This series of articles is based on ministry given at a Conference in Ukraine in July, 2009.
"THEY THAT GLADLY RECEIVED HIS WORD" (Acts 2.41)
Acts chapter 2 is a remarkable chapter, a turning point in human history. For the first time ever, it had been possible for a man, filled with the Holy Spirit, to stand up and publicly make known the gospel of the grace of God. No longer will there be a distinction between Jew and Gentile - the church age has been ushered in. God is beginning to call out of every nation under heaven a people who will be known as Christians, and who will be responsible for declaring to the world the wonderful message of "salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom 1.16).
The seven pillars
In that same chapter, the Holy Spirit sets out for us seven things that characterised these people:
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers" (vv.41-42).
These verses can be regarded as a summary of the features that ought to mark every Christian - they present to us the "Fundamentals of the Faith". It is common to find groups of seven things in the Word of God, and they are usually divided into a group of four and a group of three. These seven things follow this pattern: three are things that should only happen once (they "gladly received his word", they were baptised, and they were "added" - i.e. they joined a local church), while the other four are things that should be seen throughout the Christians life (they "continued steadfastly" in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers). In this series of articles we shall consider each of these features in turn.
Response to the gospel
The first of these seven features that marked the early believers, and ought also to mark us, is this: they gladly received His word. We can think of this in two ways.
First, and most obviously, these early believers had responded to the gospel. The gospel is Gods good news for mankind, concerning His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom 1.3). It tells us that although we have all sinned (Rom 3.23), and are all therefore subject to the judgment of God (Rom 6.23), God loves us. Because of His great love, He sent His Son into the world to bear the punishment of our sins (Jn 3.16). Those who repent and put their trust in Him receive the free forgiveness of all sins (Acts 13.38-39), and have peace with God (Rom 5.1). No other message in the world offers such a wonderful thing! Have you "received His word"? If not, receive it today!
Second, they were people who were characterised by obedience to the word of God: they "received" it. This is the single most important characteristic of successful Christian living: when God speaks, I must listen to His voice. This of course raises a most important question:
How does God speak to us today?
Without being too dogmatic or proscriptive, we could say that He does so in four ways.
Through His Word, the Bible. This is by far the most important way in which God speaks to us. The Bible is Gods infallible message to all mankind in every era, inspired by Him, and profitable for us (2 Tim 3.16). Every principle that we need in order to live for Him is found within the pages of the Bible. No matter what our circumstances, no matter where we live, no matter what stage of life we are at, the Bible delineates Gods will for us as believers. It is never wrong. Whether it speaks about matters of Earths origin, matters of present-day morality, or matters concerning the distant future, it is utterly reliable. In light of this, there is one very obvious practical implication for us all: if I want to know the will of God for my life, I must read my Bible. This does not merely mean the occasional reading of a random chapter; still less does it mean that I read it only when I am at the meetings of my local assembly. If I am serious about my Christianity I must systematically read and study the Bible. It is a good plan for every believer to read through the whole Bible over the course of a year. This involves reading three or four chapters every day - either (for example) consecutively from Genesis to Revelation, or from the Old Testament in the morning and the New Testament at night. Whatever scheme is decided upon, the important thing is to ensure that I get into the habit of daily reading. We will deal more with this subject in a later article, but for now it will be enough just to state the principle - if I do not make a habit of reading the Bible, I will never hear the voice of God speaking to me.
Through other Christians. While believers are responsible to read the Bible for themselves, God can also speak through other Christians. Whether it be through the public ministry of a respected teacher of the Scriptures, or a private conversation with a godly older sister in her own home, it is possible for God to use a human mouthpiece to speak to us. The advice of believers who are closer to God than I am can be a very useful way of hearing the voice of God speaking to my heart.
Through circumstances. If God is leading me in a particular direction, circumstances will come together in order for me to do what He wants me to do. This is seen, for example, in the experience of Abrahams servant in Genesis 24. The servant having been sent by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac, God ensures that the woman who comes to the well (in response to the servants prayer) is the woman who has been marked out for Isaac. In a similar way, if I am seeking to follow the will of God, especially in regards to such questions as "Where should I work?", or "Whom should I marry?", or "What form of service should I be engaged in for God?", then the Lord will see to it that circumstances are arranged to make it possible for me to do what He wishes. My responsibility is to pray for His mind to be revealed, and then to obey.
Through my conscience. Sometimes Gods Spirit speaks not by "external" means, but through my conscience. He may speak in this way to stop me from doing wrong, to make me aware that I have done wrong, or to command me to do some particular thing for Him. Very often in the experience of believers this is the first awareness they have that God is guiding them in some particular way. If this is so then the vital thing is that this subjective "voice" is subsequently confirmed by objective evidence. If God is leading me in a particular path, then my initial conviction will be backed up by events falling into place. Conversely, if events prevent me from doing what I had hoped to do, it may well be that my conviction has not been of God, but merely the desire of my flesh. It can, of course, be difficult in such circumstances to distinguish between events that are the actions of Satan hindering me, or are those of the Spirit of God leading me in another direction. This is a vast subject, and largely outwith the scope of this article. Perhaps it will suffice to suggest that when God hinders me, He will direct me into some other area of service (see Acts 16.7-11), whereas Satan will simply seek to divert me into some ungodly activity. A mixture of patience and prayer will reveal the mind of God in the circumstance.
Finally, let us remember also that in all these things the Bible must have pre-eminence: if other Christians, or a set of circumstances, or even my conscience, seem to guide me in a way that contradicts the Scriptures, then they, and not the Bible, are wrong. In every decision of life my guide must be, "What does the Bible say about this?". The early believers "gladly received his word" - let us see to it that we do likewise.
To be continued.