The church, made up of Jesus’ followers, is his body on earth. It has been brilliant and influential at times, weak at other points in history, and increasingly divided over the years. Amazingly, the imperfect church is still God’s designated witness, his hands and feet, to accomplish his will on this earth.
The early church, the brand new body of believers, was stunningly focused. Her power seems to have been undiluted, and her actions, pure:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
There were no church organizations in those days, and it seems no one compared budgets, buildings, or the number of people on their benches. The disciples were leading the way, and they must have been astonished by the work that the Holy Spirit was doing through them. Like little children suddenly able to perform their parent’s tasks, they couldn’t help but joyfully attest to the glorious truth and power of Jesus Christ.
When I read these words, I long for the numbers in today’s church to increase. Growth means that more people will know the peace of the love and grace of God expressed through the sacrifice and authority of Jesus Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit. For the early church, growth was the natural result of the two qualities mentioned in Acts 9: deep reverence for the Lord and the strong comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Deep Reverence for the Lord
The disciples had walked with Jesus for three years, and no doubt they had a profound reverence for him. They had observed stunning miracles, authoritative teaching, and they had countless personal interactions with Jesus. They loved him. And they knew, or at least were starting to know, that he was God. They wanted to follow him.
The days of the early church only intensified their passions. They were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, performing miracles, and teaching, and their reverence for Jesus would have exploded. I imagine them astounded at what God was doing, expressing their devotion to Jesus and thanking him for what he had given them the power to do.
Do believers today live in the fear of the Lord, or as other versions translate it, in deep reverence for the Lord?
I wonder if the deep devotion of believers has dulled. After all, it has been two thousand years or so since the powerful days of the early church. We may simply take it for granted. I love Jesus, am thankful to the Father for everything he has done for me, and have the power of the Holy Spirit; however, living in the fear of the Lord is not uppermost in my thinking.
Too often Christians are fearful of the future, things beyond their control, and other worldly powers when the fear of the Lord would overrule all of those fears. When you or your church faces financial difficulty, are you operating out of deep reverence for the Lord, or are you relying on prevailing human wisdom? When a loved one is ill, are you praying with a deep reverence for the Lord and depending on the comfort of the Holy Spirit, or are you panicking?
Fear is a normal human emotion, but Jesus helps us see our fears from the proper perspective. When you are fearful, remember to trust with deep reverence for the Lord.
Strong Comfort from the Holy Spirit
The early disciples started as a small group of people. They prayed and waited in Jerusalem to a powerful and courageous force for the gospel. On Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter spoke to the crowds and concluded with this:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Three thousand people joined the church on its first day of existence. This due only to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in people like Peter. Interestingly, we’re told that they experienced the “strong comfort of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:31) This suggests that all was not rosy; no doubt they had problems within and outside the church. The response was to depend on the Holy Spirit for comfort.
Are we experiencing the “strong comfort of the Holy Spirit?” or do we turn to Twitter, Facebook, or other people or platforms in search of solace?
A Focused, Dependent Church
It’s easy to give in to fear, but remember to fear the Lord first. If we, the church, focus on fearing him, we won’t be nearly as fearful of anything else. When you need comfort, depend on the Holy Spirit, pray, read your Bible, and you’ll find great compassion and encouragement.