Today I took some much needed time to go through the book of Acts. There is so much confusion over what the church is and does today that I wanted to go back to its start and be reminded of how God designed it. While the culture around us may be changing, the role and work of the Church does not. That is simply because God Himself does not change nor does His Word. While we do need to be careful in taking a historical account that documents God's work in a specific time and place to not make it prescriptive (telling us what we need to do) instead of descriptive (informing us of what has been done), that doesn't mean that there still aren't things that remain the same with the Lord's design and work. I'll just share with you three specific things that jumped out at me in the book of Acts and the lessons from them for the church today.
God Is The One Who Ultimately Does the Work
The book of Acts is actually inaccurately titled. It shouldn't be called "The Acts of the Apostles" but really "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit" as it is His work and not any man's. In fact, Luke seems to go out of his way to emphasize that every major occurrence is a result of the action of God. He is the One indicated who pierces the hearts of the crowd listening to Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek word for "pierce" indicates that this is something that happens to the people from outside of them. It clearly was the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and not something that originated from them internally. Luke credits the growth of the Church with God and not the apostles or members of it (2:47; 5:14; 9:31; 11:21, 24; 16:5). "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). Jesus Himself met Saul also known as Paul on the road to Damascus dramatically turning his life around and changing his course (9:1-9). Paul didn't have a chance to refuse the Lord of glory when confronted with His presence! The Gentiles who believed were those whom God had already appointed to have eternal life (13:48). Lydia didn't open up her own heart to respond to the gospel message that Paul shared but the Lord did (16:14) and God made sure that Paul knew that there were many people in the city of Corinth whom He had sovereignly chosen to be His people (18:9-10).
Throughout the entire movement of the early church, God's Spirit directed, guided, and protected all that happened. The Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul/Paul (13:2) as well as guided the decision of the Jerusalem Council (15:28), determined Paul, Silas, and Timothy to go to Macedonia to minister as He shut the door to the other directions in which they were heading (16:6-10), and called the ones He desired to serve as elders in the church at Ephesus (20:28). God also worked to remove every stumbling block that Satan tried to mount against the Church. He took care of Ananias and Sapphira's tampering with the truth before the church (5:1-11), released Peter and others from prison (5:17-20); insured that Saul would be received by Ananias (9:10-16) and that Peter would witness to the Gentiles (10:13-16) in light of both of their apprehension, released Peter from prison again (12:6-17), struck down King Herod (12:18-23), and protected Paul in order to bring him to Rome where he could further spread the gospel message (27:1-28:10).
I am certain that there are many more that could be shared that I have missed but as you can see everything that took place all was a work of God. No man could take the credit for what transpired in the life of this church as it was growing and expanding. I think the same is still just as true today. Any work that ever is accomplished in any congregation can only be explained as it being a work of God's Holy Spirit. We could never bring about the same results that God can. So, does that mean that we can sit back and expect God to just take care of everything? Nope. Because we do also see in the book of Acts an important role that the Lord has called His redeemed church to play in His marvelous plan of salvation.
The Means God Uses To Accomplish This Work of Growing His Church is The Church's Prayer and Proclamation
God, in His infinite wisdom, has determined to do this great work of expanding and growing His church through the means of the church itself. Specifically through the church's praying and proclamation. We don't find these new believers lazy by any means. They are busy for the Lord!
First, they are a praying church. And I am not talking about each member simply saying grace before a meal or saying a few words to the Lord as they go to bed. They spent time praying together as a church. The discipline served as part of the regular routine of their gathering together (2:42). Just about everything that they did was preceded in prayer whether it was seeking the Lord's will for the replacement of Judas (1:23-26), commissioning leaders (6:3-6; 13:3; 14:23), and asking for the sending of the Spirit for new believers (8:14-17). God honored their prayers as well. After they prayed for boldness in 4:23-30, we are told that "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). Such boldness can be seen with the scattering of the apostles to spread that gospel message as well as with Stephen preaching the gospel unto his death. Also, their earnest prayer for Peter in prison (12:5) resulted with his release, much to the surprise of the church (vv. 12-17). Paul and Silas' praying and praise brought about an earthquake freeing them as well as leading to the conversion of the jailer himself (16:25-34).
This is quite a contrast to the activity of most American churches today. If the congregation has a prayer meeting, and that is a big IF, very few people come out for it or take it seriously. They claim to not have time to come before the Lord with their brothers and sisters, admit their utter dependency upon Him, and request Him to do the work that only He can do. No wonder we don't see God do as much in our congregations today. We aren't petitioning Him to do anything. I am convinced that we could see the same mighty works of God moving today as that church in Acts if we would just follow their lead and get on our knees together.
Second, this church was a proclaiming church. Their main work in addition to praying was proclaiming the gospel of God's grace to those who needed to hear it which is everyone. Luke records not only the church's actions in this (6:7; 8:4-6; 14:1; 16:13; 17:2-3, 13, 17; 18:4, 28) but also even some of their evangelistic encounters or sermons in detail (2:14-36; 3:11-26; 7:1-53; 8:26-40; 9:19-22; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:22-31). The narrative ends with Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:31). Without any question this was the church's main goal . . . and of course it should have been as their Lord and Master commanded them to do so (Matthew 28:19-20) and stated that this was His purpose for them (Acts 1:8). Above all else, they were committed to tell others about Jesus and the salvation that can only be found in Him.
If prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God serve as the two means that God uses to bring about His intended purpose in the church, then why would the contemporary church neglect them or attempt to do anything else? Could this be why many congregations today are not seeing much spiritual growth (which is different from just filling the pews with people whose hearts remain far from God)? They have abandoned the only two means that God has ordained for Himself to work through. In fact, in light of this we can refine the proper title of Acts, "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Prayer and Proclamation of the Apostles."
The Work That the Church Does Is Empowered By the Holy Spirit
One final thing I want to point out to you concerning what we can learn from the book of Acts. You will notice that as you read through this historical account that even this proclamation of the gospel that the church labored at to serve as the means of God's drawing men and women to Himself was not done in their own strength. They did it relying on the power that God provided for them in His Holy Spirit. Many times before someone shared the gospel or had God do a mighty work through them, we read that they were "filled with the Spirit" (4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9-11). Those who were mature in the faith are also deemed to be "filled with the Spirit" (6:3, 5; 11:24). I think the point communicated with this phrase is that these men operated by the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their appointed task.
Believers today are no more stronger than these weak ones we read about in this book. Remember that many of these apostles were the timid, confused, stubborn disciples who cowered in fear behind locked doors after Jesus' arrest. The only explanation for the courage we witness in Acts is that they were relying on the power of the Holy Spirit that the Lord had graciously given them to do the means which God worked through to bring about His plan to grow His church. How much more could those in the church accomplish today if they just would rely on the Holy Spirit that dwells within them? To step out in faith and in Him find the confidence to face the uncomfortable? David Platt hit the nail on the head when he said, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the spread of the Gospel today is the
people of God trying to do the work of God apart from the power and
presence of God.”
Putting all of this together we could say that a better name for the book of Acts would be "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of the Apostles Empowered By That Spirit." Of course, that would be a rather long title but more substantial in capturing the essence of the book. However, I think the bigger issue is whether what you see in your congregation could be described as "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of His People Empowered By His Spirit" or "The Acts of Man Through the Worldly Means of Themselves Relying on Themselves." May God mold us into the model of the church provided for us in the book of Acts instead of allowing us to be molded by the model of the world.
Love in Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.