I want to take one further look at little words in the Bible. Prepositions are marvelous little words because they explain relationships with precision: comparison (like, as); direction (to, toward, through); location/place (in, at, by, on); possession (of); purpose (for); source (from, out of); and time (at, before, on). The Box in the title is a location, a place. Some teachers use a circle to illustrate these small words, but I prefer the visual three-dimensional box illustration.
Now that we have completed our birds-eye view of the Bible, it is time to get to the actual text. In a previous article I counselled you to just read what is written, like you would any other book.
Here is a statement from a church website that is well worth quoting: "From our belief in an intelligent, loving Creator, we should expect God to reveal His message in writing, the historic medium best suited for precision, preservation, and propagation" (author unknown). God gave us in the Bible an absolute and specific record of His will for the human race, which we call "our sole guide for faith and practice."Read More
To finish our birds-eye tour of the Bible, we need to look at one final book, The Acts of the Apostles, as it is titled in our English Bibles. Actually it is mostly about two apostles: Peter and Paul. Our lecturer during ministerial training told us the title should be"The Acts of the Holy Spirit," but that was a bit of Pentecostal enthusiasm. "Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles" (Acts 5:12 ESV), so it would be better to say that it was a "divine-human reciprocity" (Oral Roberts). Others say it this way: "Without you, God will not, and without Him, you cannot." So let's look at the fifth narrative book of the New Testament.
We have seen that some books have our "address on the envelope," such as Paul's writings, and these should predominantly be our source of faith and practice. Other books are written for our learning, and in our last post we looked at the four Gospels. Jesus instructed his disciples on many things, but not about everything that was about to happen. This was intentional, as they had to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit and the Christ within for their guidance in the situations they ran across, in other words, they had to live by faith. Sometimes they used their sanctified imagination until they really learned the lesson to only do what they were guided to do, just as Jesus only did and said what the Father told him.
In the circles in which I first ministered, everyone wanted to get back to the "early church," by which they meant Acts chapters 2-4. However, if you want the early church, you have to take Acts chapter 5 also, the account of Ananias trying to mislead God in financial matters and coming off second best. Few of my fellow worshippers were in favor of going that literal!
The apostles at first attempted to overlay the new spirit-filled Christian teaching on the foundation of the Jewish faith, as seen in the early chapters of Acts up until about chapter 10 and the conversion of Cornelius, but against great opposition from the religionists. One author I just read in Ministry Today wrote: "The New Testament and Old Testament are organically connected together with the New building upon the Old, not eradicating it altogether!"
However, Jesus said you cannot put new wine into old bottles, and we've already discussed that the New Testament started when the testator died, which meant the old order was finished. Yes, there is much of the Old Testament in the new, but there is much more that is now irrelevant. By Acts 13:46 the apostles ceased trying to convert those of the Jewish faith and mostly ministered to other nations -- "we turn to the Gentiles." They themselves, however, still wanted to participate in Jewish worship, as seen with Paul hurrying to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).
The book of Acts is a transistional book -- that's the important lesson here. The Mosiac law was gradually replaced by the grace of God, the outward rituals replaced by faith in Christ. Peter and John still went up to the temple every day to pray (Acts 3:1), and even as late as Acts 16:3, "Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." This was like teaching a Baptist when to kneel and when to do the sign of the cross, so they wouldn't look out of place at a Roman Catholic Mass!
Division between Christians and the Jewish faith started to show long before Paul's second missionary journey, for Acts 6:7 tells us that "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith," and later at Antioch after a stirring sermon by Paul in the synagogue, "Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God" (Acts 13:43).
There is just so much that we can learn from the early church in the first 33 years as given in Acts, and learning brings with it enjoyment and a responsibility to follow the examples set before us. I looked at the book of Acts in a short series of articles a year ago starting with "The Impact of Pentecost."
The record of the early church in the book of Acts sets a great example before us. Here are just a few verses that tend to stand out for me. Acts 2:42 says about the 3,000 saved on the Day of Pentecost, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (ESV). This is what Christians should still be doing. Acts 3:6 records Peter saying to the lame man at the temple gate, "Such as I have give I thee" (KJV). What did Peter have? It met the lame man's need and through it the needs of many. You'd better find out what Peter had because you have it too!
When Peter and John were arrested and questioned about the healing, the record observes, "Now when they [the priests] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4 :13). It is better to have been with Jesus and stay unlearned and ignorant than have a parchment on the wall saying you have been ordained! As two young people with the call of God on us to go into ministry, we heard a wise Bible College president say, "It's better to go to Calvary and miss college, than go to college and miss Calvary."
Acts 4:33 reports, "And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." The message of the early church was about the resurrection of Jesus, and because He lives, you too can live!
Read the Acts of the Apostles from start to finish, and rejoice that this is the church universal of which you are a part.