Jesus told his first followers, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). As the original apostles went out into the world, the manifested power of God was clearly present. The Book of Acts makes it obvious that Jesus’ witnesses were supernaturally supported. People were healed (Acts 3:1-8), raised from the dead (Acts 10:40-41), delivered of demons (Acts 16:18), visited by angels (Acts 5:19), and otherwise helped by the power of the Holy Spirit and the intervention of God’s angels. Luke wrote, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
Even deacons preached the Gospel and performed miracles (Acts 6:8; 8:26-40). When people were baptized, they often rose out of the baptismal waters speaking in languages they had not learned (Acts 10:44-46; 19:6). People were sometimes healed of diseases and delivered of demons simply by receiving anointed cloths sent out from the person of Paul (Acts 19:11). For a further discussion of the miracles, supernatural happenings, healings and deliverances of the Apostolic Church, read the rest of the Book of Acts. The Church of that day operated in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul was fully aware of the power that was at his disposal as one of God’s apostles. He wrote to the Corinthians: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (I Corinthians 2:4-5). Paul did not view himself as a great orator or “speaker” – but the words that he delivered were empowered by the Spirit of God. When Paul spoke, spiritual things often happened.
In his second letter to the same congregation, Paul wrote: “The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance” (II Corinthians 12:12). Paul was comparing the power of his own ministry with that of the so-called “super-apostles” who were falsely claiming to represent Christ (verse 11). On the human level, Paul viewed himself as “nothing.” But he performed his apostolic duties in the power of God, not merely with human words and arguments. To those who observed him closely, it was evident that God was with him – as He was with the other apostles.
At the same time, the performance of miracles brought persecution from those who were threatened by them. The demonic world was stirred up. Those against whose interests the apostolic “traveling salvation show” worked were aroused to anger. According to tradition, all of the original apostles, and Paul, were murdered at the hands of those who opposed them. Despite the clear, miraculous evidence that God was with them, the apostles were abused and hated. Paul needed the supernatural power of God to endure the horrendous persecutions that he suffered throughout his apostolic journeys (II Corinthians 11:22-29).
The plight of the apostles is described in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! [A little sarcasm there] We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (I Corinthians 4:9-13).
With the power went poverty and persecution. Paul and the other apostles did not sit atop small mountains of tithe monies, for they knew they were not entitled to claim them. Rather, “We work hard with our own hands.” They were cursed, slandered and persecuted. Yet they performed miracles. Their own survival was miraculously sustained until it was God’s time to add them to the long list of his martyrs.
Power often comes with a painful price tag. Simon Magus sought the power of God, but for the wrong reasons (Acts 8:18 – 19). He was willing to pay money for it. Peter, with righteous indignation, responded to Simon, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:20-23).
Needed: A Right Heart
To be empowered by the Spirit of God as were the original apostles, we must first acquire a right heart. If it is in our heart to exalt ourselves, as it was in Simon’s, we will receive nothing. God is not supportive of cults of personality in which the focus of attention is on some humanly charismatic leader who claims to represent God. The purpose of ministry is to glorify God, not man. Peter understood this: “If anyone speaks he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4:11).
Peter, Paul and the other apostles drew attention to God, not to themselves. They were Christ-centered (I Corinthians 2:2; Philippians 1:21).
To be empowered by God, we must demonstrate a selfless attitude of service, a spirit of humility, and a willingness to glorify God rather than ourselves. We must also be willing to live a godly life: “This is how to know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (I John 3:10). To “do right,” in this context, is to love one’s brothers and sisters in the Lord. John went on to say, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (I John 3:15).
The most fundamental, foundational commandment Jesus gave his people is that they should love one another (John 13:34-35). Our love for each other is a sign to the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Yet how much such love do we see in the Church? Sadly, as the Churches of God Pod continues to fragment, we see more divorces, separations, alienations, markings and disfellowshippings, and related nonsense. We note the continuing development of “Us/Them” scenarios. You can study the whole history of the Church from apostolic times to the present, and you’ll discover it is a story of endless fragmentation, dissension, bickering, political polarization, doctrinal arguments, division, reorganization, and enmity. We find Christians burning other Christians at the stake, torturing them, confiscating their property, defaming them, and driving them from pillar to post. We see bloody Crusades, demonic Inquisitions, imprisonments, burnings and lynchings, not to mention forced conversions.
The Churches of God Pod is a minor waterspout on the periphery of this ecclesiastical Perfect Storm. Yet it illustrates in microcosm a lot of what is wrong with the larger Church. The Church is a house divided against itself. It is divided doctrinally, politically, structurally, philosophically, and in leadership. Worst of all, it is divided by a lack of love. Sometimes Christians hate other Christians more than they do the unconverted that persecute them.
God gives his Spirit to those who are willing to obey him (Acts 5:32). To obey him is to love – to live rightly in relationship to one’s brethren. On one occasion, Jesus said to his disciples: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
If we want to be empowered by the Spirit of God as were the original apostles, we are going to have to obey our Lord and learn to love one another as brethren. We will have to follow Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian congregation when he wrote, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (I Corinthians 14:1). Embarking on a journey of love is the beginning of empowerment. Jesus healed out of a motive of compassion and love. He was moved by the plight of the sick, the demonized and the disenfranchised. He responded in love and God empowered his words of healing and deliverance. In every selfless move Jesus made, God was glorified. Jesus was humble, yielded, and pliable putty in the hands of his Father. Because he was empty of self, he could be filled with Spirit. There was plenty of room!
We don’t have to have perfect knowledge or understand all doctrine. We may well take to our graves seemingly insolvable doctrinal issues. But because we know imperfectly does not mean that God will deny us his Spirit.
From 1859 to 1947, there lived in England a most unusual Christian man. His name was Smith Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth was a sturdy, but illiterate, Yorkshireman, without formal education. He was converted to Christ as a boy, yet he was unable to read the Scriptures for himself. His speaking style was almost unintelligible, as was his mother’s.
At a young age, Wigglesworth began working 12 hours a day to help out his family. Eventually he became a plumber. In his own awkward way, he tried to win people, including his mother, to Christ.
In 1882, at the age of 23, he married Polly Featherstone, a vibrant young woman who loved God and was both a skilled preacher and a gifted evangelist. Polly taught Smith how to read – using the Bible. From that time on, Smith was never without his “Testament” or a full Bible. In fact, he later offered people five pounds if he was ever caught without it.
Polly and Smith had great compassion for the sick. Together, they opened a mission on Boland Street in Bradford at which Polly preached and Smith prayed for the sick. Many were miraculously healed when Smith prayed for them.
In 1907, Wigglesworth experienced a new infusion of the Spirit of God. He was now age 48. He found that he was suddenly able to preach, clearly and powerfully. His lifelong inarticulateness had miraculously disappeared – except for a few ungrammatical expressions in which he persisted. Even Polly, his lifelong partner, was amazed at Smith’s transformation. Over time, he became an internationally known evangelist preaching in the UK, the US, Australia, South Africa and all over Europe. His campaigns were characteristically accompanied by powerful, and undeniable, healings.
On one occasion, it was reported that some 20 people were raised from the dead after Wigglesworth prayed for them. He spoke to the devil and his demonic minions with great authority. Wigglesworth saw the devil as the author of sickness and disease.
One night, Wigglesworth was preaching in Preston, a small town in Lancashire. A group from nearby Blackburn decided to take the train and attend. The group convinced an invalid lady friend that she should accompany them in order to seek healing. The lady’s limbs were hideously swollen and she got around only with great difficulty, using chairs and the kitchen table to aid her. She was stricken with rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, neuritis and bronchitis. It had been years since she’d been able to do any housework.
Once the train journey was completed, it took the group 45 minutes to get the crippled lady from the Preston station to the place of meeting, about half a mile away. (No one could afford a taxi in those days.)
Once there, they had to climb some 45 steps to an “upper room” where the meeting was taking place. They made it just in time for the beginning of Wigglesworth’s sermon. They had booked passage on the 10:45 train back to Blackburn. At ten to ten, Wigglesworth was still preaching. Boldly, pressed for time, the group interrupted Wigglesworth’s sermon and asked for prayer for their friend.
Wigglesworth knew his priorities. Moved by her condition, he reached out and laid his hands on her, rebuking all of her afflictions. Instantly, she was healed! In seconds, the released woman was running down the stairs with her friends in hot pursuit. Filled with grateful hearts, the Blackburn group made the train and the next day the lady did all her own housework for the first time in years. Word spread throughout the neighborhood and many people joined the fledgling Blackburn Church with which she was associated.
And, as they said in those TV ads for kitchen knives, “that’s not all.” The woman’s husband, a confirmed drunkard who suffered from the DT’s (delirium tremens), came under conviction. In the middle of the night, he awakened and walked the floor crying out to God for mercy. In moments, he was saved, delivered from his alcoholism, and filled with the Holy Spirit. He later became the first treasurer of the newly founded assembly.
Now if I were to judge Wigglesworth entirely on his theology, I would find much with which to disagree. I think he was “wrong” about many things. His understanding of the Bible was, seemingly, minimal. But he was filled with the Spirit of God. He loved as Jesus said we should love. He had compassion on the unsaved, the poor, the sick and the demonized. And because he did, God blessed his ministry. The fruit, the power and the manifestations of the Spirit were all in evidence throughout his long life and ministry. By the time he died at age 88 in 1947, tens of thousands had been healed, delivered and converted to Christ through his unorthodox and unsophisticated ministry. Much of what he said was not “theologically correct.” Yet his heart was beautiful to God and God honored that. Wigglesworth was a man of deep faith. From the time he was able to read, the only book he ever read was the King James Version of the Bible. Like Jesus before him, he had deep compassion on the sick. “Those who heard him minister from time to time will bear witness that as he preached and as he ministered to the sick, the tears would be trickling down his cheeks. Broken in spirit as he was, the brokenness would often sweep over the whole congregation” (Smith Wigglesworth by W. Hacking, p. 40).
Many of Smith Wigglesworth’s sermons and ideas were edited into a book under his byline called Smith Wigglesworth on Healing. I reproduce here the last two paragraphs of that book for your edification:
“Ah, brothers and sisters, we have no idea what God has for us if we will only begin! But, oh, the grace we need! We may make a mistake. If you do this work outside of Him, if you do it for yourself, and you want to be someone, it will be a failure. We will be able to succeed only as we do the work in the name of Jesus. Oh, the love that God’s Son can put into us if we are only humble enough, weak enough, and helpless enough to know that unless he does it, it will not be done! ‘Whatsoever things you ask when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you will have them’ (Mark 11:24).
“Live in the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit. Walk in communion with the Spirit. Talk with God. All leadings of the divine order are for you. I pray that if there are any who have turned to their own way and have made God second, they will come to repentance. Let go of what is earthly, and take hold of God’s ideals. God will bring you to an end of yourself. Begin with God this moment” (pp. 206, 207).