A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 2:42-47 d). It was an evangelistic church.
So far we have considered the study, the fellowship and the worship of the Jerusalem church, for it is to these three things that Luke says the first believers *devoted themselves*. Yet these are aspects of the interior life of the church; they tell us nothing about its compassionate outreach to the world. Tens of thousands of sermons have been preached on Acts 2:42, which well illustrates the danger of isolating a text from its context. On its own, verse 42 presents a very lopsided picture of the church’s life. Verse 47b needs to be added: *And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved*. Those first Jerusalem Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, sharing and worshipping, that they forgot about witnessing. For the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit who created a missionary church. As Harry Boer expressed it in his challenging book *Pentecost and Missions*, the Acts ‘is governed by one dominant, overriding and all-controlling motif. This motif is the expansion of the faith through missionary witness in the power of the Spirit…. Restlessly the Spirit drives the church to witness, and continually churches rise out of the witness. The church is a missionary church’.
From these earliest believers in Jerusalem, we can learn three vital lessons about local church evangelism. First, the Lord himself (this is, Jesus) did it: *the Lord added to their number*. Doubtless he did it through the preaching of the apostles, the witness of the church members, the impressive love of their common life, and their example as they were *praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people* (47a). Yet he did it. For he is the head of the church. He alone has the prerogative to admit people into its membership and to bestow salvation from his throne. This is a much-needed emphasis, for many people talk about evangelism today with reprehensible self-confidence and even triumphalism, as if they think the evangelization of the world will be the ultimate triumph of human technology. We should harness to the evangelistic task all the technology God has given us, but only in humble dependence on him as the principal evangelist.
Secondly, what Jesus did was two things together: he *added to their number…those who were being saved* (the present participle *sozomenous* either being timeless or emphasizing that salvation is a progressive experience culminating in final glorification). He did not add them to the church without saving them (no nominal Christianity at the beginning), nor did he save them without adding them to the church (no solitary Christianity either), Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do. Thirdly, the Lord added people *daily*. The verb is an imperfect (‘kept adding’), and the adverb (‘daily’) puts the matter beyond question. The early church’s evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic activity. They did not organise quinquennial or decennial missions (missions are fine so long as they are only episodes in an ongoing programme). No, just as their worship was daily (46a), so was their witness. Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts full of the Holy Spirit. And as their outreach was continuous, so continuously converts were being added. We need to recover this expectation of steady and uninterrupted church growth.
Looking back over these marks of the first Spirit-filled community, it is evident that all concerned the church’s relationships. First, they were related to the apostles (in submission). They were eager to receive the apostles’ instruction. A Spirit-filled church is an apostolic church, a New Testament church, anxious to believe and obey what Jesus and his apostles taught. Secondly, they were related to each other (in love). They persevered in the fellowship, supporting each other and relieving the needs of the poor. A Spirit-filled church is a loving, caring, sharing church. Thirdly, they were related to God (in worship). They worshipped him in the temple and in the home, in the Lord’s supper and in the prayers, with joy and with reverence. A Spirit-filled church is a worshipping church. Fourthly, they were related to the world (in outreach). They were engaged in continuous evangelism. No self-centred, self-contained church (absorbed in its own parochial affairs) can claim to be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit. So a Spirit-filled church is a missionary church.
There is no need for us to wait, as the one hundred and twenty had to wait, for the Spirit to come. For the Holy Spirit did come on the Day of Pentecost, and has never left his church. Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before his sovereign authority, to determine not to quench him, but to allow him his freedom. For then our churches will again manifest those marks of the Spirit’s presence, which many young people are specially looking for, namely biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and an ongoing, outgoing evangelism.
Tomorrow: Acts 3:1-4:31. The outbreak of persecution.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|