And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
What would make the ministry of God’s Word more prosperous in your city? Consider your answer carefully. Would adding more Sunday school teachers, more small group leaders, more preachers, or even more congregations give God’s Word greater effect where you live? Certainly, more is better, right? Those of us who have theological educations may propose additional training so that lack of knowledge is removed as an impediment to the Word. We may also add prayer, repentance, unity, and even the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to our roster of responses. But what role does mercy play with regard to the ministry of God’s Word. The mercy ministry in the first century Jerusalem Church became gasoline to the Word’s fire.
Mercy sows. Organizational leaders tell us one’s vision reflects their values. What values does Jesus’ vision for the Church reflect? In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve a “Cultural Mandate”: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28a). Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave a “Great Commission” to His new covenant people, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18a). Just as God placed in the DNA of Adam and Eve to “multiply”, so also Jesus placed “make disciples” in the DNA of His Church. In both cases—and in all cases—it is God’s Word which brings new birth. But do we ever consider the mercy of disciple-making?
Mercy grows. At the conclusion of Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:41), we are told that three thousand persons were added to the church on the day of Pentecost. This is the first of several instances in the early chapters of Acts when the Church experienced rapid growth (Acts 2:46-47, 4:4, 6:1, 6:7). Lest we should think the Church grows by the preaching of the Word alone, the report of Acts 6:7 is that the Church grew because the Word grew and the Word grew after the mercy of the Gospel message was applied to widows in the Church (Acts 6:1-6). Shortly after Pentecost, we learn that the people devoted themselves daily to the Apostles teaching and as an outworking of that teaching, they also sold their possessions and distributed them to anyone who was in need (Acts 2:42-47). Similarly, in the next chapter, Peter healed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3) and then preached the Gospel to a large multitude which led to the report of the church numbering five thousand men (Acts 4:4). Preceding each growth report, are great acts of mercy and powerful sermons, inseparably working in tandem to make disciples of the nations. At the end of Acts 4, when the believers gathered to pray, they prayed for two things, greater boldness with the word and miraculous wonders of God’s mercy. For them, mercy preached became mercy practiced. Is the same true for us?