Making The Application
Often in an assembly, a brother will pray for us to have the wisdom to apply the lesson we're about to hear. Such prayers are good and should not cease but too often, the prayer is not answered. It's not because God hasn't made available the tools for its implementation, but sometimes the preacher fails to give a concrete example of how to make the application of the spiritual principles that he's tried to impart. Or, perhaps the listener fails to recognize opportunity in his own life wherein he could direct the teaching.
In Acts 10, we have the familiar story of Peter and Cornelius. In this wonderful story of conversion by God's providence is an excellent example to help us learn how to apply spiritual principles.
Understand God teaches in many ways. There are commands and these are easy enough to understand, but God also uses principles and concepts by which we can necessarily infer what He wants us to learn. Peter, praying on a housetop in Joppa, falls into a trance and sees a vision of unclean animals being lowered to earth. After being commanded to kill and eat these animals, he refuses and cites his dedication to the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic law. The vision appeared three times and finally was taken up into the sky. God wanted Peter to understand a deeper thing than merely the fact that some food had been restricted in the Law and Peter is left "perplexed" and wondering what is was that he was to learn from this vision.
Spend time thinking about what you can get out of the teaching. Peter was "perplexed" (Acts 10:17, NASB). He "wondered within himself" (NKJV) what the meaning of the vision could be. Though he didn't immediately get it, that didn't stop him from thinking about it further. Verse 19 tells us he was "reflecting" or "thinking" or "pondering" on the vision. It means he was fixated wholly on trying to determine the meaning of what he had seen. He was turning the vision over and over, through and through, in his mind being deep in thought over what it might mean.
Things work together that might help us apply the teaching. While Peter was seeing and thinking over the vision, Cornelius an "unclean" Gentile some 25 miles away in Caesarea was sending men to bring Peter there and teach them God's way. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28) We should recognize the "all things" in Romans 8 is limited by the context of that passage, but we should also recognize the many "helps" that God allows in life to strengthen our walk in Him. How many times have we prayed for patience and then the next day be confronted with a situation that severely tests it?
Recognize opportunity to apply the
teaching. There came a time in our text that Peter "saw the light" and
knew what God meant for him to know by the strange vision. Peter, a Jew, entered
the home of Cornelius, a Gentile and said, "You yourselves know how unlawful it
is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet
God has shown me (emphasis mine - zf) that I should not call any man unholy or
unclean. I most certainly understand NOW (emphasis mine - zf) that God is not
one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what
is right is welcome to Him." (Acts 10:28, 34-35)
All his life Peter had been taught that Gentiles were inferior to Jews and had no access to the God of Israel. The vision that came to him from God showed him differently and Peter was not only quick to recognize and apply that principle, but he did so in spite of years of conditioning and practice. By doing so, Peter was able to preach God's will to a houseful of people who wanted to obey Him. What an awesome example for those of us who believe that old dogs can't learn new tricks! Changing one's mind and ingrained habits are difficult, to be sure, but that in itself doesn't make change impossible.
The results for Peter meant the first of many Gentile converts. In fact, he got the opportunity to relay the story of the conversion of Cornelius' household to the other apostles and brethren in Jerusalem. "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'" (Acts 11:18) But it may not have happened that way if Peter hadn't kept an open mind, reflected on God's teaching, and recognized the opportunity to implement it.
Just because the preacher doesn't always point out a specific
example of how one might apply Biblical concepts doesn't nullify our
responsibility to bear fruit from it. Let each one of us think on the things
presented, whether by hearing or by reading, and resolve to "apply it to
myself." Think about Peter and his success. Who knows what the results might be
from you making the application!
There is a crying need today for people to seek out the wisdom of God as revealed in His Scriptures and make application of it in their lives. But the key phrase is "seek out the wisdom of God" because some have come to excel at misusing the Scriptures. How tiresome it is to hear people quote the Savior completely out of context to condone sinful behavior or to criticize those who would speak out against sin. They will exclaim, "Judge not that you be not judged" or "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone." They surmise that Jesus taught us not to speak out against immorality. He did no such thing and such use of these statements is simply a twisting the Scripture, sometimes in ignorance and sometimes willful distortion, but distortion just the same.
By Zeke Flores
From Expository Files 10.10; October, 2003