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Signs of strength

OPINION by Pastor Chuck DeVane, guest column | May 21, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

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.

-- Acts 4:32

A criminal record is not necessarily conducive to continued employment. Most companies have policies to terminate workers who find themselves arrested and convicted of a crime. People with rap sheets find it difficult to obtain new jobs, as well. This was not true, however, for two of the most prominent early Christians.

Peter and John had been jailed for preaching about Jesus. This was persecution's first punch against the fledgling church. But instead of curtailing their careers as apostolic preachers, their status was elevated and their church was strengthened.

Persecution strengthens the church. So do the three things that followed in the early church: prayer, unity and charity. These signs of strength should be evident in all of Christ's churches today.

Acts records the activities of the Holy Spirit in and thorough the early Christians. It is a picture of the church at work. Principal in the work of the church is prayer.

They prayed because they loved their Heavenly Father and enjoyed speaking and somehow listening in divine and devoted communication. They prayed in order to display their bedrock belief that God is sovereign, His word is sure, and has a perfect plan by which He has predestined all things. They prayed knowing their prayers, their free and willing decisions to obey or disobey the Sadducees, and their actions in spreading the gospel really matter. Such prayer is a sign of strength in any Christian and any Christian church.

Jesus' prayer for Christian unity seemed to be answered at the outset of the early church. Unity does not require uniformity. The early church was a diverse group of men and women, rich and poor, educated and unlettered, speaking different languages. Real, strong Christians' unity is not a unity of person, but a unity of purpose.

They assembled for worship regularly, in groups small and large. They were constantly thinking, praying and working towards making disciples in accordance with Jesus' last words. It is clear they enjoyed true fellowship, sharing their time, experiences, and possessions with each other. All the members were ministers, and they all shared the concern that the gospel be brought to the whole world.

A praying and balanced and unified church bent on worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions is a strong church indeed. It does not matter about the age or size of the church. The first church realized it, and so must the church of today.

The first church found power in prayer, unity, and charity. The first church's charity was by no means an establishment or endorsement of communism. They gave their possessions lovingly and freely, it was not forced. Communism and its second cousin, socialism, have been proven time and again not to work. You cannot force charity or mandate equity. When you try, you eventually run out of other people's money to spend.

The first church's charity was loving and free, but it was also born out of necessity. Remember what brought us to this episode? It was the church's first persecution. It spread fast, not only with threats from authorities but also with the loss of family ties and employment opportunities. Many of the early Christians lost their homes and their jobs for professing faith in Jesus Christ. This act of love and sharing address the momentary need but should be repeated any time any of God's children in His church finds themselves in need.

I grew up in south Georgia where playing football is a requirement and a religion. Every Friday night some team would come in and persecute us by trying to stop our forward progress to the end zone. We'd huddle up, like a prayer meeting, and get our instructions from the coach and quarterback. Then, with diverse assignments and a unified goal, we'd run the play. In the aftermath, we'd help each other up off the ground, huddle up, and do it again.

Let's huddle up, church, and pray together and often. Let's take our instructions from God and His word, from doctrinally sound preaching and teaching, and carry out our Lord's purposes as a unified church. And always, let's pick up the fallen, help the needy among us, willingly and joyfully and charitably. These are signs of a strong church.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]

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