The Basis of Missions in Acts

The Holy Spirit and Missions

This morning we have come to the third subtitle: The Basis of Missions in Acts, that is, The Holy Spirit and Missions. My message is arranged under five headings:

  1. The Holy Spirit as author and finisher of missions,
  2. The Holy Spirit as promoter of missions,
  3. The Holy Spirit as power for missions,
  4. The Holy Spirit as strategist for missions and
  5. The Holy Spirit as supplier for missions.

The Holy Spirit as Author and Finisher of Missions

The Lord committed to his followers the task of evangelizing the world. But clearly and emphatically he told them that they had power to fulfill this Great Commission only when they had received the Holy Spirit:

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).

Power is, in every sphere of work, the one all-important requisite. Even more this is true with the church's mission, for we "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12). We need a supernatural power against a supernatural enemy, and only the Holy Spirit can supply this power.

It is interesting to note that of all the "armor of God" which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6, the "sword of the Spirit" is the only offensive piece without which you can never win a battle. Faith without work is dead, as the body without the spirit is dead. The form of godliness without power is dead; worship without spirit and truth is dead; giving without love is dead; oratory without unction is dead; the letter without the spirit is dead; and a missionary apparatus without the power of the Holy Spirit is dead.

The Lord thought so much of this "power from on high" that he even forbade his disciples to begin their mission before they were equipped with this Divine Supply. How can we afford to think differently from the Lord?

In speaking of the Holy Spirit the Lord said something which was too much for the disciples to take in, something they thought hardly sensible. He actually said,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (Jn. 14:12).

They could not understand these amazing words at the time, but later they all learned to know that they were true. The Holy Spirit was going to mean greater efficiency than even Christ's presence in the flesh had meant to them before. Christ called the Holy Spirit "another comforter" (Jn. 14:16). The word another indicates that the Holy Spirit was going to be to the disciples all that the Lord Jesus had been to them previously. Not only that, but also through this "another comforter" they would be enabled to do greater works than Jesus himself had done! There is no "going away" with him, and there is no limit to his presence. Another All-Sufficiency for them!

We can never overestimate the importance of the Holy Spirit. He was the center of the Lord's last discourse (Jn. 14-16), and it was none other than the Holy Spirit concerning whom Jesus gave his "last commandment" to his disciples just before his ascension: "Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Lk. 24:49). We simply cannot brush aside something on which the Lord has laid so much emphasis.

It is, therefore, logical for us to say that missions began with the Holy Spirit. But the significance of the Holy Spirit in regard to missions does not stop here. He is also the finisher of missions.

The supernatural sign of speaking with tongues which accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was itself a clear and divinely appointed indication that the power of the Holy Spirit was going to send the gospel to all races and nations where different "tongues" are spoken. We can, therefore, also say that the Holy Spirit is the guarantor of the success of world missions. We clearly see today that this divinely appointed indication has come true: The gospel has been preached in almost all tongues.

The Holy Spirit as Promoter of Missions

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is really "The Book of the Acts of Jesus through the Apostles by the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit took a leading part in every move of the early Church. We see him explicitly at work in all the works of the early church:

  • when the church first broke out in power with 3,000 and 5,000 people convicted and converted on a single occasion;
  • when Peter and the other disciples witnessed boldly in the face of persecution;
  • when the early Christians overcame selfishness and gave more than liberally to the Lord's work (Acts 4:3 2-3 7);
  • when the first martyrdom took place, showing glorious victory over persecution and vengeance;
  • when the gospel of salvation reached the first Gentile family in the city of Caesarea (Acts 11:12);
  • when the message of the forgiveness of sin began to spread to Ethiopia and Africa through Philip speaking to the powerful eunuch (Acts 8:29);
  • when the churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria came to be firmly established (Acts 9:31);
  • when that wonderful missionary-minded church at Antioch began to be prosperous as a preparation for foreign missions (Acts 11:24);
  • when the mutual love of the first churches was manifested by collecting a love offering through the inspired prophecy of Agabus (Acts 11:28-29);
  • when the Antioch church launched its missionary program (Acts 13:2);
  • when Paul overcame his first enemy of influence in the person of Elymas on the isle of Cyprus (Acts 13:9);
  • when the Apostolic Gospel Team rejoiced over persecution at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:52);
  • when the apostles recognized work among the Gentiles and announced the great Proclamation of Freedom from Law for Gentile Christians at the First Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28);
  • when Paul was forbidden to continue his work in Asia Minor and was led into Europe, an act of far-reaching significance (Acts 16:6-10);
  • when leaders were chosen to look after an indigenous church at Ephesus (Acts 20:26).

Behind all these important events and movements of the early church, the Holy Spirit was the real promoting and sustaining power. Moreover, no one can fail to observe that most of the events on this list have to do with missions. Are we, therefore, not justified in saying that the chief concern of the Holy Spirit in the early churches was the promotion and empowerment of

The Holy Spirit as Power for Missions

Outpourings of the Holy Spirit on Missionary Work

There is an important distinction between the infilling of the Holy Spirit and the onfalling, or oncoming, or outpouring, of the Holy Spirit. The former has mainly to do with depth of spiritual quality and character and with power in service, whereas the latter is a sovereign act of God to indicate the ushering in of a new era or the beginning of a new movement or expansion. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened only four times in the book of Acts—with 2:3 compare 2:18; 8:15-18; 10:44-45; 19:6. Each of these was accompanied by supernatural signs.

It is most revealing that all four times were related to missions: The first time was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Lord referred to it as the empowering for world missions (Acts 1:8); the second time was when the gospel reached the first non-Jewish city of Samaria; the third took place when Peter was sent by the Holy Spirit to preach to the first Gentile family, that of Cornelius in the city of Caesarea; and finally, the fourth time came about when Paul broke into new ground, showing clearly the distinction between the gospel of Jesus and the teaching of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-6). These are facts which show how concerned about and how related the Holy Spirit is to missions.

The Empowerment of the Holy Spirit for Fruitfulness in Missions

When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he preached and 3,000 souls were converted. It was not the number of decisions that counted, for we are all familiar with the notorious fact that there is a shocking discrepancy between the number of decisions made at campaigns and real conversions.

It was the quality of such a large number of new converts that showed the power of the Holy Spirit: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Barnabas was filled with the Holy Spirit, and "much people was added unto the Lord" (Acts 11:24). Not unto the church, but unto the Lord. That must mean true conversions. There were both Jews and Gentiles among them. As a result, a prosperous and spiritually minded church was established.

Down through the centuries there have been amazing instances of the rapidity of results under the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us take a few examples.

  • In the ninety-six years following 1811, there were over a million converts in West Polynesia.
  • In Burma, during the first eighty years of evangelistic work, an average of one new convert was baptized every three hours around the clock, and one in ten of such converts became an active worker for the Lord.
  • In the Fiji Islands, James Calvert, who went there in time to bury the remains of eighty human victims of a cannibal feast, lived to see crowds of converted savages around the Lord's table for Holy Communion. At the end of the fifty years between 1835 and 1885, 1,300 churches could be counted.
  • In Formosa, Mackay had 1,200 converts at the Lord's table after twelve years' work.

Instances like these could be multiplied again and again.

The Empowerment of the Holy Spirit for Missionary Expansion

The Spirit-filled church at Jerusalem expanded along three main routes: by the converted "devout Jews" who were present at the Pentecostal scene and who went back to their own places with the gospel; by the Christians who scattered after the martyrdom of Spirit-filled Stephen and the persecution that followed, and then in turn by the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led ministry of Philip, advancing to Samaria and Ethiopia; by other scattered Christians who took the northern route to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, and in turn from the Spirit-filled church at Antioch to Asia Minor and Europe. We see the Holy Spirit at work in all these directions.

Church history abounds with illustrations of the empowering of the Spirit. At significant turns in the history of the church, which we may call hours of travail before or during the birth of new life or new expansion, we see special phenomena of the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit.

For instance, at the beginning of the Wesleyan Revival, which influenced the history of England to such a remarkable extent and which, through men like Whitefield, contributed to the Great Awakening in New England under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards, we see a visitation of the power of the Holy Spirit which is sometimes called the Methodist Pentecost. We find these words in John Wesley's journal:

Jan. 1, 1739. Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Butchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-feast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us ... As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice, "We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord."

George Whitefield recalled this occasion and remarked, "It was a Pentecostal time indeed!" One month later he preached to 20,000 colliers at Kingswood, Bristol, with marvelous results. The great movement expanded to all England, to all Great Britain, to America and to many other countries. Many scholars agree with Prof A. M. Renick of Edinburgh in saying that even William Carey, the London Missionary Society and the strong evangelical wing in the Church of England are all fruits of this mighty revival.

The Empowerment of the Holy Spirit for Victory over Satan.

On his first mission field, Paul met with a formidable enemy in a sorcerer by the name of Elymas, who had great influence with the deputy of the country against the Christian faith. Paul, "filled with the Holy Spirit," rebuked him and made him temporarily blind by a miracle, and thereby broke the cast of the power of darkness over the island of Cyprus. Paul pointed out in his rebuke that Elymas was a tool of Satan to hinder the cause of the gospel, and he was enabled by the Holy Spirit to bring about victory over him.

The power of darkness reigns through superstition and sin, which results in moral corruption. But the transformation of individual lives and communities, wherever the gospel is preached, is an undeniable proof of the power of the Holy Spirit. Dr. J. H. Bavinck of Holland has pointed out in his book The Science of Missions that the conviction of sin which is necessary for salvation cannot be brought about by a philosophical approach alone, based on natural theology, using reason as a common premise for arguing against the falsity of heathen ways of life and faith. Neither will the psychological or dialectical approach be sufficient. "The Holy Spirit alone," says Dr. Bavinck, "can call to repentance, and we are only means in his hand." He goes on to say, "If elenctics [or the conviction of sin] were a human activity, the situation would be nearly hopeless." That is only too true.

The Holy Spirit and Prayer Power

The working of the Holy Spirit is so interwoven with prayer that sometimes they are taken as one thing. They are mutually causative. In Acts nothing else is so closely linked together with the power of the Holy Spirit as prayer.

St. Patrick, known as the apostle of Ireland, spent forty days on top of Croagh Patrick in meditation and prayer for the opening up of West Ireland to the gospel, and it did open.

There is consensus among church historians that William Carey was the true herald of modern missions. The movement which he started was born of a special monthly prayer meeting for worldwide outpouring of power from on high, which Dr. Arthur T. Pierson calls a "stated monthly season of such united, organized pleading with God for a lost world."

Some historians have traced this prayer movement back to the trumpet call to prayer for a new and worldwide Pentecost blown by Jonathan Edwards from New England and echoed in England across the ocean. Edwards himself led in a mighty revival in New England and had great impact on the preachers and churches of his own time as well as of generations to follow. His ministry was marked by evident manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the pioneering messengers of the gospel began to labor on the island of Tahiti, the power of darkness so prevailed that the efforts of the first fourteen years seemed to be wholly in vain. The tireless toil and unsparing self-denial of the early missionaries were not rewarded by a single convert.

The directors of the London Missionary Society seriously proposed abandoning this fruitless field. But there were a few who felt that this was the very hour when God was about to rebuke unbelief and reward faith. Finally, instead of abandoning the field, a special season of united prayer was appointed. Many confessed unbelief and prayed fervently. A miracle happened just at this crucial hour. Unknown to each other, two vessels started from two opposite ports, one from Tahiti bound for London, the other from the Thames bound for Tahiti, and they crossed each other's tracks at mid-ocean. The latter carried letters of encouragement to the missionaries. The former bore letters from the missionaries in Tahiti, announcing such a mighty work of God that idolatry was entirely overthrown. What a wonderful and amazing coincidence between prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit as Strategist of Missions

Acts affords us guidance in regard to the strategy of missions. It reveals to us principles of missionary work which have to do with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Occupation of Key Cities

Philip was led to Samaria; Peter to Caesarea; Paul started work in many key cities in Asia Minor. Today, the metropolitan areas are the strategic centers for evangelism, since this is indeed a "Metropolitan age."

Capture of Key Persons and Classes for Christ

When Paul went to Cyprus, he dealt with the deputy of the country in the power of the Holy Spirit, won him for the Lord and thereby created a favorable influence on the island, At Athens, Paul engaged the intelligentsia of the city in disputation and roused their interest in the Christian faith, which resulted in the conversion of some intellectuals, among whom was a man of position by the name of Dionysius (Acts 17:18, 34). Again, at Ephesus he worked among scholars of the school of Tyrannus for two years. Paul never worked so long in one place among any other class of people. What was the result? "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was a leader in his country, and this was the first step towards the christianization of that land.

Of course, this does not mean that the gospel is meant only for a certain class of people, but it does teach us that there is real wisdom in laboring patiently among intellectual people on the mission fields. We should never neglect them. Many missionaries or missionary societies skip over the educated class and leaders because work among them requires a greater price to be paid.

Movement into New Areas

Paul moved on to new areas every time after he had established a local church. If missionaries today follow this principle, the strength of the great missionary army will not be taken up by working in churches already established, but will break out to new areas in every direction. This will start a mighty expansion in this generation. Every missionary should be trained to be willing to move on to new places and start all over again. It is hard, but by doing this missionary work as a whole will be much more effective.

Establishing and Sustaining Indigenous Churches

In the farewell exhortation to the elders of the Ephesian church on his mission field, Paul said, "The Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). Evidently, it is the will of the Holy Spirit that the churches on the mission fields should be self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting.

If you do not go with the Holy Spirit, you will never raise up strong churches. "When they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23). Having ordained leaders in his mission churches, Paul commended them to the Lord, for the Lord is able to take care of them. So one of the most important jobs of missionaries is to train national leaders.

Another point of supreme importance is that national churches must be trained to be missionary-minded. The apostle Paul could speak of the churches which he started as having "fellowship [with him] in the gospel from the first day until now" (Phil. 1:5); and as sounding "out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place" (1 Thess. 1:8).

Love Service in Missions

"And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world" (Acts 11:28). Evidently the purpose of the Holy Spirit in announcing the coming famine through Agabus was that Christians should manifest their love to one another by action at such a time. The Christians at Antioch understood the significance of this prophecy and "sent relief" to the brethren in Judea. It was a beautiful expression of brotherhood in the love of Christ.

It is true that the primary task of the church is to evangelize the world, but the Holy Spirit reveals to us here that love services have their own place in missions. Do schools, hospitals and other welfare services come under this category? Certainly they do serve a twofold purpose: means of evangelism and channels of love.

Mass Evangelism in Missions

As soon as the curtain is drawn on the Pentecostal spectacle, we have a scene of mass evangelism presented to us: Peter, with the Apostolic Team, full of the Holy Spirit, preached to thousands of amazed people with wonderful result. A short time later, at the gate called Beautiful, Peter again testified to gospel truth before a crowd of 5,000, counting only the men. Even the hostile rulers were overwhelmed by this huge crowd (Acts 4:21).

Crowds at evangelistic meetings are nothing new, but, as an organized means of evangelism, mass campaigns are an upsurging power in this generation. They have sound scriptural basis if they have the Holy Spirit as their main power source. We will do well to remember that ours is an age of mass action. United campaigns, run on a spiritual line, are greatly needed on the mission fields today.

Unity as Power for Missions

The Spirit-filled church at Jerusalem showed a wonderful spirit of unity (Acts 2:41-47). Paul speaks of "unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3). Our Lord said in his prayer for his disciples, "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are ... that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn. 17:11, 21).

Our Lord teaches us here an important truth: The unity of believers produces a power which convinces the world of the reality of the gospel. The Lord laid repeated emphasis on the oneness of believers in this great prayer. The words that they may be one are used four times in this chapter, and every time they take on a new meaning. In verse 11, oneness of believers has to do with the name of God; in verse 23, it is spoken of as a power to draw people to Christ; in verse 22, it is related to the glory of God; in verse 23, it has the added significance of the manifestation of the love of God. In view of these words of our Lord, we can never speak too much of the importance of the unity of believers.

While there are lines and methods of uniting the church of God which are not scriptural and therefore unacceptable to biblically oriented Christians, we evangelical churches must unreservedly start a decisive movement for unity based on biblical terms. There must be combined action on the mission fields if we really want more effective evangelism. We should set up committees to study the best ways for unity with as many evangelical groups as possible taking part. There is only one path for us to tread, and that is to unite and evangelize the world before the Lord comes back. We must not only speak negatively of an unbiblical unification, but we must also act positively for a biblical one.

The Holy Spirit as Supplier for Mission

The Holy Spirit and the Supply of Recruits for Missions

"The Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). The Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Paul for missionary service, and they went. He calls and recruits volunteers for mission fields.

Please note four things in this verse:

  1. It is the Holy Spirit who does the calling.
  2. He calls workers for a definite service.
  3. He calls the best - Barnabas and Paul.
  4. They obeyed.

Let me enlarge a bit on these four points. First, it is the Holy Spirit who does the calling. None of us should be discouraged about missionary work, since the Holy Spirit is the recruiter. The Holy Spirit moved in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the student world of America and England was roused to join in missionary action. Through the instrumentality of men like D. L. Moody, the Student Volunteer Movement was formed, and in twenty-five years' time over 9,000 volunteered for the mission field.

Second, he calls workers for a definite service. The history of missions teaches us a very important lesson: The greatest majority of successful and great missionaries have been those who go toward a definite goal which the Lord has prepared for them.

Third, he calls the best. The Antioch church had every reason to keep Barnabas and Paul at home. They were needed more than anyone else. Yet the Holy Spirit sent them away. Many gifted Christian workers disobey the Holy Spirit because they are persuaded to believe that their gifts are meant for the churches at home. No workers who have failed in the homeland can be expected to be successful on the mission field. Facts have proved beyond doubt that missionaries who have done great things on the mission fields can be as greatly used of God at home. Yes, the mission fields demand and deserve our best men and women.

Fourth, they obeyed. I think I am justified in saying that a good measure of the weakness of missionary work today is attributable to the unwillingness of gifted workers to obey the call of the Holy Spirit to go to the mission field. They prefer to stay at home. The inner call of the Holy Spirit can be drowned by the tide of general opinion. The Christian public at home should encourage their best men and women, whom they think they cannot spare, to go to the mission field.

The Holy Spirit and Sacrificial Giving for Missions

Immediately following the record of Pentecost, we read of sacrificial giving in the apostolic church (Acts 2:44). Ananias and Sapphira "sold a possession, and kept back part of the price" (5:1-2). Peter referred to it as "lying to the Holy Spirit" (5:3).

Two things are clear in this verse: First, the Holy Spirit moved Christians to give sacrifically; second, many followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but some tried to cheat with clever designs.

The Macedonian churches showed "abundance of joy" in "great trial of affliction," as well as "riches of liberality" in "deep poverty" (2 Cor. 8:2). What a precious contrast between outward conditions and inward grace!

The church at Thessalonica is a good example of the Macedonian churches, and Paul speaks of it as a church in which the Holy Spirit has moved in power: "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thess. 1:5). Again this proves that a Spirit-filled church is a giving one.

The "Macedonian giving" is not only giving of money but is basically giving of oneself - they "first gave their own selves to the Lord" (2 Cor. 8:5). The giving of money and the giving of lives have constituted the great "Missionary Giving," all prompted by the Holy Spirit.

The Pietist Movement rose in the seventeenth century and gave birth to a missionary thrust of which the Moravian mission was a part. The Holy Spirit moved so clearly at Herrnhut that the tide of the spirit of giving rose high, and consequently out of a small congregation of six hundred grew a mission which sent out 2,170 missionaries in 120 years to many of the most difficult places in the world.

In 1930, after 200 years of work, the ratio of missionaries to the total membership of this group was, according to Dr. Robert Glover, one to ninety-two, which is probably an unsurpassed record.

In conclusion, let us remind ourselves of Paul's words to the Galatians: "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). Since it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that missions were started, are we to finish it by human efforts?

Even as the Galatian Christians fell prey to legalism, so the church of this age has fallen prey to "technique-ism," which has been allowed to take the place of the Holy Spirit, who is the real source of power for missions. When missionary effort has become devoid of the Holy Spirit, it is rendered a human affair and as such is a hopeless situation. But if it remains in the control of the Holy Spirit, he will be the author and finisher of missions. The task will be accomplished!

There should be a renewed call to a revival of utter dependence on the Holy Spirit and a diligent seeking after the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives as well as in the lives of missionary societies. Then a true missionary revival will be realized.