The Book of Acts – THE WORK OF STRENGTHENING LOCAL CHURCHES
Each time that we go through the book of Acts, our spirits are lifted to read of the early saints making great efforts to teach the lost. Their evangelistic outreach was fantastic. But what about after lost people were converted? What took place after new congregations were established? The answer is, in the book of Acts we see a concentrated effort made to strengthen/edify/build up the new Christians and newly formed local churches.
When the church in Jerusalem learned that the gospel had gone to Antioch of Syria, it sent Barnabas to go to Antioch to assist the new disciples. Once there, he encouraged the new converts to continue with the Lord (Acts 11:22,23). In this instance, we see that one local church helped to build up a sister congregation. How? By sending manpower – the “good man” Barnabas encouraged and worked with the Antioch saints (11:23-26).
At a later time, when Barnabas and Saul were preaching together in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, they worked, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). Look at what transpired. First, Saul and Barnabas preached the gospel in those cities, and conversions resulted. Then, after those people were in the Christ, what happened? Those two faithful brothers made the effort to strengthen the new converts. Note: This happened on Paul’s first-recorded preaching trip.
Following the conclusion of that preaching journey, after the passing of some time, Paul suggested to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). Such “visiting” and “seeing” the saints would involve more than just going to look at their physical appearance and eating meals with them! When Barnabas and Saul were unable to agree on whether or not John Mark should join them on a return journey to the churches, Barnabas and Saul temporarily went their separate ways. The Bible says that Silas teamed with Saul, and as they went through Syria and Cilicia, they were busy “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). Note: This happened on Paul’s 2nd-recorded preaching trip.
On that same journey, “. . . the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). Observe that the strengthening which the church received was “in the faith,” that is, in the spiritual realm. [In this instance, the Greek word for “strengthened” is the same word that the Holy Spirit used to describe what happened to the ankle bones of a former lame man (Acts 3:7). Just as his physical body received strength, so the churches of God were strengthened in the spiritual realm.]
Back to Paul’s preaching journeys. Would you like to guess what he did with congregations during his third preaching trip? In the early stages of that journey, he “went over the region of Galatia ad Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23). Yes, Paul had the habit of making an effort to build up already-existing congregations. We see him doing that on his first preaching trip (14:22), second trip (15:41; 16:5), and the third one, too (18:23). Today, if we really want to follow the New Testament pattern of doing things, then we will do more than send a group of people to spend a few days teaching the lost. We need follow up, follow up, follow up, taking the time and putting in the effort to build up those who have obeyed the gospel.
If you look carefully at the language which we have seen in the book of Acts, you will see these terms employed: (1) “the souls of the disciples” were strengthened (14:22); (2) “the disciples” themselves were strengthened (18:23); (3) “the churches” were strengthened (15:41; 16:5). Though different wording is used, the ideas are the same. Churches of the Christ are strengthened when individual disciples are strengthened, and the part of disciples which is strengthened is their soul/spiritual being. If you and I are thinking about building up a local church, this is where our emphasis needs to be.
We are convinced that congregations of the Lord’s church are strengthened today in the same fashion that they were in the first century. What “worked” then “works” now – God’s word does not change, nor do the spiritual needs of His people (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
When we look at the divine record of the strengthening of local churches which took place nearly 2000 years ago, there are some things that are noticeably absent. In the book of Acts, we do not see the philosophy that a church’s spiritual development takes place by accident. The early saints surely did not take a passive approach – they went to work. Such work can be difficult, time-consuming, and patience-testing. Yet, it is worth it, because the labor put forth to strengthen churches is helping people prepare themselves for heaven (Acts 20:32).
We have to find a balance. The lost need to hear the gospel (Mark 16:15,16), and the flock of God needs to be fed and nourished (Acts 20:28). Both works require great amounts of time and effort, and neither can be neglected.
[To be continued]
— Roger D. Campbell