I taught missions in Bible college and seminary for forty years. As you can imagine, I taught the book of Acts many times. Every time I did, a student would ask, “Why don’t we see the events of Acts in our churches today?” I always answered the same way, “We don’t pray the way they prayed, and we’re not filled with the Spirit as they were. (“They” referring to the believers in Jerusalem.) Why did I answer in that way?
Several passages in the early chapters of Acts tell how the believers in Jerusalem prayed together in groups:
Acts 1:14–All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Acts 2:42–And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 4:31–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 12:5–So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (all from the ESV)
Clearly, the early Christians valued and practiced group prayer. Acts 2:42 tells us that they “devoted themselves” to prayer. In the churches I’ve served, we struggled to get folks to come to a prayer meeting. At the church I pastored in Kentucky we had 300-350 for worship on Sunday morning, but I would have been thrilled to have 30 come to Wednesday night prayer meeting. I believe many churches have discontinued Wednesday night prayer meeting due to lack of interest. We claim to be New Testament churches, but group prayer is a big difference between then and now. Well, what about the filling of the Holy Spirit?
Filling by the Holy Spirit
Similarly, several passages in Acts tell how the believers in Jerusalem were filled with the Holy Spirit:
Acts 2:4–And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Acts 4:8–Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
Acts 4:31–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. (all from ESV)
So, we see that the Christians in Jerusalem were filled with the Spirit again and again. This accords with the Apostle Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:18—“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (ESV) A literal translation of the Greek here would be “be being filled” or “keep on being filled.” Most modern churches do not emphasize the filling of the Spirit, but filling characterized the believers in the Jerusalem church. Some Southern Baptists harbor misgivings about the filling of the Holy Spirit. They fear outbursts of strange behavior. Some years ago, I asked Dr. John Polhill about this. He taught New Testament and Greek at Southern Baptist Seminary for 40 years, and he wrote the commentary on Acts in the New American Commentary. I asked, “What was the result of the Holy Spirit’s filling in the New Testament church?” He replied, “the bold proclamation of the gospel.” It seems to me that our faltering evangelism in the SBC can be attributed, at least in part, to our lack of prayer and spiritual power. The Lord Jesus Himself declared in Acts 1:8—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Notice that the filling of the Spirit precedes the witnessing.
We can see the connection between prayer, the filling of the Spirit, and evangelism in Acts 4:31.
They prayed; they were filled with the Spirit; and they proclaimed the Word of God boldly.
So, dear readers, let me pose two questions to you.
- Do you agree with my answer to the students’ question?
- And, do you believe we can see the events in the book of Acts reprised today?