We often read about the days of the early church, marveling at how powerful the Holy Spirit was among them, yet we have become comfortable with our own churches looking almost nothing like them either in power or loving service. For example, did you know even the servers in one of the original churches performed miracles, and that the Apostles themselves served food to the needy among them? That puts a totally different perspective on acts of service, as it is rare for Christians today to humbly serve one another, let alone see miracles through the hands of those who do!
If You Wanted To Serve Others In The Early Church, You Needed Spiritual Qualifications, Not Just A Raised Hand
To begin, let us look at the passage below, as it shows how the Apostles themselves were serving food while the early church in Jerusalem was growing, then, once the body became too big for them to personally take care of, they carefully selected people who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” to replace them–they did not accept any random person who happened to put their hand up!
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people
This passage is amazing, as not only were the Apostles setting an example of service by personally giving food to the needy, but the individuals they appointed to replace them walked so closely with God they performed miracles–try imagining a scenario like that in your current church!
For additional insight, the meaning of “miraculous signs” in Greek used in the passage above meant “of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God’s”
Even though everyone views miracles as quite an endorsement of someone’s walk with God, do not overlook the second part of the qualifications the Apostles were looking for, ie: wisdom
In fact, the word “wisdom” in Greek meant “wise, having knowledge of very diverse matters, the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living”, which shows how the Apostles were not just looking for pairs of hands to give out food or perform miracles, but to minister to people in the process as well
Paul taught specifically about this, as he openly said prophets, who speak the very words of God, and those who taught others were placed before those who performed miracles or healed people, as the knowledge of God is more important than witnessing something supernatural
Since wisdom leads people to maturity, Paul openly placed more value on sound teaching than miracles or healings
1 Corinthians 12:27-28
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues
Helping others mature is so important, as that is what leads to true intimacy with God, not witnessing a miracle, which is why the Apostles were so adamant about making sure those who served were not only able to give people physical food, but spiritual food for their benefit as well–awesome!
Now, when we typically think about having a ministry today, it usually revolves around having a gift of teaching, miracle working power or healing, and also typically revolves around being seen as a public figure of some kind
Ironically, many Christians who aspire to ministries today rarely consider devoting their time to serving food for the poor, yet this is what Stephen, who was filled with God’s Spirit and wisdom, desired to do
Stephen’s attitude reflects the heart of a true servant, one who humbly sought to love others, as he was not seeking to please himself or gain the favor of those around them by being seen as a spiritual celebrity–something to keep in mind when we start feeling like we have become someone in our Christian communities
It was no coincidence that Stephen’s humble, loving attitude accompanied the miracles God was doing through him, as God does not have a history of giving spiritual power to those who do not walk intimately with him, seeking glory only for themselves
The goal of any ministry should be to bring people closer to God, not for us to be glorified in the eyes of mankind
Sadly, even though we read about Christians like Stephen in the Bible, we do not meet them very often, if ever, yet we are somehow completely satisfied with our churches, and our personal lives, looking nothing like the examples we see in the NT–this is no one’s fault but our own
So how do we get closer to God, and see more spiritual gifts within our lives?
Doubt, Sin, And Incorrect Doctrine Prevent Us From Having The Same Spiritual Power We See In The Bible
Okay, so we read about all the miracles, spiritual gifts, and amazing things that happened in the NT, but for some reason we do not eagerly desire to see these things in our own lives, churches, or in the lives of those around us, to the point where we do everything possible to make them a reality
What makes us not want to eagerly pursue spiritual power when it is so clearly written about in the Bible?
How can we believe the Bible when it says we are loved by God, that our sins are forgiven, and that we can inherit eternal life, yet when we read passages that encourage us to eagerly pursue spiritual gifts, we do nothing to achieve any of it, even going so far as to doubt the possibility of spiritual gifts being available to us now?
1 Corinthians 14:1
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts
In all honesty, I question the faith of many Christians I meet, as when talking about spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, etc…, they often admit these gifts are real since they are clearly written about in the Bible, but yet make no effort to seek these gifts for themselves, while many even express doubt that spiritual gifts can be attained by modern Christians at all!
By far, doubt is one of the most spiritually crippling emotions, as it even prevented Jesus from working miracles
Doubt is so spiritually debilitating, when people doubted Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power did not flow through him like it normally did, so it is no surprise when our doubt hampers the Holy Spirit’s power in the exact same way, removing the possibility of us receiving spiritual gifts entirely
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith
I mean think about it, why would God reward doubters with a miracle or spiritual blessing, that makes no sense, what does God have to prove to us?
What makes doubt even more ridiculous, is how we believe God created all things, led the Israelites around in the desert for forty years, rained fire down from heaven to destroy his enemies, became a man, died on a cross to pay for our sins, was raised from the dead, and even promised eternal life for all those who love him more than the world, yet we somehow get filled with doubt when it comes to receiving spiritual gifts–that is outrageous!
Really think about that for a second, as we believe all the things we cannot empirically prove ourselves, yet we doubt the things we can see in our lives today in the form of tongues, prophecy, miracles, etc…, even though they are written about in the same Bible we read everything else in–how does this make any kind of sense?
When we consider what we believe out of Christianity, it is shocking how we limit God’s power due to our unbelief, as there is nothing in the Bible that says the Holy Spirit’s power is not as readily available today as it was in the days of the early church
I mean honestly, what kind of God would we serve if he was not capable, willing or interested in seeing his spirit move today like he did in the days of the early church–if that is what we believe, why do we pray to him about anything?
Before we deal with some false doctrine that prevents people from receiving spiritual power, I want to address another barrier first: sin
Paul openly taught that people can have the outward appearance of godliness, but when they live sinfully, they will lack any kind of real power. James also taught that the prayers of the righteous are powerful, just like John said those who are obedient can pray for anything with confidence
If God is holy, it is no surprise spiritual power relates to the level of righteousness in our lives!
2 Timothy 3:1-5
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited,lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them
(In Greek, the word “godliness” means “piety”, and the word “denying” means “rejecting something that is offered”, which shows how Paul is saying we can have the outward appearance of living religiously, but completely reject the true power offered to us through God’s spirit as we continue to embrace sin. Also, people who live like this are such a problem, Paul openly tells us not to have nothing to do with them, yikes!)
1 John 3:21-22
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him
Apart from doubt or sin, the third thing that often keeps people from receiving spiritual gifts is a lack of, or incorrect, teaching about them in the first place
One particularly common teaching I have heard is that spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, etc… are not available to Christians anymore, as people cite this verse:
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known
The error in people’s thinking, is they read where it says tongues and prophecy will cease when perfection comes, but instead of accurately understanding the full message of what Paul is saying, people say the “perfection” is us now having the Bible, which is supposed to be our “perfect” guide to everything about God
This is incorrect for two major reasons:
1) When we read what Paul is saying in its entirety, we see he is not talking about us receiving the final version of the Bible, he is talking about how we barely know God while in this life, and will not know him fully until we are with him in heaven
For example, look at these verses from the passage above:
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”
Be careful to understand what Paul is saying here, as no one has seen God face to face, nor do we know God as fully as he knows us, these things are only possible once we are one with God in heaven
Only when we are one with God that tongues, prophesy, and knowledge will cease as there will be no need for them, but until then, these things are still with us since they help us grow in our relationship with God!
Um, whoa, something God just showed me, is when people insist this passage proves tongues, and prophecy are no longer available today, their interpretation would also mean “knowledge” will pass away as well, as Paul says “where there is knowledge, it will pass away” as part of his statements
I looked up the Greek word for “knowledge”, and it means “the general knowledge of the Christian religion, moral wisdom, such as is seen in right living”, which definitely has not passed away yet as we still have knowledge about Christianity, as well as moral wisdom about what is right and wrong!
Based on this, if knowledge has not passed away, then tongues, and prophecy have not passed away either–that is definitely something to get excited over!
2) Not one author in the NT said the Holy Spirit would stop working past the days of the early church
When we look at how incredibly common miracles, speaking in tongues, and prophecy were in the days of the early church, you would think at least one author would have said:
“Hey guys, I know these spiritual gifts are awesome, but you better cash in now as once the Bible comes a few generations from now, God is going to stop all this. Yeah, I know, I like hearing God speak through people too, but he would prefer to have us only read the Bible, not hear from him directly anymore
How do I know this? He, uh… told me”
Yeah right, no one in the Bible even remotely hinted at such a thing!
If spiritual gifts and miracles were such an important part of the early church, why would no one have taught they would disappear after a few generations?
I mean honestly, that makes no sense, only un-spiritual people who lack either the faith or teaching about spiritual gifts would ever say something like this, but in both cases, the enemy delights in people being deceived
Now that we know all these things, how do we receive spiritual gifts?
Miracles Only Take Place When God Is Present
Even though Paul taught people to eagerly seek after spiritual gifts, we also have to look at the context in which they operated so commonly, as in the days of the early church, they not only saw miracles, but lived selflessly, studied the Bible every day, and met together like a giant family, even selling their possessions to make sure no one had unmet needs among them
Members of the early church were living demonstrations of the loving gospel Jesus taught, which is why God’s power was so abundant
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved
I am sure we have all read this passage before, but understand this is the very same church that came to have miracle working food servers, as “many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the Apostles” among them in Acts 2, but as we see a few chapters later in Acts 6, regular church members like Stephen had grown up in their faith to perform them as well–awesome!
Whenever we look back at the early churches, wishing to see miracles and amazing things in our present day, we also have to look at how the churches lived back then, as they were devoted to the teachings of the Apostles, met together every day to eat and study the Bible, as well as shared and sold their possessions so everyone’s needs were met–it was only in this environment that miracles were commonplace, and you can imagine there was not much power crippling doubt either!
When we compare the early church to most of our current churches, it is no wonder we do not see the miracles or spiritual gifts we read about, as our churches, and individual lives, look nothing like what we read about in many ways
In fact, I would bet most people from that time period would not even recognize our churches as being “church” since they are so different–when was the last time you sold anything to help someone in your church?
In the coming weeks I will talk more about spiritual gifts, but as a general guide, if we really want to see God’s power increase, we should love selflessly, let go of sin, have faith without doubting, and eagerly ask God for spiritual gifts, with full assurance he rewards those who earnestly, and consistently seek him
If we want to welcome God’s presence in any form, we must do everything possible to create a loving, holy, reverent environment
1 Corinthians 14:1
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts
1 Peter 1:13-16
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”
We never know what God will give us in terms of spiritual gifts, but we have to at least ask, with full assurance of faith!
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds;and to him who knocks, the door will be opened