Does Acts 13:48 Teach Unconditional Election

For the last several months I have been preaching a sermon series on the Book of Acts and I recently finished a message on Acts 13. As I neared the end of the chapter, I was reminded of one of the “proof texts” Calvinists often use to point toward the doctrine that many refer to as “Unconditional Election.” Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”[1] (emphasis mine) During my message, I briefly dealt with the issue of Unconditional Election, promising my congregation that I would deal with this text in more detail in a future message. This article is birthed out of my desire to help people clearly see the error of “Unconditional Election” and why Acts 13:48 cannot be used to teach this doctrine. While I do not want to disparage my Calvinist brothers and sisters, I believe that it is imperative that we not shy away from difficult passages of Scripture that have been misunderstood and misinterpreted to teach something about God the Scriptures do not teach. God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). All of humanity has intrinsic value and worth and I do not believe He has left anyone out of His redemptive plan. Although not all will be saved, I believe everyone can be (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10), through the provision of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For those of you who may not be familiar with what Calvinists believe, Calvinism can be summed up with five basic points that can be remembered using the acrostic TULIP:

  • T-Total Depravity
  • U-Unconditional Election
  • L-Limited Atonement
  • I-Irresistible Grace
  • P-Perseverance of the Saints

In future messages and articles, I plan to deal with the other four points of Calvinism, but for sake of space and time I will only be focusing on the doctrine of “Unconditional Election” and why I believe it is incompatible with Acts 13:48 and the rest of Scripture.

Before going any further I would like to introduce you to one of the best explanations regarding election that I have ever read. W. W. Klein does a masterful job explaining the two main views of election in an article he wrote for the Faithlife Study Bible. Klein notes that election refers to God’s choice of who to redeem and restore through Christ. In his article he also points out the difference between corporate and individual election. Corporate election refers to God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants being His chosen people and the one’s through which the Messiah would be born. This corporate election did not guarantee the salvation of every Jew, because they still needed to have a heart commitment of faith toward God (Isaiah 29:13). He then talks about the New Testament shift in which God’s chosen are no longer identified by ethnic characteristics but rather by faith in God and His redemptive plan (Romans 2:28-29). Both Jews and Gentiles could become the true children of Abraham (John 8:38-40, 56-59; Romans 4:16-17). Klein goes on to say…

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith. But interpreters fall into two major approaches to the question of how God’s electing purpose comes to expression in the salvation of individuals: what might be called election unto faith versus election in view of faith. Are people believers because they are elect, or are they elect because they believe?

Many interpreters (like Augustine and Calvin) have understood the biblical data on election to mean that God has chosen to save an unknown number of specific individuals from the deserved consequences of all humanity’s sin—a choice based solely on God’s undeserved mercy. Because people are dead in sin if left to themselves, they cannot and will not embrace God’s gift of salvation apart from God’s own enabling power (Rom 3:9–19; John 10:26–29). God supplies His elect with a gracious and undeserved capacity to believe; election is unto faith, since faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:4–9).

Many other interpreters (like Arminius and Wesley) have understood the biblical data differently, taking it to mean that God does not elect unto faith, but desires to give all people equally the ability to receive His offer of salvation (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9) Everyone who believes is (therefore) included among the chosen…

Whichever approach is taken, the biblical theme of election should lead all believers to praise God, like Paul does, for graciously choosing—even before the foundation of the world—to love us and save us in Christ (Eph 1:4–5; 2:14–22; emphasis mine).[2]

There you have it. A summary of the two views on election. Calvinists believe that God elected certain people to faith, while I believe that we are elected based upon our faith. It is vitally important to understand faith is a gift from God, however, Arminians do not believe this is an “irresistible gift” as Calvinists would teach. We believe this gift can be thrust aside and that’s exactly what many of the Jews did in Acts 13:46. Jesus references a similar rejection in Matthew 23:37 when He said, “’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [3] (emphasis mine). To further demonstrate the Calvinist’s take on election and irresistible grace I would like to quote a very well known, and well-respected Calvinist of our day, John Piper:

Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.

We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith, for example, in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that he purchases our redemption at the cross, and then gives us spiritual life through irresistible grace, and brings us to faith.

Acts 13:48 reports how the Gentiles responded to the preaching of the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice, it does not say that as many believed were chosen to be ordained to eternal life. It says that those who were ordained to eternal life (that is, those whom God had elected) believed. God’s election preceded faith and made it possible. This is the decisive reason some believed while others did not (emphasis mine). [4]

I want to let John Piper’s words speak for themselves. Note that he says in the first paragraph above, “Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save.” He says there is NO condition man must meet, but in the next paragraph he admits that “We must meet the condition of faith…but faith is not a condition for election.” In summary, Calvinists, like Piper would teach that God arbitrarily elects according to His own good pleasure and for His glory those He will redeem and then gives the elect irresistible grace and brings them to faith.  In the last paragraph he then proceeds to share one of the proof texts that Calvinists often point out to demonstrate their belief in unconditional election—Acts 13:48.

In the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur, another well-known Calvinist, says that Acts 13:48 is, “One of Scripture’s clearest statements on the sovereignty of God in salvation. God chooses man for salvation, not the opposite.”[5] In his commentary on the book of Acts, Danny Dwyer, also reiterates the fact that Calvinists use this Scripture as one of their proof texts regarding Unconditional Election. Dwyer notes:

Calvinists hold that [this verse] confirms the teaching of sovereign election in the choice of people who are saved by the “sovereign good pleasure of God” (Berkhof). John Calvin states, “For this particular ordaining can only be understood of the eternal purpose of God…for He does not choose us after we have believed; but He seals His adoption, which was hidden, by the gift of faith in our hearts.” Calvinists therefore hold that some in Antioch had been elected to be saved by sovereign decree in eternity past and now they acted in faith as decreed…[6]

The questions Arminians must answer is, “Does Acts 13:48 teach Unconditional Election as many of the Calvinists so adamantly teach? If not, what is the correct interpretation and application of this passage of Scripture?” As with any passage of Scripture we must understand the context of the passage in order to understand its interpretation and application.

Acts 13 begins with the church in Antioch responding to the Holy Spirit’s direction to set Barnabas and Saul (Paul) apart for a specific work (v. 2). This is what we would come to know as their first missionary journey. On their journey, they take the Gospel to various places including the island of Cyprus. While there, they share the Gospel and are confronted with two distinct responses: Barjesus, also known as Elymas, seeks to turn Sergius Paulus from the faith (v. 8), but despite the opposition, Sergius Paulus responds with faith (v. 12). After leaving Cyprus, their journey eventually takes them to Antioch in Pisidia (v. 14) and, as would become their custom, they first take the Gospel to the Jews in the synagogue (v. 15).

Paul addresses those who are in the synagogue and speaks to two distinct groups of people: (1) the “Men of Israel” and (2) “you who fear God” (v. 16). He refers to these two groups again in verse 26: (1) “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,” and (2) “those among you who fear God.” The distinction is made for a third time in verse 43 as Luke, the writer of Acts, demonstrates the two groups of people who had been listening to Paul’s message: (1) “Jews” and (2) “devout converts to Judaism.” It is important to establish the fact that there are not only Jews in the audience, but there are also Gentiles there who have embraced the God of the Old Testament by faith. They are referred to as individuals who “fear God” and who are “devout converts to Judaism.”

As Paul shared the word of the Lord the following Sabbath, the crowd has swelled in size (v. 44). This sent the unbelieving Jews into a jealous frenzy and they began contradicting Paul’s message and slandering him (v. 45). Paul and Barnabas responded to their vicious attacks by accusing them of rejecting God’s Word. As a result, their message would now focus on the other group of people, the Gentiles (vv. 46-47). This, of course, excited the Gentile believers because it reminded them they could be grafted into the family of God by faith (v. 48). Verse 48 reads this way in the ESV, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.[7] (emphasis mine)

To clearly understand what is being taught in this passage, it is important to answer two questions about this verse: (1) What did Paul mean by the word “appointed,” and (2) who was being appointed? In his commentary on the book of Acts Dr. Dwyer deals with the meaning of the word:

The Greek word translated [appointed] (Greek tetagmenoi) is a perfect passive participle and is taken from a military term meaning “to appoint, arrange, position, or assign” …Brian Abasciano argues strong for the translation “were disposed”…[8]

Greek scholar, Dr. Robert Picirilli, seems to agree with Abasciano’s assessment. He adds:

Even in the English language a passive voice verb can be used with such a ‘middle’ sense, having no reference at all to some agent other than oneself. Thus we say, for example, ‘I am disposed’ to do something or other, or ‘I am inclined’ to act in a certain way, and we do not mean that someone else has disposed or inclined us…There is no convincing reason, then, to think that Acts 13:48 means that God had already ordained or appointed to eternal life those who were saved by faith in Antioch.[9]

With that said, Acts 13:48b could be rightly translated, “and as many as were already inclined to eternal life believed.” Who would have been the individuals “already inclined to eternal life”? In my opinion, it was the Gentiles who were already known as those who “fear God” (vv. 16, 26) and who were “devout converts to Judaism” (v. 43). Therefore, we have answered the two questions referred to above.

Calvinists believe, however, that God elects people to faith, rather than electing people because of their faith. They not only believe in total depravity, but they also believe in fallen man’s total inability to respond to the Gospel. In the same article referred to earlier, Piper said, “all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God.” Calvinists believe that man must be regenerated before they can believe. They assume that being “dead in trespasses and in sins” (Ephesians 2:1) is the same as total inability to respond to the preached word and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Piper went on to say, “Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So, there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.” (emphasis mine) Arminians would agree that lost mankind cannot respond to God apart from the Word (see Romans 10:14-17) and the influence of the Holy Spirit (see John 6:44). Forlines admits, “In both cases, the human personality exercises faith by divine aid. In Calvinism, the divine aid is regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In Arminianism, the divine aid is the drawing and assisting power of the Holy Spirit.”[10] However, as stated above the drawing of the Holy Spirit can be resisted and thrust aside.

One of the clearest passages to me, that demonstrates the ability of man to respond to the Word of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit prior to regeneration is found in Acts 28:23-28:

When they had appointed a day for [Paul], they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 “ ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[11] (emphasis mine)

After Paul expounds to them the “kingdom of God” and seeks to “convince them about Jesus” from the Law and the Prophets (v. 23), some were “convinced” and others “disbelieved” (v. 24). As Paul contemplated the results of his message, he was reminded of a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah (see again vv. 26-28 from the above passage). Why would they never understand? Was it because of their total inability due to their deadness? Was it because they were not elected to faith? No! It was because their hearts had “grown dull.” If we assume that being spiritually “dead” and being totally depraved means total inability to respond to the Gospel and the drawing of the Holy Spirit then why would Isaiah say their hearts had “grown dull.” The reason they had become calloused to the truth is because they had RESISTED the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit. They closed their eyes (v. 27). Yes, they were depraved, and yes, they were “spiritually dead” but they still had the capacity to respond to the truth and the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result of their resistance, their eyes were being blinded to the truth (see also 2 Corinthians 4:4…why would the “god” of this world seek to blind people’s eyes to the truth if they are so dead they are unable to respond?). In contrast, what would have happened if they had positively responded to the Gospel? Verse 27 makes it clear: “…lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them (emphasis mine).”

I do not believe Acts 13:48 is a good passage of Scripture to teach Unconditional Election. For that matter, I do not believe Unconditional Election is taught anywhere in Scripture when God’s Word is rightly understood in its context.

In conclusion I would like to present to you what Dr. Picirilli refers to as “The Arminian Doctrine of Election”:

  • Election is Christocentric…Christ (not election per se) is the foundation of the church; salvation is by Christ (not by election, except as election is an expression of God’s love in Christ); the gospel is about Christ (not about God’s decree of election). God saw man as lost, He said: “I will make my Son a mediator and love men in Him.”
  • Election is personal and individual. This is not to deny that there is such a thing, in the Bible, as national election or election to particular roles of service. But these are not election to salvation…What Arminius taught was election of individuals as believers, but individuals nevertheless.
  • Election is eternal. God’s will to save (which includes both determining what the condition is and knowing who will meet it and electing to save them) is as eternal as He is…Arminius…defined election as the decree of God by which He determined from all eternity to justify believers (emphasis mine).
  • Election is conditional. This is Arminian’s main point of departure from Calvinism…faith is the “condition” for election. For Arminius, if salvation is by faith, then election is by faith. If salvation is conditional, election is…God’s eternal decisions are made without any conditions imposed on Him. He has unconditionally decreed a conditional election, electing people as believers (emphasis mine).[12]

Conditional election is decreed by God, not by man, therefore it does not in any way deny His sovereignty. God is sovereign, but in His sovereignty, He has chosen to give man a limited free will. Part of the free will that he has given mankind allows them to choose to respond positively to His revelation and working of the Holy Spirit or to cast it aside and refuse it.

Regardless of what you believe, I think every believer, whether Calvinist or Arminian can agree with the assessment given earlier by W. W. Klein. I would like to end this article with a portion of his words as quoted previously:

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith…

Whichever approach is taken, the biblical theme of election should lead all believers to praise God, like Paul does, for graciously choosing—even before the foundation of the world—to love us and save us in Christ.[13] (emphasis mine)

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 13:48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Klein, W. W. (2012, 2016). Election. In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 23:37). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism

[5] MacArthur, John. (1997). Brief commentary on Acts 13:48 in The MacArthur Study Bible, Nashville, Word Publishing.

[6] Dwyer, Danny L. (2018). p. 207. The Randall House Bible Commentary: Acts, Nashville, Randall House.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 13:48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Dwyer, p. 208.

[9] Picirilli, Robert E. (2017) p. 115-116. Free Will Revisited: A Respectful Response to Luther, Calvin and Edwards, Wipf & Stock.  

[10] Forlines, F. Leroy (2011) p. 121. Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 28:23–28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] Picirilli, Robert, E. (2002) pp. 49-54. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism, Nashville: Randall House.

[13] Klein.

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 3)

Please take time to read Parts 1 & 2

  1. Consistent and regular worship meetings are commanded in Scripture. One of the most well-known passages Scriptureregarding church attendance is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. This passage instructs believers to be a part of these assemblies and gives the reason why. It says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB) One of the purposes of church attendance is to promote love and good works amongst other believers. The writer of Hebrews indicates there are some who choose to stay away from these meetings, but he clearly instructs his audience not to be like them. As a matter of fact, he encourages more of these gatherings as the day of Christ approaches!
  1. Believers are to be under the protection and encouragement of church leadership. If a believer is not attending or involved in a local church they are isolating themselves from the elders/pastors God has called to instruct, guide, encourage and direct them. Once again we turn to Hebrews for some insight in this regard. Note the two verses from Hebrews 13, “Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 HCSB) Did the necessity for elders/pastors die off with the apostles? Scripture gives us no indication of that, whatsoever. As mentioned in the previous point, church attendance should increase as the return of Christ draws near. As long as there is a need for a local church, there will also be need for local leadership within those churches in the form of elders/pastors. They have the responsibility to speak God’s Word, live a life of faith and integrity, guide believers from Scripture, and watch over those in the congregation.
  1. Jesus Christ referred to the existence and the importance of the local church. If there is still doubt about the reality of God’s design for local, distinct churches, please consider the admonition found in the last book of the Bible. John is writing to seven distinct, localized congregations in Asia. Notice his words in Revelation 1:4, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne. Not only that, but Jesus Christ, Himself, addresses each of these seven local churches in the second and third chapter of the book (see Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:14).

Every Christ follower needs to take the time to find a local church they can call home. They need to find out what the church teaches and see if it lines up with Scripture. They should also talk to the pastor and look at their website or informational materials and find out what they believe. Pray and ask God to lead you to the congregation that He would have you to serve through.

Please contact us if we can be of assistance or if you are looking for a church in the Erie, Pennsylvania area. We completely understand Flagship Church is not for everyone, however we are a church committed to Scripture and to sharing God’s message of hope and forgiveness with the Flagship City. If you know Christ and want to know Him more, we would love to have you “on board” with us!

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 1)

I have been involved with ministry through local churches in one form or another since 1996. It has been an honor to serve as a pastor, Christian School Administrator and Evangelist. I am currently a Church Planter and Pastor of Flagship Free Will Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. I have heard numerous reasons, opinions and even excuses why people do not attend church faithfully. However, I have not heard one legitimate, scriptural reason why people should not attend and be involved in a local, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church. I believe Scripture gives plenty of reasons why faithful church attendance and involvement should be a “no-brainer” amongst followers of Christ. The following are just a few reasons:

  1. God designed Christ followers to need other Christ followers. God never designed for His children to grow, mature and flourish in isolation. Even Christ Himself, brought a group of men into His daily ministry known as the disciples. Being the God-man, He needed nothing, but He set the example for us. He made it a practice to go the Temple regularly. The Old Testament reveals this truth as recorded for us in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, HCSB)

Christ-Follower-Logo-for-webAs the Apostle Paul addressed the local church at Corinth, he explained to them that the church was much like a body. In fact, the church is the body of Christ! In this explanation he said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” (I Corinthians 12:21, ESV) A Christ follower may say he/she does not need other Christians, but when they do they contradict the very truth of Scripture. We need other believers in our lives just like our body needs all of our body parts. For a hand to fulfill its function and design it must be attached to the body; therefore, for a Christian to fulfill his/her function or design, they must also be connected to the body of Christ.

  1. After the church was born in the book of Acts, Christ followers gathered together on a regular basis. Acts 2:42 records, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 20:7 records another occasion of believers gathering together, this time to hear the Apostle Paul preach, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, ESV) They did not get together for a one-time event, but rather devoted themselves to learning the Word of God together. They also spent time with one another and prayed together. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates this should be optional or if there will be a time when this type of gathering would cease. As a matter of fact, other Scriptures indicate this type of gathering and fellowship would become more and more necessary as time went on.

 

  1. Scripture refers to “elders” or “pastors” of specific churches. If local churches were not part of God’s plan then why did God ordain elders/pastors to oversee local congregations? The New Testament repeatedly alludes to this. Here are just a few references that you can turn to for your own personal study: Acts 14:23, 15:2-6, 15:22-23, 16:4, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1-5.

Choose the Best Part

Who is the most important person in your life? Pretend you haven’t seen them in 18 months and they were coming for a visit. You knew they would not be able to stay long and you are not sure how long it will be before you will see them again. However, you are filled with joy and excitement because you are going to be able to spend a little time with this friend or family member. You want to make it special so you begin to plan for the celebration of the ages. You spare no expense in your preparation and finally the time comes! The doorbell rings and standing on your front porch is the one you have been longing to see and hold in your arms. The greeting is sweet and your entire household is thrilled. You invite your guest in and you rush into the kitchen to finish the final preparations for your exquisite meal with them. The rest of the family gathers in the living room to hear the latest stories from your honored guest.

Minutes and hours pass by as you put the final touches on the food, the trimmings and the dessert. The dining room table is decorated with your finest china. The crystal glasses from attic have been washed and they glisten in the candlelight. Everything is now ready and you walk into the living room to invite your guest and your family to come in for dinner. However, your guest looks at you with tears in their eyes as they place their cell phone back into their pocket.

“I have to go,” they say. “I just received word that my mom has been rushed to the hospital after a tragic car accident and they are not sure she will make it. I’m so sorry, I will have to catch the next flight out.”

Your heart breaks as you watch them speed out of the driveway and then reality hits. While you have spent the last three hours preparing to entertain and feed your guest, you have spent no time with your guest. Now the opportunity is gone and you have no idea when you will have it back. The last three hours have been a waste and the very one you wanted lavish your love upon has now gone away.

The same is often true with us as Christians. We are “busy” for the Lord and in the Lord’s work…yet how much time do we really spend with Him?

In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was busy preparing a meal for Jesus. There is no more important guest than this. Martha was doing a good thing for a good reason. However, she was upset at her sister who was enjoying the presence of Jesus, but not helping in the kitchen.

Martha asks Jesus, “Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

Jesus’ answer may have surprised Martha and it may surprise you as well. He said, “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus reminds Martha that she has gotten so busy try to do things “for Jesus” that she has neglected spending time “with Jesus.” Jesus lets her know that He is not going to rebuke Mary, because Mary has chosen the best over what was good. Yes, it’s good to serve Jesus, but when serving Jesus causes us to neglect Him it becomes a burden rather than a blessing.

As a matter of fact Scripture indicates that our service to God will be much more productive if it is preceded by time spent with God! So let me encourage you today to just spend some time with Him in prayer and His Word. It will be time well spent!

Seven Attributes of a Successful Church

The Apostle Peter had the wonderful privilege to share the Truth with thousands of souls in Acts chapter 2. In response to his message of God’s offer of salvation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3,000 souls received the Gospel message and were added to God’s family that day! Acts 2:42-47 shares with us what these new Christ-followers chose to do after making this wonderful decision. Their actions set the example for us and for what local churches need to become.

The Bible says they “continued stedfastly” in some things. The phrase “continued stedfastly” means they devoted themselves to constantly. The following things not only became a part of their life but they became predominant in their life.

If you have a Bible you can turn to Acts chapter 2 and follow along. We will begin in verse 42. The first thing we see is that they were:

Driven by Doctrine (v. 42)

The early church was constantly devoting themselves to the Apostles doctrine! Another word for doctrine is “teaching.” Today we have the Apostle’s doctrine found in the New Testament Scriptures that have been inspired and preserved by God Himself! 2 Timothy 3:16 saysAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching (doctrine), for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

For any church to be truly successful it must also be devoted to the Word of God. Secondly we see the church was:

Focused on Fellowship (vv. 42 & 46)

The word fellowship here means “participation and communion” with one another. How do we participate in other people’s lives

  • Scripture says to: “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
  • God’s Word also goes on to tell us to “bear one another’s burdens.”
  • Christ-followers have not been called to be “Lone Rangers.” God has designed us to need friendship and fellowship in order to encourage one another on our spiritual journey. Everyone is on a spiritual journey and no one should take that journey alone!

Verse 46 sheds some light on their fellowship:

  • They fellowshipped regularly (in this case daily)
  • They were unified
  • They fellowshipped in specific places—in the temple and house to house
  • They enjoyed meals together with glad and generous hearts
Thirdly we see they:

 Made Prayer a Priority (v. 42)

The early church saw God answer many, many prayers. They believed in prayer and they believed in the God that answers prayer. They prayed for one another. They prayed for those who were being persecuted for their faith. They prayed for their spiritual and political leaders. They devoted themselves to prayer!

They Experienced: 

Seeing the Supernatural (v. 43)

Verse 43 tells us they were filled with “fear”—in other words they were filled with “awe” when they saw what God was doing! God was working through the apostles through apostolic signs and miracles. Even though we no longer need apostolic signs to authenticate the apostle’s message…a successful church will still see the supernatural take place. Alcoholics can be delivered from the tyranny of alcohol, marriages can be restored, atheists can believe, God still chooses to supernaturally heal people at times. If the only thing the church is doing is in the physical realm then we are no different than the Social Club down the street. The church deals with the spiritual and eternal and God chooses to change lives and set people free and provide people with eternal hope!

 Another attribute the early church had was:

Great Generosity (v. 45)

Their generosity went to the extreme! When they heard of a need they were even willing to sell their possessions and give to meet the needs of the family of God! God never asked them to do this, they simply wanted to.No one made them, they did so willingly. God has chosen to use His people as CONDUITS. He blesses them so they may bless others! Give and it shall be given unto you…God desires to use the church as a CONDUIT! As God entrusts us with resources, we will use those resources to bless others!

These attributes led to the church having a 

Tremendous Testimony (v. 47)

As people got to know the “early church” and see them in action they realized there was a genuineness. As we become known in the community people need to know:

  • This is a place where they will tell me the TRUTH in love
  • This is a place that is a “friend to sinners”
  • This is a place where love lives and grace exists

Finally we see this was a church where you found:

Souls being Saved (v. 47b)

As Christ’s Church

  • Preaches, teaches and shares the right doctrine…and
  • Promotes fellowship and encouraging friendships…and
  • Make prayer for needy souls and the needs of our city and world a priority…and
  • Walks by faith and not by sight enabling us to the see the supernatural…and
  • Has great generosity toward others…and
  • Develops a great reputation in the community…
  • A natural overflow is God building His church through souls being saved and lives being changed.