Careful, Charitable, and Prayerful Living

April 22, 2024

Careful, Charitable, and Prayerful Living

Woven throughout Scripture are descriptions of individuals who committed themselves to God and demonstrated godly characteristics that impacted others. In the Acts of the Apostles, we find the record of one of those individuals: a Roman centurion. We read, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1-2). In these verses, biographical details about Cornelius are given first: his name, his location, and his occupation. In the second verse, we are given information that is far more vital—the fact that Cornelius lived carefully, he lived charitably, and he lived prayerfully. A closer look at his character and manner of living can be an inspiration to us.

Cornelius lived carefully

The statement that Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house” indicates that at some point, he had made a conscious decision to be devoted to God, not just for a moment but no doubt for a lifetime. Further on in the same chapter, his household servants described him as “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (verse 22).

Cornelius was intentional about his desire to please God. Although he had a position of responsibility in the Roman military and maintained a household as well, he was not so wrapped-up in the concerns of daily life that he forgot about God. He was serious about serving God seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. His mindset was God-centered.

Isn’t pleasing God what we want in our lives? We too must have a certain focus to accomplish that. When we embark upon our day, make decisions, or plan for the future, we must determine to take God into account. We do not want anything to distract us from our mission of pleasing God. We want to be self-disciplined enough to push all incidentals aside and keep our focus upon Him.

This intense, serious desire to know and serve God is what the Apostle Paul called “sober minded” in his letter to Titus (see Titus 2:6). Being sober-minded does not mean never laughing or having fun. It does not imply the absence of a sense of humor. It is fine to have a good time in life, but if we have a purpose to live carefully, we are always cautious about our behavior. In Ephesians 5:4, the Apostle Paul noted that some things are not to be named among the saints, among them foolish talking and jesting (vulgar ribaldry), which are “not convenient”—a phrase that could be translated as “not fitting” or “out of place.”

If we are serious about pleasing God, we are serious about avoiding any behavior that would discredit our witness for Him.

Unbelievers have expectations about how Christians should conduct themselves. Sometimes those expectations are unreasonable or even impossible, but there is a level of propriety and careful living that every one of us can maintain, by the grace of God. We never want to speak or conduct ourselves in a manner that approaches impropriety. If we are serious about pleasing God, we are serious about avoiding any behavior that would discredit our witness for Him.

Along with the fact that he was “a just man” and “of good report,” Cornelius’ position in the military may have been an indicator of his character and his desire to please God. He was a captain over one hundred soldiers, so seemingly he was careful enough about how he lived to gain the respect of his superiors. Likely he rose through the ranks in the Roman army because he was self-disciplined and obedient, even though he undoubtably faced challenges—after all, Scriptural and secular sources reveal that Roman soldiers were not generally kind people. However, Cornelius navigated that difficult environment and walked carefully before God. He was not only serious about his faith, but also conscientious about how he did his job.

Like Cornelius, we want to live in such a way that our associates could give a good report of us. Sometimes when I am talking to a representative of an airline or other business, I am asked to stay on the line at the conclusion of the call to take a survey. Frequently, one of the questions asked is, “On a scale of one to five, how likely is it that you would employ the person you just spoke to?” They want an evaluation of how their representative performed. If those you work or associate with were asked how they would rate you as a representative of Christ, what would they say? May God help us to live in a manner that would earn us a top rating. We can achieve that by purposing to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12).

Cornelius also lived carefully at home. Acts 10:2 relates that he “feared God with all his house.” What the soldiers observed when he reported for duty is what his family saw when he was at home. He was consistent and reliable, and no doubt that influenced those of his household. Cornelius’ constant walk with God is what we want ours to be. We do not want to be one person on Sunday when we are with the people of God, and another person at home or on the job. We want to be like Cornelius and live carefully wherever we are.

Cornelius lived charitably

In addition to living carefully, Cornelius lived charitably. Acts 10:2 goes on to relate that he “gave much alms to the people.” He took note of the needs of others and generously provided help.

We live in a society where the common practice is to look for opportunities to receive, but charitable people have the opposite perspective. They look for opportunities to give! The people of God are charitable and benevolent. When a need becomes known, they respond and give from their resources to meet the need.  

The Apostle Paul commended the believers at Corinth for their benevolence toward the impoverished people of God in Jerusalem. He told them, “But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). He encouraged them to give cheerfully and generously, saying, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). When we fail to be cheerfully benevolent, we unwittingly rob ourselves of the blessing God has in store for us.

Throughout Scripture we are given warnings against covetousness and greed. The Apostle James indicted greedy individuals, saying, “Your riches are corrupted, . . . Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” He told them, “The rust of them shall be a witness against you” (James 5:2-3). Jesus said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Paul told Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:6-7). Cornelius’s life aligned with all these instructions. He was an example of generous giving.

Cornelius lived prayerfully

We also are told that Cornelius lived prayerfully. He “prayed to God always,” so much so that a memorial came up before the Lord in Heaven (see Acts 10:4). Consider the memorials we see across the United States and around the world. They were not built in a day! Often, it takes years, but building a memorial of prayerfulness takes a lifetime—in fact, it never really is completed because it must be faithfully maintained on a regular basis.

Cornelius was commended for his faithfulness in prayer. In Acts 10:30-31, he told how a divine messenger had appeared to him, called him by name, and told him, “Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.” He had captured God’s attention!

In some religious world circles, there is much emphasis on worship services, but perhaps not so much emphasis on prayer services. Every church service should be a prayer service! We want to move forward in our spiritual lives, and prayer has the capacity to empower us to do so. Through prayer we were saved, and through prayer we can be kept. Prayer changes our focus from the problem to the solution—it helps us to look upward rather than outward. It has been said that prayer is the “breath” of a Christian. If we stop breathing, we die. If we stop praying, what will the outcome be?

From Cornelius, we see the value of a hunger for God. Cornelius was praying in his house when the divine messenger came to him, but a prayer meeting can occur at any place and any time. It might be in our home, at our bedside, at our workplace, or wherever we lift our hearts to God. Cornelius was praying at the ninth hour, but our prayers can take place in the morning, in the middle of the day, at evening, or whenever we lift our hearts to God.

The results

The author of Acts tells what happened in response to Cornelius’ careful, charitable, and prayerful manner of living. When it was revealed to him that he should send for “one Simon, whose surname is Peter” who was lodging in Joppa with Simon the tanner, Cornelius immediately dispatched two of his household servants to find Peter and bring him back to Caesarea.

God had been preparing Peter, so he agreed to return with these men and meet with Cornelius. When they arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius was waiting, and with him were a group of his kinsmen and near friends. Peter did not know why he had been summoned. He explained what God had revealed to him and then said, “I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” Cornelius explained the divine message he had received while he was praying, concluding with the words, “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33).

Peter proceeded to preach what you and I hear in every church service; he preached Jesus. His brief and powerful sermon was received by hungry hearts, and the Spirit of God descended upon that little group of believers gathered in Cornelius’ house. We read, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). What a prayer meeting that must have been! All those present were baptized and welcomed as equals into the growing Christian church.

God honored Cornelius’ purpose to live carefully, charitably, and prayerfully. If we live in the same manner as Cornelius did, we can expect the same outcome. May we purpose in our hearts to follow the example of this godly centurion of Caesarea.

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