While we are going to continue looking at the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives over the next several months, today, I believe we are concluding our first series entitled “Communion of the Holy Spirit.” So, let’s review some of things we’ve learned in the first five parts of this teaching:
We’ve used Second Corinthians 13:14 as our golden text for this series, as the apostle Paul was praying for his spiritual children—the Church of Corinth. And we saw that this was likely his last words to them. Therefore, this passage of Scripture holds super important truths, that not just Paul, but God Himself desires for us all to walk in.
Again, the apostle Paul prayed-- “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (Second Corinthians 13:14).
So, we have seen that just as the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father are critical things for us to walk in as believers, likewise the communion of the Holy Spirit is just as important. Yes, all three of these things—grace, love and communion—work together and are of equal importance just as the Trinity works together and all three members of the Godhead are of equal importance with one another. Yes, if the Lord Jesus is worthy to be praised and God the Father is worthy of all glory, then the Holy Spirit deserves some attention too. Therefore, if we know that both grace and love are important, then we ought to know that communion with the Holy Spirit is just as important.
And one point the Lord has been hammering into us is that one vital part to enjoying this communion with the Holy Spirit is knowing that just as God the Father and the God the Son are individuals with real personalities, likewise the Holy Spirit is a person too. Therefore, we learned that the Holy Spirit is not a goose bump—because you cannot have fellowship with a goose bump! Nor is He a cloud, a vapor, or a feeling! Yet if you asked certain believers who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, this is exactly how they see Him. They relate to Him through these physical manifestations that He gives us—such as the goose bumps they feel, the cloud of glory they see, or the emotions they experience. But the truth is this: He is a real person with a personality and emotions.
And we have looked at some of these emotional, personality traits that He possesses such as His ability to be grieved (see Ephesians 4:30), similarly to how a betrayed spouse who has been hurt, wounded, betrayed, misled, lied to, and abused can feel because He is our partner and He hurts when we are unfaithful to Him. On top of that, we saw in James 4:5 that the “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?” And what we learned from that is that the Spirit that has come to settle down, make His home and permanently dwell in us, is bent with an all-consuming, ever-growing, excessive, passionate desire to possess us totally, and is envious and filled with jealousy toward anything or anyone who tries to take His place.
So, through having a personality, the Holy Spirit has the capability of being angry or sad. He is capable of being grieved or excited. Remember, He is the One who yields the fruit of the Spirit in us. Therefore, He is love, peace, joy, etc. In short, He is a Divine Person with a Divine Personality that we can and should have communion and fellowship with!
Therefore, I gave you a quote from the late Dr. R.A. Torrey who once said, “If the Holy Spirit is a divine person and we know it not, we are robbing a divine Being of the love and adoration which are due Him. It is of the highest practical importance whether the Holy Spirit is a power that we, in our ignorance and weakness, are somehow to get hold of and use, or whether the Holy Spirit is a personal Being who is to get hold of us and use us...”
Church, it is time for us to recognize the latter—that He is indeed a Person who stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, desiring to use us. And when we decide to invite Him into all of the rooms of our life and give this perfect Gentleman full access, He will then be able to give us a good house-cleaning and fill us up with the glory of God!
Now what we have spent most of our time doing in this series is looking at what this word “communion” means. So, let’s quickly go back through the various definitions and explanations that we have studied of this word:
So, there is obviously a lot to this “communion” that we have available to us with the Holy Spirit. He is there to join together with us to help us accomplish a common goal, and we can enjoy His fellowship, partnership, and all that He shares with us. Praise God, that is what it means to have fellowship with the Spirit of God!
You see, the Holy Spirit is our helper, church! And when we begin to see Him as such and acknowledge this wonderful resource that the Lord has deposited into us, we will be “enriched” to be the kind of witnesses that the Lord has called us to be. One of the keys to us having an impact on the lives of others is forgiveness. Our forgiveness of others unlocks the Lord’s hands to move in their lives. And although forgiving others sets us free, it is even more important to set free the one we are forgiving than it is for us to be set free. Maybe the reason some haven't changed is because we have not forgiven them and released them to change. Amen.
THE EARLY CHURCH & THE HOLY SPIRIT
And that leads me to the point I have been wanting us to move into—How the Early Church walked in this communion with the Holy Spirit and the effect that they had on their known world at that time!
Now, if you recall, we have started in Acts chapter one looking at how the Lord spent 40 days after His resurrection, teaching His disciples things that pertained to the kingdom of God. And one thing that Dr. Luke specifically lays out to us that He taught them was about the Holy Spirit. So, let’s begin today by turning back over to Acts chapter one, and review very quickly what Jesus said to them.
Notice again that in Acts 1:1-2 that Luke said that Jesus did the things that He did and taught the things He taught “through the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, even He walked in the communion of the Holy Spirit—doing all of the mighty works that He did through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. We went into some detail of that truth earlier in this series.
Then we saw how Jesus said in Acts 1:4 that He reminded His disciples how He had taught them about HIM. So, we looked at some of these verses and found that in just 9 verses contained in John chapters 14-16, He referred to the Holy Spirit with a personal pronoun 22 times! Therefore, when most of our translations say, “‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me.’” we saw how it would better be translated “Whom” and not “which.”
Then in verse 5, Jesus went on to tell His disciples how they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit like John had baptized in water not many days from then. Now we will get more into this in the future, but it is important for us realize that being baptized with the Holy Spirit is for all of the Lord’s disciples. As important as being baptized in water is, the baptism in the Holy Spirit yields its own wonderful benefits in our lives—and one of those benefits is found in the following verses.
But we saw how like so many in the church today, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it here. They immediately transitioned to the natural side of things by asking Him if this was the time that he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (see verse 6). But Jesus turned it back around to what was important when He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (see verses 7-8). Let me paraphrase what I believe Jesus was saying here— “Times and seasons are not to be your concern. That is God’s sphere of authority, not yours. What is important, however, is that you understand what is in your control—and that is that you receive and walk in this power that the Holy Spirit will endow you with. For this is what enables you to be the kind of witnesses I need no matter what time or season you are living in.”
You see, church, so many people in the church today like to get into things like dispensationalism, end time events, etc.—trying to figure out when this is going to happen, what that is going to look like, etc. But what the Lord was communicating to His disciples, both yesterday and today, is that our focus needs to be on being quality witnesses for Him no matter what happens in the world around us. In other words, our attention doesn’t need to solely be on being able to tell what is going to happen; our attention needs to be primarily on being ready for whatever happens. Amen?
In fact, we see this illustrated in just a few verses when Jesus was supernaturally taken up and received into a cloud after He had spoken these very words to them. We are told that as the disciples continued to look steadfastly into the heavens that what were obviously two angels stood by them, asking them, “Why are you guys gazing up into heaven? The same way Jesus was taken up is the same way He will return” (see verses 9-11)
You see, too often believers put their attention on things that do no good. For example, there are those who keep looking for supernatural things that happened in the past (like His disciples were doing here) and become ineffective in the present. Others turn their attention to the heavens, only looking for His soon return, and are useless in the world we live in today. Saints, we certainly need to be cognizant of the fact that He is coming back soon and very soon, but not at the risk of taking our hand off the plow and seeking first the kingdom of God in our everyday life.
We need to be His witnesses in the time and season that we are presently living in, church! And the only way we can be effective witnesses for the Lord is by receiving this communion with the Holy Spirit! Now it is important to note here that it is when the power comes that we are enabled to be His witnesses. I bring this up because, how many Christians are trying to be witnesses for the Lord without ever receiving the power (or, ability) of the Lord? No, Jesus did not say that when we receive the Holy Spirit we will “go witnessing;” He said we will be witnesses! You see, witnessing is not just something you do; a witness is something you are. It is not just about going door to door, handing out tracks. Witnessing is testifying to something you have both seen and experienced. And the tragedy is when we go around trying to tell people about a Jesus that we’ve never experienced. Church, we need to see Him! We need to experience Him! We need to experience the power of His resurrection in our lives (see Philippians 3:10) so that we can be a true witness that Jesus is alive and still doing miracles in the earth today! When people see His goodness in and through us, it will validate what we are saying as His witnesses. That is what it means to be His witnesses! Amen!
And notice where Jesus went on to say that they would be His witnesses in the second half of verse 8: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Notice that the first place that Jesus mentioned for His Jewish disciples to begin was in the city where they were currently living—Jerusalem. Then He told them in all of Judea and Samaria, which was the surrounding country and region. And, last but not least, He included all of the earth so that they were not confused about His intention to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere.
But I believe this shows us a practical model for witnessing: We start where we are at—that being with our neighbors, in our city, or where we are at in our hearts. Then we move on to the next sphere of influences in our lives (i.e. our Judea’s and Samaria’s). And finally, we aspire to witness for Him even to the ends of the earth.
My point is this: The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us Christ’s witnesses! But, you know, many believers are terrified of witnessing. And why? One of the main reasons is because they are afraid they will not know what to say, but this is why we were given the Holy Spirit! He is in us to help us through those occasions where we are witnessing to an unbeliever. You see, He knows that person inside and out. He knows everything about them. So, all we have to do is approach the person when the Holy Spirit leads us to and then listen with the ear of our heart to how the Holy Spirit coaches us through it. He will give us creative examples to minister to them. He will bring Scriptures to our remembrance. He will prompt us when to listen and when to speak. He will guide us through the whole process if we will just depend on Him. I like to say that the Holy Spirit is witnessing made fun 😊! He will make us look good in witnessing (and in life in general) if we will just heed His instruction and learn to work together with Him. Amen.
But as one considers what happened beginning in Acts chapter two, they will see that His disciples got it! They truly became the witnesses God had called them be and turned their world “upside down” (Acts 17:6).
So now, I would like to conclude this series by us beginning to look through the rest of the Book of Acts and seeing how the Early Church walked in this communion with the Holy Spirit.
So, I have made the following point already, but I feel it needs to be said again that most of our Bibles title this Book incorrectly— calling it “The Acts of the Apostles.” And the reason I believe that this is a misleading title is because it was not just apostles who did the things we see described in the Book of Acts. There were deacons, pastors, evangelists, and even children who were playing a part in turning the world “right-side up.” Therefore, I believe a more accurate title of this Book would be— “The Acts of the Holy Ghost through His Church.”
So then, seeing how the “Acts of the Holy Ghost through the Lord’s Church” illustrates to us not only what the Early Church did but how they did it, I want us to go through its various references to the Holy Spirit. Through it, we will see how they were a body of believers who were completely dependent on their communion with the Holy Spirit. Even though they did not have the privilege you and I do today of having the complete Word of God as through these 28 chapters, the New Testament had not even been written yet. Therefore, they were completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, teach and instruct them. Now through understanding this, compare the results of the early church with the results of the church today. It would be an understatement to say that they had more of an impact on their world than we are having on ours today. Amen? It is for this reason that I believe the modern-day Church is not nearly as effective as the early, First Century Church was. Yes, it is because of the church of today’s lack of respect for the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
THE EARLY CHURCH’S INITIATION
So, let’s begin this week going through some these examples:
Beginning in chapter two, we see them receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit when Pentecost had fully come. And then we see Peter standing before the people and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ and explaining to them about this outpouring of the Spirit that they were witnessing. So, this chapter is how all of these “Acts” began—through the Spirit coming upon all of those gathered together in the upper room! And that is how it will begin with us today too. We must receive this baptism in the Holy Spirit in order to see the rest of these “Acts of the Holy Ghost” in our lives.
Then in chapter three, we have the account of when Peter and John healed the man at the Beautiful Gate through the power of the Holy Spirit—for when Peter had this lame man look at him, he said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you,” and then he commanded him to rise up and walk. Now what Peter was basically saying here was— “I left my wallet at the house, but I have something else (more accurately, Someone else) that I’d like to give you instead!” Now if he hadn’t received the Holy Spirit in the previous chapter, he wouldn’t have had anything to give this man. But because He had the Power, he could give the power! And then of course Peter used that as an opportunity yet again to preach Jesus to the people that had seen this miracle.
Then chapter four basically describes another “dose” of the Holy Ghost as we see Peter and John’s arrest and addressing the Sanhedrin, them being warned not to preach in Jesus’ name any longer. It was at this time that we saw Peter, first, being filled with the Holy Spirit before he began speaking to Israel’s rulers and elders. And then we see the church’s prayer for boldness after they gathered together after Peter and John’s release, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit yet again. This teaches us that just as they needed to be refilled even after they had received their initial infilling of the Holy Spirit, likewise we will need to stay full of Him ourselves.
Then notice how after they were all filled with the Spirit (again), we see their supernatural grace to have all things in common (see verses 32-37). So, again, a product of the Spirit filled life is unity, commonality, etc. No, not “socialism”; but “Spiritism.” Therefore, when we are walking in the fullness of the Spirit, strife, contention, disunity with our spouses, our children, our church family, etc., will not be the fruit. Unity will be. Now, of course, the ungodly aren’t going to like it and will persecute us even further, but that is the difference in being in fellowship with one another. The reason we don’t share that is because we are full of ourselves instead of full of the Spirit. Amen?
So then, that brings us to chapter five, where we begin by seeing Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit by lying to Peter. Now I know we have mentioned this already, but it bears repeating that Peter was obviously walking in some serious communion with the Holy Spirit because this was a “word of knowledge” he was operating in through the Spirit. And by virtue of the fact that Peter equated them lying to him as them lying to the Holy Spirit shows me that he indeed saw he and the Holy Spirit as a team. In essence, he was saying, “Oh yeah, you think you are just lying to me, but you are also lying to the One who lives within me!” So, there is an obvious fellowship, communion, partnership going on here!
And then after everyone who was being brought to the apostles were being healed, the high priest and sect of the Sadducees had the apostles arrested, but after an angel came and set them free, they went back into the Temple and began preaching the words of this life. And when they went and arrested them again and brought them on trial, Peter said, “And we are His witnesses to these things (i.e. His crucifixion and resurrection), and so also is the Holy Spirit who God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)
So, here Peter is showing us that we are not the only witnesses that the Lord has on the earth; the Holy Spirit is also His witness—that is, He testifies of Jesus, glorifying Him in all things. And one of the greatest ways He does this is by the signs, wonders and miracles that He produces through Christ’s church. This is how He gives witness to the Lord’s resurrection—by exhibiting the same power in and through you and I today! So, Peter was basically saying here— “Yeah, we are doing our part in being Christ’s witnesses, but we are working together with the Holy Spirit who is doing His part in bearing witness of Christ’s resurrection!” Amen!
A GOOD REPUTATION, FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM
For example, in the very next chapter, we see a man named Stephen being chosen to become one who would help handle the operational things in the church. Now in their day, this is what a deacon was—simply a servant. In the church today, a deacon is given perhaps a little more responsibility in areas, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that the apostles recognized the need to have others handle some of these operational things.
However, their criteria for selecting those to help in these “waiting on tables” issues was that they have a “good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (see Acts 6:3). Now in the church today, we don’t have many leaders who hold to this standard, much less with those who serve within our churches.
But what this should encourage us all with is that you don’t have to be called to be an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, or a pastor to possess these virtues! Amen! Every believer can have a “good reputation,” can be “full of the Holy Spirit,” and also be full of “wisdom” just like these seven were! Now it is not that God chose to endow these seven men with these virtues and everyone else God passed over. No, the fact is, these guys somehow, someway chose the things they were walking in.
For example, the first thing that the Holy Spirit inspired them to seek out among the disciples was that they have a “good reputation.” The word that is used here simply describes one who bears witness or has a testimony. In other words, this person must simply be a good, solid witness for the things of God. And it’s significant that this was the first thing they mentioned looking for in these men, even before the fact that they needed to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Why is this important? It is because if you do not have character, integrity and are not a good witness of the Lord in your everyday affairs, then your spiritual giftings and the wisdom you have accumulated are not going to be readily received. Yes, your good name is the first thing that qualifies you to be the Lord’s servant.
But most people only think one’s good reputation is what qualifies one for serving in the church, but obviously the apostles thought differently. They believed one must also be full of the Spirit and the wisdom that descend from above!
Now I want you to notice that they were not simply looking for believers who had been baptized in the Holy Spirit sometime in the past. No, they were looking for believers who currently were full of the Holy Spirit. There is a big difference in those two things.
You see, the church today tends to put the emphasis on whether you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit or not; but the New Testament puts the emphasis on whether you are full of the Spirit right now in the present moment.
Now this requires some explanation because most of us “charismaniacs” think that once we got Him, we got Him! And while that is true to a certain extent; there is another side to it that we need to understand. You see, there is a difference between you having the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit having you. The question is: Is He currently filling your body? Is He in control of your senses? Does He have room in your mind? All of these things are the fruit of being “Spirit-filled.”
You know, I have comically heard it put this way: A preacher steals the money from the church and runs off with the secretary of the church (That would be a double foul here😊), and people will say, “I just can’t understand that! He was Spirit-filled!” Well, not that day he wasn’t, and probably not a few days before that. You just don’t do things like that when you are Spirit-filled—again, not just when you have been Spirit-filled a long time ago in a galaxy far-far away, but when you are right now full of the Spirit.
How many of you have been to a church that was “full” of a lot of so-called “Spirit filled” people and you felt like you experienced a spiritual hornet’s nest and a brood of vipers? I’m sure, many of us have. And unfortunately, this has brought a reproach to the things of the Spirit. But this is when we must understand that just because somebody dances, shouts, and speaks in tongues, doesn’t mean that they are fully yielding to the Holy Spirit on the inside of them.
But again, even if your ministry is “waiting on tables,” you have the capability to have a good reputation, to be full of the wisdom of God, and to be full of the mighty Holy Spirit. No, it is not just those in the “ministry” that need these virtues in their life; we all are a part of this ministry together and need to first have a good reputation, a secondarily be full of the Holy Spirit of God and the wisdom of God.
THE FRUIT OF BEING FILLED
So, let’s continue by looking at the life of this man named Stephen, who obviously lived a Spirit-filled life:
Then, in verse 5, after the whole multitude agreed with the apostle’s idea to select these “deacons,” they chose seven men, one of them being Stephen who was said to be not just full of the Holy Spirit, but full of faith too!
Now it is important to see that apparently one can be Spirit-filled and not be faith-filled—for none of the other six were said to be “full of faith.” Now what this indicates is that Stephen, on top of being full of the Holy Spirit was also full of the Word. Someone might say, “Wait a minute, Pastor! This verse said he was full of faith, not full of the Word.” Yeah well, how does one become full of faith? By hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17), amen? So, it is to be assumed that if Stephen was full of faith, then he must have also been full of the Word—and this becomes rather obvious as you continue reading through Acts chapter 7. His heart was certainly filled with God’s Word!
So, we again see a healthy balance in the life of a believer—living in the balance of being Spirit-filled while also being full of the faith which comes through God’s Word.
Then, beginning in verse 8, we start to see into the life of this deacon Stephen as he, being full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then in verse 10 we see how those who came to dispute with him were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Notice that they were not able to resist not only the wisdom that he possessed, but also the Spirit by which he spoke—showing us that when we are walking in the fullness of the Spirit, that we can actually experience Him speaking through us.
I don’t know about you, but I have certainly experienced this—generally when I have stood in front of groups of people. It seems as though the Holy Spirit takes over and I am outside of myself listening in to what is coming out of my mouth. Now that is not just something reserved for your pastor. It should be the fruit of every Spirit-filled believer when we might be sharing one on one with someone. My point is that we all should be so full of the Spirit that our words confound those who oppose us. Like Jesus saying, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” or “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” This is both the wisdom and the Spirit we are all capable of speaking by! Amen!
Then when they brought Stephen before the council, God’s Word says that they looked at him and he had the face of an angel (vs. 15). Now that does not mean that he had a baby face and was clean-shaven. This is a reference to the Spirit that he was full of! So, what this means is that being full of the Holy Spirit will oftentimes change our countenance. He’ll make you better looking, praise God! But you know, people labor over all kinds of physical things to look better. I’m of the persuasion that the best form of “make-up” is the Holy Spirit! Amen!
Then for 52 verses in Acts chapter 7, Stephen expounded upon the Word of God straight from his heart—which is another effect that being full of the Holy Spirit has on us, having a great knowledge and memory of God’s Word.
Then finally, in Acts 7:55-56, after the council listened to Stephen’s long teaching and then his bold rebuke, they became very angry and gnashed at him with their teeth. Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. So, by the wording here, we see that Luke was saying here that being full of the Holy Spirit is what enabled Stephen to perceive the spiritual realm. You see, many times we, in our carnality, have no perception of the spiritual realm whatsoever, but God wants us to be so full of His Spirit that we are more conscious of the spiritual realm than this physical realm.
So, all of these things point towards the fruit of a Spirit-filled life of communion between us and him: We will be bolder to both speak and share what God has given us. We will operate in union with Him—bearing witness along with Him. Our words will change. Our countenance will change. Our perspective will change. Yes, like King Saul did when the Holy Spirit came upon him, we will be changed into another man (see First Samuel 10:6)!
THE SPIRIT IN SAMARIA
So, let’s move on and look at some more of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Early Church.
As we move on to Acts chapter 8, we see how Saul then became the church’s greatest threat, being the one who consented to Stephen’s death. But as the church was scattered everywhere through Saul’s persecution, another one of those deacons named Philip began preaching the Word and performing signs and wonders, which teaches us an important lesson:
The beauty of the communion of the Holy Spirit, is that we are not man-dependent. Sure, Stephen’s death might have seemed to leave a big void in the Church because of the awesome reputation he had, the Word that He knew, and the signs and wonders he performed, but God raised up another one of those deacons to continue preaching Christ and operating in the supernatural. So, what does this teach us? It shows us that we should not put our trust in flesh and blood. Great men and women of God come and they go. And while we honor the gifts He gives us in these people, the Holy Spirit who anointed them to be the blessing they were is still here, and He can raise up another to take their place. Amen! So, I say this to say that we are not to look to man, but to the One who anoints them.
So, we see this man Philip going down to Samaria and spreading the good news in both word and deed, and he baptized many of them in water. So it was, when the apostles in Jerusalem heard of all of the conversions Philip was having, Peter and John decided to come and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Now this creates an issue with some of the belief systems out there that one receives all of the Holy Spirit that they need when they are saved, because these Samaritans were water baptized which shows that they were born again already. Therefore, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that occurs after one is saved, not automatically as a result of one being saved.
So, after they preached the gospel in many villages in Samaria, we move on to the next event in Philip’s ministry where he shared with the Ethiopian Eunuch: Now we see how an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip in verse 26 to go south to a road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, this being a deserted place. This shows us the ministry of angels at work in our new covenant, which we should certainly be open to.
You see, Philip evidently needed these specific directions—for to go to a deserted place might seem a little strange and easily dismissed if these instructions had come in the more regular way that God speaks to us.
So, to Philips credit, “he arose and went” (vs. 27), and when he came to this road, he saw the Ethiopian Eunuch who just happened to be reading the Book of Isaiah. Then notice what happened… Verse 29 says, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake the chariot.’” That translation is somewhat difficult to understand, but basically what Philip was told to do was to “approach the chariot and be glued to it.” But my point is, who told him to do it? The Spirit said this to Him. We will get back into this in a moment, but first I want us to see what else happened in this story…
So, we know the rest of the story: Philips comes alongside of his chariot and hears him reading out of the Book of Isaiah. So, he begins a dialogue with him which results in his salvation and being baptized. Then notice how after Philip baptizes him and they came out of the water that the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away (the same terminology used in First Thessalonians 4:17 of the “rapturing” of the church at Christ’s Second Coming)—describing a snatching away of an individual with sudden force. So, here we see another potential ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives!
Now this does not mean that we need to go around “believing God” to start translating us physically from one place to another—for we don’t see any indication of Philip expecting this to happen. What it does mean, however, is that we need to certainly be open to this happening in our lives as the Spirit wills. And I believe that one of the ways that we can open ourselves up even further to this happening is by doing the things Philip was doing.
You see, Philip was busy! This guy would go anywhere the Lord told him to and do anything He told him to do. So, when we are about our Father’s business and are traveling from here to there, preaching the gospel and serving the Lord, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Spirit of God giving us a little extra grace and helping us be even more productive. Never forget this one thing: If you and I are good stewards of the time we currently have, He will give us more of it (i.e. time)! And I believe that is exactly what the Holy Spirit was doing for Philip here—giving him more time in the cities from Azotus to Caesarea (see vs. 40).
But again, how did this supernatural experience come about? It was by Philip being sensitive to the direction God had given him and him being willing to work together with the Holy Spirit. Yes, when the Holy Spirit spoke to him, he obeyed. Amen.
THUS SAITH THE SPIRIT
In fact, we see this in other places in the Book of Acts. For example, if you look ahead to Acts chapter 10, you will find the story of God pouring out the Holy Spirit on Cornelius’ household in Caesarea. And do you remember what happened after God gave Peter the vision and he was sitting there thinking about what God had just communicated to him? Acts 10:19-20 says that as he thought about the vision, “the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing.’” So again, we see the Holy Spirit speaking directly to God’s children throughout the Book of Acts.
Now, you know, when we hear the voice of God—receiving statements like this in our hearts—we need to understand who it is that we are hearing. In this case, it was the Holy Spirit. You see, I believe when we hear the voice of God (other than a booming voice from the heavens) that what we are hearing is the voice of the Holy Spirit—for He is the Member of the Godhead living within us. Amen! In fact, how did Luke know to say that it was the Holy Spirit who told Philip this? Why didn’t he say, “God said” or “The Lord Jesus said”? I believe it was because he apparently knew that this was not some audible voice from the heavens, but they were words that originated from within Philip.
You see, church, the Holy Spirit desires to speak to us just like He did to Philip here—giving us specific directions and instructions. And the issue is not with Him speaking, but with us hearing. It is like with the example I’ve heard Pastor Robert use before of the man who wanted to test his wife and see how well she listened to him and so he, from the other room, asked his wife, who was in the kitchen, what was for dinner from the other room. So, when he didn’t hear her answer, he walked to just outside the kitchen and asked again. No answer. So then he came inside the kitchen and asked her again what was for dinner. Then his wife answered, “For the third time, chicken!” What is the moral of that story? It wasn’t the wife speaking that was the problem; it was his hearing that was broken.
Likewise, the problem is not with the Holy Spirit speaking. He is always desirous to speak to us and, in fact, is always speaking to us. So, it is not His transmitter that is broken; it is our receiver than needs fine tuning. Therefore, we ought not be praying— “Lord, please speak to me!” Our prayer ought to be— “Lord, help me to hear you speaking to me!”
So, I believe He wants to grant that petition right now: Let’s first look at Acts chapter 13 where I believe we can find one tremendous key to increasing our sensitivity to hearing His voice…
In this example we are looking at, we see Paul & Barnabas being set apart and appointed to the work God had called them to. Well, what we see in this is that it was the Holy Spirit who said to separate them for the work to which He had called them. But what was this group of men doing that initiated the Spirit saying this? Acts 13:2 says, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said…” So, I believe it was the fact they were both fasting and ministering to the Lord that positioned them to hearing the Spirit saying this to them. Therefore, learning to praise, worship and thank the Lord—ministering to Him through these things—and also fasting was what initiated this direction from the Holy Spirit.
Now how He said this, we are not sure, but I would venture to say it was through the prophets who were present. And that leads me to my next point…
I believe one of the biggest hindrances we have to hearing the Holy Spirit is in our belief system of how he speaks to us. You see, when we see Scriptures like these that tell us “the Spirit said,” we tend to look for his voice in a carnal fashion—meaning, we look for the words, sentences, and even paragraphs like we hear when speaking with one another. And while I certainly believe that the Holy Spirit speaks like this too—meaning, He we can hear His voice like Philip & Peter did in these examples—there are other ways in which He speaks to us that are much more subtle and can be missed if we are ignorant of these things. Let me give you some examples here in Acts:
In Acts 11:28 we see how a Prophet named Agabus, who came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, “showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world.” In other words, this prophet gave a word by the Holy Spirit which prepared the churches for this famine that was coming. We see more warnings like this from the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 21 when Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem through the Spirit by some disciples in Tyre (Acts 21:4). In fact, we see Paul saying earlier in Acts 20:23 that the Holy Spirit was testifying in every city that he went, that chains and tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem. Then, just a few verses later in Acts chapter 21, that same prophet Agabus gave Paul a word in Caesarea that the Jews would deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:11). And in this example, we are told that when he prophesied this over Paul, he began by saying, “Thus says the Holy Spirit…”
Saints, it is time that we begin to understand prophecy from a New Testament perspective, and not the Old: It is no longer God on the outside speaking from heaven saying, “Thus saith the LORD…” Now it is the Lord speaking from the inside of the hearts of men saying, “Thus saith the SPIRIT…”! Praise God! And He is still speaking today through the mighty Holy Spirit! He is still raising up prophets who are governed and inspired by the Holy Spirit, giving us warnings, directions, etc.
However, this is not the only way He speaks. Sure, the Holy Spirit will communicate words directly to us to where we hear His voice. Sure, the Holy Spirit will anoint men and women to prophecy in His name. But the Holy Spirit’s predominant way of communicating with us is through what I would call the inward witness. Let me show you a few examples of this in the Book of Acts:
IT SEEMED GOOD
In Acts chapter 15, we see that there was a big conflict that arose in the Church over the issue of circumcision. And after the council determined that the Gentiles should not be required to keep the law and become circumcised, they wrote a letter to the Gentile churches. And in this letter, they said something that I believe it very critical for us to understand. They said in verse 25 that it seemed good to them to send certain chosen men to them with Barnabas & Paul. Then, in verse 28, they said that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well as to them. Therefore, verses 25 & 28 both say that they made two major decisions based on the fact that it simply just seemed good to them and to the Holy Ghost.
Therefore, their decision to send these chosen men to these Gentile churches came as a result of it seeming good to them. But their doctrinal decision to not impose the burdens of the law on them was made because it both seemed good to them and to the Holy Spirit.
Now back up to verse 22 because I want you to notice who these chosen men were. Of course, there was Barnabas and Paul, but we are told that they also sent Judas (i.e. Barsabas) and Silas. (Remember this name Silas because he is a significant part of this chapter).
Then down in verse 28, we are told--“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” So, they also concluded that their decision to send them this letter and not heap their convictions upon them was not just what seemed good to them, but it also seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well. Amen!
So I want you to get this point right here: The church leaders were “led by the Holy Spirit” to both send chosen men along with Barnabas and Paul and also to make an extremely important decision in the time of the early church. So how were they led? By what seemed good to them and what seemed good to the Holy Spirit!
Now after this group of men were sent to Antioch to deliver this message to their Gentile brethren, they stayed there for a time exhorting and strengthening the disciples (see verses 30-33). But, this is another important point: After these chosen men decided to return to Jerusalem, we are told that it “seemed good” (again) to Silas to remain there (verse 34). Now it is important to note that Paul and Barnabas also stayed because they had already been called to that area before returning to Jerusalem earlier in the chapter with the prior issue.
Now a situation happened beginning in verse 36 where a contention arose between Paul and Barnabas: The background to this contention was that Paul suggested that they depart and return to every city where they had preached and see how these churches were doing. So Barnabas agreed, but he wanted to bring John (called Mark) along with them. Now Paul did not want to bring Mark because of how he departed from them on a prior mission. Well, the contention became so intense that Barnabas took Mark and departed from Paul. This, of course, left Paul alone. Who was he going to minister side by side with now? You got it! Silas—the one who had stayed in the area just because it seemed like the right thing to do!
So, let’s back up for a second: Why was Silas even sent to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to begin with? Verses 22&25 tell us he was one that was chosen to go because it seemed good to the leadership. And why was he still in Antioch even when the others had returned? Verse 34 tells us that it was because it seemed good to Silas to remain there. Amen!
So, what was the ultimate fruit of all of these decisions? Silas was in the right place at the right time to get hooked up with the great apostle Paul and to find the opportunity of a lifetime to travel and minister alongside of him! And he was put on the path God willed for him because, first, his leadership was led by the Spirit of God and, second, he was led by the Spirit of God. And again, saints, both parties were simply led by it just seeming like the right thing to do. So, we could say it this way: Silas was in a good place, at a good time, because it just seemed good. That is so powerful to me!
WHEN IT SEEMS BAD
But it is to be understood that if the Holy Spirit will bear witness with us when it seems good to proceed with something that He will also bear witness with us when it seems bad to proceed.
We see this in Acts chapter sixteen before Paul received his vision of the Macedonian man imploring them to come help them. You see, Paul and Silas would have ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time (even though they were doing something good) if they would not have been walking in this communion with the Holy Spirit because we see in Acts 16:6-7 that, although they had originally intended to go to first Asia and then Bithynia, that the Scriptures tell us that were both “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” and that “the Spirit did not permit them.”
Now a good question at this point would be this: How did they know that the Holy Spirit was “forbidding” them to go into Asia and that He was not “permitting” them to go to Bithynia? Well, perhaps He spoke to them, but I believe (and have personally experienced) that the primary way that He does this is through that witness I’m telling you about.
You see, when I try to plan something and there is just this awkward, uneasy feeling in my heart, I have learned to pay attention to it. (And I am not talking about in my head, but in my spirit). How many times have you just known on the inside that you need to not go there or do that, and you did it anyways, and then it created all kinds of problems? Well, that “seeming bad” that you sensed was likely the Holy Spirit on the inside of you “forbidding” or not “permitting” you to do and you hit that proverbial override button.
Now the way that the Holy Spirit bears witness is perceived differently by each one of us. I have heard these “red lights” that He gives us as being a loss of peace, a scratching feeling on the inside, etc. To me, it is just a matter of if something seems bad or seems good. And I act only on what I am picking up on in my heart. So, however you would describe that Holy Spirit witness on the inside of you, the bottom line is that the Holy Spirit who dwells in our spirit is there to bear witness with us on the various steps we take in this life. So, it is up to us to learn how to discern His leading—not relying on our own understanding, but relying on what seems good in our hearts. This is the predominant way that the Spirit will direct us in our everyday lives.
Therefore, we can clearly see the Spirit speaks, that He leads us, and that He helps us. And when we begin to work together with Him by learning to listen to Him, follow His impressions, etc., we will be in position to see the fruit that we so desire! And we see this in Acts chapter 9. So, let’s conclude this series by looking at Acts 9:31…
THE BEST CHURCH GROWTH FORMULA
Then after we see Saul’s conversion in Acts chapter 9, we see in verse 31 how “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” So, notice how they were multiplied as they walked in both the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Now we will get more into this in the future, but this “comfort” that the Holy Spirit was to the Early Church is what the Lord Jesus said He would be—the One called alongside of us to help us. This word describes His encouragement, strengthening, and assistance. And this help from the Helper is one of the ways in which the Church grew—showing us that the best “church growth plan” includes for each of us to walk in the help of the Holy Spirit. Far too many Christians and churches try to build things and grow in their own strength. And as the Scriptures clearly teach us—"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (see Psalm 127:1)
However, if we walk in the strengthening, leadership, and compassion—the communion—of the Holy Spirit, growth will always be the by-product. For example, if a church like us walks in communion with Him, we will always grow in numbers. Likewise, if an individual believer walks in this communion with the Holy Spirit, they too will grow. The increase comes from God, saints, and the Holy Spirit is who is working in us to both will and to do for His own good pleasure! Amen!
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