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2. Taking all the help you can get

Acts 2vs1-21. Church Growing Pains.

One of the most exciting things about being involved in God's work is that we know the work is not our own. The ultimate responsibility is His, not ours. This immediately lifts the limits and enlarges the vision. We may only be able to do a little, but God can do so very much more and more. The apostle Paul realised this the more his ministry went on. From the restriction of his own Roman imprisonment he wrote to the Ephesians:

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3 vs 20 and 21.

If it is God's work in which we are participating, remember that He is able to do immeasurably (Greek: HUPEREKPERISSOU, made up of three words meaning 'over', 'from', and 'abundant' or 'superabundantly') more than all we ask or imagine (Greek: NOEO meaning to 'perceive' or to 'understand'). God's power working in us and through us will take us beyond our small goals, it will expand our limited horizons, it will improve on even our greatest dreams.

Jesus said to his disciples, just prior to his ascension, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about." Acts 1vs4. This gift was the Holy Spirit with whom they were to be baptised, vs5.

In almost any growing church there will be controversy about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is why Paul exhorted Christians to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Ephesians 4vs3. Without the Holy Spirit there can be no real work of God. The Bible is full of reminders of the valuable ministries of the Holy Spirit. He will teach us the lessons Jesus taught his disciples, John 14vs26. He will also counsel us as Jesus counselled his disciples.

The Holy Spirit will bring dynamic power to any Christian seeking to be a true witness for Jesus Christ, Acts 1vs8. He will give boldness beyond normal human ability or personality, even in times of adversity, Acts 4vs31. The Holy Spirit will give comfort and encouragement to Christians living in the fear of the Lord, Acts 9vs31. He will come alongside such individuals and congregations. He will enable heartfelt praise to God, Acts 10vs44-46. He will give prophecy, Acts 11vs28 and 21vs11. The Holy Spirit will lead the church in strategy for missions and in selecting people to do particular tasks, Acts 13vs2. He will help the church decide matters of doctrine and practice, Acts 15vs28, during times of honest testimony and dispute. Matthew Henry makes an interesting comment on Acts 19vs6 which records Paul laying hands on twelve men from Ephesus who spoke in tongues and prophesied as the Holy Spirit came upon them.

"They had the Spirit of prophecy, that they might understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God themselves, and the gift of tongues, that they might preach them to every nation and language." Paul was to write to the church at Ephesus later praising God for giving them "every spiritual blessing in Christ" and urging them to continually "be filled with the Holy Spirit", Ephesians 1vs3 and 5vs18.

It is precisely because the Holy Spirit does so much for any Christian work that the evil one tries, and succeeds, in creating controversy. He will try to make us "grieve the Holy Spirit" if he can, Ephesians 4vs30. He must not be allowed to succeed.

In my experience the most common causes of this conflict are three. Many Christians are ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. We are not the same as those Ephesians Paul met, who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. We remain ignorant because we only know part of the truth. Some churches take a very strong line: "the Holy Spirit and his gifts ceased to be significant since the Bible was written and accepted as the word of God". "The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a once for all event on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2". Other churches take equally strong but different views: "If you cannot speak in tongues you are not filled with the Holy Spirit". "If you are not thus filled with the Holy Spirit you are not a real Christian, or at best you are a second-rate Christian".

Now, any growing church is going to have some people who have been influenced by either of these views at previous churches, or at special festivals and conventions, or through teaching cassettes and books. I often find myself sharing the counter-balancing truth with people from the different persuasions. Partial knowledge, or partial ignorance if you prefer, is a cause of conflict. Paul warns the Corinthians "Now, about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant," 1 Corinthians 12vs1.

Another frequent cause of conflict is that many Christians insist that what has happened in their experience must happen in the lives of every other Christian. It is interesting that what happened to Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2vs4, was somewhat similarly repeated in his own ministry to Cornelius' household in Acts 10vs44-46. Philip, however, who was probably also present at Pentecost, Acts 1vs13, did not see the same experience in Samaria. Peter and John's arrival to lay hands on the new Samaritan believers brought in a different way of receiving the Holy Spirit, Acts 8vs17. Paul received the Holy Spirit in Acts 9vs17 when Ananias laid hands on him, and used this same 'method' with the Ephesians, Acts 19vs6. I would like to insist that there is variety in God's dealings with his children!

On a summer's day in Cornwall, where I live, many people flock to the beautiful beaches. The Atlantic Ocean on the North coast at Portreath is inviting to swim and to surf. I don't go in very often these days (too old, or too lazy, or both?) but watching those who do highlights this lesson. There are some folk who strip off, run straight down the beach into the sea, and never stopping, keep going forward until they cannot lift their legs high enough to be out of the water, and they swim. It has taken fifteen seconds. There are others who get ready to swim but only paddle for half an hour gradually getting the water further and further up their legs. When it touches their tummies there is sometimes a little 'yelp' of delighted panic. After a further few minutes their feet are off the sand and they are swimming. Of course there are all sorts of other 'in betweens' in this story. There are the hardy souls who dive off the harbour wall. Others on the edge of the sea resent being splashed by those already in, or plunging past. A few, with rolled up trouser legs show no intention of going any further! And of course, tragically, hardly a season goes by without somebody drowning, and dozens needing to be rescued from their own foolishness. Is the parallel with being filled with the Holy Spirit not obvious?

The third cause of conflict follows on from this wrong presumption that everyone's experience must be the same. Many Christians are insensitive to what God is doing in the lives of others. Someone may not speak in tongues, but it is noticeable that their language has changed and they are showing more Christian desires than worldly ways. Another person may not have memorised Berkhof's 'systematic theology', and certainly has not heard of "the derivation of the canon and applied tests for canonicity round about AD367". But he reads his Bible and seeks to put it into practice - even if he does go overboard with a holy kiss! New Christians are like new plants, they need a lot of special care and protection before they can stand the wild weather of life. Signs of life need to be encouraged and pruning into shape will come at the right season.

What can we learn from Acts 2 about the Holy Spirit and the Christian? Perhaps the most striking part of the story is highlighted by comparing the disciples before and after their Pentecost experience. John 20vs19 says: "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said: 'Peace be with you'". These same disciples are described in Acts 2vs1-14 as bearing witness publicly in Jerusalem's market place. The crowd was over three thousand strong and included people from many different countries, some of whom were purely pouring scorn on the disciples and their witnessing. The same disciples who were afraid for their own lives before Pentecost were on fire for the Lord - regardless of themselves - after having been filled with the Holy Spirit.

This account in Acts 2 is one of five in Acts which all describe the same event. In Acts 1vs4 and 5 Jesus says "... wait for the gift my Father will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." In 1vs8 he continues "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you..." In Acts 2vs4 Luke records "...they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." In Acts 2vs17 Peter applies the prophet Joel's description "...God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people". In Acts 10vs47 Peter says that Cornelius has "...received the Holy Spirit just as we have." The event is narrated by Luke in verse 44 "while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message". Peter's own testimony bears this out in Acts 11vs15-17 "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, 'John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"

Pentecost is described in at least five ways: as the disciples being baptised with the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples, as the disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit, as God pouring out His Holy Spirit, and as God giving a gift to the disciples. We must make sure we do not fall out with other Christians over mere terminology. The evidences for the Holy Sprit's presence will be many and varied as He changes us into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will give assurance that we are God's children, Romans 8vs16. He will help us get rid of the old way of life, Romans 8vs13 and 14. He will reveal to us what God intends for us, 1 Corinthians 2vs9 and 10. He will teach us spiritual truths, 1 Corinthians 2vs13. He will give to each individual some manifestation (something that will open up or make clear Christianity) for the benefit of all Christians around him,

1 Corinthians 12vs7. He will give gifts, 1 Corinthians 12vs4, and produce fruit, Galatians 5vs22 and 23. Don't insist that others have the same experiences as you. Let God the Holy Spirit help them as He will. And don't be insensitive to what the Counsellor is teaching the church together. In the church every person needs to show the difference that life in the Holy Spirit makes to him or herself.

The petrol driven engine needs to be cleaned and serviced to achieve maximum performance. If the spark plug gaps are too big power is lost. If dirt is allowed to build up in the moving parts balance is lost and a rather rough ride will result. If no fuel is put into the tank the engine will sooner or later fail completely. Let us allow God to tune the engines of our own lives and churches. Make sure no sin quenches the power, and regularly take time out from life's journey to visit the source of all supplies. The same petrol powers a basic Nissan Sunny and a luxurious Rolls Royce. God the Holy Spirit can, and will, do way beyond our greatest imaginations if we acknowledge it is His work we are engaged in and not ours. We must individually be what He wants us to be. The Holy Spirit will help us do what He wants us to do, but He will not help us do anything we may want to do as an alternative.

Discussion questions

  • What jobs do you think the Bible teaches that the HolySpirit does?

  • Is there a "one and only" pattern for the work of the Holy Spirit?

  • If yes, what is it?

  • If no, what guidelines are there?

  • Why does enthusiasm about the Holy Spirit sometimes make other people feel inferior?

  • Where does enthusiasm end and sensitivity begin?

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