In the face of unique challenges, it’s encouraging to return to timeless lessons from Acts which teach us our DNA as Christians. In this article, Tina Wilson, pastor’s wife and church planter, walks through the early chapters of Acts and guides us on a tour of what we can learn from these early Christians.
The church launched and achieved “mega” status from day one (numbering more than 3,000 already, according to Acts 2:41). The apostles boldly preached Jesus and the number swelled to more than 5,000. Immediately, the religious leaders who held authority over their exclusive, hierarchal religious club started to panic. They didn’t like that the church was growing or that its leaders were causing a stir among the people.
For example, they really didn’t like the position it put them in when Peter and John healed a handicapped man. Peter and John’s attributing the miracle to the power of Jesus, the resurrected king, sent the leaders over the edge. The same council of religious leaders who had handed Jesus over to death—the Sanhedrin—threatened the apostles, and their response was spot on:
But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
Lessons from Acts: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
These dynamics are not unfamiliar in religious culture today. Sometimes religious leaders, even Christians ones, become jealous when they see a church that is growing like wildfire and so they criticize it. The critics typically aren’t considering that when the church sets its mission in the model of the Acts church—boldly preaching Jesus, doing acts of kindness, and meeting spiritual and physical needs of people—many will respond. There is power in the name of Jesus, when he is proclaimed, glorified, and given credit.
“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” (Acts 5:17)
Let’s consider some qualities we see at work in the members of the church here and use these as a measuring stick against which we evaluate our own words, actions, and motives. While the modern megachurch is an easy target for criticism (and in some cases, megachurch leaders have willfully supplied the ammunition), Acts also shows us that a biblical church is an expanding, multiplying organism that shakes up the religious culture, grows like crazy, and changes the world.
How then should the believers in the church live? Here are some lessons from the early chapters of the book of Acts.
1. Like Peter and John, we should give all credit to Jesus.
“Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10)
When the miraculous work of healing that Peter and John had been equipped to do caught the attention of the religious leaders, Peter and John didn’t claim any credit for this deed but glorified Jesus and took the opportunity to preach and point people toward him. In the same way, anytime Jesus performed miracles of physical healing, these were instructive, teaching people about his ability to bring spiritual healing for the glory of God.
Lessons from Acts: “Peter and John took the opportunity to preach and point people toward him.”
2. Like the believers, we should let the Holy Spirit embolden us.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!” (Acts 4:8)
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”…After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29, 31)
Lessons from Acts: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54–55)
We can be tempted to trust in our own abilities in advancing the kingdom. Or, on the flip side, we may avoid telling others about Jesus because we’re afraid we won’t know everything we should say. Both are wrong approaches. We need to be digging into the Holy Spirit-inspired Word, praying, and asking for the Spirit’s help to guide our words, actions, and responses.
3. Like Barnabas, we should continually encourage others.
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:36-37)
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26–27)
Lessons from Acts: “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Sometimes we Christians see ourselves as something akin to a “sin police,” whose responsibility is to issue citations (e.g., through condescending or pointed social media posts) to those we perceive have it wrong. Shouldn’t we rather be known as people who lift others up? The early church had their own fair share of issues, which we’ll see through the rest of our New Testament reading. It wasn’t that Barnabas couldn’t find things to critique. But that wasn’t what he chose to do.
4. Like the first Christians, we should give generously and share our possessions.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:33-35)
Rather than storing up riches for themselves, they freely gave to see that the whole body of Christ had needs met so that the work of evangelism could advance powerfully and effectively. Looking forward to Jesus’ return, they did not care about building personal empires on earth because they had met the true king and had it in their hearts and minds to help build his eternal kingdom with their material wealth.
5. Unlike Ananias and Sapphira, we should give for God’s glory, not vanity.
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” (Acts 5:4)
The sin of this couple wasn’t that they didn’t give away all of the money from their property sale. It had been theirs to do with as they wished anyway. This sin, clarified in Peter’s exchange with Sapphira, was that they represented what they did give as the total amount of the sale, when it was only a partial amount of their income. The only reason someone would lie and say they’re giving more than they actually are is for vanity and personal glory. Our gifts to God, like our works for God, must be for his glory and not our own.
Lessons from Acts: “Our gifts to God, like our works for God, must be for his glory and not our own.”
6. Like Peter and John, our lives should reflect the presence of Jesus.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
I’m so thankful to Jesus for leveling the playing field. In a time when religious leaders oppressed people with their faulty interpretations of God’s Word, Jesus came and entrusted the message of salvation to ordinary people. He invited the unschooled to follow him and he commissioned the unqualified to be ambassadors of his kingdom. Their ordinary status glorified Jesus that much more!
Lessons from Acts: “Their ordinary status glorified Jesus that much more!”
A goal in my husband’s and my lives and ministry has been that we walk in faith to do things so audacious that if God isn’t in them, they have to fail. Anyone can look at us and see that what has happened in our family and in our church is far beyond our own ability to achieve. Being unschooled and ordinary has been the story of our lives. Yet when we sincerely seek to model Christ’s church, to teach the apostles’ doctrine, and to glorify Jesus through miraculous faith moves, then people believe and ministry is mega. Who we are and what we know is meaningless. What matters is that people can look into our lives and recognize that we’ve been with Jesus.
7. Like the early church, we need to be unashamed of the gospel.
The early Christians just couldn’t stop talking about the risen Jesus, even though it got them into considerable trouble along the way. It was just too good of news not to share. We need to recover this contagion:
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?….By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.” (Acts 3:12, 16)
“Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10)
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33)
Lessons from Acts:“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 5:41)
“Look,” Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him. (Acts 7:56–57)