Maybe we could stand for prayer before we come to God's word, and I really want you to open your heart. I think your heart has been softened, hopefully, and made supple in the presence of that praise - but if it hasn't, well, now would be a good time to allow the Lord, to become vulnerable to Him so that He might speak to you. That is vital, you know. I mean, we believe in a sovereign all-powerful God. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty, but He generally doesn't ride roughshod over our will. He likes to be wanted and invited into our lives. So, if you want - and I hope you are thirsty for God coming to meetings like this, you're not in the wrong place tonight - if you are thirsty for God it would be good for you to position yourself now to hear from the Lord, and receive the message that He has laid on my heart today.
Abba Father, we come to You, thanking You for the spirit of adoption which rises within our hearts, the Spirit of Your Son which cries 'Abba'. We thank You, Lord, to know what it is to be sons and daughters of the Living God, to be not in a performance-based relationship with You, like an employee to an employer, like the elder brother to his father who was in the house but not in father's heart. We pray tonight that we will all know what it is to be Your children, Lord, to receive from Your heart as Tara has received. We thank You for her, we thank You for her gift, we thank You for her journey, and we thank You Lord that she got to Father's heart, she got to Father's heart before elder brother got to her. We praise You for that, and we pray that all of us will be like that - that we will see You as You really are. Lord, the two greatest gifts You could give us are to see You as You really are, and to see ourselves the way we really are. We pray, Lord, that You will come and You will begin to minister tonight. Whilst the word tonight will be comprehensive, Lord, we pray that everybody will go away from here tonight with something from the Holy Spirit. We want more than information, we want encounter, Lord. We want You to come and touch our lives, we want You - as we thought about on Monday night - You are the One who upsets things and shakes things up and shocks us at times. Lord, come and have Your way, come and meddle in our affairs we pray. In Jesus' mighty name we ask it - and everybody said 'Amen'.
OK, take your Bibles, if you have one, and turn with me to Acts chapter 9. Is anyone thirsty? I'm thirsty, could somebody get me a glass of water, and you will not lose your reward! Somebody is away! One glass will do, I don't need three! Acts chapter 9, and we're only going to read one verse although we're going to be looking at several scriptures tonight. I want to speak to you this evening on 'Distinguishing Marks Of The Early Church'. We're reading just the one verse, verse 31 - thank you very much - Acts chapter 9 and verse 31: "Then the churches", some manuscripts read 'the church', "throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied". I love that verse!
How do we read the Acts of the Apostles? How do you read it? How does the church generally read it? What am I talking about? Well, I suppose we should go to the start. If you go to Acts chapter 1 verse 1 and read the introduction to this book: 'The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen'. The 'former account' mentioned in verse 1 is actually Luke's Gospel. Now, some of you may not know this, that Luke (who wrote the Gospel of Luke) also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. We believe initially that the Gospel of Luke and the book of the Acts were one book in two volumes. So the former treatise that Luke is speaking of here as he begins Acts, he's talking about the Gospel that he wrote. This chap 'Theophilus', we don't really know anything about him. Some take him as being a symbolic person, not real, because 'Theophilus' means 'Lover of God' - and if you're a lover of God, you're going to love the book of Acts. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: 'This is the most lyrical of books. Live in that book, I exhort you. It is a tonic, the greatest tonic I know in the realm of the Spirit'. If you need some medicine from the Holy Spirit, the book of the Acts is a real tonic for anyone - get into the stories and the teaching of Acts.
When we go to Luke 1, you don't need to turn there, Theophilus is called 'Most Excellent Theophilus', and that would appear to indicate that this is a literal person and he's probably some kind of official, maybe legally, maybe a lawyer who was representing Paul and the Acts was some kind of brief that was being given to him; or more likely he was a government official in the Roman Empire, and Luke is at pains to emphasise that this Christianity, this new sect of Judaism is no threat to the Emperor or the Empire. We don't really know, but what we do know is that what Luke is setting forth - he is a great historian - but what he is presenting to us is, look at verse 1, 'What Jesus began both to do and teach'. Now that's Luke's Gospel, the 'former treatise'. He was previously outlining what Jesus began to both do and teach, you do note the order there - Jesus did before He taught. Preachers take note, myself included! It shouldn't be 'practice what you preach', you should be preaching what you practice - what Jesus did and taught. But that's an aside, what Jesus began to do and teach in Luke, what we're seeing here in the Acts of the Apostles is that the Spirit of God is continuing the ministry of Jesus on the earth.
Now there is great debate down through the years about who is that Vicar of Christ on the earth. We're not going to get into that one, but I'll tell you who it actually is: it is no man, it's the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the representative of Jesus Christ on the earth today. So here we have in the Acts of the Apostles (I probably prefer, and I have written in my Bible, the 'Acts of the Holy Spirit' as a title), it is showing us the continuation of the ministry of Jesus on the earth through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the early apostles and disciples.
So the question begs: how do we read the Acts of the Apostles? Is it mere history about what God used to do in the primitive church, or is it actually showing us what the church is meant to be like today in the 21st-century? Let me show you, if you look at chapter 1 verse 8, Jesus is speaking just before He ascends to heaven and He says: 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria', now mark this phrase, 'and to the end of the earth', or 'the uttermost parts of the earth'. So, first phrase 'You shall receive power', the reception of this power is to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Now, can I ask you: has that happened yet? Has it? No, it hasn't. There is some unfinished business here, it would seem. If you look at chapter 2 and verse 17, it's now the Day of Pentecost, and Peter is saying: 'This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel', in Joel chapter 2, and he actually references this prophecy of Joel. Look at verse 17: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh' - has that happened yet? No, all flesh, all tribes, tongues and peoples and nations have not received the outpouring of the Spirit of God yet. Unfinished business, yes?
Look at verse 39 of chapter 2, again Peter is continuing to explain what has happened through the baptism of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and in verse 39 he says: 'For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call'. Now that expression 'all who are afar off' is not a geographical expression to do with distance, but it is an expression chronologically speaking of those in the future that will yet believe in Jesus, 'as many as the Lord our God will call'. 'This promise', what promise? Pentecost, the outworking of the outpouring of the Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, this is to everyone whom the Lord will call until the ends of the earth have heard the good news. So, obviously Acts is the beginning of something, not the end. It's an introduction, not a conclusion. It's the beginning of the fulfilment of the promise Jesus speaks of here in chapter 1, 'the promise of the Father which you have heard of Me, I'm going to send you another Comforter'. He talked about it in John 14, 15, and 16 - go and study it, that Upper Room ministry.
What we're seeing in the book of Acts is a consummation, an implementation of the full Gospel, what Jesus died for, rose again for, and ascended to heaven. Look at verse 33 of chapter 2, another verse I really love: 'Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear'. 'This is it, guys!', that's what He's saying. This is it, this is what it has all been about. Old Testament prophecies, prophets, all the types, all the pictures, Jesus the Messiah rejected by His own, going to the cross, being nailed there, dying, taking the wrath of God for the whole world's sin on Himself, being buried, rising again, ascending to heaven - this is what it's all been about, that the Holy Spirit might be poured out!
So Luke, while he is an exemplary historian, is not just writing history here. Acts is not mere history, but it's what I call 'narrative theology'. What that simply means is that, like Luke's Gospel (which no one argues is only history), it has to teach us something. Through these stories, historical stories - accurate as they are, they actually happened - but the Holy Spirit has inspired this historian to give us these stories to teach us. A fancy word for that is 'didactic', it's there to teach us spiritual truths. So, at the start of the Acts in my Bible I have written 'The Acts of the Holy Spirit', and at the end I haven't written 'The End', I have written 'To Be Continued...'. It's not the end of something, it's the beginning, and I want to propose to you tonight that Acts is normative Christianity - or, to coin a phrase, 'It's the real thing!'. I wonder is it what you've got?
I think it's encapsulated succinctly in our verse tonight, please read it again with me. Chapter 9 verse 31: 'Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied'. That's like a cameo, a little snapshot of life in the primitive church. So what is this sketch that Luke gives us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Well, there are five things that I want to share with you tonight. The first thing we see it says of them is: they had peace. Now, if you go to the beginning of chapter 9 of Acts, you read this: 'Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way', that's Christianity, 'whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem'. This is Saul before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus before he became Paul the apostle, breathing out threats and murder against Christians. Yet it says in verse 39 that there is peace. Now, if you read the middle verses, you will find out that Paul gets converted and he has this Damascus Road experience, where Jesus in His risen, glorified form appears to him and he submits to Him as Lord. But isn't it wonderful, in the space of a chapter, what was a threat - and he was a deadly enemy to the church - God has completely turned on its head to become a blessing to the whole church, so that the church is actually knowing peace.
Can I say to you: whatever is going on out there - and I don't like using that expression as if it's 'us and them', but there is an element to which we are in this world system and there are a lot of forces in the cosmos that are against everything that we believe, and we feel the pressure of that, don't we, both externally and internally? It can drag us down, because we feel we're on the back foot, we are on the fringe of society and we are being marginalised - marginalised in our Christian convictions. But listen: whatever is going on out there, you need to know that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world, you need to know we're on the winning side. Yes? You're out there tonight, yes? Whatever threats there are, legal, moral, spiritual, political, our God is able to work everything together for our good - what the enemy means for evil, He can turn to our good. We see it here in the early church: God's work continues despite great opposition. Proverbs chapter 16:7: 'When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him' - what a verse!
It's interesting - and this is an aside - if you look at verse 31, it mentions the churches in Galilee. Do you know that we know nothing about the churches in Galilee? The Acts of the Apostles doesn't mention any churches in Galilee, apart from this. So that shows us that Acts is only a partial history. Do you remember John said that if everything were written down in books that Jesus did and taught, the world wouldn't be big enough to hold them all? I believe it's the same with this period of the early Christianity, where the Spirit is being poured out - there was so much going on right across the whole vicinity of the Holy Land, it couldn't be recorded and it hasn't been! Yet it says the churches had peace.
Now, I think it would be naive to think, and inaccurate, that this peace was the absence of persecution - it wasn't. We know that persecution was going on. It wasn't the absence of persecution, it was the presence of peace. There is a difference. It wasn't the absence of something, it was the presence of Someone. The actual peace of God was with them. I'm going to confess something to you - don't worry, it's not too bad - sometimes in my Christian life I have felt a wee bit guilty of being happy. Do you ever get like that? Maybe you're not happy a lot - that's another sermon - but, you know, you have some joy, or something to be pleased about in your life, doesn't even have to be spiritual, but you're feeling good; and you start to feel guilty - why? Because you think: 'Are you not watching the news? Do you not realise what's going on in Syria? Do you not realise what's going on to the persecuted church? Did you not read your Open Doors magazine this month? How can you be so jovial and full of celebration when so much is wrong in the world?' - but that's a lie of the enemy. Do you know why? Well, Canon Andrew White, he has been nicknamed 'The Vicar of Baghdad', some of you may have read some of the stuff or heard him, he said this of the Christians in Iraq - and I don't know whether you've heard any of the stories coming out of Iraq of persecution, horrendous martyrdom of men and women and boys and girls. This is what he said: 'Despite these atrocities, we are such a happy church. When you have lost everything, you realise that Yeshua, as we call Jesus, is all that you have left'. Do you know that the happiest church in the world is the persecuted church? They've got the greatest joy, why? Because the joy of the Lord is our strength, and equally the most peaceful church is the persecuted church. Peace in the midst of the storm.
If you've been to Israel, or you know any Hebrew, you will know that 'Shalom' is the Hebrew word for 'peace', and it's a casual greeting. But do you know what 'Shalom' is? It's not the absence of war. I've told you this before, I think, in our culture we shake hands to greet one another, in the early church they would have given one another a kiss - but we shake hands. The origin of that is the idea of putting down arms to befriend someone, because you would have had a sword or a pistol in your right hand, probably, and you would put it down and shake hands with the person - that's peace which is the absence of war, but that's not Shalom peace. Shalom peace is the presence of life, the presence of wholeness and health, that's what God wants to give us, that's what the early church has. John 10:10: 'The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it to the full, more abundantly, brimming over' - that's what God wants to give us. We ought not to feel guilty about it, whether it's peace or joy, all the words of this life which was preached in the Acts, preached in great persecution, is the life that we now are present, personal possessors of if we have Jesus living within us by the Holy Spirit.
The early church had this peace, and it was exhibited in what Ephesians 4 calls 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'. This peace that they were experiencing in the midst of their persecution actually bound them together in a unity that was unsurpassed. Now the early church was not without its problems, you can read Acts 6 and find out how they were bickering and fighting, but at the same time there was a unity in the bond of peace. Look at chapter 4 with me for a moment, verse 32: 'Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked' - isn't that interesting? They had great power as they witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus, and one of the ingredients of that power was their unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. How united is the church today?
Let's move on. In Romans chapter 14 verse 17 we read this: 'For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' - righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Do you know what that means? A third of the kingdom of God is peace. The other two thirds is righteousness, which we get from Jesus; and the joy of the Lord - but one third is peace. Can I ask you tonight: how much peace do you know in your church? How much peace do you know in your heart or your head? Because, when Jesus died and rose again, He purchased peace that is beyond all comprehension - I call it 'pinch yourself peace', where you have to pinch yourself in the midst of a crisis to realise 'Hold on, I'm not panicking'. Why? It's incomprehensible, it's beyond your understanding, because it's not natural it's supernatural - that's what we need. The early church, in the midst of all their suffering, they had peace. Romans 15:13 says: 'Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit'. You can abound in hope when you've got this peace that the early church had.
The second thing that we see from our verse, back to chapter 9 and verse 31, is edification: 'they had peace and were edified'. Now, what does that big word 'edification' mean? Well, it very simply means 'to build up'. They were built up, were being built up, and built one another up. Of course, that is the opposite of tearing down - correct? You tear down another when you want to be seen as having greater stature than they have. Think about that. When we tear others down to make ourselves look better, it betrays a great sense of insecurity in ourselves, who we are, our own worth and value. Can I say to you tonight that, far from being known in the evangelical church today for edification, we are often known for our criticism and our judgementalism - isn't that ironic? Rather than building up, we are known not for what we are for, but what we are against. We are often known not for our love, which the early church was known for, but we are known for our anger. It's not that we shouldn't be angry, we should be angry and sin not at times, but we are meant to be known for our love and not our anger. There are whole ministries that have been built on the foundation of tearing down.
Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm going to say. I believe, at times, that we have to expose error - and the apostles did that. Most of the epistles, if not all of them, were written addressing some kind of aberrant belief or behaviour in the early church. So we're not saying that we ignore falsehood, we're not saying there's not a necessary place for apologetic ministries that speak to world religions and cults, and warn us of false doctrine. But what we are saying is that the church must primarily and predominately be known for building up - even when we are being critical of error, we've got to do it in a way that is edifying rather than judgemental. There are some ministries that just want to destroy. Dr Michael Brown talks about them as 'religious SWAT teams', you know in America the special forces folk that go in, 'SWAT' being 'Self-Appointed Watchdogs and Truth sentries'. It's interesting to note that these groups or people are often opposed to any present-day works of the Spirit - have you ever noticed that? They usually attribute claims of the modern day move of the Holy Spirit to the New Age - have you noticed that as well? 'This is the New Age invading the church. These are demonic spirits invading the church and deceiving people'.
Listen to what Leanne Payne says, she has a very insightful remark in her book 'Listening Prayer', she speaks about what she calls 'cult-hunters' who pursue New Age spirituality. Listen to what she says, it's quite deep, but listen, you'll get something out of it. She says: 'Cult hunters today suffer from a severe rift between the head and the heart. They are therefore cut off from the good of reason and scholarship, though they often pose as scholars. And, though they will often deny it, they are also cut off from the good of the heart's way of apprehending the Unseen Real', in other words, their hearts are cut off from knowing God. Listen to this: 'They do not separate the parasite from its true host. Instead they destroy both together'. What does that mean? You know what a parasite is, an insect or an animal that moves on to a host animal and sucks the life blood out of it. What she is saying is that these types of ministries, they don't distinguish between the parasite of false doctrine and the false teacher, but they destroy both parasite and host together, they write everybody off. Listen as she goes on: 'Professional cult hunters are as dangerous as those they fear. They usurp the place of the true theologian-prophet who, in touch with the mind and the condition of God's people, sounds warnings and gives balanced theological answers in terms the laity can understand. The cult hunters, in contrast, turn misguided laity into ravening wolves like themselves. Without knowledge they condemn, slander, and devour the people of God along with 'heresies' they think they comprehend. The cult hunters have no positive ministry, only the negative ministry of criticising others. They are compelled to discover new heretics in order to keep their books, teachings, and television programs going. And, like those they pursue, they do it in the power of an unaided intellect and imagination, their minds bereft of wisdom from above - because they despise incarnational reality and the work of the Holy Spirit. This is tragic, for the only defence against neognosticism (false spirituality, the New Age etc) of today is a true and vibrant Christian spirituality - the Christian supernatural in all its transcendent glory'. That's the only answer, the true power of God.
I hope the alarm bells will ring for you the next time you partake or encounter a ministry that is not edifying, but that is based on demolition. I want to ask you: is your spiritual environment one of edification or demolition? What's the natural default of some of our denominations? What's the natural default of some of our individual churches? Is it to criticise or edify? What's your personal default? Is it to find what's wrong, or to build up what is right? Do you focus on issues of separation or do you look for opportunities of edification? Listen to what Paul said to Timothy, he was a pastor, in 1 Timothy 1:4: 'Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith'. Do you see what Paul is saying? Avoid all that stuff that people get uptight about and argue over nitty-gritty iotas of doctrine that's a waste of time, but invest your energies in what brings edification in truth - what we really know. Romans 14 verse 19 says: 'Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another' - that's what we are to go after. Some people are on their own personal crusade and pursuit after a particular niche of doctrine. I often fear - I think it was yesterday or the day before I was saying to someone, a person had a particular angle on the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, in this particular area, they could not possibly be dogmatic because Scripture is not clear enough. I was saying to this individual: 'Imagine getting to the second coming of Jesus, or the end of your life, and realising you were wrong, and you'd spent your whole life on that thing!'.
'Edify the church' is the apostolic call. The great, tragic irony is that the gifts of the Spirit - when Jesus ascended up on high He led captivity captive and He gave gifts to men - the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so often opposed, are essential for edification. I would go as far as to say that you cannot truly build up the church without them. Whether these gifts are people gifted to the church, Ephesians 4 talks about them, Jesus Himself give some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (some call that fivefold ministry), individuals who are the gifts, the people are the gifts to the church - why? For the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Much of the church has the concept: 'Well, if you're not a pastor, then you're an evangelist, and if you're not one of them then you shouldn't be in ministry'. There is fivefold ministry mentioned here. Then there are the individual gift things of the Spirit, the charismata. First Corinthians 14:26: 'How is it then', Paul says, 'brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification'. So the gifts of the Spirit, whether they are the people that Jesus gifted to the church, or the gifts of the Spirit, these supernatural abilities given to the church, they are there for building up. That was a mark distinguishing the early church, they built each other up, they didn't tear down.
A third mark was the fear of the Lord. Look at verse 31 of chapter 9: they 'had peace, were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord'. What is the fear of the Lord? Well, Isaiah 33 tells us that the fear of the Lord is His treasure - that's interesting. That means God highly esteems the fear of the Lord in our lives. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of - what? 'Wisdom'. Let me give you three ways of understanding the fear of the Lord. First of all, the fear of the Lord can be an overpowering, even physical, fear. Now we're not talking about being afraid of God in a negative sense. If you've had the revelation of the Father Heart of God that Tara has been bringing us tonight, and that has transformed my Christian experience, you will know that perfect love casts out fear, drives out fear - because fear has to do with punishment, and Jesus has already been punished on the cross. Whoever fears has not been made perfect in love. Yet, when God shows up, I challenge you not to be a little bit afraid, in a good way.
When Moses had his Theophany, the Lord appeared to him in the bush, and on various other occasions when he was confronted with the glory of the Lord, it says he was afraid to look upon God. So there can be a physical reaction. Are you an adrenaline junkie when it comes to God? I hope you are! Do you want to have those close shaves with the Almighty in His presence? He is God. But it's not only a physically overpowering reaction, but secondly the fear of God is an awe. Awe, of course, is where we get 'awesome' from, our God is an awesome God, isn't He? Awe is a kind of feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder: 'I stand, I stand in awe of You'. Do you have that toward God? A third way to understand it is not just a physical reaction and a reverential awe, but a submissive obedience. You see, what you fear is your god - did you get that? What you fear is your god. Do you fear sickness, death? Those are your gods. Do you fear your reputation being destroyed? Your reputation, your ego is your god.
In Genesis 31, God is referred to in a rather unusual way as 'the fear of Isaac'. The fear of Isaac! You serve what you fear, and Isaac served the Lord. What do you fear tonight? What do you serve? What do you bow down to? That's what idolatry is, it isn't just bowing down to pieces of wood and stone and pagan deities; it's actually where you, in your spirit, bow down to something or someone other than the Almighty. What does your spirit bow down to tonight? There is a wonderful verse in Psalm 86: 'Teach me your ways, O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name'. Why would our hearts not be united to fear His name? If they're divided. Have you got a divided heart? A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. What is your heart divided with? Is it sin? The fear of the Lord is the answer! Proverbs 16:6: 'By the fear of the LORD one departs from evil'. That's New Testament truth, 2 Corinthians 7:1 also says: 'Therefore, having these promises, beloved', everything that we are blessed with in Jesus, 'let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit' - so that's all the wicked works of the flesh that we're commonly cognisant of like adultery and murder, and all the rest, we have to cleanse ourselves from those; but also from the filthiness of the spirit, those are sins that no one sees like lust, like jealousy and slander, pride, we could go on - 'but let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord'. We could talk until the cows come home about how to be holy, but that is one key to holiness: having a fear of the Lord. Not a fear that He is going to rap us over the knuckles with a big stick if we disobey, but just like we fear - if we have a good relationship with our earthly father, we have reverence and respect towards them, that's the fear of the Lord that we ought to have towards Him.
It says the early church, look at the verse, 'was walking in the fear of the Lord'. Oh, we can talk about the fear of the Lord, and we can pray about the fear of the Lord, we can preach about it - but it's a different thing to walk in it, isn't it? They were walking, setting the Lord always before them, He was at their right hand. It was evidenced - we read in Ephesians 5 and verse 21, 'Submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord' - it was evidenced in how they related to each other.
The mark of peace, edification, fear of the Lord; look on with me in verse 31: 'Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit'. Not only were they walking in the fear of the Lord, they were walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Now, there are some who walk in fear, and even attribute it to be 'the fear of the Lord' - you know, that type of stuff - but they're not walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those who are seeking to walk after the things of the Spirit, but there is no fear of the Lord. Both are here, walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The word for 'comfort' here in the original language is 'paraklesis', and that literally means 'to come alongside' - 'para', 'to come parallel', you know - 'come alongside and help', 'paraklesis'. Now the old English word that we read 'comfort' here, some Bibles will have 'encourager', it's probably a better modern translation - but the old word 'comfort' doesn't give us today in our modern age the connotation of what God's Spirit is trying to say here. But the ancient word, as it was in its original understanding, does: 'comfort' is made up of two Latin words, 'com', 'fortis', which means 'with strength'.
So the idea here of the comfort of the Holy Spirit is not being patted on the back saying 'There, there, it will be OK in the end', or a lullaby to put us to sleep. The idea is rather a blood transfusion that gives us an arousal to life, and enables us with strength for the battle. The Paraklesis is the Strengthener, the Encourager, the Fortifier, the One who gives us our energy and our strength. That's what's missing from the modern church to a large degree - I'm talking about here in our land. It's not what is missing from the church, it's Who is missing. David Ravenhill said: 'The best cure for a cecessionist' (a cecessionist is a person who doesn't believe in the gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit as was in the Acts of the Apostles). 'The best cure for a cecessionist would be to fly them into some heathen jungle where they are surrounded by every form of demonic activity, only then would they see the need for the Holy Spirit's power to be manifested. It is a known fact that numerous evangelicals who have gone to the mission field believing that the gifts of the Spirit have been withdrawn from the church, have returned with the very opposite belief. Being confronted by the reality of the demonic, their only hope was to cry out to the living God and see His miraculous intervention through healings, deliverance, signs and wonders. Only when people see that the God of the missionary is greater than their god will they believe' - and only when people today in our land see that the God that we preach is greater than the historic god of Protestantism, Catholicism, the god of New Age, the god of every plethora of religion, the god of Satanism. A lot of people who go after New Age and the occult, do you know that their background is in the church? Do you know that? I think the figure is that 80% of people in the United States who are in the New Age had some kind of Christian background, I mean a nominal Christian background. Why do they go to the New Age? Because they're looking for spiritual reality and they're not finding it in the church! Only when people see that the God of the Christian is greater than their god will they believe. The early church - you're not long into the book of Acts until you discover that the early church walked in the paraklesis of the Holy Spirit. He was constantly by their side, helping them in everything.
Finally, look at the verse, 'they were multiplied'. They were multiplied! If you look at chapter 6 and verse 7 we see this: 'Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith' - what an impact! If you turn to chapter 12, it succinctly describes the preaching of the word, chapter 12:24: 'But the word of God grew and multiplied'. Do you know that God is into reproduction? Do you know that? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, what did He said to Adam and Eve? 'Be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it'. Now, don't blush, it's all healthy, God created it, God wanted to populate the earth through creation - and He's the same with the new creation. He says: 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Go forth and multiply! Replenish the earth with My life, subdue it, bring it under the authority of the Last Man, Jesus, the Second Adam'.
How many times have we heard people sanctimoniously say - even preachers, and I've probably said it myself - 'Oh, we're not really into numbers. You know, it doesn't matter how many are at the meeting, as long as the Lord is there. It doesn't matter how many get saved, even if there is only one it's worth it'? That is true to an extent, and we must beware of pride of numbers - because that is around - what I'm talking about is, you know, what David did with his census. God was very angered at this, where he was attributing the strength of his kingdom to the numbers that he had within it. We must never attribute the strength of a ministry to the number of converts, or results, or hands up, or anything like that - there is to be no bragging. That's not what we're talking about, counting numbers like that; but God is into numbers. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit, through Luke, is at pains to point out to us how many were saved - 3000. The number is there. When Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, what was it? The feeding of the 5000, women and children beside, and then there is another one - don't get the two confused - and it's the 4000, that's how we know it's different, because there's a different number. Then there is the miracle of casting the net on the other side, do you remember that one? Someone, I don't know who was overjoyed for being chosen for this ministry, someone had to count the fish - and there were 153 of them. What? Why bother? Now, there is probably a significance in the 153, in that number, and you experts will be able to tell me afterwards - but here's my point: God is into the detail, and He's into the numbers here. In fact, He tells us that every sparrow that falls, He has note of. He has even calculated - it's not too hard for some of you - the number of hairs on the top of your head tonight. Why? Has He got too much time on His hands? Of course, He knows everything, but He is at pains to communicate to us that the minutiae, the detail of everything is important to Him. Sure, there's a whole book in the Bible, and what is it called? Numbers!
There is a multitude of lost people out there, billions. There needs to be multitudes saved. God is into big numbers, big numbers. Revelation chapter 7, 'After these things I looked', John says, 'and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb'. An innumerable company of redeemed witnesses in heaven! We need to start thinking big, start thinking big! For a long time some of us have taken pride in 'Us four and no more', and you know 'We've got the truth, and all these poor people don't know it', and 'Hold the fort for Jesus is coming, and we will just stay here in our little corner. You in your small corner, and I in mine, and we'll try our best to hold a witness. Jesus is coming soon, it's all going to be over, good night!'. We need to get rid of the poverty mindset, with relation to money we're so terrified of false prosperity teaching that we've got a poverty mentality with regards to our Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine, and He can supply all our need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. We need to get rid of our poverty mindset concerning the resources that we have, the abilities that God has given us, and even the results that we ought to be looking for as we harvest the kingdom of God. We think it's spiritual, it's mealy-mouthed false humility, and we need to spit it out!
Listen to what happened in Esther's day, Esther 8. Listen: 'The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor. And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them'. Do you see what happened? They got smitten. You see, God is into influence. There is a day coming - maybe you'd like to turn with me here to Zechariah chapter 8. I'm almost finished, Zechariah chapter 8. Turn with me to Zechariah chapter 8 verse 20, incredible passage looking into the future: 'Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Peoples shall yet come'' - isn't that wonderful? 'Oh, things are going to wax worse and worse, that's why there are few being saved these day. It's not the good old days the way it used to be, it's not the days of revival' - poppycock! The word of the Lord says 'People shall yet come'. Amen? Come on, waken up! Yes, amen! People shall yet come! 'Inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying' - these are cities! Not 'One house group shall go to another house group'. Cities saying: ''Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also'. Yes, many peoples and strong nations' - what's a strong nation? That's a big one, a superpower, strong nations ''Shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD'. Thus says the LORD of hosts', watch this, ''In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man', a believer, 'saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you''.
'That's yet to be, that's the millennium', I don't care when it is, it's still to happen, alright? It's still to happen, because God is into big numbers, He's wanting to save big numbers, He's wanting multitudes to come to Him. Oh, we've looked at the distinguishing marks of the early church: there was peace, edification, walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and there was multiplication. But, you know, there is a sense in which this ought not to be the distinguishing marks of the early church, but the distinctives of any church in any age. I think I almost heard the Lord Jesus said today: 'This is My church, and I will build it, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'.
Let's pray. Let's just take a few moments in the presence of God, and let me just fire a few questions your way as you respond to what the Holy Spirit has been saying to you. Do you have that peace in your life? Peace of mind, peace of heart, even in the midst of the storm? This is not the absence of trouble - we've all got that - but peace in the bowels of the boat when the winds and the waves are contrary, have you got that? Are you an agent of peace? Do you have shoes of peace on your feet, so that wherever you go you bring peace? Do you leave peace behind you when you leave people's company? Or are you a pain in the neck, a Christian annoyance, an irritant, a curmudgeon, a critic? Do you know it all? Are you someone who has actually damaged the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in a fellowship, in a friendship? There are a lot of things the Lord hates, but there are a few things that are an abomination to Him. One of them is someone who sows discord among brothers - God really detests that. Oh, that's not on our Top 10, but I'm afraid it's on God's.
What about edification? Are you building others up or are you pulling others down? Are you into all the niceties of doctrine, and deliberately separating from others on the basis of it? You can have your doctrine, I have mine, but we're not meant to separate on it, we're meant to unite in Jesus. Are you walking in the fear of the Lord? Is there that awe there, that reverence and submission and obedience to Him? Are you walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit? Are you filled with the Spirit? Are you baptised with the power of the Spirit? Are you filled with the Spirit? Are you walking in the Spirit? I know there are doctrinal differences and nuances to how we understand it all - I don't care what you call it, just get the power of the Spirit in your life, and walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. Are you experiencing the giftings of the Spirit that God has definitely given you? Are you walking in that?
Are you multiplying? Are you reproducing? Are you seeking to win souls for Jesus? Do you need to repent, change your mind on how you're thinking about money, how you're thinking about results, how you're thinking about resources and your own abilities that God has given you?
Father, I pray that You will come - and, because we believe (and I think I'm speaking for most here tonight) we believe that the book of the Acts is a never-ending story. Just as the churches throughout all Judaea, Galilee and Samaria had peace, and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and were multiplied - we ask You to do it again, Lord, once more Lord. Would You do it in Ireland, Lord? I'm not sure, I don't think, except from the days of Patrick, whether this ever was the case. Lord, we repent, and I hope there are some with me here behind me right now: we repent of sectarianism and divisiveness in the body of Christ. We repent. We repent of judgementalism and criticism. We repent of when we have known not what spirit we are of. O God, please, would You pour out Your Spirit upon us again? As individuals might come to You empty, would You fill them tonight? Fill them with Father's love, fill them with the joy unspeakable and full of glory, fill them with the peace that is beyond comprehension. Lord, let the love of God be shed abroad in their heart by the Holy Spirit. Let righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, let them have it, let them be filled with all hope and peace in believing. Let it happen, come Lord, come Holy Spirit, do it tonight for people in this place! Let them have the real thing! Lord, deliver us from dead religion. We're not being critical of the church. We recognise that the church is Your bride, Lord Jesus, and You're coming back for her - but she's going to be chaste, and she'll have made her robes white. Lord, we want to be a part of helping her on the way for that, to be ready for Your coming, Lord Jesus. So, Lord, come and work in us now. Oh, come and work in our individual lives, because the church is only an accumulation of the sum total of the composite parts. It's a building made up of all of us. So, Lord, help me with my issues, to repent, to get the healing, to get the release and the deliverance, and the revelation that I need. Lord, help us all to be in that place before You. In Jesus' name we welcome You to come even more deeply now, Lord, as we maybe sing now, as people come for prayer now. Would You come and minister over us? Would You sing over us, Lord? Would You dance over us, would You twirl over us with Your singing, Lord, for You rejoice over repentance. Thank You, Lord, for Your word. May it not be snatched away, O God. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Loughbrickland Mission Hall in N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Distinguishing Marks Of The Early Church" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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