Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Acts 5:12-16 – The growing influence of the church on Jerusalem

Luke continues his account in Acts by informing his readers of what took place in the church in Jerusalem. This is not the only time that he will do this. The repetition of such details is probably given to show his readers what a Christian church should be like, as long as we bear in mind differences of size and ethnic make-up. Luke identifies several features.

First, he reminds his readers that the Lord continued to answer the prayer of the church in Acts 4 that the apostles would work miraculous signs (note how Luke stresses that it was the apostles who performed these signs and not the other Christians).  The reason for this answered prayer for the apostles is described in Hebrews 2:3-4: ‘[Salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard [him],  while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.’ These signs were a testimony to the reality of the exaltation of Christ.

This description is a reminder that prayer concerned for the glory of Jesus works. That was the basis of the church’s prayer that the apostles have an effective ministry. Their concern was not to have miracles just to show that they were in contact with divine power. Rather they wanted people to come in contact with Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. The citizens of the city now noticed what was being said about Christ.

Secondly, Luke stresses the unity of the congregation (they continued to meet together in Solomon’s Portico, an area in the temple). The fact that Luke stresses this is an indication of its importance. He is reminding his readers that the true companion of effective prayer is unity. It is impossible to have answered prayer and no desire for harmony in the church. A person who is determined to disrupt a congregation, even if he or she phrases their actions in pious language, will not have their prayers answered until they repent of their wrong attitudes and actions.

Luke points out, thirdly, that the people began to respect the church because it feared God: ‘None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem’ (v. 13). They recognised that God was present in one way or another with the believers. The judgement on Ananias and Sapphira had resulted in increased reverence for God both in the church and in the community (v.  11). This was not an enforced fear, caused by the church making threats; nor was it the legitimate respect that a community has for a church that does good works in the area (because that respect can be obtained by any group that does good things). Instead people saw another kind of authenticity, found only in a church composed of people who fear God.

Fourthly, Luke tells us that a praying, harmonious, God-fearing church will experience growth in numbers. Despite the fact that some were apprehensive about joining the church, a great multitude did. Luke points out that the church in Jerusalem did not have a problem that many current churches have – a lack of men. There are many reasons why both men and women should be converted. This is the first mention of female converts in the church in Jerusalem, although there would have been female believers before. I suspect that Luke is saying that whole families were being converted. Furthermore, he is also saying that faithfulness to standards, as expressed in dealing with Ananias and Sapphira, led to the congregation having many couples to replace them.

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