March 19, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

Lesson III.C: A Summary Report of the Church (9:31)   


Scripture

 

31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

 

Introduction

 

Verse 31 concludes Luke’s narrative on the conversion of Saul (the apostle Paul) and the entire persecution story which began in 8:1b. The persecution ended when Saul, its most ardent advocate was converted and became a witness for Christ. The “church” was at peace.

 

Commentary

31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

This verse summarizes a period of almost 10 years in the life of the early Jewish churches, during which peace and prosperity prevailed, and about which the Book of Acts is otherwise silent. It is a very important verse because it marks a new departure in the story of the development of the early church.

Let us take time to consider the essential meaning of the word “Church.” The Greek word for church, “ecclesia,” literally means called out. The picture of the Church suggested by the word is that of a company of those who are separated from the nation, and from the race—an entirely new company. There are two ideas evoked by the word; the Hebrew idea which was that of a God-governed people; and the Greek idea, which was that of a governing community. On the pages of the Book of Acts, it refers to the confederation of those who are following the name of Jesus; and are first, the God-governed people; and secondly, the governing people; the people who hold the keys, not of themselves, the church, but of the Kingdom; the moral interpreters, those who are to state the standards of life, and who are to insist on the ethical ideas of Jesus. Therefore, these people are seen as turning away from the temple as a center, and becoming themselves the temple, wherever they are.

The Church was still confined to Jews, half-Jews (the Samaritans), and proselytes to Judaism who became Christians (with the one exception of the eunuch from Ethiopia, 8:26-40), but all was in readiness for the extension of the church to a new segment of the world’s population.

Luke’s use of the word “churches” should be taken as the local body of believers throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, assemblies, and not in the “universal sense” as the whole body of Christians. Perhaps the church Luke focused on here is the Jerusalem church which he pictures as witnessing throughout all these regions. This is the only mention of Galilean Christians in Acts. Galilee is probably to be included within the reference to “all Judea” in Acts 1:8{1]. Luke mentioned it separately to emphasize how the commission to “all Judea” was being fulfilled. Already the witness had reached Galilee. The next two chapters comprising verses 9:32-35 and 91:36-43, will show its extension to the coastal towns of Judea. The “peace” of the church is described in terms of the encouragement of the Spirit, the growth of the church, and its reverence and worship (“the fear of the Lord), terms reminiscent of the earlier summaries in Acts (2:43-47{2]) It is a familiar pattern. The Lord brings his people through a time of crisis. Through His deliverance the church finds peace and continues to flourish (5:42{3]). In this case the respite would last until a fresh outbreak of persecution occurred under Herod in Chapter 12

Then the churches . . . had peace and were edified. There were several things which contributed to a time of peace:

1.       Paul’s conversion and political changes contributed to the peace.

2.      A stricter Roman governor and the expansion of Herod Agrippa’s authority restricted the persecution.

3.      The Jews had other things to think about, especially when Caligula suggested that his image should be set up in the temple. The danger of rebellion was only averted by the assassination of the emperor in a.d. 41.

4.      Jewish antagonism to the ministry of Paul was so strong that after he left the area the Church enjoyed a time of peace.

Throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. This definite notice of the churches already dotting all the regions which were the chief scenes of our Lord’s ministry, and that were best able to test the facts on which the whole preaching of the apostles was based, is extremely interesting because at that time, believers throughout Palestine still felt themselves to be members of the original Jerusalem community

The fear of the Lord expresses their holy walk; the comfort of the Holy Spirit their “peace and joy that comes from believing,” under the silent operation of the blessed Comforter.

And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit pictures the Church . . . going on its way (a continuous movement) in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In view of all this we are not surprised to read the last phrase, brief though it is, that the Church “was multiplied.” The idea is not merely the number of those who came to believe; it is that of fullness; the Church was made to abound. The Church went forth in abounding power, itself growing and multiplying because of the two facts of its life: the master-principle of the Lordship of Jesus, and the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Soon, the center for Christianity would be Antioch, not Jerusalem, and the key leader Paul, not Peter; and the Gospel would be taken “to the end of the earth.”

It was a time of “peace” for the churches, but not a time of complacency, for they grew both spiritually and numerically. They seized the opportunity to repair and strengthen their sails before the next storm began to blow! The door of faith had been opened to the Jews (Acts 2) and to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and soon it would be opened to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Saul has moved off the scene, and Peter now returns. Soon Peter will move off the scene (except for a brief mention in Acts 15) and Paul will fill the pages of the Book of Acts. GOD CHANGES HIS WORKMEN, BUT HIS WORK GOES ON! And you and I are privileged to be part of that work today.

Scripture reference and special notes

{1] But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8) Note that the message was going out just as Jesus had commanded.

{2] Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 5:43-47)

{3] And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

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