were the harmful effects on you and on others?
3. Think of a time when you witnessed others being helpful or being hindrances in some good work. What was that like?
4. How do you think Peter felt when he recognized how he had hindered the good work of God by excluding certain people? What personal qualities (given by God) helped him to change?
5. Think of the ways you may hinder God’s work of sharing Jesus’ love. How could you become a helper, working with the Holy Spirit to bring others to God?

Reference Shelf

This final scene brings the Cornelius narrative to closure. Upon returning to Jerusalem Peter must offer a speech that summarizes for the audience in the story the gist of the narrative of Acts 10 (11:4). At the same time, the speech functions to review the key features of the preceding narrative for the reading audience. Peter’s audience within the story is described as “the apostles and the believers [lit., ‘brothers’] who were in Judea” (v. 1). Verse 2 then makes reference to “the circumcised believers.” Some commentators argue that “the circumcised believers” are synonymous with the apostles and other Judean believers. Others contend that “the circumcised believers” denote a subgroup among the apostles and Judean believers. Given that Luke is able to distinguish between various Christian Jewish groups within Jerusalem (recall Acts 6; cf. Acts 15), one cannot dismiss the possibility that Luke portrays the objections coming from a small element within the Judean congregation. Yet the text is ambiguous.

Once news came to Jerusalem that “the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God” (v. 1), Peter’s detractors (however one precisely understands “those of the circumcision”) accused him of eating with uncircumcised men (v. 3). This appears a curious response to news that Gentiles accepted the word of God. However, if Gentiles have embraced the same God as these Jews, this will have implications on how open Jewish followers of the Messiah will have to be toward these non-Jewish people. It is not difficult to imagine people who have lived separated from other races or ethnic groups being willing to acknowledge that people of other races can love and be loved by God, while at the same time having no intention themselves of associating with these racially different people.

In his response, Peter chooses to focus explicit attention on God’s acceptance of the Gentiles, not his social association with them. According to Soards, Peter’s deliberative speech functions primarily to convince audiences that God is responsible for what has happened. The fact that “God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed” (v. 17) requires one to conclude that “there is nothing that might suggest a status as ‘second-class citizens’ for the Gentiles.” Verse 18 would indicate that Peter was successful in convincing his audience that God had offered life-giving repentance to non-Jews. But Peter’s speech at least offered a tacit response to the accusation that he had table fellowship with the Gentiles: “Peter’s argument implicitly claimed that Gentiles were full members of the church, and therefore that circumcision and keeping of the law were unnecessary for salvation; it also contained the wider implication that the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean foods and people was abolished.” In short, if God has accepted Gentiles, so too must the body of believers.

Acts states that “when they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18). Acts notes that before these men offered this praise “they were silenced,” implying that the text refers to those who had criticized Peter. That would seem to indicate that they had been persuaded that God had fully accepted the Gentiles. With this conclusion, the story can now move on more deliberately toward “the ends of the earth.” Readers will later learn, however, that traditional attitudes die hard, for the church will, again, have to address the controversy over the full acceptance of Gentile believers (Acts 15).

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 175-77.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.


For further resources, subscribe to the Uniform Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email