I. A Dependent Church Prays (v. 23-24a)
The first trait of a dependent church that we see in this passage is that a dependent church prays. We see this in vv. 23-24. Here Luke tells us that “when they had been released, they went to their own companions….” Before we go any further we need to understand what is going on here. In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a man in the Temple area and then began to preach. In response to this 4:1-3 tells us that the religious leaders came and arrested them. After an extraordinary exchange between the two apostles and the Sanhedrin, which included Peter and John refusing to obey their command to stop preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, 4:21-22 tells us about their release from jail.
To really understand what is going on here we need to understand just how serious the threats of the Sanhedrin were. First of all, let us not forget that these were the same religious leaders who orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus. Secondly, by disobeying the religious leaders the apostle were essentially alienating themselves from the Jewish community. As we will see later in our passage, this would have a severe economic impact upon the newly formed Christian community. So the threats that the apostles, and consequently the church, received were no laughing matter. Their lives were literally at stake.
I don’t know about you, but after being released from jail I am not sure what I would have done first. They didn’t have Starbucks back then so Peter and John couldn’t meet over coffee to discuss the matter. And after they had fled when Jesus was arrested they were not about to go back into hiding. So what did they do? They went to church. Luke literally tells us that they went “to their own.” Many English translations help us out by supplying “companions” or “friends” or “fellowship”, but the phrase literally means “their own.” As John Stott put it, “went straight to their own people, their relatives in Christ.”
Some commentators say that this is referring simply to the other apostles, and not to the entire Christian community. However, I think that the follow context reveals that Luke is talking here about the entire Christian community. In other words, they went to the church to report all that happen. This would have only been fare since the outcome of the proceedings would have had an impact on the entire church. In essence the threats made against Peter and John were certainly intended to be for the entire church. Anyone amongst this new community of Jesus followers would have to deal with the outcome of the Sanhedrin’s ruling. Thus, Peter and John came to report all that “the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
One can only imagine the anticipation of the church to hear from Peter and John upon their return. As I mentioned, this would have a direct impact on their lives. This would be the moment when they would either be an accepted religious community, or they would face the continued persecution of the religious elite. There is little doubt that a large number of the 3,000 new converts would have been close by to hear the report. Additionally, everyone loves a good courtroom drama (just look how long Law & Order has stayed on TV). So you can picture in your mind a large group of people present to hear what would end up being a horrible report. The Sanhedrin did not recognize the power of Christ that healed the man in chapter 3, nor did they recognize the saving power of the Gospel that Peter and John were preaching. Instead they made heavy-handed threats against anyone who continued to proclaim the message of Jesus.
As you process the weight of this situation I want you to notice what the first reaction of the early church was. Their first response was prayer! Luke tells us that “when they heard this they lifted their voices to God with one accord….” This phrase “with one accord” translates one word in the original Greek (ὁμοθυμαδόν). This word is often translated “one mind” or “one purpose.” This is a word that occurs frequently in the book of Acts, where it is used to describe the commonality of the early church (cf. 1:14, 2:46, 5:12, 7:57). Here this word is used to speak of the unanimity of the people to turn to God in prayer. We are not sure exactly what this looked like. However, it is very unlikely that all the people recited this prayer at the same time. For one, this prayer is not well-fit for a responsive reading. Additionally, responsive reading were not used in the church at this early a time. So more than likely all the people realized that they needed to pray, and so one of the leaders of the church led the group in prayer. One person prayed while the others listened and affirmed. Amongst this church there was no question what the first response should be, everyone knew that they needed to turn to God in prayer. One translation even says that “they raised their voices to God unanimously.” (HCSB) They recognized that God was the ultimate source of help, and they turned to him in prayer.
As we look at how the church responded to their circumstances in Acts 4 it is clear that a dependent church prays. In fact, prayer is a key trait of dependence. When we pray we are recognizing that God is the one that we are depending upon, and as we pray that dependence will grow even more. As E.M. Bounds put it,
Trust grows nowhere so readily and richly as in the prayer-chamber. Its unfolding and development are rapid and wholesome when they are regularly and well kept. When these engagements are hearty and full and free, trust flourishes exceedingly. The eye and presence of God give vigorous life to trust, just as the eye and the presence of the sun make fruit and flower to grow, and all things glad and bright with fuller life.
Prayer is a good litmus test for your own attitude of dependency upon God. As Calvin described it, prayer is simply a Christian casting his “worries bit by bit on God.” We often struggle with prayer because we are depending upon something other than God to resolve whatever situation we might be in. But when we are depending upon God we will look to Him in prayer before we look anywhere else.
John Stott, The Message of Acts, 99