Introduction to Acts
The Acts of the Apostles depicts the early church working hard to grow itself and serve others in the face of opposition, shortages of people and money, government bureaucracy (church bureaucracy came later), internal strife, and even the forces of nature. Their work shows similarities to what Christians face in non-church-related workplaces today. A small group of people put all their heart into work that brings Christ’s love to people in every sphere of life, and they find the amazing power of the Holy Spirit at work in them as they do it. If this is not what we experience in our daily work, perhaps God wants to guide, gift, and empower our work as much as he did theirs.
Work takes center stage, as you might expect in a book about the “acts” of the leaders of the early church. The narrative is abuzz with people walking, speaking, healing, giving generously, making decisions, governing, serving food, managing money, fighting, manufacturing clothes, tents, and other goods, baptizing (or washing), debating, arguing, making judgments, reading and writing, singing, defending themselves in court, gathering wood, building fires, escaping hostile crowds, embracing and kissing, holding councils, apologizing, sailing, abandoning ship, swimming, rescuing people, and through it all, praising God. The men and women in the book of Acts are ready to do whatever it might take to accomplish their mission. No work is too menial for the highest among them, and no work too daunting for the lowliest.
Yet the depth of the Book of Acts stems not so much from what the people of the early church do, but why and how they engage in this amazing burst of activity. The why is service. Serving God, serving colleagues, serving society, serving strangers—service is the motivation behind the work Christians do throughout the book. This should come as no surprise because Acts is in fact the second volume of the story that began in the Gospel of Luke, and service is also the driving motivation of Jesus and his followers in Luke. (See Luke and Work at www.theologyofwork.org for essential background information on Luke and his audience.)
If the why is service, then how is to constantly challenge the structures of Roman society, which was based not on service but exploitation. Luke continually contrasts the ways of God’s kingdom with the ways of the Roman Empire. He pays attention to Jesus’ and his followers’ many interactions with the officials of the empire. He is well aware of the systems of power—and the socioeconomic factors that support them—operative in the Roman Empire. From the emperor to nobles, to officials, to landowners, to freemen, to servants and to slaves, each layer of society existed by wielding power over the layer below. God’s way, as seen in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, is just the opposite. God’s society exists for service, and especially for service to those in weaker, poorer or more vulnerable positions.
Ultimately, then, Acts is not a model of the kinds of activities we should engage in as Christ’s followers, but as a model of the commitment to service that should form the foundation of our activities. Our activities are different from the apostles’, but our commitment to service is the same.