In Acts 10, we find a picture of a man whom the Bible defines as a “devout man.” But this man wasn’t one a Jesus’ 12 disciples. In fact, he was even a Jew. Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army. He lived at Caesarea. But this was a man who worshiped the one true God. While Roman soldiers had a reputation of extortion and brutalization of the local population, Cornelius treated the Jewish people with kindness and generosity.
Back at the very end of chapter 8 of Acts, we learn that Philip preached in all the cities until he came to Caesarea. So Christianity had already begun its spread to this area prior to us meeting Cornelius. Here in Acts 10, we get a summary description of five things that tells us what a “devout man” looks like.
The word devout means, “having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment; total committed to a cause or belief.” When the Bible says a person is devout, that person is careful to fulfill religious duties. This isn’t a person that is half-hearted. They aren’t the person that shows up at church just on Easter and Christmas. It isn’t even the person that shows up at church every Sunday morning. To be devout in our faith means we are “all in.” So Cornelius respected Jewish beliefs and customs, including the food laws and special days.
Five Characteristics of a Devout Man
1. A Devout Man Fears God
Fearing the Lord means to be in awe of his holiness, to give him complete reverence and to honor him in majesty, purity and power. We must acknowledge that God is merciful, loving, and kind. But He is also pure, holy, and just. Because He is pure, holy, and just, He will judge sin. Because He is merciful, loving, and king, He forgives our sins when we seek His forgiveness.
What Fearing God for the lost person is like:
A person lost in their sin has every right to fear the judgment of God. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death — eternal death. That’s the cost of dying physically without coming to faith in Christ who paid our sin debt for us. So the lost person who dies can expect to receive the wages they earned – eternal death in hell.
What Fearing God for the saved person is like:
However, for a person who has repented of sin and asked Jesus to forgive them, cleanse them, and invites Him to be their Savior, the fear of God has a very different meaning. For the believer, fear of God is having a reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.”
Deuteronomy 10 gives more details about what fearing God means and how we live out “fearing God” in our lives. Verses 12-13 says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?”
Jumping to verse 17, it says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” And then in verses 20-21, we read, “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.” This is exactly what fearing God means for Christians.
Difference in being afraid of God and fearing God’s discipline:
When the Bible talks about fearing God, it includes reverence and respect, but we must also have an understanding of how much God hates sin and therefore have a fear of the judgment that sin brings when we die without surrendering our hearts to Jesus. Hell is real and every lost person should be terrified of an eternity spent there.
A Christian who sins can also expect God’s discipline. Just as a loving parent disciplines a child in love, so God will discipline His children. Discipline is meant to instruct, train, and teach. It is for guiding a person in the way they should live. Discipline isn’t fun, but it shapes us more into the image of Christ. But for the Christian, we do not have to be afraid because God disciplines out of His love and mercy. We also do not have to fear eternity being separated from God because we have the promise from God that nothing can separate us from His love and that He will never leave us or forsake us. So for the Christian, fearing God is respecting, obeying, submitting to God’s will, and worshiping the God of gods and Lord of lords who is mighty and awesome.
2. Cornelius’ entire household feared God.
In today’s words, we would say that Cornelius was a “spiritual leader” in his home. When a devout man fears God, his entire household takes notice and the devout man leads his household to know the God whom he loves. It wasn’t enough for Cornelius to be a Christian. He led his entire house – his wife, children, grandchildren, servants – everyone who lived under his roof – to Christ. Then he led them to keep the commandments and statutes of God.
Cornelius was committed to his faith and diligent in his worship – and he saw that his household was too. He reverenced, respected, and honored God, and he taught his household to also do so. Cornelius was a man of prayer and fasting and he instilled this within the members of his household. He was a true spiritual leader in his home. A leader can’t be a leader if no one is following and here we find his entire household followed him.
3. A devout man gives generously
The Roman soldiers had a reputation of extortion and brutalization of the local population. But this Roman centurion gave generously to the people. He didn’t give out of what was left over every month. He gave generously. If there was a need, he helped meet that need. He listened as the Holy Spirit would say “give” and then he gave. He was kind – to the extent that in verse 4 we find that Cornelius has a vision with an angel of God who comes to him and says, “Cornelius! Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” He gave generously – and God took notice.
Generosity catches the eye of God:
God always notices the actions of everyone, but I think here attention is drawn to it because we have someone doing something that is against the norm. While the other Roman soldiers were known for extorting and brutalizing the people, Cornelius does the opposite and he gave generously.
In my overactive imagination, I see a Roman soldier taunting a old widow woman who is giving her last coin to purchase bread and just as the bread is placed in her hand the Roman soldier snatches away, takes a big bite, and then tells the old woman how good it tastes. As he walks on still eating the bread he didn’t pay for, Cornelius quietly places several coins in the woman’s hand that will keep her fed for the month. He then learns where she lives and discreetly has a servant deliver meals to her home several times a week.
Now that’s not in the Bible – that’s just how I see it in my mind because he gave generously. He didn’t just give the woman a coin so she could get another loaf of bread. He didn’t just buy a loaf of bread and then hand it to the woman. Generously, to me, means he would have given her not only what was taken, but more than that.
4. Devout men prays always
1 Thessalonians 5:17 simply says, “pray without ceasing.” That’s the idea here with Cornelius. In fact, as we keep reading in Acts 10, we find in verse 30 that Cornelius was fasting and praying. As a result of his praying, he has a vision and an angel of God appears to him to let him know his prayers have been heard. What was he praying for? We are not given the answer until verse 33 and the answer is the fifth characteristic of a devout man.
5. A Devout Man is Always Hungry to Know More about God.
If verse 33, as Cornelius is explaining to Peter why Jesus spoke to him and sent Him to Caesarea. Cornelius says, “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.” And Peter begins to preach and teach Cornelius’ entire household about the things of God. The result was that the Holy Spirit fell on the these Gentile converts in the same way He fell on the disciples.
What if Christian Men today were devout like Cornelius?
Men, as Christians, you have been called to be spiritual leaders in your home. You have been called to be devout. You have been set apart to fear God and to lead and teach your entire household to fear God. God wants you to be kind and generous out of the abundant blessings He has given you. You should be going about your life in an attitude of praying without ceasing – to always be seeking God’s wisdom and guidance and leading your home as God leads you. You are called to lead. But to be a leader, you must have followers. But where are you leading them? To eternal life or eternal death? Are you leading them closer to Jesus? Are you leading them to have an never-ending hunger for God?
If Christian men were like Cornelius, how would our world be different?
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