The Example & Teaching of the 1st Century Church.
The Church’s Example
The example of the 1st century church demonstrates that the Holy Spirit was enabling various disciples of Jesus to function in what are often referred to as the miraculous gifts and not just the Apostles. There is ample evidence that ordinary disciples were empowered by the Spirit for extraordinary service in the building of the church and the advancing of the gospel.
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4
Consider the following observations when the Spirit was sent on the Day of Pentecost.
First, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole church and not just the Apostles. The Spirit came to all disciples just as Jesus’ taught.
Second, when the whole church is empowered by the Holy Spirit they speak in tongues, prophecy then go out into the streets of Jerusalem doing the mission Jesus sent them to do—make disciples of the nations.
Third, this is said to be in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy in Joel 2:28-32. Peter quotes this prophecy to explain what was happening.
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18
Joel’s prophecy indicates that the last days would be characterized by a broadening of the Spirit’s work that would result in all God’s people being empowered to build the church and reach the world regardless of gender, age or social status. What was narrow and selective at one time is now broad and liberal in the last days.
It’s important to note that although this broadening of the Spirit’s work is inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost, its effects characterize the entire period of time referred to as the last days. And without taken time to argue, it is widely accepted that the last days are the days in between the times of Jesus first coming and his second coming.
I say all this to make the point that this supports what Jesus taught in the Final Discourse. The Father would send the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence to enable every disciple for the life and mission of discipleship in between the times of Jesus leaving and returning.
The broad work of the Spirit, with particular accent on the so-called miraculous gifts, continues to be seen functioning throughout the entire New Testament period beyond the day of Pentecost.
- 120 disciples gathered in the upper room in Acts 2 spoke in tongues & prophesied.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4
- Miraculous signs & wonders characterized the normal rhythm of the church community.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Acts 2:42-43
- Stephen, a non-apostle, is doing signs & wonders in Acts 6-7
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” 6:8
- Philip, a non-apostle, is doing signs & wonders in Acts 8:4-8
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”
- Ananias receives a vision in Acts 9:10
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
- Disciples in the Church of Antioch in Acts 13
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:1-2
- New disciples in Ephesus in Acts 19:6
“And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
- Daughters of Phillip in Acts 21:8-9
“On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.”
- Disciples in the Churches of Galatia
Galatians 3:5 “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.”
- Disciples in the Church of Rome
Romans 12:6-8 “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
- Disciples in the Church of Corinth
1 Corinthians 1:7 “you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”
- Disciples in the Church of Thessalonica
1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies…”
Example after Example.
All throughout the churches in the book of Acts, as well as the churches addressed in our New Testament epistles, we have a steady stream of evidence indicating that the Holy Spirit was empowering and enabling the miraculous gifts to function with frequency and fruitfulness just like Jesus exemplified and taught in the Gospels. It’s so important to note that these miraculous gifts were given and put to use, over and over again, by non-apostles.
Ordinary disciples are serving with extraordinary enablement.
Jesus gave a preview of this when he sent the 72 unnamed disciples in Luke 10 to proclaim the gospel in word and demonstrate the power of the gospel in miraculous deeds as they healed the sick and delivered the demonically oppressed. Ordinary disciples are serving with extraordinary enablement with all evidence pointing to the fact that this will continue throughout the last days until Jesus returns.
This is the example the first century church has left for the church today. And here is an inescapable reality—In Christ we are members of the same universal church! And like them we are desperate for the Spirit to enable us to do the life and mission of discipleship until Jesus returns. Jesus has not left us alone or without power. Ordinary disciples continue to be empowered for extraordinary service by the Spirit for the building of the church and the advancing of the gospel.
The Holy Spirit continues to work in the here & now just like he did there & then.
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