A Strange Word of Praise
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Acts 4:13).
In the twenty-first century, few words would be more insulting to a church than, “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” We have become obsessed with having a large crowd at the church that we are often blind to the clear praise that God gave to the first church in Jerusalem. For sure, this church did not lack a crowd (Acts 2:41; 4:4). And though God does point out the many people that He added to the church, He also praised them because people didn’t join their ranks. How clearly this demonstrates just how much different God’s perspective of a church is from ours. We would do well to take a lesson.
There are churches that obsess about the number of people in attendance. They are willing to do almost anything to get more. There are other churches that take pride in the fact that people won’t come, as a kind of badge or proof of their spiritual prowess. This church in Jerusalem was like neither.
Paradoxically, the church at Jerusalem had both large numbers and people afraid to join them. So, what’s the key here? The key is found in verse 14—believers joined them.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
The contrast between verse 13 and 14 is stark—and so helpful. Consider all the good things that the apostles and christians were doing to the people of their communities. Verse 16 tells us that they were healing every one that came to them. There was great reason for the words in the latter part of verse 13: “…but the people magnified them.” So, interestingly enough, many people around them who were not a part of the church; that is, they weren’t believers; sang the praises of these christians. Yet they did not join them.
There might have been a number of reasons why these people did not join themselves with the christians. One might have been persecution. The threat of persecution (by “persecution” I am referring to suffering in any form as a result of one’s faith) is a strong resistance to people trusting in Jesus. Here in Cambodia, even before a person trusts in Christ they often become the targets of nasty words, threats, and mockery. This often serves to cool the person’s interest before they are saved. It’s sad, but true.
Last Sunday, a lady in our church brought her sister-in-law to church, who is not a christian. After the service was over (which I later learned was spot on that sister-in-law), the lady in our church asked her sister-in-law to hold her Bible. She refused, saying she didn’t want someone to think she was a christian. That might seem like slight, yet it has a familiar ring, reminescent of Acts 5:13.
Another reason that people did not join themselves with the church in Jerusalem might have been that they did not believe. Society lauded the holiness, good works, and uprightness of the church, but just didn’t believe in the Lord Jesus. This happens regularly here in Cambodia. People that do not believe praise the christians they know, but they themselves don’t care to join in. It just costs too much. Yet another reason might be the strictness of our faith. Just recently I have heard complaints from non-christians that God requires repentance from false gods and 100% faith in Christ alone. That is strict and exclusive, yet it is absolutely true. For at least these reasons, they didn’t dare (“durst” is a form of “dare”) join with the believers in Christ.
It is fascinating that at the church at Jerusalem, for all the high praises they received from society, unbelievers didn’t typically join them. The ones who joined them were believers. For the unbelievers, the persecution was too strong, the message to strict. For the believers, however, those who dared not join with them before found themselves happily seeking them out that blessed group of God’s people.
Should it be our goal in the twenty-first century to get as many unbelievers into our churches as possible? Should we tailor our styles or customize our message in an effort to draw unbelievers in? Is the church not primarily for believers? This is plainly evident in verses 13 and 14. As the church of the living God, our primary concern should be to honor God in our church meetings and our personal lives. Towards the lost, we should love supernaturally, call unceasingly, and pray fervently. But at the same time, we should have a church that exhibits such dedication to the holy God of the Bible and His word, that people dare not join our ranks; that is, they dare not join us until they have come to know that great God and Savior Jesus Christ. I think the question must be asked: are people that know not God comfortable in your church? Are they “cool with” your faith? If that’s the case, or if that’s your goal, you are in woeful disagreement with the church that God praised in Jerusalem.
We need churches of such quality that those who don’t know God are uncomfortable with our love, loyalty, and dedication to Jesus Christ and His word! We need churches of such stature that the clear teaching of God’s word is such that those without God can’t just hide out to sit and listen. But oh the joy when those who avoided us and our Savior come looking for His people in His church after they have found Him that is altogether lovely and worthy!