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Our Blueprint for Church Growth: Acts
In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character hears a voice that says, “If you build it, they will come.” While this quote has become iconic, part of Hollywood folklore, the truth is, if we let God build His church the way He intended, He will come. And when He comes, He will bring with Him the power to transform lives, just like we see in the Book of Acts.
Can you imagine what it would be like for today’s church to look like the early church? We would experience prayer meetings with power that would shake the very room we were in (Acts 4:31). We would have boldness in the face of governmental persecution, no matter how harsh it was (Acts 4:19-20). There would be miracles and great signs from God authenticating our faith and His message (Acts 3:6-7). And if we suffered for Him, we would rejoice that He considered us worthy to suffer shame like His Son (Acts 5:41). Just imagine what Christian life would look like if we lived as they did in the early church.
But sadly, that seems like just a dream. And many have lost hope of ever experiencing the power and wonder of God we see displayed in the pages of the Book of Acts. Did you ever wonder why?
Remember what Jesus said:
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock (Peter’s affirmation of faith in Christ) I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
And note, Jesus emphasized the “I” part of this promise. He said He would build His church, and when He did, nothing, not even the gates of hell, could keep His light from shining in the enemy’s darkness. So this is a promise, an if/then promise. If we do our part, then He will do His. And our part is to let Jesus build His church and get out of the way of what He is doing.
Do you think we could do that? I hope so, but I’m not so sure. Let me tell you why.
Three Things They Did We Don’t
When we look at the Gospel accounts and the Book of Acts, we see people respond to Jesus in ways we don’t encourage today. For them, it was a life-altering, “all or nothing” choice. It was a decision to embrace either life or death, to follow light or darkness, or to travel the wide road of destruction or the narrow path that leads to salvation (Matt. 7:13-14). There was no third option.
But for us in the church today, we live for the third option. We want to follow Jesus, but just not as close or as committed as those we see in Scripture. Their life was full of blessings and hard times. And for those in the West, the dread of hard times overshadows the joy of His blessings. So we err on the side of caution.
But that is not how life played out in the early church. Let me close by sharing three things the early church did that we balk at today. For us, their lives seem extreme, and we feel more comfortable, and safer, watching from the stands than playing on the field.
They Forsook All and Followed Him
And yes, they really used that word, forsook, to describe what they gave up for Him. You can read about this in Matthew 4:18-22, 19:21, 27-29, Luke 5:27-28, 9:23, and 14:33, among other places in Scripture.
They Met in Their Own Homes
There were no church buildings on every street corner at that time. So the early church opened up their own homes, something we shy away from today, and allowed others, including strangers, to come in and sit on their sofas and worship the Lord. This was the original way God built His church, yet we think we have come up with a better program. I’m not so sure. Are you? You can read more about this in Acts 2:46, 5:42, Rom. 16:3-5, Col. 4:15, Phil. 1:2.
They Met Daily and Not Just on Sunday
This one hits hard, doesn’t it? The early church met daily in the temple ministering to others and evangelizing, and then again at night, where they shared meals together. Their lives were intertwined in ways that cannot be done meeting once a week in a neutral building. Read it for yourself, in Acts 2:46-47.
So continuing (how often) daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread (where) from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.
And what did God do?
And the Lord added to the church (how often) daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).
I wonder, could there be a connection? Is there something more we could be doing to encourage God’s blessing in our churches today? And if so, could the answer be found in the Book of Acts?
I think so. Do you?
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As we prepare to close out this section of Scripture, I want to remind you that the seven verses that begin Ephesians 3 are all one long sentence. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the whole without examining each individual part. And it is equally difficult to understand the various parts, or verses, unless we first have a grasp of the entire meaning of this single sentence. It seems this sentence has at its beginning and end two bookends displaying both the humility of Paul and the grace given him by the Lord. We find these two bookends revealed in the word: given.
Paul begins with the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) and ends with “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me” (Eph. 3:7). In both instances, Paul humbly reflects he was nothing more than the blessed recipient of something from God given to him for the sake of someone else. In this case, the Gentiles. But he ends by stating the gift given him, his calling into the ministry, was only accomplished by “the effective working of His power” and for no other reason (Eph. 3:7). So both the gift and the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry, is all according to God, and not of any inherent merit of Paul.
Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power – Ephesians 3:7.
Paul claims his calling to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gift from God. He never ceased to be amazed that God took someone like him, a murdering, vile, angry, detestable, blaspheming Pharisee, and turned him into not only a believer, but one called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Paul understood everything that happened in his life was because of grace. God gave him the grace of revelation to be able to tell the Gentiles about the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). But God also called him into service as a minister of Christ and a servant of others, which gave his life more meaning and purpose than anything else, ever. His old life as a Jew, “born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law” (Acts 22:3) meant nothing now. Compared to the Lord’s gift of ministry and revelation, Paul considered it, like all things, “rubbish” – save for the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
His Power, Not Ours
But the most profound statement Paul makes in this section of Scripture is that he became a minister of Christ for no other reason, and by no other means, than “the effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7). The word translated “effective” (enérgeia) means “operative, active power or ability.” It’s where we get our word, energy. And the word for “power” (dúnamis) means “mighty deeds, miracles, or achieving, explosive power.” Paul clearly understood it was only because of what Christ had done and the gift he received, that he was anything at all.
As believers in Christ, sometimes we wonder how God can save the most unsavable and disinterested of our family and friends? Is it done by our proper diction, our eloquent use of our best English, or our ability to present the gospel in a way they will understand and be able to relate? Is it by the teaching in our current church culture that strives to make the gospel less offensive and bring seekers into the church to somehow, by osmosis or good works or lattes before the praise band starts, lead them to Christ? I think you know the answer.
The only way someone can come to Christ is through the new birth; through regeneration. It is not by making a decision, nor by joining a small group, nor by reading a book by Beth Moore. It is only by the Holy Spirit, or the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7)
Some sermons are preached by the most learned and eloquent of men, and nothing happens. And other sermons are preached by those who have limited education or a difficult accent to understand, or maybe they have a speech impediment, and yet revival breaks out. What is the difference between these two? It is the power of the Holy Spirit, the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).
Paul spoke about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
And there’s no greater demonstration of the “Spirit and of power” than changed lives.
God also called you to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re not necessarily talking about a clergy position in a church. But we are talking about each of us having a ministry to serve others as we serve Him– which makes you, and every other member of His body, a minister who is to proclaim the good news. You may not be a pastor or have a seminary degree, but you are just as much a minister for Him as anyone else. And the spiritual fruit we are blessed to bear, the lives we live as light in darkness in front of our family and friends, and all those in our sphere of influence, are affected by the “effective working of His power” in us.
Time to Pray
Please know, nothing is standing between you and all God wants you to be other than your desire to yield to His Spirit. He’s given you the gift of the Holy Spirit, not in part, not miserly doling it out to you like Ebenezer Scrooge, but He’s given you all of Himself in full. So much so that Colossians 2:10 says, “you are complete in Him.” Therefore, as a minister of Christ, let our prayer be for us to move out of the way so the Holy Spirit can do His work through us by the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).
And that all begins by simply asking Him.
Lord, I thank You for giving me the Holy Spirit who has “sealed” me in You and is the “guarantee of my inheritance” as Your child (Eph. 1:13-14). I confess I have often been afraid of the Holy Spirit and, because of my fear, have relied on my strength and resources more than I have the Spirit You left in me. Please forgive me? And Holy Spirit, I ask You to forgive me for grieving You (Eph. 4:30). I believe You are equally God, the Third Person of the Trinity, and I thank You for choosing to make Your home in me. Please show me how to yield my life to You in a way that brings glory to the Father, honors the Son for His sacrifice for my sin, and allows You to change the lives of others through me. The glorious work You did in my heart in salvation, I pray You will use me to do in the lives of my family and friends. I ask You to fill me to the point of overflowing for the sake of others and for the glory of God. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
As we get ready for another Sunday, let me encourage you to prepare your heart this morning to meet with the Lord. Remember, how you worship in church with others is just an extension of how you worship with Him alone. So begin today with just the Lord and worship Him by prayer and adoration. And then, come and worship with the rest of the “called-out” ones this morning.
To help focus your prayers we are looking at Ephesians 2:19 and especially this strange description the Holy Spirit calls each of us: saints. Read it for yourself.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God – Ephesians 2:19.
Note the transition from the many to the few. We go from “citizens” to members of a “household.” Note also the description of those who are also citizens with you, the “fellow” part of this verse. They are called saints or, literally, “holy ones.”
The word translated saints (hágios) means “holy, with the idea of separation, consecration, sanctification, and devotion to God.” It is the go-to name in the New Testament for believers. And that also makes it the go-to term that describes you and me. The Scriptures teach we are saints, those redeemed and set-apart for God and God alone. I know, it seems the terms saints is reserved for people who lived long ago and whose images now adorn stained-glass church windows. But that’s not how the Lord sees it. In fact, you are a saint in His eyes. Let me explain.
Watch, for example, how Paul describes those in the various churches to whom he writes:
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints – Romans 1:7.
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours – 1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia – 2 Corinthians 1:1.
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus – Ephesians 1:1.
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons – Philippians 1:1.
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse – Colossians 1:1.
Get the point? He calls fellow believers, fellow “citizens” and “members of the household of God” saints. But there is more.
Just in Ephesians, look at how the Lord inspired Paul to use the term saints to again refer to believers like you and me.
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints – Ephesians 1:15.
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God – Ephesians 2:19.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ – Ephesians 3:8.
That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God – Ephesians 3:17-19.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11-12.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints – Ephesians 5:3.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – Ephesians 6:17-18.
That’s who you are. You are a saint. Not the way we define that word today, which usually means someone of impeccable character that God used in a mighty way. Although that’s a pretty good description of a Christian. But God calls you to be a saint, a member of His body, the church, and one in which the Holy Spirit now resides. That’s you.
Time to Pray
But there is one more thing before we pray. As we have noted, the word saint literally means “holy ones”. In essence, holiness is their nature, their primary characteristic, just like it is for our Lord. But if you are like most believers today, your behavior is often anything but holy. Ok, maybe a bit holy on your best day. But on most days, would you describe your life as holy? Or would you use terms like “not too bad” or “could be better” or “better than I used to be” or “pretty good” or something like that? I know that sounds good to us, but still falls short of holy.
What can we do about that? How can we live up the standard of the name the Lord calls us everyday? How is that possible?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at that very issue. But for today, thank Him for seeing you through His eyes, as holy and beloved and as a saint, and not through yours. Because that is one of the greatest blessings of all.
PS: Go through these verses above and, as you read them, every time you see the word saint, replace it with “holy ones”. If you do, it will forever change your perception of what the church is all about.
If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work. Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens. One is contingent upon another. One comes first, and the other follows after. One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition. One is your responsibility, and the other is His.
Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met. One is contingent upon another. Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise, If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise. It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.
Some promises in Scripture are granted without a condition being met.1 Others, most in fact, have a condition attached to them. For example, our salvation is based on meeting a condition:
Romans 10:9 – That if (condition) you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and (if you) believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (then – result or promise) you will be saved.
Note that salvation comes after the condition is met. Repentance and the acknowledgement of Christ as Lord is mandatory, not optional. You cannot come to faith in Him any other way. This is an if / then passage about salvation.
If / Then Passages
But there’s so much more. Take a look at a few of these if / then passages. See if you can begin to understand how important your part is in receiving the promises of the Father.
Matthew 6:14-15 – “For if (condition – your action and responsibility) you forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if (condition – your action and responsibility) you do not forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
If we desire forgiveness from God, we must first forgive others. First the condition, then the promise. How important is it for me to forgive others who have wronged me? It’s vital. For without meeting the horizontal condition of forgiveness between me and another, God is not obligated to fulfill the vertical condition of forgiving me for my sins and transgressions. This is not something to play around with. This if / then condition has lasting, eternal consequences.
John 15:10 – “If (condition) you keep My commandments, (then – result) you will abide (rest, dwell, make your home) in My love, (example) just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
How do I rest and abide in the love (agape) of Christ? And how can I experience the abiding presence of that love like Jesus had with His Father? By meeting the if condition of the if / then promise. By keeping His commandments. By doing what He tells me to do. By loving Him through my obedience and not living a life of rebellion, apathy or arrogance. After all, Jesus also said in another if / then passage, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Which means, if I love Him, then I will show my love for Him by keeping His commandments. And if I don’t love Him, then I won’t keep His commandments. Or, more frightening still, if I’m not keeping His commandments, then I must not love Him at all. Which means our love for Christ can be clearly seen by our obedience to Him. Not in our words, but in our actions (Luke 6:46).
We’ll close today with just one more. This if / then promise was spoken to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus right before Jesus raised him from the dead in the sight of all.
John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if (condition) you would believe (then – result) you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus was about to raise a man back to life who had been dead and buried four full days. It was to be a powerful testimony that Christ is God and can do all things. For me, it’s one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament. But Martha would fail to see God in any of this unless she believed. She was in danger of becoming hard hearted and spiritually blind, much like the Pharisees and others who made up the religious establishment of that day, to what was about to take place. Instead of experiencing the glory of God, she would go back to her home unchanged, unmoved, and further away from the One who raised her brother from the dead. Why? Because of her lack of belief. Jesus’ words to her were simple, “If you believe (the condition that unlocks the revelation of the glory of God), then (the result of her faith and belief) you will see the glory of God.” And the opposite is also true. “If you do not believe (condition), then (result of lack of faith) you will not see the glory of God.”
The spiritual magnitude of this momentous event for Martha was contingent on her belief— on the if part of the if / then promise from Jesus.
Are you beginning to see the importance of these overlooked if / then promises in Scripture? Good. Because there are hundreds of them.
For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the if / then passages found in Scripture to discover what part we must play in receiving the promises from God. Why? Because fulfilling the if part is something we can do. It’s something we can get better at. Something the Lord has left in our hands. Obedience to His Word is our responsibility. And the promises for obedience, the results of the if / then promises in Scripture are, honestly, overwhelmingly wonderful.
Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at the if / then promises found in the Proverbs.
1 – For example, God’s promise to Abraham is not conditional on anything Abraham would, or would not do (Gen.12:7). See also Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:18-21; 17:6-8; and 35:11-12.
Often we are confused concerning the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Questions still linger: Are all the gifts for today? Or, were some of them only for the time of the apostles? And, if they are for today, what does the exercise of these gifts look like? How are they manifested in the church today?
In order to understand the truth behind these questions, we must begin with a simple, seven letter word: another. There are two Greek words translated “another” in this passage. The first is allos, which means “another of the same kind.” And then there is heteros, which means “another of a different kind.” Now, look at the passage in question:
1 Corinthians 12:8-10 – For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another (allos) the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another (heteros) faith by the same Spirit, to another (allos) gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another (allos) the working of miracles, to another (allos) prophecy, to another (allos) discerning of spirits, to another (heteros) different kinds of tongues, to another (allos) the interpretation of tongues.
Now we have three groups of gifts each divided by the word heteros – or “another of a different kind.”
Word of wisdom
Word of Knowledge
Gifts of Healings
Working of Miracles
Discerning of Spirits
Different kinds of tongues
Interpretation of tongues
Do you see how logically the Lord has presented this confusing passage about the gifts of the Spirit? Do you see what He is trying to teach us? If you want to know more, then keep listening.
The following is a study on 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
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