BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
In Acts 10, the Bible narrates the story of Cornelius, a Roman soldier in Caesarea, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. The Bible describes him as a devout man who feared the God of Israel just as his entire household did. He was also a man who gave generously to charity and regularly prayed to God.
Rom 15:4 says “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (KJV). It is significant that apart from Acts 10 where Cornelius is mentioned, his name is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. However, there are some lessons to learn from his life. I have identified nine lessons, but there could be more. The eight lessons are discussed below.
1.Worship only the true and living God. Cornelius was a Roman and Romans worshipped multiple gods. But Cornelius, despite his position as a commander of at least one hundred soldiers, abandoned the worship of the gods for the worship of the God of the Jews – the true and living God.
The extent to which he believed in this God is reflected in the way the Bible described him: 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). His emissaries to Peter also confirmed that he was a just man, one who feared God and had a good reputation among all the Jews (verse 22).
Cornelius, though a Gentile, feared (worshipped) the true and living God. He fasted and observed the Jewish hours of prayer. It was when he was observing the Jewish prayer at the ninth hour (3pm) that an angel appeared to him. Cornelius is regarded as the first Gentile convert to Christianity recorded in the Bible. The door of the gospel and the Holy Spirit baptism was opened to the gentiles in his house.
Like Cornelius did, Ruth, a Moabite, also abandoned the gods of her country to worship the God of the Jews. She told her mother-in-law, Naomi, that Naomi’s God shall be her God (Ruth 1:16). The Thessalonians, according to Paul, turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess 1:9b).
Many have substituted some idols, both graven images and modern gods like money, power, fame, pleasure, etc. for the true and living God. Anything that comes before God in our life is an idol or a god. But God says you should not worship any other gods besides Him (Ex 20:3). You should worship only the true and living God. There is no other God besides Him (Isa 45:21). Jer 10:10 says, “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation” (NKJV). Be a true worshipper; worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
2. God knows you and your greatest need more than anyone does. The Bible says by their fruits, you shall know them (Matt 7:16, 20). People are watching you and have their opinion about who you are. Jesus asked His disciples who men said He was (Matt 16:13; Mark 8:27). Beyond your status or the position you occupy, who do men say that you are? Are you using your position to bless people or to oppress them? Are you making them better or bitter? “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan” (Prov 29:2 NLT).
Cornelius was a man of good reputation. But God knew him more than anyone did. It was because God knew Cornelius more than everybody that He orchestrated his salvation and that of his household. God knows that it’s not enough for one to be described as a nice person; He knows it’s not enough for one to be religious. But one must be born again (John 3:7). And as at this time, Cornelius was just religious; he wasn’t born again. People may approve of your life, but what is important is what God is saying.
Beyond what human beings know about you, God has the best knowledge of you – He knows you in and out. He knows who you are and even your greatest need. “For His eyes are on the ways of man, and He sees all his steps” (Job 34:21 NKJV). The New Living Translation says, “For God carefully watches the way people live; he sees everything they do” (NLT).
Are you born again? Have you given your life to Jesus? If you haven’t, I invite you to do that now. The concluding part of this message tells you how to be born again.
3. God takes note of your prayers and giving. Cultivate a life of prayer, especially private prayer, and of giving. Your prayers and gifts are an offering to God. Some people pray but they don’t give; some don’t do either. You must pray but you must also sow seeds, bless other people financially and materially, especially the poor like Cornelius did. Prayer is not a substitute for giving, and giving is not a substitute for prayer. Acts 10:2 says Cornelius gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. And the angel told Cornelius, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God!” (Acts 10:4 NLT).
Don’t let the devil deceive you that God is not taking cognizance of your prayer or giving done in line with the Bible. That’s a lie of the devil. God told Moses, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites” (Exo 3:7-8 NKJV). God said a similar thing in Exo 6:5: “And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant” (NKJV).
Don’t let the devil discourage you. Your prayer and giving are not a waste. “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time” (Gal 6:9 NLT).
4. God answers your prayer and reward your giving. God doesn’t just take note of your prayers and gifts, He rewards at the appropriate time. Matt 7:7 says, “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened” (NLT). God answers prayers but the answer may not come in your own time and in your own way. That’s why you shouldn’t be weary because your answer has not come. We don’t know for how long Cornelius had been praying before he had that divine encounter, which, evidently, was an answer to his prayer but may be the answer didn’t come the way he had expected. God knows the deepest and greatest needs in your life. He will meet these needs. Cornelius greatest and deepest need was his salvation and salvation of his household.
Not only should you keep praying like Cornelius did, you should keep giving. “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess 3:13 NKJV). Keep giving towards projects in the Kingdom of God, and keep giving to people your time, money, materials and other resources. Keep giving, especially to the poor and needy. “If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD — and he will repay you!” (Prov 19:17 NLT). Prov 28:27 says, “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing. But a curse will come upon those who close their eyes to poverty” (NLT).
Why must you keep giving? Because God rewards giving. He rewarded Cornelius; He will reward you. “Remember this — a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (2 Cor 9:6-8 NLT).
Jesus told those scolding the woman (Mary) who poured costly fragrant oil on His body, unknowingly preparing Him for burial, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matt 26:13 NKJV). It wasn’t a waste; her good work was rewarded.
5. Divine encounter is real, but you may not be able to predict when. You can pray, fast, sow seeds, and do other good works but you cannot predict the day God will encounter you, reward you and turn your life around.
The day God encountered Cornelius was just like any other day he had prayed and fasted in the past. He had no idea what was waiting for him that day. He just went to keep his usual appointment with God in fasting and prayer one afternoon about three o’clock when he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him called his name and announced to him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God! Now send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a leatherworker who lives near the shore. Ask him to come and visit you” (Acts 10:4-6 NLT). That was all the angel said, and disappeared.
Cornelius immediately acted on what the angel said and the outcome of obedience was Peter’s visit to Cornelius house, the salvation of Cornelius, his relatives and close friends and the receipt of the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon gentiles for the first time. Suppose Cornelius had failed to keep his prayer appointment that day due to one reason or the other. He would have missed that divine encounter.
Zechariah also didn’t know the LORD would encounter him that day he was serving God in the temple and an end came to years of childlessness. Luke 1:6-7 says, “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old” (NLT).
But Verse 8 says, “One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week” (NLT). As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lord’s presence, but he had no premonition of angelic encounter. He was burning the incense and a great crowd stood outside praying. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah inside the temple saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John” (verse 13 NLT). That was how Zechariah got his turnaround. Eventually the wife became pregnant and gave birth to John according to the word of the angel.
The day Moses had his divine encounter in the burning bush was just like any other day. He wasn’t expecting any supernatural event as he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. “One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he went deep into the wilderness near Sinai, the mountain of God. Suddenly, the angel of the LORD appeared to him as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames, but it didn’t burn up” (Exo 3:1-3 NLT).
If you asked Moses what he was doing that day, he would have told you he was tending Jethro’s sheep, which he had been doing for about forty years. He followed his normal route and routine. But that day he didn’t know that though he was leading the sheep, God was leading him. That encounter changed his life forever. The LORD spoke to him out of the burning bush and Moses stepped into the pursuit of his destiny – deliverance of Israelites from 430 years of captivity in Egypt.
You cannot predict divine encounter. Just be faithful walking with God and doing what He has committed into your hands.
6. Be obedient. In a vision Cornelius had, the angel had told him to send men to Joppa to invite to his house Simon surnamed Peter lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house was by the sea and he would tell him what he must do (Acts 10:5-6).
Verse 7 says when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. He sent them to carry out the angel’s instruction.
The Bible says Cornelius obeyed the angel and dispatched messengers to Joppa immediately. Being a soldier, he understood what authority meant. As the centurion in Luke 7:8 told Jesus, “For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (NKJV).
Cornelius’ words to Peter on his arrival also showed him as a man eager to obey God. He told Peter, “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:33 NKJV). No wonder, while Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and all those who heard the word.
Just as God had dealt with Cornelius, He also dealt with Peter before the arrival of Cornelius’ emissaries. Both of them obeyed God and God’s will was done. If either of them had disobeyed God, He probably would have needed to use other people and other means to fulfill His will to ensure that not only Cornelius and his the household were saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost, but to ensure that the door of Holy Ghost baptism is also opened to the Gentiles.
In Acts 26:19, Paul told King Agrippa that he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Don’t be disobedient. Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22 NKJV). Be obedient to the Word of God. Be obedient to authorities, your superiors, etc. as long as this does not make you disobey God.
7. Exercise godly influence on your family and within your circle of influence. Cornelius was a man who had godly influence on his family and friends. Before Peter arrived from Joppa with the emissaries he had sent to him, he made sure his relatives and close friends were already seated in his house awaiting Peter (Acts 10:24).
Because of the invitation Cornelius extended to his relatives and close friend, they heard the message Peter preached, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and were baptized in water as a mark of their salvation (verses 44-48). Cornelius exercised godly influence on his family members and close friends.
God is interested in your salvation and the salvation of your household and everyone you have relationship with. Are you exercising godly influence on them so that they can be saved? Are you inviting them to church or Christian programmes where they can be saved? Are you praying for their salvation? Do you share the word of God with them?
The Bible says Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations and walked with God (Gen 6:9). While all other souls on earth then were destroyed by the flood, Noah’s family members were saved because they listened to him to enter into the ark.
Noah went into the ark with his sons, wife, and sons’ wives (Gen 8:18). Heb 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (NKJV). They were eight in all (1 Peter 3:20).
God is interested in the salvation of your household. At Philippi, Lydia, a merchant of expensive purple cloth didn’t come to the Lord alone; she came together with her household. When the Lord opened her heart, she accepted what Paul was saying and was baptized, together with her household (Acts 16:14-15).
A similar thing happened to the Jailor of Philippi. When he asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with your entire household” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Paul and Silas shared the word of the Lord with him and all who lived in his household; the jailor and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. They rejoiced d because they all believed in God (verses 31-34).
Exercise godly influence on your family. God said concerning Abraham, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him” (Gen 18:19-20 NKJV). Just as Cornelius did, be a godly influence also on all those you have relationship with.
8. Esteem servants of God, but don’t worship them. Cornelius had been waiting for Peter and had called together his relatives and close friends to meet Peter. “As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell to the floor before him in worship” (Acts 10:25 NLT). And what was Peter’s reaction to this? Peter pulled him up and told him to stand up as he was a human being like him. Cornelius then got up, and both of them talked as they went inside where others were assembled.
Christians should esteem or honour servants of God, but must never worship them. Servants of God must also teach believers that only God must be worshipped. No matter how much God is using them, they must never receive worship from any human being, including their members. Only God deserves our worship. If, that day, Cornelius was just trying to honour Peter in the best way he knew, he went too far. But Peter corrected him. Servant of God, if you were Peter, would you have done that?
Also, at Lystra, Barnabas and Paul rejected being worshipped by the people. That was after Paul had told a man who was a cripple from his mother’s womb to stand up straight on his feet and he walked. “Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’” (Acts 14:11 NKJV).
They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. As if that was not enough, the priest of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to the gates to sacrifice with the multitudes. The ego of Paul and Barnabas didn’t become inflated because they were being worshipped. No. They tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and telling them they were men like them (verses 14-16).
Servants of God must be careful not to receive the honour due to God alone even if people, due to ignorance, overzealousness or sycophancy, try to give such honour to them. They must always wear the garment of humility. When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom (Prov 11:2). Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall (Prov 16:18).
According to Prov 29:23, pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honour. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Don’t feel too important; you’re not God. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Rom 12:3).
Minister of God, don’t let your members worship you. Don’t let them esteem you beyond your status as a servant of God. Paul told the Corinthians, “So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s secrets” (1 Cor 4:1 NLT).
Take note of that phrase: mere servants of Christ (other translations like the King James Version, New King James Version and New Century Version use servants of Christ). Point the people’s attention to the Christ in you, not you. Let the people worship the Christ in you, which is also in every child of God.
The church is the bride of Christ. Jesus is the bridegroom; the pastor or church leader is, at best, the best man. The best man must never flirt with the bride. He must never demand from the bride the attention and honour due to the groom.
John the Baptist understood this very well. He said, “The bride will go where the bridegroom is. A bridegroom’s friend rejoices with him. I am the bridegroom’s friend, and I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:29-30 NLT).
1 Thess 5:13 says we should esteem highly the servants of the LORD for their work’s sake. Nevertheless, we must not be tempted to worship them, even if some are tempted to ask for it subtly or directly. Matt 13:57 says, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family” (NLT). Servants of God should be honoured by family members and outsiders, but they should not be worshipped. This is beyond bowing down before them.
Pastor worship or preacher worship is believing what a pastor says above or contrary to what the Bible says. It is replacing the Word of God with the word of a pastor. It is continuing to follow a pastor who, by His teachings and life, has stopped following the LORD. Pastor worship is sacrificing your commitment to the LORD or your local assembly on the altar of supporting a pastor. You’re worshipping your pastor when you stop attending your local assembly because he has been transferred; or you also transfer yourself to join him or join him to break away.
You’re engaging in pastor worship when you cause division or schism in the church because of your love for a particular pastor, though you know the pastor’s actions are against the Word of God. If you don’t cooperate with or support a new pastor because your favorite pastor has been transferred, you’re guilty of pastor worship. If you’re not receptive to the ministry of other pastors in your local assembly except a particular pastor, or not receptive to the ministry of other genuine ministers of God outside your denomination, you’re a pastor worshipper.
Pastors must not let Satan enter into them. Satan loves to be worshipped. Before he was cast down from heaven, he didn’t want to continue to worship God. He planned to exalt his throne above the stars of God, sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north, ascend above the heights of the clouds and be like the Most High. But he was thrown out of heaven (Isa 14:13-15).
When he tempted Jesus, one of the things he demanded from Him was to bow down and worship him, promising to give Him the glory of the kingdoms of the world and authority over them. But Jesus, quoting from Deut 6:13, replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him’” (Luke 4:8).
The holy angels of God know that worship is due to God alone, so they won’t receive human worship. When John tried that in the book of Revelation, the angel stopped him. Rev 19:10 says, “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’” (NKJV). The same thing happened in Rev 22:8-9. If an angel rejected human worship, what should make it attractive to any minister of God?
If people worship you, stop the practice. Don’t let them kill you before your time. King Herod died a mysterious death for receiving worship from the people of Tyre and Sidon who flattered him, shouting that his voice was the voice of a god and not that of a man. An angel of the Lord struck him, worms ate him and he died (Acts 12:21-23).
You’re a human being, not a god. Don’t accept human worship. This will preserve you. Whatever you are – apostle, prophet, evangelist or pastor and teacher – you’re a gift to the church (Eph 4:8-12). The gift is not more important than the giver. “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised” (Prov 27:21 NLT). Don’t desire or demand worship if people esteem you. Remain humble.
9. God is no respecter of persons. He is the God of the Jews as much as He is the God of the Gentiles. He has no bias against any race. Job 34:19 says, “Yet He is not partial to princes, nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; for they are all the work of His hands” (NKJV).
Peter opened his message in the house of Cornelius by saying, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35 NKJV). Beyond what anyone would have expected, God confirmed Peter’s assertion causing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all who heard Peter’s word while he was still speaking.
Peter had not, as we normally do in our services, made the altar call, led to Christ those who might have answered the altar call, started water baptismal class and taken new converts through the believers’ class before ministering the baptism of the Holy Ghost to them. No. God just took over the meeting, set aside the order of service and standard procedure and did what He wanted to do to the amazement of all. Acts 10:45-46 says, “The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. And there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (NLT).
Even the preacher – Peter – didn’t know what to do in the circumstance other than to ask, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” (Verse 47 NLT). Of course, nobody objected, and Peter gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
1 Tim 2:4 says God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. God is no respecter of persons; He is impartial. Peter later, in Acts 15, referred to this unprecedented event at the Jerusalem Council. “At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God, who knows people’s hearts, confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he gave him to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he also cleansed their hearts through faith. Why are you now questioning God’s way by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the special favor of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:7-11NLT). Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the Jews alone; He died for the sins of the whole world. Any soul that sins shall die (Eze 18:4). Humanity, including the Gentiles, must therefore seek Jesus (Acts 15:17).
Conclusion: 2 Tim 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NKJV). Take heed to what you have learnt from this study, and apply the instructions and principles to your life. God shall reward your obedience.
If you’re not born again, I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start to attend a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church. There you will be taught how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent and confess my sins. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing, Bible teaching church in your area where you will be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I’ll be glad to hear from you. May the Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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