These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4) RSV
There is great emphasis these days on ‘Church Growth’. This is a false emphasis. It reflects the panic of shrinking churches. Jesus never told us to build the Church. He said it was his Church and he would build it. Our task was to go into all the world, to love, to serve and to preach. Church growth can become a selfish indulgence, whereas we are told to forget about ourselves.
Certainly we want and need church growth. But that will follow if we spend our energies on loving God and loving his world. The early disciples devoted themselves to learning, communion (hospitality), fellowship and prayer. They then lived out in the world bearing witness by their manner of life and being prepared to give a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).
The result of this selfless activity was church growth! Exponential growth: 150 to 5000 (men – quite apart from women and children), and thereafter ‘daily’ growth.
In nature everything that is healthy will, as a rule, grow and propagate. The church which is made up of living people is no exception. People who are alive in the Lord and in the Spirit will, if they follow the above instruction, grow and develop.
David Watson once said, when as a raw young vicar he took on St Cuthbert’s in York: “I believe that if anyone really preaches the simple gospel of Christ, trusts in the power of prayer, and opens his life to the renewal of the Spirit, this church will be full in no time!” By the grace of God those words became true.
Heavenly Father, make us a people who love you with all our heart, soul and strength, and who love our neighbour, especially those outside the church, as ourselves. Thank you that you have promised to build your Church. May we trust you to do so. Amen.
1 If we trust and obey, does church growth always follow?
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (v. 42) RSV
What is a church for and what should the members be doing? Their first effort is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, their second is to strengthen themselves and their third is to go out to love and serve the world.
Today’s reading describes the second of these great callings. Every Christian whether newly formed or of long standing requires regular input, nurture, challenge and strengthening. If we neglect to gather together for these purposes we will atrophy away and become weak and ineffective.
So, when we gather together it is not just for worldly tittle-tattle or a social rubbing of shoulders with those whom we naturally get along with. It is not for entertainment or because the church people are the only friends we have.
The reason for gathering is summed up in our verse for today. They ‘devoted’ themselves to these things. There was commitment and desire. This can take place to some extent at the Sunday service, but also in a midweek gathering. They did four things:
Learning – the apostles’ teaching (now recorded for us in the Bible)
Fellowship – talking, sharing and supporting one another
Communion – not only in Bread & Wine, but in hospitality (‘generously’) (v. 46)
Praying – set prayers, extemporary prayers, or silent prayers, yet together
A church that devotes itself primarily to these four things will be a church that glorifies God and loves the world for which he died.
Dear Lord, forgive us when we are too lazy or too distracted to meet with other believers. And when we do meet, forgive us when we have failed to use the time to strengthen ourselves in the faith. Thank you for the examples of those early disciples. Amen
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (v.37) RSV
Some weeks ago you may have read in these readings that the Holy Spirit would “Convince/convict the world of sin” (John 16:8). Well, here on the day of Pentecost we have a supreme example of that happening. Peter has preached a message that declares the meaning of God’s mighty works, and has then specifically homed in on his hearers’ failure to believe in Jesus. Indeed they had positively failed to recognise, and had been party to, his rejection and crucifixion.
The Holy Spirit never gives a general sense of failure, for that is the work of the Devil (the Accuser of the brethren). Rather, he deals with the key to all sin, which is disbelief in Jesus, as he himself explained: “of sin because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:9). All sins are merely a manifestation of Sin. And Sin is the rejection of God and rebellion against him. Once we are separated from him and so are not living by faith and love, then all our lives are tainted by Sin and fall short of his purposes. We do not glorify him.
The kindly Holy Spirit does not bring condemnation but conviction. His purpose is not to produce guilt, but to lead us to repentance and a change of life. The word ‘repentance’ means ‘to change’; it does not mean to grovel! God wants to lead us out of a futile life, however pleasant or unpleasant it is, and to enable us to have “life, abundant life.” (John 10:10).
The Holy Spirit spoke through the life and testimony of that collection of disciples and through the preaching of Peter. He continues to speak in many and various ways – sometimes simply in our own conscience. Let us not be afraid but welcome his cleansing and healing conviction.
Lord, we thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to convict us of sin. May he first do his work in us, and then by your grace use our lives and words to bring the world into a saving knowledge of your Son, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
1 What was Isaiah’s reaction when God drew near to him?
2 How should we respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction?
“Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them,” (v.14) RSV
Not all are evangelists, not all are public speakers, not all can express their faith and theology in clear and persuasive words. Only one of the Eleven actually did the public speaking. The rest were there, supporting and praying, and giving testimony to their experience.
But only Peter had the gift to lift up his voice and speak. We need to support and pray for those in our times who have the gift of preaching. Somebody has got to speak – for without a preacher the people will perish.
Sunday by Sunday preachers get up in pulpits and teach the faithful, they may even spend time trying to convert the converted! Their ministry to the faithful and to those who go to church is indispensible.
However the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost was not done in church to the converted; it was done to the unconverted, in the market place. Now, of course, our culture and circumstances are entirely different.
And sadly there are around, those brave but misguided preachers, who stand in our market places and preach sterile clichés which fall upon deaf ears.
But who is preaching through all available channels? Television, internet, public occasions or civic services, weddings and funerals, open air services in our parks, are all examples of readily available opportunities. But are the preachers who use these media being effective?
Let us pray for and support those who communicate the Gospel. And let us back them up by our lives and by our witness.
Dear Lord, may you provide the preachers that we need, who will have the courage to use their gifts in the public domain. Thank you for those who first preached the gospel to us. Amen
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (v.12) RSV
There was a poet called Swinburn who was singularly unimpressed with Christianity. He felt it had sucked the lifeblood out of life – rather like the Dementors in Harry Potter. He penned the lines: “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean. The world has grown grey with thy breath.” Chilling words. But is it true? Does Christianity make us dull, goody goodies, who lack spontaneity and boldness?
Robert Louis Stephenson wrote that he had been to church and had come out “not depressed”. Dullness and depression was what he normally derived from Christianity.
There is a real danger that our Christian faith is not full of vigour and the unexpected but rather it is safe, predictable and somewhat bland. This was never true of the life of Jesus. He was full of the unexpected. This was never done to cause effect nor was it contrived. But he lived the creative life of God in our midst. He said the unexpected and did the unimagined.
The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost to perpetuate that same life in, and through us. Let us be led by him into creative daring and difference. This is not to impress or be ‘with it’, but simply that God’s life is never dull and predictable.
Think today what you as an individual or your church could do or say. Maybe people would also be amazed and say “What does this mean?” If they do, then perhaps you could tell them!
Lord, forgive me if I am dull and safe. Make me brave enough to challenge and to change things around me. May my life be a bold and vibrant witness to your presence. Amen
1 What sort of things did Jesus say and do that amazed people?
Matthew 12:22-23, Mark 12:17, Luke 2:47
2 Can we be changed to become ‘amazing’ and unpredictable?