February 1, 1998
The overarching story in the book of Acts is the evangelism of the lost: the early believers shared and witnessed the good news of the Lord Jesus, and God added to their numbers daily. A Spirit-filled church is not self-centered and self-contained but mission-driven by nature. This does not mean that every child of God needs to evangelize in a faraway land, though. Carrying out missionary discipleship within our normal daily routine can equally bring glory to God.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I’d like to read from 2 Corinthians 5:11—2 Corinthians 5:11.
2 Corinthians 5:11:
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than … what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Now before we look to the Scriptures briefly, let us pause and pray together. Let us all pray:
Our gracious God and heavenly Father, we bless and praise you for the privilege of being able to come together tonight, and from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances to seek your help in turning our hearts and minds towards you, the living God; to turn our gaze to your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; and to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit in all that we say and do. We realize that to gather in this way is increasingly different from so much of what goes on around us. We feel the pull and the tug to adopt similar patterns to others. And yet we feel a sense of compulsion to look to you and to look to your Word without any sense of smug self-centeredness, without any desire to draw attention to ourselves or even to suggest to ourselves that we are somehow in a more privileged position before you as a result of our evening activities. But we do recognize that when we gather in your name, we gather in your presence, that it is good for us to do so; that you promise to be amongst your people in the breaking of the bread, in the celebration of Communion with one another in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we thank you tonight that in the Lord Jesus we have a Savior for sin; that the wonder of the gospel is that you justify sinners; that when we were in the most dire situation, without any prospect of escape, Christ came at just the right time and bore our sins in his body on the tree; and as a result of your gracious initiative in our lives, that we have come to you in repentance and in faith and in childlike trust. And not only have you granted to us a new status as your sons and daughters, but you have given us a new nature, and we find ourselves new creations, the old gone and the new having appeared.
And so we pray tonight that as we think concerning the truth of your Word, that you will teach us from it, and that as a result of being stirred by it, we may live in obedience to it. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
While we are studying in the mornings through 1 Timothy, we have in the evenings turned to the little descriptive section which comes at the end of Acts chapter 2. And we have been going through this passage and recognizing that there was a pattern in the developing church which was striking in its day and which gives to us something of a thumbnail sketch of the kind of activities and characteristics which ought to be true of God’s people in every place and at all times.
And we have been seeing that these early Christians were involved in the context of a relationship with one another and were learning from the apostles’ teaching, they were benefiting from their fellowship with one another, and they were engaging in worship as they had been encouraged and instructed to by the Lord Jesus in relationship to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and also in smaller ways in their homes and in more formalized ways when they came together in the temple courts.
And what we have come to this evening is the phrase in the second half of verse 47—indeed, the concluding phrase of chapter 2—“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” So while these early believers were learning and sharing and worshipping, they were not doing so at the expense of evangelism . And a man by the name of Boer—an unfortunate name, but that’s his name—writes concerning this, “Acts is governed by one dominant, overriding and all-controlling motif. This motif is the expansion of the faith through missionary witness in the power of the Spirit. … Restlessly the Spirit drives the Church to witness, and continually churches rise out of the witness. The Church is [a] missionary Church.” Now, he is not simply describing what we are reading here in Acts chapter 2, but he is describing the nature of the church in every generation. These individuals, as I say, were not so preoccupied with these other elements and these various activities as to forget about witnessing.
And a Spirit-filled church—and indeed, anything other than a Spirit-filled church is something less than God intends —a Spirit-filled church is a related community. First of all, related to God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, related to the Scriptures, insofar as the Spirit-filled community submits to the instruction of Scripture—in the case of the developing church, submitting to the instruction of the apostles, which, of course, was in large part to become inscripturated. The Spirit-filled community is related to one another in the bonds of love, hence our singing this morning; related to God in the upward gaze of worship; and related to the world or the community or the culture in which it is set in relationship to witnessing. And these Christians, we discover, were engaged in continuous evangelism.
John Stott says, “No self-centered, self-contained church (absorbed in its own parochial affairs) can claim to be filled with the Spirit.” I want to say that again: “No self-centered, self-contained church (absorbed in its own parochial affairs) can claim to be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit. So a Spirit-filled church is a missionary church.”
And when we think in terms of mission, we’re thinking not only of that opportunity to send our resources as export models to any part and all parts of the world, but we’re thinking about the fact that when we have dispersed from one another in the gatherings for worship on the Lord’s Day, we are dispersed as witnesses to our communities. And we are to go and witness to the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. As keen as we may be to talk about all kinds of things that relate to what we enjoy here, our primary emphasis is to do what these early believers did—namely, to talk about the Lord Jesus himself.
Now, as a result of their engaging in witnessing, they experienced a quite dramatic growth. And, for example—and I won’t go through this in detail—but in Acts 1:15, we discover that there are about 120 people in the group—120 in the group, gathering for prayer. Within just a matter of days, in direct relationship to the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost, by the time you get to 2:41, they had gone up to 3,120. So they had experienced a growth of twenty-six times their original community. It’s significant growth. When you get to 4:4—even though Peter and John had been seized and placed in jail, even though the screws were being placed on them, as it were, in relationship to their evangelism—Luke records for us, “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” So they’ve gone from 120 to 3,000 to 5,000. And when you get to 5:14—although it doesn’t mention a number—we read again, “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” So you have this explosion of activity; you have this effervescent community of God’s people, who cannot help but speak of the things that they have encountered in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in their expressions, the Lord is adding “to their number daily those who [are] being saved.”
Now, we shouldn’t pass over this just too quickly. It’s good for us to ask the simple question, Who was it did the adding? Who did the adding? How were these people added? As a result of what? Well, the answer is, as a result of the Lord doing the adding. Who adds to the church? The head of the church. He who sits enthroned maintains the prerogative to admit people to the church’s membership. It is Christ, the head of the church, who adds to the church . Now, admittedly, he does so through means, and has made it perfectly clear that by the means of the preaching of the Word, by means of the worshipping of God’s people, by means of their wholesale, sold-out endeavors in personal witnessing, he will add people to the community of the faithful.
And it is very, very important for us to acknowledge that point, especially when so many endeavors in continuous evangelism—or in any kind of evangelism, for that matter—in local communities often are very man centered. They are often very man oriented. They have slick methodologies; they have little programs and little packets and little ideas and little schemes. And it would be possible—not wishing to diminish the rightful usage of these things—but it is distinctly possible for people to get the impression that there is a kind of mechanism, there is a “press button A, press button B” formula, whereby any church can just grow itself. And we really don’t need to worry about the Holy Spirit; if you just apply this methodology, it will all be fine. And so you go different places, and they have all of these mechanisms in place, and it’s not surprising, there are many, many people being added to the crowd. But there are, of course, many people being added to those who subscribe to Amway products, using very similar methodologies to those which are employed in a number of churches.
Therefore, the fact of an increase in numbers need not give any indication at all of the work of the Spirit of God. And that, you see, is why it is imperative that a local congregation always keeps its head concerning these things, and does not fall into the trap of using numerical growth as some quantifier of effectiveness in ministry or of the outstanding evidence of the Spirit’s work.
“Well,” you say, “are you not talking out of both sides of your mouth? Are you not on the one hand extolling this amazing expansion, and now you’re apparently decrying it?”
No. It may sound like that; let me try and clarify things. I am extolling the expansion which comes about as a result of God adding to the church, and I am decrying the kind of numerical preoccupation which says more about man’s ability to manipulate other people than it says anything about what God has chosen to do.
First Corinthians 3, Paul says, “I know that some of you are keen on Apollos, others of you are very strong on myself, some of you are following Cephas, and we all have a part in what God has assigned us.” He says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow”—“God made it grow.” “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants … the man who waters have one purpose … each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, [you are] God’s building.”
Wouldn’t it be a dreadful tyranny to have to waken up in the morning and try and build a church? Can you imagine the burden?
One of my weekly encounters with a fellow… this week he said to me, “I know you’re trying hard to save me, but you haven’t done it yet.”
And I said, “No, and I never will.” And he was changing, and he stopped. I said, “Furthermore, I haven’t saved anybody, ever.”
“Oh,” he said, “come now, there are lots of people go down to that place.”
I said, “Yeah. And God saved every one of them that’s saved.”
I don’t save anybody; you don’t save anybody. That would be dreadful, wouldn’t it? Can you imagine what your converts would look like? No, you see, this takes and places us where we need to be, on our knees, and understands God to be where he is, on the throne—acknowledges our helplessness and our inability to ultimately effectively communicate in a way that would see people’s eyes opened and ears unstopped. And so it is wonderful to realize that it is the Lord who does the adding.
Who was it that was being added? Well, the answer is “those who were being saved.” In other words, Christ did not add them to the church without saving them. He didn’t, if you like, have a friends category. He didn’t have a sort of nominal group: “I’m going to add some of you to the nominal group, and I’m going to add some of you to the core group.” No, everyone he added, he added having saved them.
Nor did he save them without adding them. So in the developing church, there was no nominalism; nobody was added to the group without being saved. In fact, fear was going around the place, especially after Ananias and Sapphira had dropped dead. Any sensible person was going, “You don’t want to get involved with this group. There’s some wild stuff going on there. See, apparently some guy and his wife cooked up some deal that they sold property and they tried to say it was worth more than it was. I heard the guy dropped dead! And apparently his wife came in, she lied through her teeth as well, and she dropped dead. You don’t want to get involved with that group.”
So there’s no idea of, “Hey, let’s go down to Jerusalem and… spin around on the fringes.” No! He didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church. There was no solitary Christianity. There is no such thing as solitary Christianity. There is no such thing as disconnected Christianity. Salvation, baptism, and membership all go together! Read the Bible! So this idea that I can opt in for one package but not the second part of the package or the third package—it’s all a package!
That’s all I want to say about that.
The third question is this: When were they being added? Who did the adding? The Lord. Who was getting added? Those who were being saved. When were they getting added? All the time. In fact, it’s in the imperfect tense; it says, “And the Lord kept adding to their number.” He “kept adding to their number.” The NIV actually translates it with this word “daily” in order to help us get to the point: “daily” the Lord was adding. Their evangelism wasn’t sporadic; it wasn’t occasional. It wasn’t that they went along for periods of time where they did nothing concerning witnessing—where they were not, as it were, living out their faith, where they were not telling others about Jesus—but they were just living their lives. And as a result of the overflow of a Spirit-filled life, men and women were coming to ask questions of them: “Why is it that you go to that place? Why is it that you declare Christ as your Lord? Why is it that you don’t say, ‘Caesar is Lord’? Didn’t I see you in the river getting baptized? What was that all about? Do you really believe that the Galilean carpenter is alive from the dead?” and so on. And the people in their homes and in the streets and in the bazaars were simply answering the questions, and as a result, God was adding daily to the community those that he was saving.
So don’t you think we should ask him to do this? If he, as our heavenly Father, delights to give good things to those that ask him, if he works in answer to prayer, if he works in relationship to our unfettered and zealous commitment to let others know that we belong to the Lord Jesus, don’t you think we ought to give it a go? You say, “Well, we are.” I know. In fact, one of the things that excites me as I travel is, people always ask me, “And what is your strategy at Parkside for evangelism? What are you doing?” It’s usually those guys who want to know if we’re having “revivals.” And I say, “No, we would like to have a revival, but God didn’t do it yet. You know, we’re asking him for one, but we didn’t know you could just, you know, kind of do it, you know, starting on Monday nights.” And I tell the people, I say, “Frankly, I don’t know, really, what’s going on at Parkside. I just get a distinct impression that our people are living out their Christian life on a daily basis. As a result of that, through friendship, evangelism, through the opportunity to engage people in conversation, the chance to come near them in their need, the opportunity to share with people in their joys and in their encouragements, people are actually coming to faith in Jesus Christ.” And so we thank God for that.
But we want to see it happen more and more. For the sake of numbers? No. Why? Because “Christ’s love compels us.” Isn’t that what Paul said in the reading that we had, 2 Corinthians 5? In fact, he backs it up and he says, “Knowing … the [fear] of the Lord, we persuade men.” “Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try and persuade men.” We want to be persuasive. We’re not going to be ashamed; we want to be persuasive. He says in verse 14, “It’s the love of Christ that compels us, because we’re convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
“It’s this whole matter of what was happening on the cross,” he says, “which has burned itself into our lives, and so much so that we don’t even look at people from a worldly point of view anymore. We’re tending not to look at people in terms of what we can get out of them. We’re not looking at them simply as patients, simply as clients, simply as pupils, simply as instructors, but we’ve now begun to look at them in a whole different way.”
“And what we’ve discovered”—verse 20—“is that we’ve been made the ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s as though Christ himself is making his appeal through us.” Isn’t that a staggering thought? That through you, Christ makes his appeal? That he appeals to people who are your work colleagues, and your school chums, and your friends, and your family, and he makes his appeal through you? He who could do it in a vacuum, if he chose, has determined to use the likes of you and me? What a wonder!
And so we need, then, to ask that God would give us the kind of stirrings in our hearts that were stirring in the heart of the apostle Paul. Paul was so very honest about things. When he writes to the Corinthians… I hope in 1 Corinthians 9, ’cause that’s where I’m going. It is. About verse 19, he says, “Though [I’m] free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone”—notice the phrase—“to win as many as possible.”
And read it like you’re an area sales manager, right? For Xerox Corporation? Don’t you want a guy like this on your sales team? He gets up in the morning and you say to him, “What are you going to do today?”
He says, “I am going to sell as many as possible.”
“Good man! Go for it. And what are you going to do on Tuesday?”
“I am going to sell as many as possible. I am consumed with the idea of putting copy machines in as many places as I possibly can.”
Some of you are becoming wealthy on that very basis alone. Okay?
Paul says, “This is what drives me. I get up in the morning,” he says, “and I want to win as many as possible for Jesus Christ. That’s my goal!” he said.
When he goes into the city of Athens, it is therefore understandable, in Acts 17, that when he looks around, it says he was absolutely stirred in his spirit because when he saw all of the altars and all of the shrines and all of the interest in spiritual things, he was consumed within him—understandably, because he wanted to win as many as possible—and he saw all these people with religious zeal, and he said to himself, “Oh, I wish I had the opportunity to tell every one of them about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” And so he says to himself, “Well, I might as well start where I am,” and in the marketplace he begins. And they begin to call for him and ask him, and he explains. Why does he do so? Because of what’s inside of him.
So we need the stirring—I need the stirring in my heart—that Paul knew. It’s the stirring of the Spirit of God. I need the compassion in my heart that Jesus knew. Matthew 9:36—you’ll know it when you get there, if you go there: “[And] Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, [and] preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” And notice: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” And then he turned to his disciples and he said, “[You know,] the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. [Will you] ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field[?]”
In other words, “Do you want to get serious about missions?” Do you want to get serious about missions? Now, not everyone’s gonna become a Missionary with a large M, but everybody is a Witness with a big W. It’s just a question of where we want to invest our resources. I mentioned this morning that we probably have a staggering amount of money in retirement funds in this church. You know you should never trust my mathematics, but I think conservatively we probably have $100 million—conservatively—in retirement funds. It’d take 5.3 million to build a gymnasium. Would somebody like to tell me what the problem is here?
But forget the money for a moment, and take the potential of life, capacity, ability, genius, endeavor, drive, initiative, skill, talents, and giftedness, and then answer this question: Are you fully convinced that if you continue as you are, where you are, that you are honestly sold out for Jesus Christ in the issue of continuous evangelism? If the answer is yes, then go to it with boldness. If the answer is “I’m not sure,” then pray about it with consistency. And if the answer is no, then ask God to move you to where he wants you.
When we studied in Genesis—I thought about this this week in relationship to this, and you needn’t turn to it, because our time is gone—but in Genesis 40, when Joseph is in the jail with the cupbearer and the baker… Remember, he’s been unjustly accused; he never did anything in relationship to Potiphar’s wife. He was a model of purity. And just when his life was on track, just when things were going pretty well—he had a super job in a nice location—all of a sudden, he’s dumped in the jail. He’s got every reason in there to feel sorry for himself, to moan, to complain, to say, “You know, I managed to keep my spirits up for so long, but I don’t think I can do it any longer.”
And when they waken in the morning, we read this: “When Joseph came to them”—that’s to these two fellows—“he saw that they were dejected.” “He saw that they were dejected.” That’s pretty good, isn’t it? How did he see that they were dejected? ’Cause he was looking. See, if he was only consumed about the fact that he was stuck in the jail, and he shouldn’t have been in the jail, and he didn’t do anything wrong, and so on, and he was having his own celebration with his own little party for his pity, then he would never have had the occasion to notice that they were dejected. But it doesn’t simply say that “he saw that they were dejected”: “He asked [them], ‘Why are your faces so sad today?’”
I want to give you—and I’m going to take the same challenge I want to give you. If you will, in the next seven days, ask God—if we will, in the next seven days, ask God—to open our eyes to people around us who are obviously dejected, and if we will be bold enough to ask them one simple question—“Hey, why do you feel the way you feel today?” or “Why do you look the way you look today?”—not in every case, but in a staggering number of cases, you are going to find yourself with such a wide open door of opportunity to tell others about the amazing good news of Jesus Christ. And God, who adds to his church those who are being saved, stirs his people, engages us, reengages us, orientates us in another direction away from ourselves, in order that we might have the inestimable joy of seeing unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ.
One of my Christmas books is the Starbucks story. I’ve started to slow down in my reading of it because I’m enjoying it so much. I’m on page 253, and I put it aside ’cause I didn’t want it to finish. I’ve been intrigued by this guy, Howard Schultz. The growth is phenomenal, as you know. He had a vision when nobody understood what he was talking about. He said that people would refer to coffee as “Starbucks” before he was finished. He said that people would be walking in the streets of Chicago, all carrying his cups, and they would be identifiable by the symbol on the cup. He tried to get people to invest $4 million in his scatterbrained plan, and nobody hardly would believe him. One adventuresome physician with an extra $100,000 gave it to him one evening in a moment of passion. And when Starbucks was an initial public offering on Wall Street, the physician’s hundred grand returned him immediately $10 million.
And the amazing thing is this. I say to myself, “How can somebody get this excited about coffee?” But he’s not that excited about coffee. When he went to the people, to the merchant bankers, with the idea of an IPO, he didn’t just tell them about his dreams concerning coffee. He said this:
But, I told them, Starbucks was attempting to accomplish something more ambitious than just grow a profitable enterprise. We had a mission, to educate consumers everywhere about fine coffee. We had a vision, to create an atmosphere in our stores that drew people in and gave them a sense of wonder and romance in the midst of their harried lives. We had an idealistic dream, that our company could be far more than the paradigm defined by corporate America in the past.
“We had a mission. We had a vision. We had a dream.”
We got a mission. We got a vision. You ready to dream a little?
Gracious God, I just pray that you will help me not to talk about things that I’m unprepared to do—that as we think along these lines, that you will remind us of the wonder of your saving love, especially as we gather now around your table and think about redemption and at what great cost you saved us.
And we pray, Lord, that we may not get lost in ourselves; that you will give to us always a healthy sense of dissatisfaction; that you will keep before us always the vision of a company that no man could number, from every tribe and race and nation under the sun, gathered around the throne and declaring, “Christ is Lord and Savior and King.”
We pray that you will send us out to our immediate environment and to the ever-widening circles of influence to see unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ. For we ask it in his name. Amen.
 See Romans 5:6.
 See 2 Corinthians 5:17.
 Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 161.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church and the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990), 87.
 1 Corinthians 3:4–5 (paraphrased).
 See Acts 5:1–11.
 Acts 2:47 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 5:11 (KJV).
 Matthew 9:35–37 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 40:6 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 40:7 (NIV 1984).
 Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time (New York: Hyperion, 1997), 181.
 See Revelation 7:9.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.