So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. NASU
Saul was converted and empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel. The Lord instructed Ananias (Acts 9:15) to go to Saul "for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." NASU As soon as Saul was converted, he began persuading others to accept Christ.
The Spirit's Ministry
As our text says, one of the results of Saul's conversion was that the church enjoyed peace. The church was going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort (paraklesei) of the Holy Spirit. To comfort the church is a ministry of the Spirit.
The noun paraklesis is rich in meaning. According to Arndt and Gingrich (p. 633), it can mean encouragement and exhortation or comfort and consolation. Luke uses paraklesis several times in Luke and Acts (Luke 2:25; 6:24; Acts 4:36; 13:15; and 15:31), but Acts 9:31 is the only place where he uses this term in connection with the Holy Spirit. Here, the term refers to what the Holy Spirit provides. He enriches the church with His comfort.
How the Spirit Ministers
The Spirit ministers comfort to the church in a variety of ways. One of the ways the Spirit ministers is through the Spirit-inspired Word of God. The Word of God speaks powerfully to all who believe. Another way is through the messages of Spirit-inspired prophets. Through all of this, he encourages, directs, enlightens, and empowers. He works inwardly in the lives of individuals and the church collectively.
The Purpose of the Comfort
With regard to the purpose of the Spirit's ministry, Menzies and Turner carry on a discussion over primary and secondary emphases. According to Menzies (p. 187), Acts 9:31 represents comfort delivered by Spirit-inspired prophets. He further holds that "Prophetic inspiration in Acts is always given principally for the benefit of others (not the recipient of the Spirit) and ultimately for the expansion of the church." The term "principally" suggests that Menzies does recognize the benefit of prophetic inspiration to the church itself in a secondary way. In contrast, Turner (p. 403) holds that the comfort of the Holy Spirit was for the benefit of the church and that the comforted church could expect to attract converts. However, the growth of the church was a "secondary" missiological effect.
Both the comfort of the church itself and the growth of the church are in view in Acts 9:31. Two points need to be made. One, Luke's emphasis on power to witness does not mean that he is unaware of the work of the Spirit in a variety of ways. As he says here, the Spirit ministers comfort. An encouraged church is itself blessed. Two, the church that is comforted by the Spirit reaches out in its mission. Mission and spiritual well-being belong together. We should not try to separate them.
We should observe, however, that Luke does not develop a doctrine of the Spirit's work in individual conversion. He seems to have left this for the apostle Paul to do. It is Paul, not Luke, who connects the work of the Spirit with adoption, sanctification, washing, regeneration, and other aspects of salvation. Here, even the "comfort" of the Spirit is reported in the context of the security, growth, and development of the church.
George M. Flattery
For Further Study
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.