The Bible story of the conversion of Cornelius is one that is probably familiar to you; its importance should not be overlooked, as it is the first time God sent the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles [non-Jews]. I would imagine most who read this are Gentiles, so it is an historical event worthy of our remembrance, if only for the fact it opened the door of salvation to the rest of the world, where the majority of Christians have since arisen.
And the man Cornelius is one worth considering, too. When we are introduced to Cornelius, he is described as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Later, the men whom he sent to Peter described him as “a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). More will be known about Cornelius as one continues reading the story of his conversion, and his example is one we would do well to imitate. Consider:
He Was Devout. The Greek word used here simply means one who shows great reverence to God and is pious and godly. Today, we would say he is a man who practices what he preaches; he did not merely give lip service to God, but acknowledged God’s worthiness of his service and faith, and had devoted himself to living a godly life that was pleasing to God, and dedicated to serving Him as best as he knew how.
Devotion to God is not to be understated; it has always been something God desired of those who would be His people. Early in God’s dealings with man, He said to them, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3), meaning there could be none in His presence [anywhere]; and, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5), meaning He would not tolerate divided affections. From just these two commandments, we can see that God desired singular service to Him, and committed, whole-hearted service where His people would surrender themselves completely to Him and not hold back anything in their service to Him.
This desire continues even today, for Jesus said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, 24). To worship Him “in spirit” means God wants more than lip service; He wants worship from the inner man and from the heart. To worship Him “in truth” means it must be real, and not merely an outward show.
Let us also note that the devotion of Cornelius was not such that he refused to change, when needed. Before the gospel message was preached to Him, he knew nothing of Jesus and the need for belief in Him to be saved, nothing about the need to repent of past sins, nothing of the need to be willing to continually confess Christ, and nothing of the need to be baptized into Christ that the blood might be effective to him in washing away his sins. As good as he was, he was not yet saved. And let us note that when Cornelius heard the message (Acts 10:36-43), he did not begin arguing for what he had already been doing or what he had believed up to that point; he did not tell Peter, “I know what you’re saying, but I think…” No, Cornelius, because of his devotion to God and his desire to be pleasing to Him, did what Peter commanded (Acts 10:47, 48). He did what every individual must do to be saved, because he had a mind and life devoted to pleasing God. He did not allow tradition, family, or social perceptions to prevent him from doing what pleased and honored God.
He Feared God with All His Household. Cornelius was one who feared God by personal conviction and choice, but his reverent respect for God was such that he influenced all those around him — those who knew him best. Let us note that it was said of him that he “feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2); this does not mean Cornelius exerted his authority over them to compel them to serve God, but rather influenced them to follow by reason and by demonstration. His example was one that led his family and his friends to follow his religious practice by choice. This was no doubt due to their willingness to do so, but let us not forget the positive influence he had on them because he cared for their spiritual standing, too. This is no more evident than when Peter was called to come speak to him the words of God and we find “Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24).
For us who are disciples today, Cornelius set the example for us to follow! Who of us could be a positive influence on our families, that it might be able to be said of us that we likewise fear God with all our household? Who of us, when the opportunity to hear God’s word arises, would call together all our relatives and close friends? Well, all of us could do that — but will we? DO we?
He Was Giving. Another statement made about Cornelius was that he “gave alms generously to the people.” Something we should note about this is the fact that this was likely for the Jews, and not for only his fellow Romans. The practice of giving “alms generously to the people” is almost as amazing as the Good Samaritan stopping to help the Jewish man who was beaten and left for dead! This is not the behavior the Jews would expect from a Roman soldier whose forces occupied their lands and forced them to pay taxes to their government!
Though Cornelius had left his homeland to serve his emperor and his country, he did not keep to himself and complain about being so far away from home and amongst people inferior to him; he made himself a friend to the people by looking to their needs and it should be noted that he had genuine concern and mercy for others. The character and practice of Cornelius was undoubtedly pleasing to God, for we find the wise writer’s words that tells us, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy” (Prov. 14:31); we may honor the Lord by looking out to the needs of those around us by showing to the world the ways of the Lord are more important than our own comforts and abundant material possessions
He Had A Good Reputation. Cornelius was one who also had “a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews.” Again, this is a noteworthy description, considering the Jews did not like nor want the Roman government over them, and Cornelius, as a centurion, was representing the government they did not like or want! What was it about Cornelius that gave him such a good reputation? It was how he lived his life and how he treated others!
We disciples are admonished to “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Col. 4:5) and to be an example of diligence and hard work that we might “walk properly toward those who are outside” (1 Thess. 4:10-12). Sometimes, it will be our example that leads others to seek the ways of God, when our words fall on deaf ears. Let’s make sure that the example they see is one that leads them closer to God, not further away.
Let our devotion to be God be such an example to others! — Steven Harper