We’ve all heard the stories of the church growing dramatically. Sometimes the growth results from gospel being heard for the first time. Other growth comes in response to persecution. Still other growth begins when hearts that have been simply going through the motions are suddenly revived.
I love hearing – and experiencing – any such growth stories. But, my favorite stories remain the earliest ones. The biblical ones. Like this one:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Acts 9:31 NASB
Do you see the amazing information packed into this verse?
- The church enjoyed peace.
This was really the first time of peace for the church. It started under mild persecution, as the Apostles were threatened by the Jewish leaders who thought their problems had ended when they got rid of Jesus. Surprise!
For the most part, though, it seems as if the persecution relaxed a bit and preaching, teaching, meeting, and growing occurred without too many issues. But, if you’ve ever been in a growing church, you know there are other issues. Internal issues. Growing pains. We see a glimpse of these issues in the argument between the Hellenistic and Jewish widows. I have a feeling that was not the only growing pain.
Then came the massive persecution at the hands of Saul following Stephen’s martyrdom. The believers were scattered, and the gospel spread.
Only after Saul traveled that life-changing Damascus road did peace come.
- Being built up.
Consider the beginning of the chapter. Saul was trying to tear down the church. Now, the threat from Saul is gone, and it seems like the rest of the Jews have lost their steam – or that they’re more focused on Saul than the whole church.
So, what once was being torn down is now being built up. It is interesting to note that this verb refers not to something that the church was accomplishing on their own. They were not building themselves up, but were being built up. The action of the Lord Himself accomplished this growth. He’d established His church in challenge. Now He was growing His church in peace. He acted. They received.
- And going on.
This is the one I really love. The church went on, acting on what they’d learned in the time of challenge.
So often, we see the opposite in the lives of individual Christians and churches as a whole. We band together and lean on Christ in the challenge, but when the peace comes, we relax. We separate. We do not go on, persisting in the foundation established during the challenge. Instead, we act as if those foundational behaviors are only for the times of challenge, waiting for us to return to if the need arises.
But the early church had no concept of that. Perhaps it was a side effect of being established in challenge. They knew nothing else. So, they continued in what they knew, and they “continued to increase” because of it.
We often discuss emulating the early church in order to be truly biblical in our methods. I think right here is the first place we need to look. We need to choose to go on “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” no matter what our circumstances.
Then, my friends – oh, then! – let’s just hang on. Because the growth will truly be glorious!