The In-Between Years - Part 49

Series: The In-Between Years

September 26, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 49

Early on in our Acts study I shared with you how Luke positions throughout his second work what I call snapshots of the early church. They are summaries, ten by count, of what the attitude and spirit and growth of the early church was like.

The first is in Acts chapter one and it involves those first disciples who would become the church, those who saw the risen Jesus ascend back to heaven…

14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  Acts 1:14 (ESV) 

The second and most preached snapshot of them all is in the next chapter. After those first 120 disciples, along with 3,000 new converts, became the newly born church, Luke records this…

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)

We saw another snapshot like it in Acts 4….

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  Acts 4:32–35 (ESV)

And then in Acts 5…

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.  Acts 5:12–16 (ESV)

And again in chapter 6, right after the seven men were chosen to handle the daily distribution…

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 6:7 (ESV)

And then there’s a bit of a break. Luke focuses on the tragedy of Stephen’s stoning, the persecution that follows, and the scattering of disciples, as well as the story of Paul, the persecutor turned missionary and theologian. Luke caps that origin story with a tiny one verse summary in chapter 9, and it’s where we ended last time…

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 9:31 (ESV)

I told you that deserved a sermon all its own. All the snapshots are powerful and convicting, but for some reason I can’t get this this one out of my head. Let’s break it down and see what gold we can mine from it.

There are two parts to this snapshot and the first is…

The church had peace and was being built up.

The church. We are so desensitized to that word, clueless really, when it comes to understanding what it means from a 1st Century Christians perspective. We’ve grown up in a culture that has historically centered around it religiously, socially, and morally. The “church.” What’s the first thing that pops in our minds when we hear that word? A building, pews, pulpit. What do most church’s put on the cover of their directories and use as the header image for their web site? Buildings.

But those Christians saw the church exclusively as people, people who followed Christ. Church being pews or buildings or steeples or pulpits would have never entered their minds.

The church had peace and was being built up. That makes my heart ache in light of what’s happening in the Western church these days. A snapshot for us would be the church had division and was being torn down. But let’s not get into that today.

The second part of Luke’s Polaroid in words is this…

The church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

There’s is just something about that. It’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one, though. You look like a smart crowd so you probably know this, but just in case an oxymoron is a figure of speech which by a locution produces an incongruous seemingly self contradictory effect. Or at least that’s what Alexa says. That definition makes my head hurt. An oxymoron is just an idea or phrase or name or idea that cancels itself out, contradicts itself. We unknowingly employ oxymorons every day.

“Small crowd”

“Old news”

“Open secret”

“Living dead”

“Deafening silence”

“Only choice”

“Pretty ugly”

“Awfully good”

So how is walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit oxymoronic? 

Let’s talk about walking in the fear of the Lord.

That English word comes from the Greek word phobos. Phobos was the ancient Greek god personifying terror and panic, particularly when it came to war. Phobos in general meant fear or panic or terror. You have probably guessed our modern English word phobia comes from this.

Here’s the seeming contradiction: If I am in a panic of terror over who God is, how can I possibly be comforted by the Holy Spirit? To rectify this we have to first go back and look closer at the fear of the Lord thing.

Is this what it means for real? They were terrified of God? Many people throughout Christian history have understood the fear of the Lord that way. They see it as emphasizing his wrath and holiness because he is a God who flooded the world to wipe out the wicked, sent the plagues on Egypt to make pharaoh let his people go, delivered the Law with thunder and lightning on Mt. Sinai to keep his people in line, and is one day going to bring final judgement on this earth with fire and brimstone.

In everyday conversations and writings phobos meant fear or terror, and in NT biblical writings it generally means that too, but it carries a deeper meaning theologically when it is part of the phrase the fear of the Lord. That’s the equivalent of a Hebrew religious expression found all through the OT but especially the wisdom books like the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job…

9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.  Psalm 19:9 (ESV)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111:10 (ESV)

26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.  Proverbs 14:26 (ESV)

16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.  Proverbs 15:16 (ESV) 

23 The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.  Proverbs 19:23 (ESV)

And wise old Solomon summed up the while of life this way…

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  Ecclesiastes 12:13 (ESV)

Israel’s very identity was bound up in the fear of the Lord… 

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?  Deuteronomy 10:1213 (ESV)

When you explore occurrences of the fear of the Lord in the OT, you realize it cannot mean to fear God in the sense that he might harm you or show malice towards you, that he is a wrathful, spiteful deity with a short fuse so you better behave, which is, as I said, how many see it.

Yes, it carries in a big way the sense of obeying his commands to avoid discipline, but it’s so much more than that. Theologians and Bible scholars have searched for ways to express what it means and many find it best explained as reverential awe.

An illustration for that, for those of us who had loving, kind fathers, would be the way you fear your dad because out of love he disciplines you but you aren’t afraid of him harming you. In fact, you love and revere him so much just to hear the words, “I’m disappointed in you” tears your heart out. This is the idea behind Psalm 103.13…

13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.  Psalm 103:13 (ESV)

So the church walked in the fear of the Lord. They loved God and were in of awe of him, so much so they willingly submitted themselves to his commands, to Jesus’ commands. Along with that they enjoyed the comfort of the Holy Spirit. That’s his role in a Christian’s life. He’s actually called the comforter, the counselor, the helper. Jesus said…

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.  John 14:1517 (ESV)

God is to be feared, yes, and that fear should lead to obedience, but our Father is so good and kind and gracious he actually sends the Holy Spirit into our lives as a comforter and helper.

Walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Those appear to be opposites but they actually go quite well together. Lots of things in God’s economy are oxymoron’s BTW: die to live, first will be last, etc.

Walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful and beautiful balance you don’t often see lived out in Christianity.

Christians, or at least many who claim to be, tend to gravitate towards one or the other in extreme. There are fear of the Lord folks who are big on the Law and God’s wrath. Their favorite books of the Bible are Leviticus, James, and Revelation. Their favorite song is “God’s gonna get you for that” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

God's gonna get 'cha for that

God's gonna get 'cha for that

There's no place to run and hide

For He knows where you're at

God's gonna get 'cha for that

God's gonna get 'cha for that

Every wrong thing that you do

God's gonna get 'cha for that

This doggone world we're living in

It's giving me a fit

It seems like everywhere I turn

I see a hypocrite

Well, if ya wanna go to heaven

Well, you can't live like that

So let me tell you, brother

God's gonna get 'cha for that

And then there’s comfort of the Spirit Christians who are all about God’s grace and compassion, so much so they aren’t too worried about sin or hell, because they can’t imagine a God who’d send anyone to hell for their sin. Their favorite book of the Bible is Galatians, at least the parts they like. Their favorite song is “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood.

I’ll be honest. The old me was more a fear of the Lord follower and the new me tends to lean towards a comfort of the Spirit Christian (though I can’t stand Jesus Take the Wheel). But I’m learning to find that healthy balance, a healthy balance the early church enjoyed.

I wish we had more time to talk about things, especially the comfort of the Spirit.

Conclusion:  As we close, look at what happens when the church lives in that balance…

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 9:31 (ESV)

A multitude of others came to know and fear the loving, gracious, long-suffering God who offers this promise…

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

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