Chapter 8: The Holy Spirit in the Acts
by B. Currie, N. Ireland
As this present publication indicates, there are references to the Holy Spirit found throughout the Bible. Even though chapter 3 has dealt with the ‘Presentation of the Holy Spirit’, and highlighted many of His titles, it may be worth mentioning that there are but three references to the title ‘Holy Spirit’ in the Old Testament. These are: "Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy holy Spirit from me" Ps.51.11; "But they rebelled, and vexed His holy Spirit … where is He that put His holy Spirit within Him?" Isa.63.10,11. Thus this is really a New Testament title. However, it is undeniable that the Bible abounds with references to the Person of the Holy Spirit. The first reference is in the second verse of the Bible, "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" Gen.1.2. The last reference is in the fifth last verse of the Bible, "the Spirit and the bride say, "come"" Rev.22.17. It is difficult to be definitive as to the exact number of references there are to the Holy Spirit, since in some instances the interpretation is open to debate, but it is correct to state that there are approximately 320 references. Of these some 54 or so (around one sixth of the total) are in the book of the Acts. Thus some have suggested that the title of this book could well be ‘The Acts of The Holy Spirit’. It is very instructive to list the occurrences of these references in each chapter. In chapters 2 and 8 there are 6 references in each, and in chapters 10 and 11 there are five in each. Thus chapters 2,8,10 and 11 must be very important to the subject being considered. It is discovered that these are indeed pivotal chapters as the story of the Acts unfolds. In chapter 2 the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost and this involved "Jews and proselytes" 2.10. In chapter 8 the gospel reaches to Samaria and chapters 10 and 11 record the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile, and his friends. Thus these chapters chart the fulfilment of 1.8, "ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
Also it is to be noted how the Acts forms the connecting link between the gospels and the epistles. In the gospels a Divine Person, the Son of God, came into this world in a body and His work is traced in these first four books of the New Testament. In the Acts another Divine Person comes to earth and forms the mystical body of Christ in which He dwells, and His work is traced in the chapters of the Acts.
The work of salvation is revealed in the gospels and the Lord Jesus accomplished that work alone. In the Acts, the Holy Spirit uses men to accomplish the work whereby the story of salvation is spread far and wide. Initially these men were apostles but before the book concludes attention is drawn to men who are called "elders" 20.17. Therefore this is a book of transition from the apostolic age to the new age or dispensation of the church; that is called "the day of salvation" 2 Cor.6.2. This is why there are truths connected with the Holy Spirit’s activity in those far off apostolic days that will not be seen presently because believers of this present age have a full revelation of Divine truth in the complete Bible. Further teaching along this line may be obtained in chapter 10 of this volume.
Again it is worthy of note that as we come to the historical sections of the Acts there are no references to the Holy Spirit – see chapters 3,12,14,17,18,21 – 27. When the record is narrative the Spirit instructed the human author, Luke, to record the work that was done rather than the Person who was empowering those who did the work. This is in accord with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come" Jn.16.13. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit would not speak about Himself. In the Bible a lot is learned about the Holy Spirit (hence books such as this one) and He was the Divine Instigator of such teaching. Rather the meaning is, that He shall not speak of His own authority, as if independent from the Father and the Son. The Lord Jesus said, "He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you" Jn.16.14. Thus the purpose of His coming here was to glorify the Son. Such an observation highlights the unscripturalness of those groups in which pre-eminence is given to the Spirit. It is to be underlined that concerning the Lord Jesus, this same Holy Spirit directed Paul to record, "in all things He might have the preeminence" Col.1.18.
To deal with each reference individually would take far more space than this publication permits, so the subject will be grouped under a number of headings.
This is a vitally important subject to comprehend clearly since it is the basis of a correct understanding of the New Testament. The Church as the body of Christ and the place in which Deity now resides is not found in the Old Testament. The Jewish tabernacle was constructed as a dwelling place for Jehovah, "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" Ex.25.8. This was eventually replaced by a number of temples from Solomon’s time to Herod’s, which was in use when the Lord Jesus was here on earth. In the programme of God’s dealings with men, Judaism and temple worship have passed away. This was visibly demonstrated when the High Priest rent his garments, Mt.26.65; Mk.14.63, and the veil of the temple was rent, Mt.27.51; Mk.15.38; Lk.23.45. These two events showed that this order of priesthood and this place of worship were obsolete. A new priesthood and a new sphere of worship were required and both were fulfilled in the church, which is an entirely New Testament concept.
This day of Pentecost was prophesied by type in the Feasts of Jehovah in Lev.23.15-21, called "the feast of weeks" in Deut.16.10. This is the meaning of the expression, "when the day of Pentecost was fully come" Acts 2.1. What had been prophesied had arrived. It was on this day that the body of Christ was formed. Up to Acts chapter 2 the disciples were individuals following the Lord Jesus, but in this event they were formed into one body that comprises both Jew and Gentile in the living organism that is the body of Christ. "There is one body" Eph.4.4. There could not be a body on earth until there was a Head in heaven and this the Lord Jesus became when He was exalted to God’s right hand, "… gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" Eph.1.21,22.
What happened on this day was also the fulfilment of the promise of the Lord Jesus in the gospel records: "… He shall baptize you with [in] the Holy Ghost …" Mt.3.11; "… He shall baptize you with [in] the Holy Ghost" Mk.1.8; "… He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost …" Lk.3.16; "…the same is He which baptizeth with [in] the Holy Ghost" Jn.1.33. These four verses deal with the subject prophetically. In the Acts it is dealt with historically and on only two occasions: "ye shall be baptized with [in] the Holy Ghost not many days hence" 1.5; "ye shall be baptized with [in] the Holy Ghost" 11.16. In the last and seventh reference it is the truth doctrinally, "For by [in] one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" 1 Cor.12.13.
From the frequent parenthetical amendments above, it will be appreciated that this is not a baptism either "with" or "by" or "of" the Holy Spirit but is invariably "in" the Holy Spirit. Many errors have arisen because this has not been noted. In any baptism three things are required: the person to be baptised, the person doing the baptising and the element into which the person will be baptised. In this Spirit baptism the church is to be baptised, the Lord Jesus is the Baptiser (note the language of the references in the previous paragraph and Acts 2.23) and the element is the Holy Spirit. This negates the common questions "Have you been baptised with the Holy Spirit?" or "Have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit?" There is no such thing in Scripture as either baptism "with", "by" or "of" the Holy Spirit.
Previously it has been stated that the doctrinal passage for this subject is 1 Cor.12.12,13. V.12 reads, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." This is the body and its fact. The definite article occurs before the word "Christ" and so the reading correctly is "the Christ" which is a technical term for Christ the Risen Head of the body and the church comprising the members. When did this commence? V.13 gives the answer and tells of the body and its formation: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." This verse is obviously divided into two parts: the first is something we cannot do for ourselves, and the second is something no one can do for us. The first is baptising and obviously we cannot baptise ourselves, and so the ‘body of Christ’ came into existence in Acts chapter 2 by a sovereign act that was historical and never repeated. Some object to the suggestion that Acts chapter 2 refers to baptism, since the word is not used. However, Acts 2.2 states that the Spirit "filled all the house where they were sitting". This unquestionably means that they were submerged or dipped completely in the Holy Spirit and so it was a real baptism. The second is drinking, which no one can do for us. At the moment of our conversion we exercised our responsibility and, by faith, drank in the truth of the gospel message and at that instant became partakers of the life-giving Spirit of God. Here, as throughout the Bible, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility go hand in hand together. This drinking has nothing whatsoever to do with partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
With regard to the baptism in the Holy Spirit a number of observations must be made.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an Individual Experience
Note the language used, "they were all with one accord in one place" Acts 2.1; "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" 1 Cor.12.13. To teach that this is an individual experience undermines the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person. To achieve this baptism the Holy Spirit was "shed forth" Acts 2.33; see also vv.17,18. This is confirmed by Paul, "… the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" Tit.3.5,6. It is obvious that a person cannot be dissected and given in parts and so with the Person of the Holy Spirit. Part of Him cannot be poured out. It is either all of Him or none of Him. If there is to be a repetition of Pentecost every time a person accepts the Lord Jesus as their Saviour then He must be removed, shed forth, removed, shed forth and so on, and this is absurd. The Lord Jesus promised that the Comforter would not be withdrawn, "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever" Jn.14.16.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not Repeated
As stated above, this event is historical and was to introduce this new entity, the body of Christ. It was not to be a habitually repeated event within this new order. This is parallel with the coming of the Lord Jesus and the work He finished upon the cross. These were events that were totally and absolutely complete and never to be repeated. The repentant sinner comes into the good of all that was accomplished at the moment of conversion. So with Pentecost. There cannot be another outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This was done once only as promised by the Lord Jesus, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" Jn.16.7. Again, at the moment of conversion the believer, in his experience comes into the good of that event. Of course some are quick to quote Acts 10.45, "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost". This event was reminiscent of Pentecost, 11.16, but it was not a repeat. Acts 10.44 reads, "the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word". If this was a repeat of Pentecost then the room would have been filled with the Holy Ghost, immersing all that were in attendance and so Peter and his accompanying friends would have been baptised twice! The reason for the similarity in the two events is expounded by Peter, "And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" 15.8,9.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not the Subject of Prayer
There are those who teach that believers ought to strive and tarry until they have a special experience that will lift them to a far higher spiritual plane than the ‘ordinary’ believer. Let it be noted that there is no exhortation in the New Testament to be baptised in the Spirit. This is not an event within the power of any man. It is not to be sought by prayer, striving nor physical or emotional affliction. The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples, "that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with [in] the Holy Ghost not many days hence" Acts 1.4,5. This has been fulfilled and since it is not repeatable, there is absolutely no basis for using this Scripture to give authority for ‘tarrying meetings’ in this present age.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not for the ‘Super-Spiritual’ Only
Some suggest that there are at least two categories of Christians, namely those who are super-spiritual and the rest. These super-spiritual Christians are defined as those who, subsequent to salvation, have received the Holy Spirit, while the others, of the ordinary class, are still trying to achieve a level of spirituality when this Gift will be given to them. Such teaching creates a ‘have and have not’ division among the Christians. In this context it is important to note the language of 1 Cor.12.13, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body". It is vital to see that this baptism involved "all". Were these all ‘super-spiritual’ Christians? Let Paul answer. "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Cor.3.3. The obvious conclusion is that all have been baptised in one Spirit into the body of Christ and this does not depend on any level of spirituality that has been achieved subsequent to salvation.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not Demonstrated by Speaking in Tongues
Again it is a common notion that when a person is baptised in the Holy Spirit he will speak in tongues. This thinking originates from a misunderstanding of Acts chapter 2 where languages were used to convey the message to all who were present. This was a reversal of what took place in Genesis chapter 11 at the tower of Babel and was an indication of the universality of this new message, which would overflow the bounds of Judaism.
Once more the most important word ‘all’ in 1 Cor.12.13 should be underlined. If all were baptised in the Spirit, do all speak with tongues? This is the very question Paul asks in the same chapter, "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?" vv.28-30. These seven questions all are answered in the negative. Thus there is no connection between the baptism in the Holy Spirit and special or spectacular spiritual gifts.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is something done by God and involves every believer and is never repeated. In distinction to this, the filling of a believer by the Holy Spirit is a repeated experience, and it is the responsibility of the believer to ensure he is in a fit state to be filled. There are 15 references in the New Testament to being filled with the Spirit. Three of these are in an Old Testament sense where people were filled for a specific purpose, namely John the Baptist; his mother Elizabeth and his father Zacharias. All, apart from Eph.5.18, are in the writings of Luke – in verb form Acts 2.4; 4.8,31; 9.17; 13.9,52; and as adjectives in Lk.4.1; Act.6.3,5; 7.55; 11.24.
The fact that this experience is commanded in Eph.5.18 proves that it is not unique to the apostolic age. In Eph.5.18 the apostle Paul gives a command, "be filled with the spirit", and being in the present tense this is not to be an isolated incident, but is to be the continual, ongoing experience of the Christian. It could be rendered, "Keep on being filled in Spirit". The anarthrous construction (no article before ‘Spirit’) implies that all our fullness should be in the realm of the Spirit. (Note the similar construction in Eph.2.22, referring to God’s habitation; 3.5, referring to God’s revelation; 6.18, referring to our supplication.) In Eph.5.18 the contrast is with ungodly people who are being continually controlled by wine, whereas the Christian is to be controlled in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, i.e. the thought is direction.
It is important to appreciate that a Christian is never exhorted to be indwelt, sealed with, or baptised in, the Spirit. These are all matters that are not under our control and belong to God alone. Nor is the filling of the Spirit a once and forever experience that takes place at salvation. It is distinct from salvation and cannot be experienced prior to it. A person who is filled with the Spirit is controlled totally and completely by that Holy Spirit. It is not that we receive more of the Spirit, since we either have or have not a Person, but it is that the Spirit has more of us and there is no compartment of our lives from which He is excluded. The well-known illustration of a bottle being filled with water and thus emptied of air is appropriate. Only as we are emptied of everything that hinders Him having total control in every compartment of our lives can He fill us.
In the Acts there are five outstanding occasions when named men are said to be "full" or "filled" with the Spirit.
Peter for Searching Preaching – 4.8
"Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel …".
In this story a man, who had been born lame and who was "laid daily at the gate of the temple" to beg, had been cured by Peter. Peter and John would not take any credit for this, but rightly gave all the glory to the Lord. "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" 3.12. "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole" 4.10. As a result of this "many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand" 4.4. They were brought before the antagonistic rulers who sought to intimidate them. What gave the apostles the power to witness in the midst of such dire circumstances? "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them …" 4.8. This was not natural bravado. This is the man who weakly denied the Lord during His trial in the Judgment Hall. How different when he is controlled by the Holy Spirit. The obvious lesson for us is that if we are to preach Christ fearlessly and with powerful effect we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Their witness had a marvellous effect on the company, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" 4.13.
Stephen for Solving Problems – 6.5
"they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost …".
A problem had arisen among the believers, "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" 6.1. The multiplication led to murmuring. This was based on nationality and a perceived favouritism in leadership! What a disaster! Who would deal with this? In our day some would want men of business acumen; those trained in man-management; some who are known for their tact and being able to find a middle path of compromise, but these are not the qualifications. "… look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" 6.3. So "they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch" 6.5. The problem was caused by the Grecians (Hellenists who were Greek speaking Jews) murmuring against the Hebrews. The men chosen to deal with this problem were, according to their names, all Greeks. This is grace and spiritual wisdom, since it would help to stop the mouths of the complainers.
Stephen for Sore Persecution – 7.55
"But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God …".
Stephen had been falsely accused, "they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God ... And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law" 6.11,13. Stephen, in a masterly fashion, answered their accusations and then turned upon them in accusation, "ye do always resist the Holy Ghost" 7.51. This produced mad anger in them: "they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth" 7.54. It seems almost every part of their being was affected by the madness of anger, heart, teeth, v.54; voice, ears, feet (rushed) v.57; hands (stoned) v.58.
In the midst of all this pandemonium there is a soul going to heaven and he is calm. Why? "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" v.55. The reference to the Holy Trinity – Spirit, Son and Father – reveals the secret of this serenity. It is a man "full of the Holy Ghost" who can emulate his Lord in prayer and forgiveness, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" v.59; "he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" v.60. What a way to die! His person was full of the Holy Ghost, his eyes were full of glory, his mouth was full of Christ and his heart was full of forgiveness.
Barnabas for Shepherding People – 11.24
"he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith …".
A new work had begun in Antioch and the believers in Jerusalem wanted to have an assessment of what was happening there. They required a man who could be trusted to bring back a full and factual report of the events and so "they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch" 11.22. When he arrived his reaction was two-fold – elation and exhortation: "Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord" v.23. What kind of a man would find joy in the work of another being blessed of the Lord? Who would seek to help such young believers to make progress for the Lord? Barnabas "was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith" v.24. In the sight of men he was "a good man", that is his character; and in the sight of God he was "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith", that is his control and his confidence. These spiritual qualifications, and not an academic training, are required by every true shepherd or pastor of God’s people.
Paul for Solemn Pronouncement – 13.9,10
"Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?"
Elymas the sorcerer was seeking to hinder the work of God by "seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith" 13.8. This called for strong and spiritual action. Thus Paul not only described the man’s character in v.9, but also detailed the man’s condemnation, "and now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand" v.11. Only one who was "filled with the Holy Ghost" could do this in a God glorifying manner. The result was not the sadness of judgment but the gladness of blessing, "Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord" v.12. Of course those days of such miraculous power are now long gone, but the lesson is that spiritual power, and not mere intellect and strength of reasoning, is required to silence enemies and win a person. By the power of logic we could win an argument but lose the person.
It may be argued that the above men were somewhat special but what about the rest of the Christians? If the Holy Spirit indwells all believers what difference does it make? What is His function in their lives?
Gives Power to Witness
The Lord Jesus told His disciples that one of the functions of the Holy Spirit would be to impart to them power to be His witnesses in a widening geographical sphere: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" 1.8. Thus in the most basic truth of telling others about the Lord Jesus we can gauge whether or not we are allowing the Holy Spirit to function in our lives as He would desire. This is confirmed by Peter, "we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him" 5.32.
Gives Grace to Distribute Wealth
As noted above, after the man who lay at the Temple gate was healed, the rulers threatened the apostles. Then it is recorded, "And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God …" 4.23,24. As a consequence of them praying "the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common" 4.31,32. They were enabled to declare the truth of God and distribute their goods to the people of God. This becomes very practical in this materialistic age when most want to amass more and more wealth and greed is more widely seen than giving. A person who is willing to yield to the Spirit of God will not be mean and stingy.
Gives Guidance where to Serve
The guidance of God by His Holy Spirit is an essential part of Christian service. To seek to move in the current of God’s Will as we serve Him always gives cause for deep exercise before the Lord. Thus it is recorded of Philip, "Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot" Acts 8.29. This resulted in the Ethiopian being saved and taking the message to his own country. In Acts chapter 10, Peter had a vision that was to prepare him to accept the conversion of Gentiles. As this was about to happen he received guidance from heaven, "While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them" vv.19,20. This resulted in the salvation of Cornelius and his household.
Such guidance may also be negative in that doors may close. "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not" 16.6,7. This opened the door for the gospel to reach Europe. It is the Lord alone who can say, "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" Rev.3.8. Paul experienced this in a positive way also, "Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord" 2 Cor.2.12.
Gives Guidance who should Serve
While every believer ought to be serving the Lord constantly, there are those who are gifted by God to serve Him in an itinerant manner, living by faith. This is not the sphere for every believer. Guidance for a call to such service is given in Acts chapter 13. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus" vv.2-4. Without a Divine call that is confirmed by the confidence and fellowship of the brethren in the local assembly, no man ought to undertake this work.
Another very important aspect of service is that of overseership in the assembly. Happy is the assembly that is led by spiritual men who will give real strong Scriptural leadership and provide good, solid spiritual food. How are elders, overseers, bishops or shepherds (all names for the same men) to be appointed? In certain companies some are appointed by the ‘church members’; some are voted into office; some are expected to have a special education and then be ‘installed’; many and varied are the schemes of men. We ought to come to the Bible and discover how God produces such servants. The book of the Acts clearly gives the Divine method, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over (in) the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" 20.28. God produces overseers and men cannot do this. An overseer is as much a gift to the local church as a teacher and comes under the category of "governments" in 1 Cor.12.28.
Gives Warning of Danger in Service
The Holy Spirit’s guidance is seen in prophetic warning. "And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar" 11.28. This man also warned Paul of danger if he went to Jerusalem, "he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles" 21.11. This confirmed the warning given by the disciples, "who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem" v.4. Such a warning was not new to Paul since he stated, "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me" 20.22,23.
Acts chapter 5 records the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira. They wanted to appear before men to be of a higher spirituality than their character would allow. They sold land and gave part of what they had received to the apostles but they told lies about the price obtained so that the apostles would think they gave away all the money. Their sin was not in keeping part of what they received and so Peter said, "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" 5.4. (Since the Holy Ghost is here called God, this is a clear reference to His deity). The sin was in their hypocrisy and the fact that they lied, "to the Holy Ghost" 5.3. They had "agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord" v.9. The judgment was swift and salutary and both were buried that day. The story emphasises the dreadfulness of the sin of lying. It is perhaps a mercy for many that the Lord is not acting in such a manner as we now approach the end of the dispensation. Another has commented that if He did act like this today there would be few, if any, young men left to carry out the dead!
Another instance of the Holy Spirit in connection with fraudulence is to be found in Acts chapter 8. A notable character, Simon, who "bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one" 8.9, professed to have been saved and was baptised. When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that there were those in Samaria who had responded to the preaching of Philip they sent Peter and John to investigate. When they arrived from Jerusalem they discovered that these believers had not received the Holy Spirit and they only did so when the apostles laid their hands on them. When Simon saw this happening he desired to have this power and offered to buy it from the apostles. This revealed the sham of his profession and Peter pronounced judgment upon him. The questions that have to be answered are, why was it necessary for the apostles to communicate the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans? Is it to be expected in this present age that there is a time lag between salvation and the reception of the Holy Spirit?
This was the first time the gospel had been preached outside the limits of the Jewish/Jerusalem framework. It was common knowledge that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, Jn.4.9, and, in fact, there was animosity. If in these two regions this new work had commenced separately yet simultaneously, it would have been likely that each would have claimed to be the true work of God and division would have appeared from the very beginning. What better way to show that these sources of animosity did not exist among believers in the Lord Jesus, than by a public demonstration of great spiritual blessing being conferred upon the Samaritans by those from Jerusalem? This displayed that the work in Samaria was not in opposition to that in Jerusalem, but an extension of it. In Christ Jesus every national, social and sexual barrier has been removed and "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" Gal.3.28.
Also it publicly indicated that these new converts accepted the authority of the apostles and for this reason Philip did not impart the Holy Spirit to them. No work that is of God would dare question the authority of the apostles that is now contained in the written ministry of these apostles. The questioning of apostolic authority and the decisive finality of the Holy Scriptures are major reasons why many problems faced in Christendom today are not being solved.
Obviously the conditions of Acts chapter 8 do not obtain today and there are no apostles to impart the Holy Spirit to others. Neither is there any delay in the reception of the Holy Spirit since every believer receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion, "having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" Eph.1.13, J.N.D. The sealing synchronises with the believing just as an electric light coming on synchronises with the flicking of the switch.
There are those who would question this teaching on the basis of Acts chapter 19. Paul met twelve "certain disciples" at Ephesus and he asked them, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" v.2. This question is more accurately translated, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye had believed?", J.N.D. They answered, "We did not even hear if the Holy Spirit was come", J.N.D. They had not heard what had happened on the day of Pentecost. They had been baptised "unto John’s baptism" and were thus on pre-Pentecost ground and needed to be brought onto Christian ground; that is they were not saved and so had not become members of the church and to become such they needed to be saved. Their position reflected that of Cornelius. When they heard the truth of believing "on Christ Jesus" they responded by faith, were baptised as Christians and again, to publicly exhibit that they were now on Christian ground, Paul apostolically imparted to them the Holy Spirit. To demonstrate the reality of this inward impartation, the outward sign of speaking in tongues was given. This event also indicated the unity of the apostles in the work of God, since in acts chapter 8 Peter and John were involved whereas here it is Paul. Paul’s apostleship was of no less value and carried no less authority than that of the twelve.
It is important to note that this is the third and final time in the Acts when speaking in tongues is mentioned. Acts chapters 2 and 10 are the other occasions. Is it not strange that something that has such an insignificant place in this book has taken on such importance in our day? Other chapters of this book and especially chapter 10 deal with this in more detail.
The undisputed reason for the operation of the Holy Spirit in a believer is to produce in his life spiritual fruit that is acceptable to God. This is considered in chapter 11 of this publication. However there is one verse in the Acts that gives the perfect example of One who lived every moment for the glory of God. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him" 10.38. In this verse mention is made of the Trinity, "God … Jesus … Holy Ghost": Christ’s authority, "power": His activity, "went about doing good": His remedy, "healing": His enemy, "the devil". If every saint, as filled by the Holy Spirit, could emulate such an example what a difference there would be in individual and collective testimony.