It was indicated in the introductory study that the Acts was the continuation “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,” and that this continuing of the testimony concerning Him was the result of the direct work of the Holy Spirit acting in the believers. Key leaders, the apostles, were empowered in special ways to give authority to their teaching, and to validate their ministry.
These same “sign gifts” were also distributed by the Spirit to the fledgling church, and were given, as Paul says, “as a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not” (1 Corinthians 14:22). They were intended to be a further indication that the gospel was indeed a message from God, and that the church was God’s vehicle to continue the spread of that message.
As an outline for our study, consider the following characteristics of the church as presented in the Acts:
A. The Church’s Dynamic Power: Acts 4:31
B. The Church’s Dynamic Growth: Acts 5:42
C. The Church’s Dynamic Unity: Acts 11:17
D. The Church’s Dynamic Witness:
1) in Testimony Acts 20:24
2) in Personal Living Acts 24:16
The Church’s Dynamic Power
Our reference verse indicates that the believers were filled in a unique and marvelous way with the Spirit of God. They were filled, and they demonstrated the power of God with boldness. This demonstration of power focused on the Word of God that they spoke. The question is often raised, “Is this Power still available today?” The words of a hymn come to mind in answer:
I believe that the Christ who was slain on the Cross
Has the power to change lives today.
For He changed me completely, and new life is mine;
That is why by the cross I will stay.
The power is in the gospel, and is demonstrated in the lives of Christians. The evidence of the power of God was in their witness, and was stated to be so by the Lord Himself: “You shall be my witnesses,” Acts 1:8.
The church was in its infancy. The Acts of the Apostles chronicles, at least in part, a very tumultuous period. We recognize the uniqueness of the era, and of the sign gifts which accompanied it. Do we also recognize that the visible effects, that is, the fantastic growth, was also a unique experience?
The intent of this question could be debated at length, but it is raised to merely highlight that, whatever the circumstances or era, in terms of actual physical growth and blessing in the gospel, it is God who granteth the increase. Our responsibility is to sow the seed, and to water the soil. The evidence of God’s power is in our personal lives, not in the numerical evidence of souls saved. Yes, we want to see the blessing of God in salvation. But that is not the criterion either of our effectiveness in witnessing, or of our holiness and purity of life. It is the measure of God’s grace.
We are certainly enjoined to be filled with the Spirit, and to walk as followers of God in holiness, and to understand by so doing what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5). It is only then that we can know the power of God in our lives, and confidently share that joy with others. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth…” (Romans 1:16)
The Church’s Dynamic Growth (Acts 5:42)
The evidence is clear that the Church grew at a fantastic rate. Three thousand souls were saved in a single day. Believers were added DAILY to their number. This growth was not without its own difficulties and tensions. The problems that were faced didn’t hinder the work. Rather, because of the leading of the Holy Spirit, they served to help the church grow.
The Holy Spirit’s work was hindered initially by inner challenges of hypocrisy (Acts 5:1-16) and discrimination (Acts 6:1-7). The outer challenges of jealousy (Acts 5:17-42) and persecution (Acts 5:17-42 and 6:8-8:4) also threatened to destroy the Church’s witness.
The response to these problems is critical. It is often not just the problem that is important, but also how we respond to it that makes the difference in God’s work:
a) Inner Challenges: Respond with judgment, confession, and commitment to allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
b) Outer Challenges: Respond with boldness and confidence in the Spirit’s power.
As we see the growth of the church throughout the Acts we are impressed with the recurring theme of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. It is essentially God’s work through the Holy Spirit, and not the work of any individual. Note the following principles as evidence of God’s working:
The Life of the Church
1. Is by the will and purpose of God (2:23; 4:27-29)
2. Is in fulfillment of prophecy:
· The outpouring of the Spirit (2:17-21).
· The mission to the Gentiles (13:47).
· The Gentiles as part of the church (15:16-18).
· The refusal of official Judaism to respond to the Gospel (28:25-27).
3. Was directed by God:
· Through the Spirit (13:2; 15:28; 16:6).
· Through angels (5:19; 8:26; 27:23).
· Through prophets (11:28; 21:10).
· Himself (18:9; 23:11).
4. Demonstrated the power of God seen in signs and wonders performed in the name of Jesus (3:16; 14:3). (The importance here is not the signs and wonders themselves. It is that they were done in the name of Jesus.)
The Church’s Dynamic Utility
By far the greatest internal difficulty was the resolution of the differences between the believing Jews and Gentiles. This was specifically with respect to their initial inclusion in the plan of salvation, and secondly, with respect to circumcision and observance of the accepted practices of Levitical Law. As we read through chapters 10 and 15, we can see the resolution taking place.
Acts 10: God worked in both parties: Cornelius (verses 1-8). Peter (verses 9-16).
Acts 10: Both parties responded to God: Cornelius (verses 1-2). Peter (verses 21, 23).
The result was unity in love and in accordance with God’s word on an individual level.
Corporately, in Acts 15, there was a clear settling of the issue based on the Word of God (verses 14-18), and on Simon’s and Paul’s experiences and testimonies relating to grace. The result was a unity based on foundational principles of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The early church’s decision to grant freedom in Christ was motivated by the Holy Spirit, and was based on the principles of God’s grace and holiness. Today that some Holy Spirit can unite us in love with other believers without requiring them to conform to every preference or conviction of our own.
“I…beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
D. The Church’s Dynamic Witness
1. In Testimony (Acts 20:24)
In chapter 20, Paul makes his defense before Felix. It was not the first time he has had to stand and affirm his faith in God, and his commitment to the principles of the gospel. And it wasn’t to be his last. It stands as a public testimony, not just of Paul’s personal commitment, but of the faithfulness of God through His servant. In knowing and experiencing that faithfulness, Paul can confidently present his case.
Courage and boldness for Christ is, in part, a result of KNOWING and EXPERIENCING God’s faithfulness. To know it, we need to examine God’s Word as did the early believers who searched the scriptures to see if these things were so. That personal study will bring confidence as we see the hand of God in his word, in his servants, and in our own hearts. To experience it, we need to take God at his word, and step forward daily, looking to Him for power, wisdom, and strength to testify for Him. Notice Paul’s attitude as he recounts some of the experiences that God has led him through:
· Steadfastness of Purpose (verse 18).
· Humility in Service (verse 19).
· Sincerity of Heart (verse 19).
· Completeness of Teaching (verse 20).
· Boldness in Testifying (verse 21).
· Total Commitment (verse 24).
2. In Personal Living (Acts 24:16)
paul declared that he strove always to keep his conscience clear before God and man. He did this primarily by keeping his teaching clear and understandable, and by keeping his life in line with his teaching. He was faithful in word and deed, and observed holiness in life and action.
A manner of life that was free from any substantive accusation was essential to Paul’s ministry. He did not want to become disqualified in his ministry, or a castaway. We too must strive to keep ourselves pure, to be ready always to give an answer to anyone who asks us the reason for the hope that is in us.
“We beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” (Romans 12:1).