By Ps Lee Kok Wah
“Surely not, Lord!” Imagine that your boss instructs you to do something, and you reply, “No way, Boss!” Would that not be contradictory? You call him “Boss”, yet you refuse to carry out his instruction. So, when God told Peter to do something and he replied, “surely not, Lord”, it was shocking indeed. At the same time, Peter’s struggle was understandable. What happened? Take a look at Acts 10:9-16 (NIV).
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
In his trance, Peter saw heaven opened and an object like a sheet of linen being let down to earth by its four corners. Within the sheet were all kinds of unclean animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told him to “kill and eat” these unclean animals. In the Old Testament, there are a few passages that describe someone being asked to do something culturally offensive or religiously illegal. Examples include Genesis 22:1-2 (Abraham to sacrifice Isaac); Isaiah 20:2-3 (Isaiah to go naked for three years) and Hosea1:2-3 (Hosea to marry a harlot).
Initially, Peter absolutely refused. By rejecting God’s instruction to eat, Peter believed he was being obedient to God. Peter responded as a faithful Jew who was brought up to uphold the view that to eat these unclean things would be a violation of the law (Leviticus 10:10; 20:25; Ezekiel 4:14; Daniel1:8-12 etc.) The reply from heaven made it clear that God had cleansed the food and that it was alright for Peter to eat it. The main point of this episode is that God has the right to declare food clean. The lowering of the sheet three times emphasized to Peter that God was speaking and was to be believed.
Darrel L. Bock, in his commentary Acts (Baker Academic 2007, p390) wrote: ‘The two concepts of food and of table fellowship as signs of accepting Gentiles are related, for associating with Gentiles and eating what they may have prepared as hosts would in normal Jewish thinking entail the probable risk of uncleanness. In addition, the two ideas are closely tied together in the law (Leviticus 20:24b-26). Indeed, Polhill (1992:255) argues that “purity distinctions and human discrimination are of a single piece.” The food laws underscore Israel’s separation from the nations. By making unclean food clean, God is showing how table fellowship and acceptance of Gentiles are more easily accomplished in the new era.’
What might be your “purity distinctions and human discrimination” that prevent you from reaching out to someone else? These might be cultural, food or religious. Often, the causes of our posture of separation may be concealed in the sub-conscious. At other times, we may be very intentional in our choices of “non-fellowship.” Some Protestant religious groups make “separation” as one of their core values. There are passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that provide the basis for this doctrine, including Amos 3:3, Ephesians 5:11, 2 Corinthians 6:14, John 17:13-16. Different groups vary in what “separation” means for them. Additionally, some practice first degree separation while others insist on second degree separation. For example, many Christians profess or practice a lifestyle that is distinct from the ways of the world (first degree separation). Others would insist that not only should Christians separate from the world but also from those Christians who would not separate themselves from the world (second degree). Then there are those Christians who choose to separate themselves from other Christians who subscribe to different interpretations of Scripture, even on non-core matters of the faith. Even in matters of theology, some practice first degree and others practice second degree separation.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15). Pray for godly wisdom and Spirit-led discernment as we grow out of our “purity comfort zones” to engage others, so that disciples may be made of all nations.