In Acts 9, we read the story of Saul’s conversion and beginnings of his ministry. It was a rocky start as the church was suspicious of his trustworthiness. But after the start of his public ministry, the church accepted him and began to saw additional growth because of what God was doing through Saul. In the 31st verse of the chapter, a description is made of how the church was beginning to mature and minister in a hostile culture. I find that there are six marks in this single verse.
So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers. -Acts 9:31
1. Widespread. It describes the church as having already reached “throughout Judea, Galilee, & Samaria.” It is both a comment on geographic boundaries and cultural boundaries. People were carrying the gospel to various regions and various types of people. To say that the church was in Judea was expected, but to see it spreading among the Samaritans was not. Many of the early believers were ethnically Jewish, and they did not associate with the Samaritans. It signals to us that we must seek to increase the borders of the kingdom on this world despite cultural, ethnic, economic, and social differences. Don’t ever be intimidated by the systems of the world when you are sharing the gospel of God’s kingdom.
2. Unity. The church “had peace.” I think this is a commentary on how they existed in the culture and how they treated one another. For the moment, think about what it means inside the church family. It is when you see unity among the diversity. Uniformity should discarded as useless pandering to control-hungry leaders. Instead, we need to pin our unity on the idea of working toward the gospel goal of seeing the world know Christ as Lord and experiencing Him as friend. When we all drive toward the mission of the church, then unity is easy.
3. Development. The verse also tells us that the church was “being built up.” The Greek words used in the phrase find their literal usage in the construction of a house. The church was growing up. The right pieces were being put in the right place. It is a sign that strength was being added to the structure so a healthy fellowship could continue. The outward ministry was being coupled with inner growth. For a church to mature, it needs both.
4. Holiness. As the church developed, it was “walking in the fear of the Lord.” I love the phrase because it signals the depth of what holy living truly is. Though holiness includes morality, it is not the sum total of holiness. Rather, it is a lifestyle in which the awe of God is carried with you at all times. The church, in these days and in our day, should be marked by the presence of God. Our behavior is changed by our view of how different God is from us. Consequently, our transformation by the gospel means that we are now set apart for the Lord’s purposes that we joyfully fulfill in our everyday living.
5. Momentum. Knowing that we are called to holiness, it becomes natural because the church receives “the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.” Unbelievable but true. He indwells believers so that, individually and collectively, we can be emboldened to ministry and mission. On your worst day when the whole world seems to be caving in, the Holy Spirit has the desire to encourage you. When church life is at its toughest because of temptations from without and trouble from within, the Holy Spirit never abandons us. The God of the universe wants to encourage the church.
6. Growth. From all of the rest that we see described, the church “increased in numbers.” Through the ministry and the investment in outsiders, the church grew. I am unashamed in my desire for the church to numerically grow. It seems to me that from the witness of the Bible that God wants more people converted, more people experiencing grace, more people ministering, and more people coming to know Him as Savior. The church should want the same and work with everything we have to see it happen. A mark of a maturing church is that it focuses on the ministry that will persuade people to the truth of the gospel and the beauty of knowing Christ.