THE CHURCH AT REST
"Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for a while. All over the country -- Judea, Samaria, Galilee -- the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully." Acts 9:31 (The Message).
Whew! What a relief!
Sending Saul back home to Tarsus was a good move for the believers. They were able to stabilise and regroup for a while in preparation for the next wave of persecution which was sure to come.
Luke does not give us a time frame for these events but it could not have been many years before the church had fulfilled at least some of its commission to take the gospel from Jerusalem to the rest of the known world.
Already the three provinces of Israel were saturated with the Message. With the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, there was a witness in Africa and Saul was no doubt actively preaching Jesus back in his home town of Tarsus in Asia Minor. There was already a strong church in Damascus in Syria. Who knows where else it had spread, with believers being scattered through persecution?
What was it about this new movement that made it so powerful? One would have thought that, with all the efforts to exterminate it, people would have been scared off instead of being drawn to it. It is not persecution that kills the church but a deadly disease that destroys the church from within. Like dry rot, which destroys the wood but not the structure, a church may have all the outward trappings of functionality but lack the activity of the Spirit that keeps it alive.
Luke drops a few clues that give us insight into the nature of the early church. Whether they were in a phase of peace or persecution, there was an inner resilience that came from the heart attitude of the people. "They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God." Could it be that this is one of the most important ingredients missing from the church today?
This was Paul's diagnosis of the terrible state of the world he lived in -- and he was quoting a psalm which reflected the times of the psalmist! "There is no fear of God before their eyes" Romans 3:18 (NIV).
That should tell us that this is an inborn characteristic of humankind which comes from Adam himself when he chose to disregard God's authority and go his own way. The history of God's own people was evidence of a massive disrespect for God which they lived out in sinful rebellion and blatant disobedience to His Word.
The symptoms of this disease are easily recognisable. Number one is treating God like a mate or a servant. It's "God, do this, and God do that," and if He doesn't, they call His character into question and even walk away.
Number two is usurping His authority in the church. How many church leaders are attaching people to themselves, acting like dictators and twisting God's word to suit themselves, garnering the spoils of their greed to feather their own nests?
God's response is clear and sobering. "What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? ...These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God or I will tear you to pieces with none to rescue. He who offers thank offerings honours me and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God." Psalm 50:16b; 21-23 (NIV).
But there is another response from God to those who give God the honour due to Him. "The Holy Spirit was with them strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully." The Holy Spirit has not left the church but He is often quenched or grieved into silence because He is no longer honoured in the church.
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