Aug 30, 2023
I have long prayed for Gospel boldness in my life so Pastor Arthur’s message on the “Five Marks of a Bold Church” preached at our recent Prayer and Worship Collective service stirred my heart.
So, you may be wondering....what are the five marks of a bold church? Well I am glad you asked.
But, first a little background on our text. Peter and John had been arrested for proclaiming Christ and His Gospel and God’s Word tells us that 5,000 men believed! The religious leaders were disturbed by this, arrested Peter and John and put them in jail. But that did not slow down our God-fearing disciples and, by God’s grace, they were released as the text opens. In Acts 4:23, we see the first mark of a bold church.
A BOLD CHURCH HAS AN UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SAINTS
The verse reads, “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” Acts 4:23
As I considered where they went, to their friends, aka their Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, I wondered what I would do in their situation. Would I return immediately to those who shared the passion for Christ that had just landed me in hot water with the religious authorities?
I want to believe that I would do the same. I know that I need to be surrounded by and committed to the local church, where the Lord has placed me. In fact, that need played a part in our commitment to RCS. Shortly after getting involved with Pray for Sanford (the precursor ministry to Restoration Church of Sanford) I remember telling my husband that the believers we were serving with, in this ministry, were just the kind of people we would need around us in a darkening culture. It was clear that the leadership of this little movement in Sanford was strong, committed to the Gospel and to each other. I knew that was exactly what my weak and wavering heart would need in hard times.
This body of believers continues to encourage my heart, to stir me to good works and to work towards love and unity within the body through the Spirit of God and our covenantal commitment to one another.
But, there’s more to learn from this text.
A BOLD CHURCH HAS A FERVENT DEVOTION TO PRAYER, NOURISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES AND GUIDED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Our text moves on....
“And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God....Acts 4:24a
It’s amazing to consider that Peter and John went straight back to the church and perhaps even more amazing to note the church’s response. They immediately prayed.
There’s no record of anyone asking, “How did they treat you in jail?” and no record of anyone complaining of the leaders who persecuted them.
It appears that the believers’ immediate response was to simply pray. Oh, how I long for this to be my first response to a crisis. Oh how I desire to pray to the Lord before speaking to others about solutions or voicing my grievances.
And we see, as verse 24 continues, that this prayer was worshipful and rooted in Scripture.
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—” Acts 4:24b-26
Their first words were words of praise. And, their prayer contained Old Testament Scripture from the Psalms - a book of prayers.
I am reminded of the continual encouragement in our church, not only to pray always, but to pray God’s Word.
I am also reminded that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).
These words are often misunderstood but they set a foundation for praying Scripture. To delight ourselves in the Lord means to delight ourselves in Him and in His ways - which are revealed in the Scripture. When we know God and His ways through His Word and when the Holy Spirit works to conform our desires to His will, we can ask boldly for whatever we want.
As one pastor put it, “Make God’s will your want. Then, ask for whatever you want.”
That is why we pray the Scriptures.
And look what happens as we move toward the end of our passage...
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31
I think many of us have experienced this in our church. We pray, according to God’s will and by His Spirit, and we have seen God move mountains. To be honest, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen the Lord work in more amazing ways than what I have witnessed at RCS. And, I pray that, as we grow wide in numbers, we would grow even deeper in prayer and in love.
So, how are Peter and John and the believers around them so confident, so secure in their faith? The answer to that question leads us to the third mark of a bold church.
A BOLD CHURCH HAS A STEADFAST ANCHORING IN THE ROCK OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
Recall that, in verse 24, we see this courageous church pray to the “Sovereign Lord” and we see, throughout the prayer, that their confidence is in the rock of God’s Sovereignty. Note in verse 27-29, they had an unshakeable belief that the Lord himself had ordained the circumstances in which they found themselves.
“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”Acts 4:27-28
These believers did not shrink back in fear that life was out of control. They were anchored to the rock of God’s Sovereign rule that gave them security no matter what their circumstances told them.
I am reminded of my life verse.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”Proverbs 3:5-6
Church, it is so easy to look at our circumstances and feel like we are losing the battle. But, we serve a God who has already won the war! We know that Christ is victorious and that we are more than conquerors in Him. And, so these verses remind me to pray that we would not waver and that we would not fear as we look at the world around us. Instead, we pray that we would hold steadfast to our God, who is not only all-powerful, but all-good.
As we move through the prayer found in our passage, we find evidence of the fourth mark of a bold church.
A BOLD CHURCH HAS AN AUDACIOUS CONFIDENCE IN DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”” Acts 4:29-30
Did you notice that they did not ask for the persecution to stop? Instead, they recognized God’s control in this situation and they asked the Lord to allow them to continue to speak boldly and to showcase His power through them.
Wow! How often do we pray for our difficult circumstances to change, not considering that God desires to use those circumstances for our good and His glory?
This theme is repeated throughout the New Testament. Just a few examples...the book of James teaches us that our suffering has purpose. Peter wrote extensively about the glorious results of suffering well and with hope. Paul, who often finds himself in difficult circumstances or writes to those in difficult circumstances, never seems to ask for those circumstances to change. Instead, he prays for God, in His divine Providence, to use the circumstances to advance the Gospel.
And, Jesus himself, gives us the ultimate reason to grow in our confidence in Divine Providence as we face persecution. He tells that we are actually blessed when this happens on His account.
““Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
We need each other in this. We must pray and encourage one another daily. We will all have those days (even seasons) when everything seems to be going wrong and we feel hopeless. These are the times when we need our brothers and sisters to sit with us in the hard, and remind us that God has not left us. That He is in control and He is working toward the restoration of all things.
And, now, we are ready for the 5th and final mark of a bold church.
A BOLD CHURCH HAS A FEARLESS AND UNFLINCHING ENDURANCE, EMPOWERED BY THE POWER AND PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Let’s look again at the final verse in our passage,
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”Acts 4:31
This is arguably the most important mark of all. As Pastor Arthur said, “Only men and women filled and fueled by the Holy Spirit endure with boldness in the face of adversity.”
It’s true. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, our human resilience will let us down. And without His presence, we cannot stand against the persecution and accusations brought on by the evil one.
The truth is, as we review the other four marks, we see that each one is fueled by a reliance on the power and presence of the Spirit.
Only the Spirit of God can inspire an unwavering commitment to the fellowship of the Saints.
Only the Holy Spirit can empower a devotion to prayer, nourished by Scripture, guided by the Spirit and rooted in worship.
Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we be anchored to the rock of God’s Sovereignty.
And, only by the Spirit of God, can we find audacious confidence in Divine Providence.
As I consider these five marks, I know that God is willing and able to do this work in me....in us. If we are His, we can be assured that He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness through our knowledge of Him” (2 Peter 1:3) but He calls us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as He works in us (Philippians 2:13).
He is so gracious to give us what we need. I pray that we would be a people continually working out our salvation and growing, as a body of believers, who stand bold and unshakable for the Gospel no matter what circumstances we face.