Father, give us the boldness, courage, and wisdom of Stephen. Give us the faithfulness of Philip to make Jesus’ name known. May we always be peacemakers in the church. Remind us that You are in control and You are good! In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Acts 5-8
As churches grow numerically, they often face new challenges. It’s not painless. Observe the various challenges of growth in Acts 5–8 and how the Holy Spirit provides what’s needed to meet those challenges.
Acts 5 The early church was characterized by generous and sacrificial giving in order to meet real needs. Ananias and Sapphira, however, tried to deceive the church and lied to God the Holy Spirit. Peter confronted Ananias and then Sapphira, and the church’s purity was maintained. As Luke records, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14, ESV).
Next, notice persecution seems to have been a normal part of church life. The apostles were imprisoned again for acting and speaking in Jesus’ name. But rather than keep quiet, they asserted, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29).
Acts 6–7 The church also took care of its widows. However, as numbers increased, there were complaints of neglect by Greek-speaking Jewish believers against Aramaic speakers; they were worried their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
So the apostles responded by expanding the ministry team (the seven) to include servants who restored unity and peace by specifically focusing on the ministry to both groups of widows (6:1). Luke reflects on this resolution: “The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7, ESV).
After this, Stephen, one of the seven added to the ministry team, boldly evangelized in Jerusalem. He was seized and brought before the authorities who accused him of speaking against the temple and the Law (6:12–13). Stephen surveyed the Old Testament to refute these charges and to call to repentance his accusers. Among them was Saul, who became the Apostle Paul (6:58). While being stoned to death, Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (7:56, ESV).
Acts 8 Sometimes, apparent followers of Jesus will be envious and bitter, coveting the spiritual gifts of others. Simon thinks that spiritual power and influence may be bought with money, but observe how Peter rebukes Simon for his evil heart, urging him to repent.
Notice how Philip—an ordinary follower of Christ, one of the seven but not one of the Apostles—obediently explains the gospel to an Ethiopian official whom God has prepared to believe the good news. See how the Spirit used Philip’s obedient witness to make disciples in a distant place. This is a great picture of how God uses ordinary people to both spread the gospel and have a part in planting churches wherever they find themselves!
Lastly, notice the next great move of God was not initiated by the disciples but was the result of great persecution.
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29 But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’
- Jesus’ followers must always be prepared to announce the gospel of Christ, which means they cannot be silenced by outside authority. When told to stop, Peter chose to obey the words of God rather than the words of men (Acts 5:29).
- As the church grew, conflict arose between ethnic groups. Yet God did not leave His church without help. He provided men filled with the Spirit to restore unity by serving the tables for groups who were at odds.
- God’s strategy is sometimes unconventional. He uses something as strange as persecution to jump-start the preaching of the Word in new places (8:1). As His followers, we should walk humbly with God who is in control of all the world’s events.
- Notice the storyline of Scripture recounted in Acts 7. Summarize the major topics of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration to use when sharing the gospel. For more information, read the brief summary below of the overall story or the Grand Narrative of the Bible.
- We see the early believers taking the opportunity to share the gospel wherever they were (Acts 8). Pray God would give you the opportunities, the boldness, and the ability to share the gospel.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help.
- Ask for eyes to see where He is providing opportunities around you.
- Pray for boldness to share the gospel in the Spirit’s power.
The Bible is not a random collection of theological facts and inspirational statements. It’s a unified story. Ultimately, the Bible tells the story of God, and He is its author, its main character, its primary hero, and its purpose. This story has four main parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. In creation, God made the world out of nothing simply by speaking it into being. Everything He made is good. As the crown of creation, He made the first man and woman in His image, gave them dominion over the rest of creation, and commanded them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and take care of it.
In the Fall, the first man and woman rebelled against God and disobeyed Him. As a result, their relationships with God, each other, and the rest of creation were all shattered. Hardship, painful labor, disease, natural disasters, crime, war, broken relationships, death—all of these entered the world along with sin, and these things have characterized life on earth ever since.
Most of the rest of the Bible tells the story of redemption. Even though the human race deserved condemnation from God, He had mercy on us and unfolded His plan for our salvation through the topic of biblical history. That history included choosing Abraham and his family to be His people, rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through Moses, giving them His Law, setting up the tabernacle and the Old Testament priesthood, bringing them into the Promised Land, establishing them as a nation, giving them a king in the person of David, and both confronting and comforting them through a succession of prophets.
He established His relationship with His people through a series of covenant agreements, which He made with Abraham, with Israel through Moses, and with David. All of these things pointed forward—and prepared the way—for Jesus, the Anointed One (Messiah), God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the ultimate Prophet, the Word of God made flesh, who reveals and proclaims God’s truth perfectly. Jesus is the ultimate priest and the ultimate sacrifice, whose death and resurrection provide the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners that was anticipated by sacrificing bulls and goats in the Old Testament.
Jesus is the ultimate King, David’s eternal Son, who will defeat all His enemies and rule perfectly forever as King of kings and Lord of lords. At the perfect time in history, Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life (the life we should have lived), taught the way of God clearly and perfectly, demonstrated the in-breaking of the rule of God through His miracles, died the death in our place that we deserved to die, and then rose from the dead. He is the infinite and eternal conqueror of sin, death, and hell. He ascended into heaven and sent His Holy Spirit on His followers for the purpose of empowering their gospel witness to the ends of the earth. He established His church and sent it on a mission to make disciples of Jesus from all people groups on earth.
The Bible closes with the story of restoration. At the end of history, Jesus will come back. All the dead will be raised, and everyone who has ever lived will face judgment. Those who have turned from their rebellion against God and trusted in Christ will be acquitted because of His righteousness, and they will enjoy perfect fellowship with God in infinite joy and glory forever. Those who have not trusted in Christ will be justly condemned for their sins and cast into hell forever. God will bring in a new heaven and a new earth, in which all the consequences of our rebellion against Him are wiped away, and we will enjoy Him forever.
- Yesterday, you read the definition of a church and church guidelines. It says, “They are committed to one another and to God—associated by covenant—in pursuing all that Scripture requires of a church.” Read your church’s covenant and reflect on the ways it helps you and your fellow church members pursue God’s purposes of a church. [Local Church]