Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Essay based on Acts 4:5-22
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Let’s Make Some Application
First, John 14:12 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father.” We might reply, “How will people recognize me as a follower of Jesus? I can’t work miracles.” My response is that you are the miracle. You once were lost, and now you have been found. You are if you are one who truly trusts in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. Which makes You God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). And the first good work we must be willing to do is to be ready whenever we have the opportunity to give “a reason for the hope that is in” us (1 Peter 3:15). We can trust Christ through the Holy Spirit to give us the words we will need in the moment we need them.
Secondly, we must be full of good works as the Scripture defines them. What are good works? What will separate the sheep from the goats in the end? Good works are most often defined in Scripture as helping those through non-miraculous means that Jesus helped using the miraculous.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Amy Carmichael as a teenager used to sit in sewing circles with young ladies and children after their shift at the factory, teaching them to read and reading the Bible to them. Sunday Schools were invented for this purpose. George Muller just opened his home to orphans for breakfast. His wife sold everything in her Hope Chest so they could use it to serve orphans. More than one missionary began their career ministering to the population they would eventually go to by first ministering to them as refugees in their own homeland. Prisons and jails are terrible and dark places. But more than a few men and women are being brought to the end of their rope right now by being put into a cage to consider the course of their life.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Yes, live a moral and upstanding life, but that is not all this text means. I want to be careful here. I am not saying we should organize ourselves for these ministries as a church. I do think we should eventually, but not right now. There are plenty of ministries already organized for that purpose. I am not necessarily even saying “go volunteer” somewhere. I am suggesting that you take a personal interest in other people, and not as projects to be fixed. The efficiency of organized ministries and churches is advantageous to pooling money and people together. Their disadvantage is a sterile environment where one serves, and the other is served. They tend to drift into the impersonal if one doesn’t work hard to fight that drift. There are ministry opportunities everywhere for the individual if people are brave enough, flexible enough, and willing enough to have some money and time wasted. That is what will happen. The world is full of grifters at the moment but hidden among them are still those in real need. If I were a betting man I’d bet that the Senior Center has a list of shut-ins who’d love to have a young person just come and see them. The world is a lonely place full of lonely people. And we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works to them.
Third, while you are engaged in the “good works you were created in Christ Jesus” to do, don’t forget to talk as He talked. Francis Assisi’s famous quip, “Preach the Gospel, use words if you have to,” is dead wrong. Jesus loved and spoke. His life and words lined up. Together they were powerfully persuasive. Peter tells these men that they crucified Jesus, that God resurrected Him, that they cannot know salvation in any other, and that in Jesus’ name, he performed the good work upon the man standing next to him. Peter didn’t do the good work and let it stand independently. Peter let his good work shine before men, leveraged it to tell the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and even further used Scripture to expose their sin of rejecting Jesus out of pure self-interest. Peter did not sugarcoat the Gospel at all. Here is a simple presentation of the Gospel with no frills and no avoidance of the hard truth of the Sanhedrin’s culpability. Standing next to them is a man, a trophy, a witness, a good work done that they cannot deny, and it is paired with the good word of the Gospel.
If we want to be “recognized as having been with Jesus,” we must follow in His good works, His good word, and His selflessness. We must love our neighbor with our actions, but we cannot avoid using words, hard words even. And we must keep our self-interests in check lest they ruin our ministry and testimony and expose us as hypocrites who were really serving ourselves. As terrible as it seems, preaching the Gospel and serving our neighbor out of self-interest is possible. Paul knew that some men in his day preached “Christ from envy and rivalry.” (Philippians 1:15) I’ve seen envy and rivalry while serving on Christian elder boards and on parachurch ministry boards too. Once, at a city-wide parachurch ministry meeting in Nashville called to figure out how to minister to vulnerable women being trafficked, I saw nothing but envy and rivalry. Let it never be said that our interests as the people of God are anything other than the building of Christ’s Kingdom for His glory and our neighbor’s good.
An “our church is better than your church” mentality has exposed American Evangelicalism. A spirit of envy and rivalry among us has left us bereft of moral authority. Envy and rivalry have no place in the Kingdom of God. Regaining moral authority and being “recognized as having been with Jesus” will come at the cost of our pride. God has taken away our moral authority and only God can give it back again. Another word we could use for moral authority is “anointing” and that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Why has any population ever received the Truth that Christians have spoken anywhere at any point in history? Was it because of our elegance or strategy? No, no, a thousand times no. It is the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and only humble, self-less servants who serve Christ and their neighbor for Christ’s sake will ever possess it. Let us bring forth the fruit of repentance. Let us do good, deliver the good Word (the Gospel), and let us do so in the interest of Christ and His Kingdom alone.
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May the Lord give you peace,
Solomon’s Porch Christian Community