God Makes It Grow - Part 2
In the previous article, we explored the nature and promise of the gospel. The nature of the gospel is found in its power to save those who are lost (Romans 1:16) and actively causes spiritual and numerical growth (Colossians 1:6-7). The promise of the gospel is that Christ has already defeated death and hell on the cross. Now, we live in an “already but not yet” reality.
Although written around 62-64 A.D, the book of Acts speaks directly into the life of the church today. The pattern throughout this narrative is one of redemption. In other words, the gospel moves forward despite opposition inside and outside the church. Each of the five “church growth markers” is foreshadowed by a threat followed by a resolution to the threat. Once there is resolution, the gospel moves forward, and the church expands. These phrases serve as a refrain throughout the book. This gives evidence concerning the heart of God and the gospel.
From this outline, we derive the following statements concerning spiritual and numerical growth from the book of Acts:
Acts 6:7: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
Acts 12:24: “But the word of God increased and multiplied.”
Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
Acts 19:20: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”
The gospel is more powerful than:
Conflict Within the Church (Acts 6:1-7)
Acts 6 opens with a conflict between the Jews and Greeks. The church was not even one month old, yet these new believers faced a potential split. The issue? Greek believers felt that the Jewish widows were being favored over their widows in the distribution of food and finances. This was a major issue because the Jewish believers had not yet established a correct theology of Gentiles being equal and co-heirs in Christ. This problem does not get resolved until Chapter 15. The Hellenists were upset at what seemed like favoritism shown to the Jews.
The issue went to the 12 Apostles, who appointed seven other men (both Jews and Greeks) as deacons to serve the church’s needs. This was done so that the 12 could devote themselves specifically to prayer and the ministry of the word. This resolved the issue through the establishment of additional leadership to ensure none would be overlooked.
This introduces the first marker of church growth:
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The gospel is more powerful than conflict within the church.
Persecution (Acts 9:1-9:19)
Following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8, there arose a great persecution against the church. In the beginning of Chapter 9, Luke describes Saul’s intense hatred and animosity toward the church. He put entire families into prison and oversaw multiple executions. He even began to lead the charge into Damascus to imprison followers of Christ – but God had other plans. This man, who was tremendously hostile to the message of Christ, became one of its greatest ambassadors.
Following Paul’s conversion, Acts says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
The gospel is more powerful than persecution.
Government Authorities (Acts 12:1-24)
King Herod of Agrippa, the overseer of Judea, was highly esteemed by many Jews. For this purpose, Herod strove to please the Jews for further political gain and admiration. In Acts 12, Herod attempted to please the Jews by killing James, John’s brother, with the sword and placing Peter in prison. However, to Herod’s detriment, the gospel proved to be more powerful.
God rescued his church in a way we might not find very “God-like.” Worms. King Herod was eaten by worms and died a slow and painful death. This section in Acts concludes with the phrase, “But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). The gospel continued to move forward despite opposition from King Herod.
The gospel is more powerful than governmental authorities.
Conflict Among Church Leaders (Acts 15:36-16:5)
Acts 15 tells how the Jewish church leaders come to a biblical understanding of Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the same household (Ephesians 2). The Apostles composed a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch telling them they did not need circumcision to be saved. However, they needed to abstain from three things: food that had been sacrificed to idols, eating blood, and sexual immorality.
Following the delivery of this letter to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas agreed to visit believers in various cities to encourage them in their faith.
“Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them…and there arose a sharp disagreement so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed” (Acts 15:37-40).
Paul and Barnabas separated on bad terms. Despite this departure, Luke tells us, “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5).
The gospel is more powerful than conflict among church leaders.
The Powers of Darkness (Acts 19:1-20)
In Acts 19, the city of Ephesus was experiencing a revival. Many who had been under the powers of darkness were being liberated and turning to belief in Christ. “Many who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices” (Acts 19:18). God was freeing and liberating His children from the kingdom of the evil one and bringing them into His family.
“So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20).
The gospel is more powerful than the powers of darkness.
The gospel exercises its nature and power over conflict within the church, persecution, governing authorities, church leaders, and the powers of darkness. The only hope of the church is the gospel. Nothing on earth can stop the gospel’s advancement. The powers of darkness will not be overcome. “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Acts is more than an outline for missional work, a transition from the Old Covenant to the New, or an overview of Peter and Paul’s ministries. It is a continuation of the very ministry of Christ through the Holy Spirit to multiply and increase the gospel. It provides a living testimony for how the gospel actively works to bear fruit in the church.
Its message is meant to encourage the discouraged pastor who is fighting to keep his church alive and provide hope for parents struggling in their relationship with their children and with each other. Its message is meant to give identity to the young adult struggling with singleness. It reaches every Christian with the courage to keep pressing on because of “gospel hope.” No situation is outside the reach and power of the gospel. Jesus reigns in all his power and glory. Nothing will thwart his plans for the triumph of his Bride.
Brittany Proffitt lives in southern Ohio and holds a BA in Religion. She is passionate about Scripture and how God’s Word impacts individuals’ hearts and lives.