by Francis Morkeh
Horatio Hackett in his Commentary on Acts writes that the book of Acts furnishes us with the origin, systematic growth, and extension of the church through the work of the apostles, especially Peter and Paul. Conversely, Michael Anthony in Introducing Christian Education says it would be “incomplete and reductionism” for one not to mention or emphasize the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of the disciples and guide them as they step out in obedience to The Great Commission (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:18–20). It is the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers the believer for effective Christian witness.
There are many lessons the modern Christian can learn from these early believers, especially the importance of living in community, praying for healing, bravely facing death, breaking down unjust cultural barriers, and simply studying the Word
Proper Understanding of Christian Witness
It is important to understand the root meaning of the word “witness” from a biblical perspective. Colin Brown states that the word “witness” as used in Acts 1:8 significantly uses the Greek word martus, (MAR-toos). Here, this word means someone legitimized and authorized to declare the story both of Christ’s deeds on earth and His resurrection. Being a witness in this way means to follow a particular way or path of suffering in the process. It is a path that can lead to rejection, suffering, and possibly death for Christ’s sake. In summary, it is a path that testifies and identifies with Christ’s life and resurrection, even to the point of death. The Christian community is called to be a faithful witness that obeys Christ in all circumstances.
Community and Sharing
Duane Elmer describes two major types of cultures in the world: individualistic cultures in the West and collectivist cultures dominantly found in third world countries. The former centers primarily on the individual’s (or simple majority’s) feelings, needs, and desires. Many times this emphasis has robbed the Lord’s people of having compassion for others within the group. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, focus on interpersonal relationships, harmony, and community solidarity of the whole society or group. It is, however, important to state here that collectivism as described from the perspective of third world countries may not necessarily be built or founded on a biblical worldview. (It should also not be confused with communism, which is a system imposed by the government rather than naturally followed by the people.) However, there are some basic values and principles commonly found in collectivist cultures that intersect with the basic biblical principles of needing to build and live in a community from a scriptural point of view.
According to the biblical accounts, the disciples were of one mind and heart, and shared all that they had as that given to them by the Lord for their common good. This unified and gracious environment they created helped set the pace to do effective witnessing (Acts 4:33). The key word here is to be intentional in sharing in different ways. It means to care by sharing, love by empathizing, and lift up by supporting each other spiritually, materially, and psychologically in the Christian community.
Let us express our love as individuals, local groups, and the universal church through the sharing of our talents, treasures, and time as people who are living as a healthy Christian community founded on biblical principles. This can be achieved through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and God’s agape love in our hearts. It is beyond all human or natural love we have ever experienced or received in this life. Abiding in this kind of love and community will help us be as great witnesses to the Gospel as the apostles in Acts.
Holistic Healing and Miracles
In 1978, in Accra, Ghana, doctors gave up on me because I had a traumatic accident in a soccer training session. African herbalists also could not help me. I was withdrawn from school as a result. After two years of suffering, I was taken to a pastor who prayed for me and I was healed. I went back to continue my education, and today, I have earned my Ph.D. in Educational Studies and my life has become a living witness of God’s power. It is important to emphasize that the pastor was not the source of the miracle. He was just a vessel the Holy Spirit used to glorify Christ’s name by bringing healing to my life. Jesus Christ still heals people in many ways today through His committed witnesses. The word “healing” or “cure” used many times in the New Testament has the concept of that which is holistic, namely, psychological, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. It means people who were diseased are set free from all forms of bondage and uneasiness.
After all, God created humankind not only to develop physically, but also spiritually, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and morally (Wilhoit and Dettoni). The believer, like Peter and John (Acts 3:6), may not have silver and gold. But the power of the Holy Spirit is available to heal people today by faith in Jesus’ name. Throughout church history, some individuals or groups have had some reservations and doubts about God’s healing power. This may be because some people have abused, misused, and manipulated either the spiritual gifts or the process in itself. Others too have closed themselves up to this topic of divine healing today because of their secularized worldview that dismisses anything supernatural. But Scripture declares: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to day, and for ever”(Hebrews 13:8, KJV). He is the ultimate source for all forms of healing that bring glory to the name of the Lord. Let us not be ashamed or afraid to call on the healing power of God to bear witness to His goodness and strength, just as we see done in Acts.
Boldness and Total Surrender
In the Bible, we read about faithful believers who boldly stood up and died for the sake of the Gospel as the ultimate sacrifice for Christ’s sake. One example is Stephen. He was rejected, persecuted, and stoned to death by those who opposed the Gospel because of his unwavering faith in Christ through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:8, 7:60). God has sometimes called people to stay the course of their faith and conviction, and even die in the process, all for the sake of His purpose. Church history records numerous Christian leaders and followers of Christ who took the path of faithfulness in Christian witness to die for Christ’s sake. Many of the early church believers converted because of Polycarp, the great church father who was killed for his faith. In communist countries, millions of believers were killed because they would not give up their Christian witness. As Christians we operate from a biblical worldview. Our Bible teaches us that the only way to be saved is through Christ (Acts 4:12). Stephen’s example and lifestyle should make us ready to make an ultimate sacrifice for our faith as we stand as witnesses for the world to see.
Beyond Prejudice and Bias
God commands the believer to proclaim the Gospel to every creature wherever we find ourselves (Mark 16:15–18). However, in human society, there are all forms of social stratification that have the potential of hindering evangelistic outreach. There are structures and systems like tribal and ethnic divisions in Africa, cultural and subcultural differences, caste systems in India, and status and power positions that become major blockers to Christian witness.
While some of these describe negative structures and systems in society, others simply have to do with diversity in God’s creation. All these have the potential to create biased and prejudiced mindsets in a believer who wants to reach out to others in their society.
In biblical times, the Jews and Samaritans looked down on one another because of different understandings of God and worship. Yet, Jesus in His earthly ministry went beyond the ugly lines of prejudice to reach out to Samaritans (John 4). He was opposed and rejected in the process but He was determined and courageous, and God confirmed His word with signs and wonders. Similarly, Philip in the power of the Holy Spirit was a witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, a foreigner and an outsider (Acts 8). We should, therefore, not be deterred by social, cultural, or religious systems that have the potential to hinder our witness. Let us go all out for the Lord. The promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and its fulfillment in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, was for all flesh (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:38). There is therefore no basis for believers being discriminatory in their evangelistic efforts. There is always an opportunity in our Christian witness for people of all backgrounds and ages to witness for Christ and also receive God’s gift of salvation.
God’s Word and Effective Witness
Finally, Christian witness becomes effective when the believer studies and grows in God’s Word. Studying, understanding, and applying God’s Word in the believer’s life to shape our actions and understanding of the will of God is a sure foundation for Christian faith and practice. This does not imply that Christians should not read or study other books apart from the Bible that can help them develop a broad and holistic understanding of life and Christian worldview. It is important that we be encouraged to do this. However, these books or materials are not a substitute for God’s Word—the Bible.
As believers, we are called to follow Christ, our model and example, and be like Him through the help of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). The only way to effectively do that is by prayerfully studying the Word of God and living according to its teachings. Philip was able to help the Ethiopian official understand and grow in the Word of God (Acts 8:26–38). We must be encouraged to participate in Bible studies in the church, at home, and in the workplace. Bible study helps us grow emotionally and spiritually, and equips us in our Christian witness. Let us dive deep into God’s Word!
Anthony, Michael J. Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Brown, Colin, ed. The International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.
Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Hackett, Horatio. Commentary on Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1992.
Stott, John R.W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
Wilhoit, James C. and John M. Dettoni. Nurture That Is Christian: Developmental Perspectives on Christian Education. Grand Rapids, MI: BridgePoint Books, 1998.
Frances Morkeh is an adjunct professor at Christian Life College in Mt. Prospect, IL and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Chicago State University.