The outline sets forth in some detail how Christ gathered the church during the years immediately following the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us now examine some of the distinctive features of this book.
1. Since the contents of this book deal with the early missionary activity, it stands to reason that the book contains the methods by which the Holy Spirit gathers the church. A few examples: a missionary must be ordained and sent out by the church (13:2,3); his labor must begin at home and reach out from there; the Jews first and then the Gentiles (13:14,42); and many others.
2. The evaluation of the progress of these missionaries must be seen in the light of certain things. First Luke concentrated on certain areas of missionary activity, not on all of them. The two leading missionaries were Peter and Paul. Many others labored as well, but these two were the focal point of his attention. Secondly, and this is parallel with the above, Jerusalem was seen as the center out of which Peter worked and Antioch was seen as the center out of which Paul worked. There were other areas of labor, e.g. Egypt and Spain, yet little attention was given to them. The main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to show that the power of the gospel was great in Asia and Europe, especially Rome, which became the center of the entire world at that time. Christ gathers His church from the whole world. Thirdly, the greatest detail is given concerning those events in which Luke was personally involved and present with Paul.
3. Since Acts is history, it also contains many sermons and messages which the apostles preached. Here, too, we can learn two truths. First, the method of missionary activity is preaching, and, secondly, the content of that preaching is the Word of God. Great emphasis is laid upon Christ and the Holy Spirit. The word is from the living Christ Who sent His Spirit to gather the church.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Compare the opening words of this book with the Gospel of Luke and discover for yourself the similarity. How does Acts compliment Luke?
2. List as many principles for missionary methods as you can which you can draw from the example of Paul. Be specific and refer to passages from the book. For help you can consult Wm. Hendriksen’s Bible Survey, pages 201-208, where he gives six examples.
3. After reading this book of Acts, what importance can you see for the instituted church and why is it important for us to be a member of the church?
4. Why do you suppose the resurrection of Christ has such a prominent place in the preaching? Look up examples of sermons in the book of Acts and demonstrate its importance.
5. Do you think that the decision by the apostles to choose a replacement for Judas was hasty and probably wrong? Did God intend Paul to be the replacement? 1: 12-26
6. Why were there miracles that accompanied the preaching? Should the same be true today? Explain
7. Do you think Paul compromised on the gospel when he preached for the Jews on their Sabbath (13:44ff.), or on Mars’ Hill when he referred to Jehovah as “The unknown god”? Acts 17:16-31
8. Would you say that the response to the gospel, some believed and many opposed, is normative for the church of all ages? Explain.
Romans-Justification by Faith
We now turn to yet another of Paul’s letters which he wrote to the churches, this one to the church at Rome. As you know, this was by no means the first letter which he wrote. Our English Bible does not follow the order of chronology, rather the books are arranged by subject matter. We have first the gospels, then the Acts, then a series of letters known as epistles, concluded with the prophetic book of Revelation. Paul had already written Galatians, I and II Thessalonians, as well as I and II Corinthians before he wrote Romans. We shall see this in greater detail as we go along.
Paul identified himself in the letter to the Romans as its author: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God…to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (l:l, 7). With this assertion, practically all Bible scholars agree.
Since this epistle demonstrates as much, if not more than any other written by the apostle, the capability of Paul as a writer, we do well to review a bit of his background. This is not done in an attempt to discredit the reality of divine inspiration. The epistle to the Romans shows that God used Paul, as a living instrument, who wrote from the background of his learning and life. He and his writing stand distinct from other writers, e.g. Luke or Peter.
Paul was from Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia. In all probability, Paul received his early training from this important city. It was one of the great learning centers of his day, along with Alexandria and Athens. Here Paul received his early knowledge of the classics, including the Greek authors. Paul makes reference to this knowledge in Titus 1:12, “one of themselves even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” Not only did he learn about many facts of his day, he also learned the disciplined method of refutation. It was a mark of scholarship to think logically, to reason carefully what one intended to say. Paul stands out among all the Bible authors as being able to set forth the ultimate principle of truth and then to demonstrate its reality. Under the providence of God, Paul was trained in this art and God used it for the sake of the gospel.
Paul also may have learned his skill at tent making here in his hometown. The province of Cilicia thrived on the trade of tent making. The material was produced from the hair of goats which was woven into rough cloth used for this purpose.
We would fail to understand Paul’s training if we leave the impression that all his training was in the culture of the Greeks. He made reference to his education in his appeal before the Jews in Jerusalem; “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers and wax zealous toward God, as ye all are this day”. Acts 22:3 At what age we do not know, but Paul as a Jew soon moved to Jerusalem to pursue a thorough Jewish education. This he received from one of the greatest Jewish scholars of his day, Gamaliel. This too is significant under the providence of God, for Paul knew the Jewish argument about work righteousness by the keeping of the law better than most Jews themselves. In this way he was able to overthrow all their notions of salvation by the keeping of the law, and over against that he set forth Jesus Christ and His righteousness which becomes ours through faith in His perfect work.
One more thing ought to be mentioned in connection with Paul’s learning. He makes the point in Gal. 1:17, “But I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of men is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” One indication of apostleship was that a true apostle received his learning from Christ. Paul came later and under the providence of God received such instruction by immediate revelation. He did not have to depend upon other men; rather he also sat literally at the feet of Jesus, though some years later. This referred not only to the appearance of Christ to him on the Damascus road, but in all likelihood to his special training when he was in Arabia.
THE CHURCH AT ROME
Paul did not labor directly in Rome for the establishment of the church there. He was influential in an indirect manner, for the Christians that were in the church were benefited by the ministry of Paul. Paul did not come personally to Rome until the end of his life, when he had appealed to Caesar.
There is no historical support for the idea that Peter had gone to Rome and labored there. This can be seen most clearly in that the church of Rome was a Gentile church and Peter was the missionary to the Jews. The Romish church which teaches that Peter was the first pope at Rome is beating at the wind.
We do learn from the Bible that there were Jews in Rome. After the great dispersion, they fled from Jerusalem throughout the world. We read that some of them had traveled from Rome to Jerusalem and were present at Pentecost (Acts 18:2 It seems they were already Christians when Paul met them at Corinth for we do not read of their conversion at that time. Subsequently they returned to Rome and labored there, for in this epistle Paul extends his greetings to them as part of the church at Rome (16:3).Upon their return to Rome they took with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Later Priscilla and Aquila had gone from Rome to Corinth at the time when Claudius had banished all Jews from the city.
The church then must have been composed of a few Jews and mostly converted Gentiles. In this letter Paul addresses the church as Gentiles (1:13). Over the years, Paul had made acquaintance with some of them and thus he was interested in their welfare to the point that he would like to come to them.
We can well imagine what the spiritual condition of such a church was, in such a large (over a million people) and influential city. Since the church was Gentile, attacked by many Jews who resided in the city, the apostle viewed the needs of that church as an example of many churches. The letter to Rome contains a message sorely needed by almost all the Gentile churches. It deals with the attack by the Jews that only the children of Abraham and the circumcised had favor with God, and if one was in such a position he was in special favor with God.
There was a great need for the great theme of justification through faith.