Power and Freedom. Two things that we value as individuals and as a society. As believers In Jesus we are promised both- Galatians 5v1 says ‘For freedom Christ has set us free.’ 2 Timothy 1v7 tells us that we have a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, and earlier in Acts Jesus tells the disciples that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (ch1v8). They do indeed in chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit first comes upon them at Pentecost.
If someone said they were giving you the gifts of power and freedom, how would you use them?
Here are some of the ways that the Christians featured in chapter 4 choose to exercise them.
Freed and empowered to be arrested
Peter and John were not controlled by the authorities’ ability to arrest them. Their decision to preach the gospel was not based on how safe or dangerous this would be for them or on any consequences they might face. They were free to do what God had called them to despite what people might do to them. Peter is thought to have been martyred and John was imprisoned on an island where he died. It might not have looked to some that they lived lives of freedom and power, we might not envy their fates but we can certainly seek to live with that freedom of being able to do and say the right thing no matter what anyone will do to us or even think of us. The Bible says that this is available to us.
Freed and empowered to speak the truth boldly
The Holy Spirit gave ‘uneducated, common men’ the power and ability to speak the truth with confidence to a panel of well-educated, respected religious leaders who were already annoyed at them for speaking the truth. Nothing qualified them to do this- they didn’t have all the answers in their own knowledge base; they didn’t even have the full bible to quote; they didn’t have the ability to speak eloquently or form clever arguments. They just had God’s power and a love for Jesus. They had been given the incredible privilege of knowing Jesus personally and seeing and understanding what he had done for all mankind. And as a result they chose to use the freedom and power that they had been given to share this with others. They are not forced to tell people but rather they want to. Even when Peter and John are arrested and it is made clear that there is opposition from authority, the church does not pray simply for protection or wisdom in preaching sensibly and cautiously and in a way that doesn’t cause too much trouble. They pray for continued boldness.
Freed and empowered to seek God’s kingdom above all else
This chapter speaks of a people who are sold out for God. They are concerned about God’s kingdom more than their own safety, which is reflected in their prayers for continued boldness. They are more dedicated to the kingdom than to making sure they have enough for themselves. In Matthew 6v33 Jesus commands his listeners to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’, promising that if they do so they will not have to worry about things such as what to eat or drink or wear. If we have been set free and God has ‘delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’, we can choose whether we live in that kingdom without really experiencing everything it means, or whether that is what our whole lives are about.
Freed and empowered to sell all their possessions and share
How easy would you find it to sell everything you had, everything you or your family had worked for, invested time in, for the benefit of the church? Everyone in the church, even those who you don’t see eye to eye with or don’t think deserve a free ride? The lifestyle of the early church is once again a reflection of their focus on God’s kingdom. If we can see our lives in light of eternity we will know that all those possessions and all the status that comes with them will fade away anyway. And if we are focussed on God’s perspective we will be able to be obedient to him rather than to family, friends, the media, society at large who tell us to build for ourselves, to make something of ourselves, to protect ourselves.
Numerous times my family and I have been given financial gifts- money towards buying houses and cars and boilers and roofs and washing machines; sometimes these have come from church family but mostly they have come from our own families. They were happy to share with us what they had and had worked to be able to buy; they loved us and wanted to see us sharing in the fruit of their labour. They were people who were committed to us and invested in our lives. If we are going to live anything like the early church did, we need to really love each other like family. Verse 32 says that ‘the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul’. They loved each other and were united. The Holy Spirit can give us power to love if we ask.
Let’s celebrate that God has given us freedom and power, and let’s be kingdom-focussed in how we use those gifts and in the lifestyles we adopt and the goals we have.