“And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”” (Acts 10:15, ESV)
My last pastoral ministry was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The church ran a soup-kitchen where they would feed a hot lunch to about a hundred people every Tuesday. Many of these people lived in the woods. You can imagine that they, especially in the winter, could be considered quite unclean. Their clothes would be soiled and often smell like a campfire. I spent some time ministering to these homeless people during those lunches. Through building relationships with them and sharing the gospel, many came to faith in Christ.
Some of those who came to faith began attending worship with us on Sunday morning. However, some came in from their campsite and frankly stood out from everyone else. Some believers might have considered them unclean. However, what they truly needed was a change in their viewpoint.
In this passage, God is preparing Peter to present the gospel to a Roman centurion named Cornelius. To do this, Peter needed a change in viewpoint. While in a time of prayer, Peter received a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals. He hears a voice saying, “kill and eat.” Peter, being a devout Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah replies, “I have never eaten anything that is common, or unclean” The Lord’s response was profound. The early followers of Christ were primarily Jewish converts. As Jews, they had a natural predisposition towards Christianity being an exclusive group of believing Jews. They considered the Gentiles as unclean and kept them at a distance.
Here the Lord is changing Peter’s viewpoint regarding the Gentiles through the message, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Our normal reaction to this phrase is that it refers to the partaking of food that Jewish dietary laws forbid. However, the phrase has a much broader context. You see, the Jewish dietary laws marked a distinct separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. In addition, while the Jews considered this food unclean, they also considered the Gentiles as common or unclean. The message was this. God has removed this separation. Whatever God had cleaned up, we should never consider unclean or common. This includes everything, including people.
This message must ring loud and clear to us today. Often, we have people who enter the body of Christ from “walks of life” that we might consider appalling. We might make comments, under our breath, “How could God save a person like that?” We might tend to look down upon these people as common, defiled, or unclean. We should never do this! Every believer in Christ, regardless of his or her past, or present situation, has experienced the cleansing power of Christ. John writes it this way.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, ESV)
We should never look at another believer and call him or her common. The work of Christ has leveled the field. He has made the common to be uncommon. He has by His grace cleansed us all and brought us into the family of God. This song, “I’ve just seen Jesus,” proclaims the sentiment. The lyrics go, “All that I’ve done before. Won’t matter anymore.” Perhaps we need a change in our viewpoint towards others believers who are from different cultural or economic backgrounds. Consider this, what God has made clean is truly clean.