Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31 NRSV)
Back on track!
When I went to the gym this week, I noticed that I was not alone. In December, I had free run of the place, and at night it could almost be a place of contemplation as only the truly dedicated were around. Now the gym is full, it is noisy from the equipment being used and the conversations people are having while trying to get in shape. People seem to be using the New Year to get back on track. To build themselves up again, perhaps so they can feel better about themselves and have peace.
The verse in Acts above serves as a simple transition between the story of the conversion of Paul and the story of Peter bringing the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time. Luke who wrote Acts often uses verses like this to provide for a smooth transition between parts of the church’s story. However, they do more than that; they communicate the virtues and values of the early church that Luke finds so important.
Built up for peace!
Luke tells us that the church was built up and had peace. Since so many of us are looking for these exact two things in our own lives, perhaps we should look to what he says. What we find in Acts 9:31 is that being built up and having peace in our lives is conditional. The condition that allowed for this to happen in the churches of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee was that they were “walking in the in the fear of the Lord.” They understood that God was present and close. They understood that God was working with and among them. They also respected what God was doing with them.
Just as important, they were walking “in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” The word we translate to mean “comfort” in the original Greek version of the Bible also means to counsel, to advise, or to advocate. Thus they were allowing the Holy Spirit guide and direct their decisions every moment of the day. The results were startling they were built up to become the people God had created them to be and they had peace, which in biblical terms means that they were completely whole once more.
Where to turn?
That the gym is full is sign to me that people are looking to be built up and have peace. That the churches are empty in January is a sign that people are looking in the wrong direction. The myth that you can whip yourself into shape without God and the power of the Holy Spirit is a lie of our culture. If you accept this temptation, you do so at your peril. For in reality the true Christian knows that there is in reality no self-help; there is only a path to follow. The path that our Savior trod to the cross and resurrection. By the first week in February most will abandon the gym again and it will quiet once more (good for me!) as people learn that being built up and having peace requires more than exercise.
For self-help will never be answer to our mortality, and until there is answer for that you will have no peace. So don’t leave the church just for the truly dedicated, come be built up and have peace which the world cannot give, but Jesus does.