During the time I lived in the state of Ohio, I developed a good friendship with a young man outside of the church. We would occasionally engage in conversations based his observations or curiosities about religion. One day as we drove past a community church building, he expressed that he found a great deal of hypocrisy in the large gatherings there. He noted the gatherings appeared to be for the music of the band and the social atmosphere rather than worship or to hear the Word of God. The book of Acts is all about the Word of God and the growth of the church through it. It was the Word that converted the Jews of Acts 2:41 and Acts 4:4. It was the Word of God that was preached “daily in the temple and in every house” multiplying the followers of God. All the conversions recorded in the book of Acts came from the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. It converted men of all races, classes, and nations: Jews and Gentiles, male and female, rich and poor. What has always struck me was something my friend verbalized the day of our drive. The gospel does not need bands, drama, free meals, hand-outs, emotionalism, or any other kind of gimmick to create Christians. In fact, people like my friend are turned away from religion by the worldliness of such displays. The will of God is spread by the use of God’s Word as recorded in the book of Acts.
The coming of the gospel and birth of the church saw the sword of the Lord create division. Sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to hinder the teachings of the salvation of Jesus. They pursued their aims through argument, intimidation, deception, courts and councils, and physical altercation. The high priest and council of the Jews condemned the teaching regarding Jesus. They threatened the apostles and commanded them not speak of Him. Yet, the apostles declared, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Stephen preached the Word of God and was stoned as the Jews lashed out in anger. Saul and others persecuted the Christians imprisoning them and scattering the church. When Saul was converted and shared the gospel to the non-Jewish world, he was persecuted city to city as he went. And the church grew! The book of Acts should give great hope to the church when times are dark.
Similarly, recent times in America have been fraught with evil. Opposition to God’s design for the family has risen up. Homosexuality, transgenderism, transsexuality, and other perversions have been actively promoted by the government. Abortion has been heralded rather than condemned. Smaller percentages of the population than ever before are being raised up with the teachings of Christ. Yet, one simply needs to recall the days of the book of Acts. The church can grow. It can withstand persecution. From the time of the apostles, through the ages, today and tomorrow, there is nothing which can destroy the church. The first century was fraught with ignorance, persecution, fear, and injustice, just as it is today. We should stand as Paul when addressed by an angel of God, “Fear not.”
The book of Hebrews puts forth a principle that is frequently observed among the Christians recorded in Acts. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much more as ye contemplate the day approaching.” This passage is speaking of the importance of Christian fellowship as we consider the coming of Christ. That foundation of faith and hope abounded in the first century. The assembling of the Christians together daily and house to house helped provide the “gladness and singleness of heart” surrounding the happenings on the day of Pentecost. The exhortation of Christians assembling together with Peter and John following their release from the high priest and rulers of the people produced praises and prayer to God, unity and selflessness. Following the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi when the Lord gave them their freedom, they assembled with the household of Lydia. They left having received comfort. When gathered with the brethren of Ephesus who came to him, Paul encouraged and directed them. They shared tears with him, hugged him, kissed him, and stayed in his sight as long as possible. Such strengthening is done through surrounding your life with the saints. It is not found in singular rote worship on Sunday, but in a heart-felt desire to be a supporting, loving Christian at all times.
These are the lessons I have learned from the book of Acts which drive my spiritual life today. The Word of God and the lives it produces must be what draws the soul to Christ. No matter what evil that comes or how dark the days are, the church will stand forever and can thrive following the Word. Brothers and sisters who follow the Word of God strengthen one another when they gather together.