It amazes me how often opportunities for growth are incited by challenges, problems, or even attacks.
The book of Acts details the advance of the early church through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit. Time and again the early believers faced persecution, problems, and challenges. But the advance of the gospel would not be hindered. Acts describes the sovereign advance of God’s gospel. Our job is to remain faithful to preach the good news in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In his commentary on Acts, John Stott identified three ways Satan attempted to hinder the church’s advance: suppression, corruption, and distraction. In chapter 3, Peter and John healed a crippled man and used this platform to preach the gospel. Subsequently, chapter 4 relates how the religious leaders imprisoned Peter and John and charged them to cease preaching about Jesus.
The Jewish leaders attempted to suppress the early church. The first believers responded with a powerful prayer meeting and more evangelism.
While we (in the Western church) do not face persecution and suppression like many of our fellow believers across the world, our response to suppression must be biblical. As leaders we should lead our congregations in prayer and continued boldness in preaching (Acts 4:23-31).
In chapter 5, Satan tempted Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the church (ultimately to the Holy Spirit) about the amount of money for which they sold their property. Satan wanted to corrupt the church. In an astonishing story of God’s demand for holiness, Ananias and Sapphira were immediately struck dead for their sin.
We must not tolerate corruption in our churches.
Practically, we are not meant to adopt Peter’s method of church discipline illustrated in this chapter, but we must deal with any seeds of corruption clearly and quickly. This starts with giving no quarter to the corruption that may dwell in our own hearts. Then we must preach the judgment of the gospel with power and persuasion.
There is no greater picture of hate for sin than the cross. God viciously judged sin by sacrificing his holy Son on our behalf. Judgment is part of the gospel message. Without judgment, there is no good news, no gospel. If we long for our churches to fear God and be in awe of his power (Acts 5:11), we must preach the holiness of God, his judgment on sin, and the good news that follows.
In chapter 6, Satan incited complaints within the church seeking to distract the church from its purpose. Certain widows were being left out of the daily distribution of food. This caused the apostles to gather the church, decide as a body to elect the first deacons, and address the problem directly. This move resulted in effective ministry and gospel advance (6:1, 7).
Church complaints are going to happen. Sometimes they require direct action as illustrated in this chapter. But in reality, we discover here a paradigm for church advance that is simple and affective. Pastors must devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:2, 4). And pastors must delegate ministry tasks to others, staff, deacons, and lay leaders (6:3,5-6). Addressing this church problem with clarity allowed the gospel to spread even further.
So, let us pray fervently, study consistently, and preach the gospel powerfully as we go on the offensive against our enemy who wants to hinder church advance. Remember Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”