Thursday, April 24, 2014

P3 The Holy Spirit - The Strengthening Comforter

Acts 9:31 "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."

Introduction & Review
Over the past couple of days we have been studying the important ministry of the Holy Spirit as the Strengthening Comforter.  We have explored major sections of scripture: from the Old Testament through Jesus' promises to statements in the Epistles regarding how the Spirit's Strengthening Comfort as the Paraclete or Advocate applies to believers today.  In this final post of the series we aim to offer a brief exposition of Acts 9:23-43 which features the early church moving forward under what is described in Acts 9:31 as "the comfort of the Holy Spirit". Without the Holy Spirit's strengthening comfort in either the individual Christian life or corporate church life, no ministry and no activity can be done. 

Seeing what happens when the Mighty Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is at work in the church
Notice the following outcomes in the early church that are attributed to the Holy Spirit's comforting ministry:

a. Peace comes as a result of the Spirit's strengthening comfort. Acts 9:23-31 "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace....".

When you read Acts 9:23-31, the scene is three years following Paul's mighty conversion. So why was the church enjoying such peace?  We could say that in part it might had been due to Paul's conversion and the cessation of his persecuting activity as a result of his conversion.  Though one could make such an argument, it does not explain why the church as a whole was enjoying peace and growth, especially since the Jews would had opportunity to had replaced a person like Paul.  Further reading in Acts 9:23-30 suggests that the Jews had a price on Paul's head, prompting Paul's new found friends to aid in his escape from their hands. 

Other commentators have pointed out various political changes that were occuring that caused the focus to be taken off of the church and placed on the Jews themselves.  Again we could certainly entertain such a possibility, but that would not explain why the church was thriving and growing in the ultimate sense. 

After Luke explains the beginnings of Paul's ministry, we discover the true cause of the peace enjoyed by the church - the strengthening comfort of the Holy. Undoubtedly through the preaching of the Gospel by Paul the Spirit gave favor throughout all of the regions in which the church existed. The Spirit's ability to strengthen and energize His church includes giving her favor in the area she ministers. Certainly peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit's strenghening comfort - whether it be in the church as a whole or the Christian's individual walk in particular.

b. Building up of the church results from the Spirit's strengthening comfort. Acts 9:31 "being built up....".
As the Holy Spirit functions as our Advocate, or Comforter, our Helper - we can see a progression of results.  First there is that initial peace, followed by a building up. In the remainder of Acts 9 we find both the ministries of the Apostles Paul (9:23-30) and Peter (9:32-43) flourishing. The Word of God is being proclaimed, miracles are being performed and people are getting saved.  Clearly as the Spirit of God has His way in a church and in our lives, the state of the Christian faith will experience a strengthening, a reinforcing.  Only the Spirit of God in His ministry of Strengthening comfort can bring about such results. 

c. Fear of the Lord results from the Spirit's strengthening comfort. Acts 9:31 "and going on in the fear of the Lord." 
This "fear of God" speaks of a deep reverence and desperate dependance upon God, fearing what life and ministry would be like if He were to remove His hand or if we were to do anything to provoke His Fatherly discipline. As Christians, we fear the Lord as we come to recognize more and more that our very lives - both spiritual and physical - depends upon Him. Without this trait - Christianity cannot expect to endure and have any effect in our world. (compare Acts 19:17)

These first few statements describe for us the effects that were taking place in the life of the church as a result of the Spirit's work as the Great Comforter.  He is the One who "comes alongside" and Strengthens the church to do the bidding of the Lord. As He works in and among and through the church, Acts 9:31 then describes how the Spirit's comforting work affected the outcomes of peace, strengthening and fear of the Lord - namely by how the church continued to increase.  

d. The church increased in influence as a result of the Spirit's strengthening comfort. Acts 9:31-43
As you consider the two miracles performed through Peter by the power of the risen Christ, that power is transmitted by the Holy Spirit working through Him.  Both the healing of the lameness of the Aeneas in 9:32-34 and the raising of the little servant girl Tabitha in 9:35-43 are attributed to the Living Christ both directly (9:34) and indirectly. Both miracles resulted in people being converted and turning to the Lord. (Acts 9:35 and 9:42) The reader must understand that these two miracles follow from what was just said in Acts 9:31 of the Spirit's comforting ministry bringing about the mighty increase of the church.  No doubt Peter's success and miracles can be included in Luke's words. Truly the mark of the Spirit's working is to point the way to Jesus - which of course Peter does.  Furthermore, the miracles themselves resemble ones Jesus did in His ministry - further validating the Spirit's task of ever making the church to act, talk and think more like Jesus.1  

As we draw this study to a close, it is the hope of this writer that the reader has been encouraged and illumined to all that the Holy Spirit does as the Strengthening Comforter.  Undoubtedly without the Spirit of God and the power he brings to us by the scriptures, the risen and exalted Christ and the grace of the Father, we truly could not function - let alone thrive. He is our advocate here on earth Who works in and through us - enabling us to run the race set for us by the Master. May you and I dear reader rely upon the strengthening comfort of the Spirit while finding our confidence in our perfect Redeemer - Jesus Christ. 

1. Amazingly the two miracles are "Jesus-like" miracles, being that the healing of the lame man in Acts 9:32-35 reminds the reader of Jesus' healing of the man on the stretcher in Luke 5:18,24 and the raising of Tabitha in Acts 9:36-43 reminds the reader of Jesus' raising of Jarius' daughter in Matthew 9:18-26 & Luke 8:49-56. 

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