by Pastor Ola Joseph Kolawole
Because this chapter actually climaxes something that began in Jesus’ mandate to the disciples in chapter 1, what I am going to do in today’s reflection is basically to give us some background information that can help us make some informed biblical sense on what has gone on thus far in Acts 1 to 10 and to attempt to use that as a means of gaining clarity on issues around what the order of salvation should be (water baptism before salvation or after?); baptism of the Holy Spirit (with the evidence of speaking in tongues?) and the likes.
My outline will go like this:
1. Introductory Thoughts
2. The Crucial Role of Peter
3. A Church in Transition
4. The Model for the Church Today
5. Speaking in Tongues — a Personal Thought
1. INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS
In this chapter, we find the preliminary full realization of the mandate Jesus gave His disciples as recorded in Acts 1:8 — to be witnesses in Jerusalem ⇒ Judea ⇒ Samaria ⇒ uttermost part of the world. In Chapters 2 to 7, the believers kept propagating the good news in Jerusalem. By reason of persecution, they scattered in chapter 8 and the good news thus went to Judea and Samaria. A quick word on the Samaritans — you should know that even though they also have a Jewish root, they were not considered by Jews to be true Jews. Why?
When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” thus embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews. Besides, you may recall that the Samaritans vigorously attempted to halt the rebuilding of the walls in the days of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:1-14) and they (the Samaritans) actually built a temple for themselves on “Mount Gerizim,” which they insisted was designated by Moses as the place where the nation should worship. (Hence the question the Samaritan woman Jesus spoke to at the well asked about the correct place where they should worship — John 4)
So the gospel was intended to move from Jews (“salvation is of the Jews”) to the half-Jews (half-Gentiles) i.e. the Samaritans, and eventually to the Gentiles (“the uttermost parts of the world”). Of course, the Jewish apostles did not understand it like this. For a long time, they kept thinking that salvation was only for them, even though Jesus had broken down the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles in the church. Hence the need for God to first prepare Peter through a vision in this chapter which speaks directly into the Jews/Gentiles divide.
2. THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF PETER
I should also point out that you will notice that in each of those key movements of the gospel (in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the Gentiles — beginning with Cornelius’ family in Caesarea), Peter was instrumental. He was the one who preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 got saved. It was himself and John that came to ascertain the experience of salvation among the Samaritans and to pray for them to receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit. And of course, it was he who was invited to minister to the family of Cornelius — opening the door of salvation to the Gentiles. And of course, it was also his ministration there that culminated in these Gentiles being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues. Peter’s role is crucial in all this because he was the one Jesus gave the “key”. (Remember what Jesus said to him after Peter said by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God”?)
I mean, think about it; why did Cornelius have to send for Peter, who was thirty miles away in Joppa, when Philip the evangelist was already in Caesarea (Acts 8:40)? Because it was Peter, not Philip, who had been given the “keys.” God not only works at the right time, but He also works through the right servant, and both are essential.
You will also notice that in all these three epochal moments in the history of the early church, there was a dramatic and visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit — in Jerusalem where the disciples spoke in tongues, in Samaria (even though it was not said that they spoke in tongues when Peter laid hands on them, something visible happened — this is what Simon the Sorcerer saw which made him want to buy the ability to do what Peter did, i.e. imparting those believers with the Spirit through the laying on of hands) and also in Caesarea where these Gentiles also spoke in tongues!
3. A CHURCH IN TRANSITION
Thus far in the book of Acts, we see a church evolving as it is moving from place to place. It can be misleading to build doctrine for today’s church to follow regarding salvation, water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism from these preceding chapters because you won’t find a consistent pattern, really.
The disciples believed first when they saw the resurrected Jesus — and some of them had been baptised in water earlier by John the Baptist — then they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. For the believers Philip preached to in Samaria, they believed first, then got baptised in water and finally received the baptism of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands through Peter and John. For the believers in Caesarea, they believed, got baptised in the Holy Spirit and then water baptism came after.
I could also add that for Paul, he believed first, then got baptised — we were not told whether in water or in the Holy Spirit but it seems clear that it was baptism in water that was inferred (Acts 9:18) — but this baptism happened after Ananias prayed for him both to receive his sight and to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). Of course we know from 1 Corinthians that Paul also spoke in tongues but we can’t say exactly when that began for him. Besides, he disappeared for 3 years into Arabia after his conversion and baptism in Damascus — 3 years where many things could have happened. And of course, for the Ethiopian Eunuch, he believed when Philip preached to him and he got baptised at the next sight of water. We did not hear of him being baptised by the Holy Spirit.
4. THE MODEL FOR THE CHURCH TODAY
I believe that the model for the church today is found in Acts 10. We are to hear the Word, believe in Christ, and receive the Spirit (all affirmed by Ephesians 1:13-14), and then be baptized in water as a symbolic expression of what had happened inside your inner man and unite with other believers in the church to serve and worship God.
To use Acts 2:38 to teach salvation by baptism, or Acts 8:14–16 to teach salvation by the laying on of hands, is to ignore the transitional character of God’s program in the early church. Sinners have always been saved by faith; that is one principle God has never changed. But God does change His methods of operation, and this is clearly seen in Acts 1—10. The experience of Cornelius and his household makes it very clear that water baptism is not essential for salvation. It is meant to be a public demonstration affirming our salvation experience. So in Acts 10, we see that these Gentiles were not saved by being baptized; they were baptized because they gave evidence of being saved.
And the fact that the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household spoke in tongues when they believed (in fact, right while Peter was still preaching — he never got to finish that sermon) does not suggest that every new believer gives evidence of salvation by speaking in tongues. No. Of course, every true believer will certainly use his or her tongue to glorify God (Rom. 10:9–10).
5. SPEAKING IN TONGUES — A PERSONAL THOUGHT
First, a disclaimer: What I share in this part is not with the intention of indoctrinating anyone about this; I just thought to share my personal experience and understanding of the scripture in this regard. I’m also open to hear the views and reasonings of others about this.
Let’s begin by getting an understanding of what Ephesians 1:13-14 is saying:
(ERV) —…When you heard that Good News, you believed in Christ. And in Christ, God put his special mark on you by giving you the Holy Spirit that he promised. The Spirit is the first payment that guarantees we will get all that God has for us. Then we will enjoy complete freedom as people who belong to him. The goal for all of us is the praise of God in all his glory.
This verse, among others, clearly emphasizes that every believer possesses the Holy Spirit right at the moment of Salvation. In fact, without the Holy Spirit, you can’t be saved — as Paul said, not to have the Holy Spirit is not to be a Christian (Romans 8:9).
I’m from a Pentecostal church that emphasizes speaking in tongues as the evidence of being ‘baptised’ in the Holy Spirit and this is often described as something that happens later after one gets saved. We were raised to pray fervently (we use the word ‘tarry’) for ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ (as the disciples did in Acts 1&2) after we got saved — and this was taught to us in a way that suggests that we don’t have the Holy Spirit yet, or at least, not in full.
I don’t think that’s the case, really. If you are a child of God, you have the Holy Spirit. It’s either you have Him or you don’t — you don’t get a fraction of Him. And you don’t need speaking in tongues to verify this.
However, as someone who actually speaks in tongues and frequently enjoys the edification and inspiration I derive from doing so, I know that the gift of tongues is up for grabs and the Holy Spirit does give it so we can “eagerly desire” it (as Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 14:1).
In my experience, I went on for a long time in my first years of being saved desiring this “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. (I even faked it for a while…) But the day I started speaking in tongues, it was between just me and God. I had been fasting and asking for this expression for three days and on the third day, all I got as I was praying about to break my fast was “Thank Me because you have the Holy Spirit already.” As I began to thank God because I have the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit prompted me to open my mouth and begin to speak — in tongues! I did for a while; it didn’t feel as dramatic as I’d anticipated, so I stopped. I felt like the Holy Spirit said to me, “Why did you stop? Keep going! This is what you’ve been asking for; you had it all along!”
And so I speak in tongues . . . till this day.
I thought to share that with anyone who may be doubting whether or not they have the Holy Spirit because of the fact that they are yet to speak in tongues. Know that if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and personal Saviour, you have the Holy Spirit. And yes, you can speak in tongues!