We can learn valuable lessons in two ways. First, we can read, listen, and observe others who have done things we want to do and follow their example of what to do or not to do. Second, we can learn through the well-known and highly accredited School of Hard Knocks, where you make your own mistakes and they serve as your schoolmaster.
In nearly five decades of ministry, I've done it both ways, and I much prefer the first way over the second! Consider what we can learn from the book of Acts. The apostles’ great faith and anointing manifested in signs, wonders, miracles, and thousands getting saved at once! But these early church leaders didn’t do everything right, and we should recognize and learn from their mistakes as well as their victories.
What Jesus Did After His Resurrection
The book of Acts begins by describing Jesus’ many interactions with His disciples after the resurrection.
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:And, being assembled together with them, commanded them 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 the Holy Ghost not many days hence. (Acts 1:1-5)
Jesus walked the earth for 40 days after He rose from the dead. During that time, He proved to them in many ways that He was alive; He wasn't a dream or a vision or a spiritual apparition. Jesus, their Rabbi, the man who walked with them for three years, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day, He arose. His body still had the scars from the nails in His feet and hands. His back still carried the stripes from the cruel flogging with a lead-tipped whip. He proved that He was who He said He was, and He continued to teach His disciples until the day He ascended. He taught, not in words which man teaches, but by the Holy Ghost. Imagine how much revelation and information Jesus' followers received as He taught them for almost six weeks after He rose from the dead! Many of them needed Him to show them His scars, as Thomas did, to prove that He was the Lord.
Be Led by the Holy Ghost
Jesus fulfilled His ministry by listening to the Holy Ghost. Don’t you think we should too? Acts 1:2 tells us that Jesus instructed His followers and gave them commandments by the Holy Ghost in His post-resurrection ministry. Remember that Jesus prayed all night long before He chose His 12 Apostles. Leaders should take heed from His example. The people who are working alongside you have a lot to do with your success, peace, or lack thereof. Be led by the Holy Ghost, leader, when it comes to choosing staff, volunteers, or leaders.
Before Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, He told His followers, And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17) After His resurrection, He told them it was time for the fulfilment of John 14:16-17.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. (Acts 1:8)
One hundred twenty of Jesus' followers waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Ghost to come upon them as Jesus prophesied. They didn’t know if the promise would come in two days, ten days, or a hundred days. Sometime before the tenth day, Peter got the idea that they needed to find a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Psalm 109:8prophesied that another person would step into Judas’ spot as the 12thApostle:Let his days be few; and let another take his office.Peter quoted the Word of God, but then he added to it.
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. (Acts 1:20-23)
Did you notice what Peter added to the prophecy? Nowhere did the Scriptures say that Judas’ replacement had to be a man who had been with them since the day of Jesus’ baptism until the day He ascended! Peter created those criteria himself! He limited the choices to two men: Justus and Matthias.
Consequences of Limiting God
Peter limited God. Have you ever done that? You pray about something, but you add,“and it has to be done this way, Lord!” We've all done it, and when we have, we've missed God. Matthias was probably an excellent disciple. He was likely a good man, but we never heard his name again! He wasn't listed as being an evangelist, prophet, teacher, pastor, or even essential in the ministry of helps. I believe Peter’s impatience and assumptions hurt Matthias. How do you think he felt to have been chosen as a leader, but never fulfilling the role? When you aren’t patient and make decisions without the Holy Ghost, you damage people, your ministry, families, and finances. You wind up with people on staff that shouldn’t be. They feel like a failure and you are frustrated because he or she isn’t anointed to do what you thought he or she could do.
I believe that Paul was supposed to be Judas’ replacement. When Peter jumped the gun, Paul wasn’t even saved! He was the very last person anyone would have thought of to replace Judas, but God saw that he would write 2/3 of the New Testament and establish churches throughout the known world. Paul was an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) (Galatians 1:1)
Six Lessons We Can Learn
Six lessons we can learn from early church leaders in the first few chapters of Acts are:
1. Do your assignment. Stop thinking about what others are called to do and obey God.
2. Don’t get in a hurry. Get it right, not fast!
3. Don't presume! Get direction from the Holy Ghost. Presumption is the mother of all mess-ups!
4. Don’t appoint or promote people too quickly. When you give people a title, they often think they’re a big shot and won’t do what needs to be done.
5. Don’t try to help God out. If you think He’s moving too slowly, you’re wrong, not Him! Mind your business; do what God tells you and let Him do His!
6. Learn to wait on God. They that wait on the Lord shall exchange strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31paraphrased)