By Earl E. Robertson
There are many local churches today satisfied only in being just a church. Not much interest is manifested in being a good church. With this disposition not much is required within that group. They are not concerned with growth in numbers and spiritual maturity. They exist year after year with no efforts toward development of elders and deacons, Bible class teachers, song leaders and preachers. No effort is made toward personal evangelism. Yet, they meet! Services are conducted and all go their ways. The ungodly are seldom rebuked much less corrected. But these are churches!
Other churches impress us with the idea they are seeking to be great-only in the eyes of the world. Some of the weakest members known to me any place are found in these churches. They are the ones though, who often want to tell the preacher how to preach. They know what message will be accepted by their worldly friends. The preacher must never call names-it makes no difference what the circumstances are. His message must be weak and of the character that would be accepted in about any denomination. Most of these churches are really growing-ballooning.
There are, however, many good churches which love the Lord and His word more than life itself. They know what they are doing and they know the direction in which they are going. They study the Bible regularly and teach it faithfully and consistently. These churches do not harbor moral perverts and spiritual degenerates. They both know and practice what the word of God teaches on this matter! Brethren, it is not enough to demand a sound pulpit but then be self-satisfied with an unsound pew! Let us always be faithful in practicing what we demand preached from the pulpit. Only in this manner will we be consistent (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16), and, consequently, pleasing and acceptable unto the Lord. From these good churches the word of God is now going into many parts of the world (Mk. 16:15,16; 1 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 10:18). All of these various churches have established a reputation for themselves. These good churches do not cast their present and future course upon false premises, for they know that in a little while the course will have been run, and the conclusion will not be what the soul really must have to be satisfied. They are building upon the Rock!
The Churches in Judaea, Galilee, Samaria
Acts 7 gives an account of the preaching and death of Stephen. Saul of Tarsus was present at this faithful man’s death, and also gave his consent to his murder (Acts 7:58; 22:20). He, for a while thereafter, consented to it (Acts 8:1). Feeling somewhat victorious over this, and still “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” he went to the high priest desiring letters of authority which would grant him the right to go to Damascus (120 miles from Jerusalem), enter the synagogues, persecute and bind Christians (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5). While on his murderous trek the Lord appeared unto him and tells him to go on into Damascus where it would be told him what he must do (Acts 9:3-6). Saul obeyed the voice and was in the city three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink (Acts 9:9). Ananias was called by the Lord to go tell Saul what he needed to know. He correctly informed Saul (Acts 9:17,18; 22:16), and the mighty Jew immediately obeyed the Lord.
Immediately Saul “preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). As he proved this Jesus to be the very Christ to the Jews at Damascus, “they took counsel to kill him” (Acts 9:21-23). The disciples of the Lord knowing the Jews were watching the gates of the city day and night, made arrangements for Saul’s escape by letting him down the wall in a basket one night (Acts 9:24-25). Saul went to Jerusalem and “assayed to join himself to the disciples” (Acts 9:26). Whatever Saul’s efforts to measure up to the Jerusalem disciples were, they were not sufficient to convince those saints. They were afraid of him even after his testimony, and, consequently, refused him. They did not believe that he was a disciple! To fellowship him or reject him was their congregational prerogative; being a New Testament church they had selfrule, and they did what they believed best with what evidence they had. Afterward, however, Barnabas took Saul to the apostles and informed them of Saul’s conversion. As a result of the efforts of Barnabas, a man in whom all the disciples had confidence, Saul “was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2628). Saul’s faithful and bold work “in the name of the Lord Jesus” at Jerusalem caused these Jews also to go “about to slay him” (Acts 9:29). The brethren then took him to Caesarea and sent him home to Tarsus. Evidently he stayed there until Barnabas went there seeking him, and then took him to Antioch where he stayed a year (Acts 9:30; 11:25,26).
When Saul went home, Luke said, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
Causes and Effects
These churches had sprung up in the midst of opposition and strife, but now there is momentary peace and quiet. The problems they had experienced, as the above contextual information shows, was from without. However, I would like to transpose this peace within. Internal rest is essential for acceptable results as far as God is concerned! These churches pressed the battle without against sin and carnality, but enjoyed peace within too. Divine authority enjoins upon each disciple a responsibility for peace. After all, God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), and Jesus Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14), because he is the Lord of peace and the Prince of peace (2 Thess. 3:16; Isa. 9:6). As such he demands that his followers be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). Good churches are composed of peacemakers. These people do not wait until there is trouble, and then seek to make peace; rather, they see things which cause unrest and problems and bring about a correction.
James says, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:14-18). Peace is fruit of effort! Churches that enjoy this peace have been instructed to this end. They have learned that the work of the Lord can never be done in the absence of peace. Without peace one finds confusion and every evil work!
The Prince of peace said to his disciples, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50). They could not be the kind of disciples the Lord wanted, nor could they be to an unbelieving world what they would have to be to convert it, without having peace among themselves. The churches of Acts 9 knew this, and this is a lesson every church today must learn. To the unsettled church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “And be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:13b). The ability to meet the challenges all churches face, and be victorious, peace is a must. As Paul finished his last letter to the Corinthians, he admonished, “Finally, brethren, farewell, Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). Christians must learn how to practice the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and at the same time have the internal peace he demands.
Even in the matter of personal judgments the Lord expects peace. Too often just one person must have his own way to the detriment of congregational peace and unity, though on this very point Paul instructs, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19). It seems with some to be most difficult to prefer the other in the matter of opinion. Strife is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-20), and each one who engages in it, shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). Yes, the churches of Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria had rest. They made efforts to have it – because through these efforts the ensuing fruits they so desired would come.
They were edified! Without peace there will not be much edification in any church. In the midst of trying circumstances, Paul says, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity (love) edifieth” (1 Cor. 8:1). Love within a church-love for each other-makes for edification. The affectionate interest that each Christian has for the other will assist in the building up of each other–“maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). The New Testament abounds with instruction concerning both the need for and the means of edifying one another. (See 1 Cor. 14:3,5,12,26; Eph. 4:29). When Christ ascended up on high to fill all things, Paul says, “And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12). The provisions of grace offered through this means for edification constitute adequacy. The function of each of these is to get the word of God out to the people. These functions are in the accusative case, and thus denote direction. The Lord wants edification, and the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is God’s sufficiency to accomplish this. There is no maturity within the churches where apostolic doctrine is not preached. Paul says these were given “for perfecting.” “For” translates pros, and Robertson says “It is not necessary to say that pros with the accusative means ‘towards.’ The accusative case implies extension. . .” (A Grammar of The Greek New Testament, p. 624.) When brethren are properly equipped through such teaching, they are then themselves prepared to edify. There are no short-cuts in this! An ignorant church is not a good church, and there is no real reason why any church should long exist without learning. Frankly, there is no reason for any church to exist if it refuses to learn the way of the Lord.
These churches were also “walking in fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Ghost.” The fear for God they had was not tyranny; they did not serve in a cruel, oppressive, and despotic kingdom. They served God and His Son. They knew His goodness, forgiveness, peace and warmth. The word “fear” is used in the sense of “reverence”. Paul uses the same word instructing the wife that “she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:33). Cornelius had this fear for God (Acts 10:2,22,35-36). Peter tells him acceptance with God demands fear. Instructions to servants, Paul says is, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). The idea then is that these churches served the Lord in the sense of putting Him where He really belonged in their heart. Peter says, “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King” (1 Pet. 2:7). No church is worthy the name “churches of Christ,” that does not properly reverence God. This reverence manifests itself in the attitudes and behaviour of the members that make it up. The churches of Acts 9 respected the word of God. The attitude displayed by some today that “we don’t have to do the best we can” is sorry and will surely cost many their souls. This attitude should not be allowed to live within any congregation. It is fatal to do so!
These brethren “walked in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” too. This passage tell what the Spirit offers; it does not tell how He offers it. The Spirit has a medium through which He works for the comfort of the saints, or any other work that He may do for us. His comfort is afforded through the scriptures. Paul writes, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Spirit revealed the scriptures, and they are His sword (Eph. 6:17). His inf luence upon man is, theref ore, accomplished through the scriptures-whether that influence is the convicting of the world (John 16:8), or the giving of comfort to the saints (Rom. 15:4). This point of contention is illustrated by Paul to the church at Thessalonica. They were troubled over the resurrection from the dead. Paul writes to them setting the record straight as to the promises of the Lord. Then he says, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). The same word is used of the Spirit in John 16:7.
Luke testifies the churches were “multiplied.” This result was inevitable. There are no short-cuts in obtaining these results; neither do churches that have peace, are edified, walk in the fear of God and the comfort of the Spirit, fail to have the blessing of multiplication. This is God’s way of conducting spiritual affairs, brethren, and it works! Often times brethren wonder why they don’t enjoy good results when the congregation engages in or tolerates outrageous behaviour. Why should the Lord give an “increase” (1 Cor. 3:6) when we have not sought Him after the due order? Good churches quickly bring about correction even when some horrible behaviour among the saints has happened. They simply want to do what is right. They know God blesses that kind of church! Multiplied! What a blessing!
Truth Magazine XX: 48, 760-761
December 2, 1976