God’s Word for You
Acts 10:7-8 Church fellowship
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 27, 2020
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his household slaves and a devout soldier from among those who were loyal to him. 8 He told them everything and he sent them to Joppa.
Christianity cuts across all distinctions. Our fellowship is with everyone who shares our faith. What was surprising to those living in ancient times was that the fellowship of Christianity was shared by anyone and everyone; old barriers were no longer in place where faith in Christ was concerned. No longer was a woman included in the faith by virtue of her status as her father’s daughter or her husband’s wife. A woman could be baptized into the faith exactly in the same way as any man (Acts 16:14-15). In the apostles, we see that men of various backgrounds—fishermen, tax collectors, even political extremists like the Zealots—became Christians by virtue of their faith and no other trait. Earlier in Acts, we saw an Ethiopian eunuch get baptized. Here in the Cornelius story, we see household slaves and two soldiers (including Cornelius himself) who shared the common bond of faith. Whatever distinction might have been the case in other circumstances, Cornelius understood that these other men were his brothers in Christ. Socially, he ranked far above the ordinary soldier. And both he and that soldier were far above the household slaves. Yet, because they shared the common bond of faith in Christ, Cornelius trusted these other men with this errand. He told them everything, even the vision he’d had of an angel. Because of their faith in God, they did not doubt his vision.
At this point, I want to try to explain the phrase “those who were loyal to him” in verse 7: proskarteréō (προσκαρτερέω). When the object of this verb is a thing, it means “to occupy oneself diligently with” or “pay close attention to” a thing, with much the same force as the piel verb stem in Hebrew. It can mean, for example, to be “persistent in prayer” (Acts 1:14; Romans 12:12). Here, the object is a person rather than a thing, and so the meaning is “to be loyal to.” Some translations seem to take this to mean that the soldier in question was a personal attendant of Cornelius, or that he was “attached” to Cornelius in a military sense, that is, assigned to him under orders. I don’t think that these expressions catch the idea of the word. Luke seems to have chosen this word to show that this soldier was loyal to Cornelius because of their shared faith.
These men who were loyal to Cornelius and shared his faith were sent away to Joppa to find Peter. Here we should notice something about the fellowship that these four men shared, the two soldiers and the two servants. The servants and the regular soldier were not loyal to Cornelius because of his good works, his giving of alms and so forth. They were loyal to him and were attached to him because of their shared faith. If we return to the way Luke introduced Cornelius to us, we see that “He was a devout man who worshiped God with all his household” (Acts 10:2a). His good works followed his faith (Acts 10:2b). The fellowship that we share with other Christians is likewise not built upon the good things that a church does or seems to do, but on the faith shared within that church. We have fellowship with God through faith in Jesus, but we also have fellowship with one another in the visible church as an expression of our shared faith. Our fellowship must therefore be based on the confession of faith that we make. If I declare myself to be in fellowship with a denomination or a church body that clearly teaches false doctrine, you would not want to make an association of fellowship with me by worshiping with me, by praying with me, by attending the Lord’s Supper with me, or by joining with me in the work of the church or missions. By avoiding such things, you would be expressing your concern about my false doctrine. You would be carrying out your sacred duty toward me and you would be giving glory to God with what you do.
This fellowship is based upon the teaching or doctrines of the Bible. Jesus tells us to teach everything he has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). God warns us not to add or subtract anything from his word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6). Paul warns us to stay away from those who persist in false teaching (Romans 16:17). God wants pastors and sometimes even laypeople (when necessary) to oppose false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3-5) and identify them by name so that people can be on their guard against them (2 Timothy 2:17-18; 3 John 9). In 1970, the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) made this statement about fellowship and confessing our faith: “A Christian confession of faith is in principle always a confession to the entire Word of God. The denial, adulteration, or suppression of any word of God does not stem from faith but from unbelief.”
Cornelius trusted these men with this spiritual mission because he trusted their faith; they shared in their fellowship of faith. When we worship together, pray together, take the Lord’s Supper together, we express the same unity of faith with one another, based on our common understanding and faith in the Holy Scriptures. Rejoice in the fellowship you have. If your church rejects the idea of fellowship or the Scriptural basis for fellowship, ask questions, both of your pastor and of the Word of God. Let God’s word, not human opinion or philosophy be what connects you with believers. And may the loyalty and proskarteréō of fellowship give you joy and contentment in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith