How God Works
From the Book of Acts
An article from SVM Winter/Spring 2017
The book of Acts lays out the foundation for the Christian Church. If we want to know how Christ led His Church, we can look there and receive answers. Was it congregational or hierarchical? Was there one church organization or many? Who were its leaders? Who made decisions? Who directed others? Who took action on their own?
The answers are all there if we are willing to look at the book as a whole. God has seen to it that this book has been preserved and that billions of copies have been distributed throughout the world. It has been available. Yet, after 40 years of study, this writer has never seen anyone attempt to analyze this book in this manner. Most church groups create their own form of government, then find the few verses which best support their view and write them into their church constitution, statement of beliefs, etc. The many biblical events that do not correspond to their doctrine are simply lost to them.
To write this article, this author simply read through the entire book of Acts and categorized the way it describes the events being accomplished. This author found 174 events within the 28 chapters of this book—an average of 6.2 events in each chapter. An “event” might be only a part of verses or a group of many verses—a new “event” was recognized whenever a new person began doing something or a significantly new thing was done. While this process is somewhat subjective, this writer does not believe that any other author would find substantially different results.
No Budget Worries
Before summarizing the book, we will quickly deal with budgets and finances, aspects of modern day church management that are almost completely absent from Acts. No verse mentions the lack of finances as the reason why any mission trips or preaching of the gospel were not started. There is no hint of a budget being established to spend whatever money they had. There are no public appeals for funds. Yes, other New Testament books discuss these issues slightly, but Acts does not.
Modern day churches and ministries desperately need to learn from this. Most spend far more time and effort seeking money than they do seeking the gifts of the Spirit or taking action to do the work of God.
In Acts 3:6-7, Peter says that he has no silver and gold. Many church leaders today cannot say that. But he does command a lame man to “rise up and walk”. Many church leaders today cannot say that either. There might be a connection. When we rely too much on money to do our ministry, do we receive the spiritual gifts of God?
Acts 4:32-37 explains that many believers lived together and sold their lands, laying the money at the apostles’ feet. This money was used for the needs of the people. It does not say who controlled the money or how. It may be this money needed to be better allocated among the Grecian widows in Acts 6:1-7.
Acts 5:1-11 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold their property to give to the apostles, but kept back part of the money. God struck them dead for their deceit. Peter clearly explained that they had the right to keep all of the money if they wanted to—but it was very wrong to lie about it. It was not important to Luke—or God—to tell us whether the church kept any of their money after they died.
Acts 8:18-22 contains the sad tale of Simon the Sorcerer, who offered money to Peter in exchange for the power to give the Holy Spirit to whoever he wanted. Some churches might take his money, put him in their ministry program and let him baptize people.
But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20-21).
In Acts 16:16-24, Paul cast a demon out of a woman who made lots of money for her owners by fortune-telling. When they lost their money-making ability, they had Paul and Silas beaten with rods and put in jail.
Repentant believers burned magic books worth 50,000 pieces of silver— millions of dollars in today’s money. They did not sell them and give the money to the church. Finally, in Acts 20:33, Paul says that he never coveted anyone’s gold or silver.
The lesson of Acts is not to worry about obtaining money for the ministry, but to avoid obtaining money for the wrong reasons! Indeed, more lessons are about not taking money wrongly than about raising money for ministry.
Kinds of Events
Now, on to our analysis of the book of Acts. There are three basic kinds of leadership events—roughly corresponding to principles of management found in modern day texts. Of interest, long term planning and organization—vital to many modern church groups—are largely missing from the Book of Acts. Indeed, these functions are certainly reserved for Christ. These are the basic leadership events we do find are of these three kinds:
Action: A person or group simply does something significant themselves. This could be preaching a message, taking a trip, praying, singing, etc. In reality, decisions and direction may have been needed to accomplish the actions in the Bible, but the Bible only records the action, so that is the most important. These make up more than half of all events—Christianity is a religion of doing, more than talking or telling.
Decision: A person or group deciding which of several possible actions are to be accomplished. The Bible records the decision made— and may or may not record if or how the decision was actually carried out. For example, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, but we do not know what he specifically did (Acts 1:15-26).
Direction: A person or group gives direction to another person or group. The Bible records the direction given, but may or may not record whether the direction was carried out. Sure, there are many other things that happened in the early church that are not written in the book of Acts. For example, the Bible records some instances of prayer and fasting before making decisions, and there may have been many other unrecorded instances. Also, there might have been more direction given by the leadership when the Bible only records what the people did. However, the discussion in this article will focus on what the Bible says, not scholarly guesses. It deals with the plentiful explanations that Luke gave describing the real functioning of the early church—the Words that God inspired to be in His Scriptures.
Summary of Acts
The table on this page summarizes the 174 events in the Book of Acts—events being further divided into Actions, Decision and Directions. It goes from the least common events to the most common. We start with these least common events, because they are the most important. Seven of the first table rows are highlighted in yellow as they represent events caused directly by God. These events are totaled in the last yellow line for your convenience—accounting for 14.9% of all the events. Let us read and give honor to what God does.
Below, we begin each paragraph with the chapter and verse of Acts. There are no book names, because it is all Acts! You can see our original data on the book of Acts in chapter verse order here on this website. We will also explain how we classified “actions”, “decisions” and “directions”.
The sources in yellow on the chart are events of direct Divine origin: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, prophets and visions. Even though these constitute only 14.9% of the 174 events in Acts, they contain 10 out of the 36 (27.7%) of the “direction” events. God actively directs His church.
Acts of God (2) – These two events are not attributed to anyone, but it is clear that God performed them to bring about His will for the church. Obviously, no man planned the result.
1:26 Decision: The 11 apostles cast lots to choose the new apostle, Matthias, trusting that God controlled the result.
16:26-27 Action: An earthquake miraculously opened the prison doors and caused everyone’s chains to come off. The jailor planned to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, but they had all stayed there.
Agabus the Prophet (2) – While prophecy is spoken under inspiration of God, it is not always a command of God. In this case, the prophet told what would happen in the future and believers made decisions based upon it.
11:27 Action: The prophet Agabus showed by the Spirit that there would be a famine throughout the world.
21:10-11 Action: Agabus prophesied that if Paul went to Jerusalem, the Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Romans. The decision was up to Paul.
God (2) –Two miraculous things are attributed directly to “God” or “the Lord”— distinct from “Jesus” mentioned elsewhere.:
2:47 Action: The Lord added to the church those people who were being saved.
19:11-12 Action: God gave Paul unusual miraculous ability, so that even cloth that had touched his body would heal people.
10:9-17 Direction: Peter saw a vision of animals and a voice telling him to “kill and eat”—three times. He did not know what it meant to begin with, but later understood.
16:8-12 Direction: Paul received a vision to go to Macedonia from Troas. All the disciples concluded it was from the Lord and they went.
Jesus (6) – Of great interest, every time Jesus appears to believers, whether in person or by vision, it is always to give direction to the Church. Many Scriptures say he is the head of the Church and when something important needs to be explained, it is He that does it. It is Jesus who appears to have inspired the entire book of Revelation. We have no good reason today to expect that Jesus has stopped guiding His church in this way.
1:4-8 Direction: Jesus Christ told the apostles not to be concerned with the time of His return, but to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
9:1-9 Direction: Just when Saul was about to bring the biggest persecution ever on the Church, Jesus showed up as a bright light and spoke to Saul, reversing the course of his life. The men with Saul did not see anyone or understand the voice (Acts 22:9). So today, if someone tells us that Jesus spoke to them, but others at the same place and time say they witnessed nothing, are we sure that the person who “heard from Jesus” is wrong?
9:10-16 Direction: In a vision, Jesus directed Ananias to go pray for Saul to receive his sight and to give him his commission to preach the Gospel. Ananias reminded Jesus of the danger that Saul posed, but Jesus was patient with him.
18:9-17 Direction: Jesus, in a vision, told Paul to keep teaching in Corinth, that nobody would be able to harm him. Paul taught 18 months. The Jews brought him before the proconsul Gallio, but Gallio refused to adjudicate a religious matter. The Jews beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who became a believer, but not Paul
22:17-21 Direction: Jesus appeared to Paul in a trance while he was praying in the temple and told him the Jerusalem church would not accept his testimony now, so he should go teach the Gentiles.
23:11 Direction: Jesus stood by Paul and told him that he must bear witness for Him in Rome.
Angels (6) – Angels are messengers of God, which carry out his commands. They always seem to deliver their message or perform their action, then disappear. This writer does not know why messages are sometimes delivered by angels or sometimes by Jesus. Both deal with important, life-or-death situations. Usually, there is only one angel, but sometimes two.
1:10-11 Direction: Two angels told the disciples to stop gazing into heaven—Christ will come back!
5:17-19 Action: An angel let the apostles out of the prison in which they were incarcerated.
5:20-21 Direction: An angel told the apostles to go back to the temple and preach—even though they had just been jailed for doing it!
10:1-8 Direction: An Angel told Cornelius, the first Roman to be baptized, to send for Peter; who was in Joppa.
12:6-11 Action: An angel took the chains off Peter’s hands and escorted him out of prison, opening the gates as he went.
27:21-27 Direction: An angel told Paul that he must go to Rome and that all in the ship would be saved alive when they would run aground on an island. Paul conveyed the angel’s message to the people on the ship and encouraged them to eat.
The Holy Spirit (10) – Ten events are attributed to the Holy Spirit in various ways. In some cases, it seems to be a powerful inner prompting which caused the believers to say or do certain things. At other times, it is an audible voice or a powerful miracle such as speaking in tongues or prophesying.
2:1-14 Action: The Holy Spirit came upon the believers gathered on Pentecost and caused them to speak so that people from many nations could hear them speak, each in their own language.
5:1-11 Action: The Spirit revealed to Peter that Ananias and Sapphira would die for lying about the proceeds from their real estate sales.
10:18-23 Direction: The Spirit told Peter to go with Cornelius’ servants, doubting nothing.
10:44-46 Action: The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his household while Peter was still speaking and they spoke with tongues. The believers watching were shocked—this was not the order taught in Acts 2:38.
13:1-4 Direction: The Holy Spirit told five prophets to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work to which they were called.
16:6-7 Decision: The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from preaching in Asia and then Bithynia. They continued to Troas.
18:5 Direction: The Spirit compelled Paul to testify to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
19:21 Decision: Paul “purposed in the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem
20:22-23 Action: The “Holy Spirit testifies in every city” that chains and tribulations await Paul in Jerusalem.
21:04 Action: Disciples told Paul through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem. Later, Paul went anyway.
From reading the previous three statements it might seem that the Holy Spirit is confused. The truth of the matter is that Christians have free will and God at times accommodates our desires within His plans. The Holy Spirit made clear that Paul’s venturing to Jerusalem would result in much persecution for him. But he also realized that it would be a great chance to be a witness for Christ to the leaders at Jerusalem and eventually Rome. It was his option.
In the last event of the Jesus and Angels sections, above, we see that Jesus and the Holy Spirit confirm that Paul should go to Rome to testify there.
Major events of Church history were sometimes largely determined by the actions and decisions of others outside of the Church. Some were government officials, others were people crossing paths with the believers. Were these “outsider” events, the direct working of God or simply the free will of the unbelievers? The book of Acts does not answer that question, so we will not do it either. Certainly, God is able to stop any intended action of man— so all of these events are things that God allowed—and some he might have either inspired or forced. It is up to the church to accept what God permits—and to either pray for deliverance from dire events or to work with them by the power of God.
Various Outsiders (10)
5:34-40 Action: When the Jewish council was intent on destroying the Church, Gamaliel, a leading teacher of the rabbinic law, told them not to fight against the apostles: if they were not of God, they would come to nothing; but if they were of God, they would be “fighting against God”.
8:1-4 Action: A great persecution arose which caused the believers to be scattered everywhere preaching the gospel.
13:14-15 Decision: The rulers of the synagogue asked Paul to speak to the people after the Scripture readings. When we are spiritually ready, evangelism opportunities find us.
13:42-43 Action: The Gentiles, Jews and proselytes asked Paul to preach Jesus again on the next Sabbath.
17:18-20 Action: Epicurean and Stoic philosophers brought Paul to the Areopagus because they liked hearing new teachings and wanted to hear his.
19:13-17 Action: Seven Jewish exorcists tried to cast out a demon “by the Jesus whom Paul preaches,” but they were beaten up by it. Many people recognized the real power in Jesus from it.
19:23-40 Action: Demetrius, a silversmith, created an uproar against Paul and his helpers because their teaching was reducing their trade in statues of the goddess Diana. The people came to the theater and nearly started a riot, but the city clerk sent them all home.
22:22-24 Action: The Jewish crowd vehemently demanded the death of Paul when he told them he was sent to teach the Gentiles and the Romans prepared to examine Paul by scourging.
23:12-15 Decision: Forty men took an oath that they would neither eat not drink until they had killed Paul. They conspired with the Jewish leaders to get Paul out of the barracks for more questioning so they could kill him.
28:01-10 Action: The people of Malta provided much help to Paul and those who were shipwrecked with him.
Roman Government Leaders (15) – The Roman rulers generally had little knowledge of Judaism or Christianity. They were primarily interested in the position and prosperity of themselves and their superiors. They sometimes helped and sometimes caused temporary trouble for the believers. They are not mentioned as a factor in Church operations until chapter 21.
21:31-40 Action: The Roman garrison commander heard the commotion of those trying to kill Paul and sent soldiers to take him away. After talking to Paul, he allowed him to speak to the crowd.
22:26-30 Action: The Roman commander, upon finding Paul was a Roman citizen, did not scourge Paul, but arranged for him to have a legitimate trial with his accusers brought before him.
23:10 Action: The Roman commander again rescued Paul from the Jews who are about to pull him apart.
23:16 Action: Paul’s nephew told the Roman commander about the plot to kill Paul. The commander foiled the plot by sending a force of hundreds of soldiers to escort Paul to Caesarea where he was kept in Herod’s Praetorium.
24:22-23 Decision: Felix adjourned Paul’s trial and kept him in custody, allowing his friends to come to him.
24:26-27 Decision: Felix hoped that Paul would give him a bribe to let him go, so he would hear him from time to time—leaving him in prison for 2 years until he was succeeded by Porcius Festus.
25:1-9 Decision: Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor, so he agreed to send Paul back to Jerusalem where the Jews hoped to be able to convict or kill him.
25:13-27 Decision: Herod Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea and accepted Festus’ invitation to hear Paul. They agreed that he should go to Caesar, but realized they needed to write some kind of charges.
26:28-32 Decision: Agrippa understood Paul’s teaching and was almost persuaded to be a Christian, but he decided against it. Agrippa and Festus agreed that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar—but they did nothing to try to deliver him.
27:1-8 Action: Paul was put on a ship for Italy with Julius, a centurion, who allowed him to go to some believers along the way and receive care.
27:11-20 Decision: The Centurion listened to others more than Paul, and they continued sailing, eventually getting caught in a bad wind and had to just let the ship go—eventually giving up hope that they would live.
27:28-32 Action: The sailors of Paul’s ship were afraid it would crash into rocks too far from the land, so they attempted to escape in the life boat. Paul informed the Centurion and he ordered the soldiers to cut the lifeboat ropes, so the sailors had to stay on the ship and do their best to bring it to land.
27:42-44 Action: The Roman soldiers planned to kill all the prisoners when their ship ran aground, but the Centurion wanted to keep Paul alive so he ordered all of the prisoners to swim in or use parts of the ship to float.
28:11-15 Action: After three months on Malta, the Centurion found another ship and took him to Rome, allowing him to visit believers along the way.
28:16 Decision: Caesar’s captain of the guard allowed Paul to dwell in his own house with those who guarded him.
The Church was affected by so many government decisions because the preaching of the gospel was changing the world and that made the secular governments nervous. There was never any attempt to create a separate Christian state or form a Christian military to take power. But since secular leaders usually think about those things, they assumed that the Christian leaders were thinking about the same things and felt they had to prevent them from becoming too popular. Christians today ought to ask themselves if they are doing too little. Are we never involved in anything that our communities know about? Are we so effective in our teaching and so well appreciated for our love that it worries other religious groups and secular civil governments? That was the nature of the first century church!
Believer, Brethren, Disciples or “the Church”
Believers, etc. (25) – Twenty-five events are attributed to the believers, brethren, disciples or “the Church”. Over half (13 out of 25) of these events are “decisions”—a higher percentage than any other category. How can a group of people make a decision? Does their leader have to decide? For thousands of years, groups have made decisions by meetings, discussions, consensus and voting. The Greek word cheirotoneo used in Acts 14:23 and 2 Corinthians 8:19 is frequently defined as “to vote by stretching out the hand” and is translated “appointed by vote” in the Young’s Literal Translation.
1:23-25 Decision: The disciples proposed two possible replacements and prayed for a good decision.
2:44-47 Decision: Believers decided to live together with all things in common, praising God and having favor with all people.
4:23-31 Action: Believers prayed together for protection and the ground shook afterward.
4:32-37 Decision: Believers decided to sell their property, give the money to the apostles and have all things in common.
6:3-6 Decision: Believers chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.
09:24-25 Decision: Damascus disciples decided to help Saul escape death by letting him down through the wall in a basket.
9:26 Decision: Jerusalem disciples were afraid of Saul and did not believe he was one of them.
9:29-31 Decision: When the brethren found that Saul’s teaching was provoking the Jews to want to kill him, they took him back to Tarsus, and they had peace.
9:36-39 Action: When Dorcas died, the believers implored Peter to come to them quickly.
10:48 Decision: Believers asked Peter to stay for a few days.
11:19-21 Action: Some believers who had fled from Jerusalem had preached Jesus to the Greeks and God was with them.
11:22-24 Action: When the Church at Jerusalem heard of the Greeks coming to God in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to them because he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
11:29-30 Decision: The disciples in Antioch—each according to their ability—decided to send relief to the brethren in Judea by Barnabas and Saul.
12:4-5 Action: The Church prayed for Peter’s release from jail.
13:49-52 Decision: Even though Paul and Barnabas were ejected for their preaching, the disciples choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy.
15:1-2 Decision: Certain believers from Judea came to Antioch to teach the brethren that they had to be circumcised after the custom of Moses to be saved. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed, they determined that Paul, Barnabas and some others should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders to get an answer to the question.
16:1-2 Decision: Believers at Derbe and Lystra gave Timothy a good recommendation.
17:10 Action: Because of the persecution, the brethren sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.
17:14-15 Action: The brethren sent Paul away by sea to Athens
18:20 Action: Ephesian believers asked Paul to stay with them.
18:27-28 Direction: Ephesian brethren encouraged those in Achaia to receive Apollos as a teacher.
19:18-20 Action: Believers confessed their sins and burned magic books worth about a million dollars.
19:30 Action: The disciples stopped Paul from trying to talk to the riotous assembly in the Ephesian theater.
21:17 Decision: The Jerusalem brethren received Paul gladly.
28:30 Action: Paul could not leave his house, but all who chose to come to him, he taught.
Recognized Church Leaders
The final section, Recognized Church Leaders, contains 94 events, 54% of the total. It is clear that the Church leadership leads, but not to the exclusion of the previously discussed sources. The events are attributed 2 times to women leaders, 18 times to various male church leaders, 13 times to the twelve apostles, 14 times to Peter and 47 times to Paul (called Saul in earlier chapters). The recognized leaders do not sit back and give directions and make decisions. They have a slightly higher percentage of “action” events than do the others.
While this is a long section, it makes for very interesting readings. Read about the Actions, Decisions and Directions of these biblical church leaders and then think about the church leadership you know. What should we pray about? What can we do to be more like the Scriptures?
Women Leaders (2) – It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the scriptures about women’s leadership in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12; etc.). Even so, the vast majority of church leadership in the book of Acts was male. Yet there are two examples of women exercising a certain amount of leadership. We did not consider Philip’s four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9) as an “event”, because we know nothing of their prophecies and how they affected the church.
16:14-15 Action: Merchant woman Lydia was baptized with her household and she persuaded Paul and his companions to stay there.
18:26 Direction: Priscilla and Aquila accepted the good that Apollos did and helped him with his “doctrinal error”.
The Twelve Apostles (13) – The twelve Apostles took on a vital, front line role in the early chapters of Acts, but were apparently dispersed by the middle of the book. “Direction” and “decision” events make up 61.5% of their total events. This is a higher ratio than most others. It makes sense that more complex decisions and directions would be made with the input of a group of people.
2:42-43 Direction: Believers continued in the apostles’ doctrine.
The apostles had power to do miracles.
4:19-20 Action: Peter and John said that they must obey God rather than the mainstream religious leaders.
4:33 Action: Apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
5:12 Action: Signs and wonders were done through the apostles.
5:29-33 Action: The apostles said they would obey God rather than the commands of the government of their day—even though that made leaders mad enough to want to kill them.
5:40-42 Action: In spite of the beating they received for their preaching, the apostles continued to teach daily in the temple and in many houses.
6:1-4 Decision: When the Hellenists said their widows were being neglected, the apostles said they should choose seven men full of the Holy Spirit to do the job so the apostles could continue praying and teaching.
6:6 Decision: Apostles laid hands on the men whom the believers had chosen.
8:14-25 Direction: Apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria when they heard they had received the word of God. They prayed for the baptized believers to receive the Holy Spirit.
13:5 Decision: John Mark was chosen as an assistant to the ministry—which did not work out as well as they had hoped (Acts 15:37-40). The Apostles were not “infallible”.
15:4-6 Decision: The Church, Apostles and elders received the men that came about the circumcision question and considered the matter.
15:22-31 Decision: In resolving the circumcision question: “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.”
16:4-5 Direction: The decisions made at Jerusalem by the “apostles elders and church” were passed on to other cities that Paul visited.
Various Church Leaders (18) – Several other believers were clearly recognized as leaders and performed various tasks on behalf of the Church. There is little effort by the scripture to give ranks of position to these people or to explain exactly how and when they received authority from God. Of interest, Stephen and Philip were two of seven chosen to help serve widows in Acts 6, but proceed to lecture the nation and go on a ministry trip in Acts 7 & 8. Ananias is chosen to heal Paul, but we hear of nothing else that he did, but dozens of things that Paul did. Indeed, it is impossible to describe with certainty any organization charts, jobs descriptions, training programs, etc. used in the book of Acts.
6:5-8 Action: Stephen did great signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit.
6:9-15 Action: Stephen was falsely accused, but he answered with great wisdom and his face looked like the face of an angel.
7:1-54 Action: Stephen, recently appointed to “serve tables” delivered a long lecture to the national leaders about their ancestors who rejected the leading of God and told them that they were rejecting the leading of God by rejecting Jesus. They got angry.
7:55-60 Action: Stephen explained that he saw a vision of the Father and the Son of Man in heaven—for which he was stoned to death. Even so, Stephen asked that this sin not be held against them.
8:5-12 Action: Philip, recently appointed to “serve tables” preached Christ, baptized and performed many miracles in Samaria.
9:17-18 Direction: Ananias followed Jesus’ instructions, healed Saul, baptized him and prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill him.
9:27-28 Decision: Barnabas took Saul to the Apostles and explained his conversion, and he became accepted there.
11:25-26 Direction: Barnabas found Saul in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch where they taught for a whole year.
13:1-3 Action: Five prophets and teachers laid hands on Saul and Barnabas after the Holy Spirit separated them for a ministry.
13:13 Action: John Mark decided to leave Saul and Barnabas and return to Jerusalem.
15:13-21 Decision: In considering the circumcision question, James said “I judge that we should not trouble those who among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality from things strangled, and from blood.”
15:32-34 Decision: When the circumcision decision letter was read in Antioch, Judas and Silas strengthen the brethren. Silas decided to stay in Antioch while others returned to Jerusalem.
18:24-16 Action: Apollos skillfully and accurately taught Jesus is the Christ from the Scriptures, but knew only the baptism of John
18:27 Decision: Apollos wanted to go to Achaia to teach.
18:28 Action: Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing Jesus was the Christ.
20:4-6 Action: Several leaders made various travel plans, traveling in different ways and different times, apparently to help Paul avoid detection.
21:12 Decision: Leaders, including Luke, plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
21:21-25 Direction: James and the elders of Jerusalem heard rumors that Paul was teaching Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake the law. To counteract the rumor, they told him to take part in the purification rites of four men who had a vow.
The Apostle Peter (14) – Peter was the apostle leading the teaching of the Jews and Paul of the other nations (Galatians 2:8). Peter’s 14 events are half “action” and half “direction and decision”. He certainly was a powerful leader of God. But with only 8% of the events of Acts directly attributable to him, he is not the “pope” or church dictator that many people imagine.
1:15-22 Direction: Peter stated the need to replace Judas with a new apostle and listed some qualifications.
2:15-41 Action: Peter stood up to preach a message explaining the meaning of the miraculous events and the way to salvation: 3000 responded with the decision to be baptized.
3:01-11 Decision: When asked for alms, Peter said he had no gold and silver, but gave the lame man healing instead.
3:12-26 Action: When people were amazed at the above miracle, Peter decided to give them another message about repentance.
4:7-14 Action: The Jewish religious leaders questioned Peter and John about the healed lame man and Peter explained it, telling them they must be saved in the name of Jesus Christ.
5:15-16 Action: The shadow of Peter caused healing in the people who had come to him.
8:18-23 Action: When Simon the Sorcerer offered Peter money to be able to give the Holy Spirit, Peter told him he was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity”—and said Simon would have no part in Church leadership.
9:32-35 Action: Peter healed a paralyzed man and many people turned to Christ.
9:40-42 Action: Peter prayed for Dorcas and she came back to life. Many more people believed in Christ.
10:24-43 Direction: Peter concluded that God shows no partiality and that all men have access to God through Christ. He realized he must defy the custom of his time which prevented Jews from fellowshipping with other nationalities.
10:46-48 Direction: Peter commanded those who received the Holy Spirit to be baptized afterward.
11:1-18 Direction: Peter related the events of Acts 10 to Jewish believers who were skeptical of his eating with Gentiles and baptizing them. They heard his message and praised God.
12:12-17 Direction: Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. He told them how the angel got him out of prison, asked them to tell James and the other brethren, and went on to some other undisclosed location.
15:07-11 Decision: In considering the circumcision question, Peter explained how God gave the Holy Spirit to Gentiles based upon their heart, not their circumcision.
The Apostle Paul/Saul (47) – Paul is without question the dominant figure of the book of Acts. His work makes up 29.3% of the events in Acts—mostly in the last half of the book. Of his events, 66% are “action”, 21% are “decision” and 13% are “direction”. He performed numerous miraculous signs. He was a “doer” not a “dictator”. While this section is quite long, finishing it will give you a thorough tour of the leadership of God’s church as recorded in the book of Acts. This writer hopes it is a blessing to you.
9:19-23 Action: Saul spent time with disciples at Damascus and preached Christ in the synagogues so well that the Jews wanted to kill him.
12:24-25 Decision: Saul and Barnabas decided to take John Mark with them on their ministry.
13:6-12 Action: Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, blinded Elymas the sorcerer when he tried to stop him from preaching to Sergius Paulus.
13:16-41 Action: Paul preached Jesus to the synagogue from the Old Testament, adding in present day facts.
13:44-48 Decision: The Jews were filled with envy at the multitudes that came to hear Paul and Barnabas. So Paul and Barnabas decide to go to the Gentiles.
14:1-6 Action: Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel at Iconium until the unbelieving Jews stirred up people to drive them away.
14:7-18 Action: Paul and Barnabas healed a man and the Greeks at Iconium treated them as Greek Gods and wanted to sacrifice to them. Paul and Barnabas taught them to turn from their worthless idols.
14:19-28 Action: Even though the Jews from Antioch and Iconium stirred up the multitudes to stone Paul and they nearly killed him, he got back up the next day and continued to travel, preaching the Gospel and encouraging many.
15:12 Decision: “When considering the issue of circumcision,”, Paul and Barnabas declared the many miracles that God did through them among the Gentiles.
15:3 Action: Even though they were on a doctrinal decision mission, Paul, Barnabas and others stop to encourage the brethren.
15:35-41 Decision: Paul and Barnabas decided to go back and visit the churches where they had previously preached. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them but Paul did not. So Barnabas took Mark and Paul took Silas. There were now two teams!
16:3 Decision: Paul circumcised Timothy and took him on his ministry trip.
16:13 Action: Paul found the place where women met for prayer on the Sabbath and went to meet with them.
16:16-24 Action: Paul cast the demon out of a fortune-telling woman who had been pestering him, but that caused her owners to make false accusations against Paul. He was beaten and thrown in prison.
16:25 Decision: Paul and Silas chose to sing praises to God in prison, which got the attention of the prisoners.
16:28-34 Decision: Paul and the other prisoners chose not to escape, but convinced the jailor not to kill himself, preached Jesus Christ to him and baptized his entire household. In return, Paul and his companions received medical attention and a meal.
16:35-40 Decision: The town magistrates sent officers with orders to release Paul and his companions, but Paul demanded that the magistrates come themselves to do it as they had been beaten and jailed illegally as Roman citizens. Even so, they went back to Lydia’s house to encourage the brethren.
17:1-9 Action: Paul and companions went to Thessalonica and preached Jesus in the synagogues where many believed. The Jews were jealous, so they made false charges against them, causing Jason to be beaten and security to be taken from others.
17:11-13 Action: Paul preached Christ at Berea and they did a good job of searching the Scriptures, but persecution from Thessalonica followed.
17:15 Direction: Paul commanded Silas and Timothy to come to him when they could.
17:16-17 Action: Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him” when he saw the idolatry of Athens, so he taught Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue and the marketplace.
17:21-34 Action: Paul used their monument to the “unknown God” and some of their own poetry to explain the true God to these Greeks. Some of them believed.
18:1-4 Action: Paul went to Corinth, stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and taught in the synagogue every Sabbath.
18:6-8 Action: Paul left the Jews because they blasphemed Jesus and taught in the house next door to the synagogue where some Jews and Gentiles believed and were baptized.
18:18-19 Action: Paul went to Syria, Cenchrea and Ephesus. He had his hair cut off because of a vow.
18:20-23 Action: Paul refused the Ephesians’ request, but headed for Jerusalem for Pentecost. He left by way of Caesarea, Galatia and Phrygia.
19:1-8 Action: When Paul found 12 men who were not baptized in the name of Jesus and had not received the Holy Spirit, he baptized them and laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. He taught in the synagogue three months.
19:9-10 Decision: When some unbelievers spoke evil against Paul he left the synagogue and taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years.
19:21-22 Direction: Paul planned to go to Rome after staying in Asia, but sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia.
20:1-6 Direction: Paul called the disciples to himself and left for Macedonia and eventually Troas, dodging persecutions of the Jews.
20:7-12 Action: Paul taught past midnight and brought Eutychus back to life after he was killed by falling out of a third-story window.
20:13-17 Direction: Paul gives various orders for disciples to travel in different ways. He called for the Elders in Ephesus.
20:17-40 Direction: Paul spoke to the elders of the church, telling them this was the last time he would see them, explaining his ministry and telling them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers to “shepherd the Church of God”. He also explained that false leaders would arise both from without and within the church—and that he never coveted anyone’s silver or gold, but worked to take care of himself.
21:1-16 Action: Paul travels to Jerusalem, strengthening believers along the way, determined to go in spite of many prophecies of trouble for him.
21:18-20 Action: Paul explained to James and the elders of Jerusalem the great things that God had done among the Gentiles.
21:26-31 Action: Paul followed James and the elder’s instructions to take part in the purification in the temple, but the Jews made false accusations against him, stirred up the people and tried to kill him.
21:39-40 Action: Rescued by Romans from a Jewish mob trying to kill him, Paul obtained permission to speak to the mob.
22:1-22 Action: Paul told his conversion story from Acts 9 to the Jewish crowd that was against him. They listened until he explained a revelation from Jesus that he was to go to the Gentiles.
22:25 Action: Paul asserted his legal rights as a Roman citizen and avoided being “examined by scourging”.
23:1-9 Action: Paul is called before the Jewish council, but creates division between the Pharisees and Sadducees over the issues of angels and the resurrection of the dead.
24:1-21 Action: Paul defends himself against Ananias the high priest and the lawyer Tertullus. His effort to divide the Pharisees and Sadducees did not work.
24:24-25 Action: Felix sent for Paul to hear him concerning faith in Christ, but was afraid when Paul talked about judgment to come.
25:10-12 Decision: In order to avoid Jerusalem, Paul appealed to Caesar.
26:1-32 Action: Paul explained his conversion story to King Agrippa and Festus—and how that story enraged the Jews. He was well received and Herod was almost persuaded to become a Christian.
27:9-10 Direction: Paul advised the Centurion not to sail after the “fast” (Day of Atonement).
27:33-44 Action: Paul encouraged everyone to eat so they would have strength to swim to shore. He ate himself and the others followed, being able to accomplish their purpose. The sailors maneuvered the ship to the island till it ran aground and people could swim in.
28:17-31 Action: Paul called the Jewish leaders together in Rome and taught them about Jesus. Some believed and some did not, causing a great dispute among themselves. Paul taught any who came to him.
God is sovereign. His work is simply beyond what we are able to comprehend (Ecclesiastes 8:17). We should learn from the Scriptures that He has given us, rather than reason about what we think He should have done or justify the kind of church organization we are most familiar with. He is a God of action, decisions and directives.
We cannot make God direct us through Jesus, angels, prophets, the Holy Spirit, etc. But we can be open to that direction and pray for it. We can repent of the sin of arbitrarily saying “God no longer works that way” simply because he has never worked that way with us or our church group. Too many church groups throughout the world reject certain parts of the Bible just because their group has never obeyed them, and since they “know” that God is with them without following those commands, there must be no need to follow them. A lesson from Jesus is in order:
… “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)