I’ve been combing through the book of Acts lately trying to understand what made the early church such a dynamic movement. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, nor will it be the last. It’s a bit of an obsession with me. You’ll have to deal with it.
A few days ago I stumbled across something that I had missed in other translations. Acts 2 describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the upper room and the message Peter preached in an attempt to explain it. When Peter finishes declaring the Gospel, many, many people come to Christ and the first church is born. This infant church begins practicing what I’ve taught as the four essentials of church for a long time (devotion to the Gospel, fellowship, eating together, and prayer).
What gripped me, though, was the next verse. It wasn’t the description of what the church did–it was the description of what the church had. Here’s what Luke records:
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
What struck me as I read it was the translation of the word “awe.” I’m used to that word being translated as “fear.” Whenever the word is translated as fear in relationship to God, we often understand it as “the fear of the Lord,” which Scripture over and over again defines as a healthy spiritual reality, despite what modern teachers tell us. Here in the English Standard Version, the translators chose the word “awe.” I like this translation because I think it clearly states what Luke is trying to describe. In those early days, everyone was in awe of what God was doing.
As I started to dig into this word, I found that it was translated from the Greek word “phobos” which is where we get the word phobia from. This word is used across the New Testament to describe two seemingly different realities. One is the fear of something that is dreadful, but the other is a fear of God that spurs Christians to grow in proper relationship to Christ. So while I don’t doubt that fear is a proper translation, as I’ve thought about “awe” as it’s translated in Acts 2, I’m wondering if awe might be a closer English word to what Luke was trying to describe.
Why else would the New Testament say the following:
- So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
- Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… (2 Corinthians 5:11)
- Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
- …submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
- …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12)
- And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile… (1 Peter 1:17)
Now go back and look at each of these passages and in the place of fear, replace it with awe. It’s not that fear is the wrong word, so much as it doesn’t touch the depths of fascination and respect that our English understanding of fear communicates. Imagine the church multiplying because it walks in the awe of God, persuading others about the reality of Christ because our hearts are awestruck by who He is, purifying ourselves because we’re so caught up in awe of God. Imagine a body of believers who conduct their lives in awe throughout their time on Earth…that is so awestruck by what God is doing in other believers that they submit to the Christ they see in each other! Living in the awe of God has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives.
I still believe that the church needs to return to the practices of Acts 2:42, but I’m starting to wonder if the church doesn’t desperately need to recover the “awe of God.” What if instead of just repeating the practices of the early church, we did them out of the awe of God and what He is doing?
Now awe is a funny thing. We can’t produce it in ourselves. God produces awe of Himself in the human heart, but we can learn to walk in it. We can hunger after the kind of experiences the early church had. We can seek to encounter the same Christ that worked miracles among the early church. We can lay aside our lesser fascinations and begin to fix our hearts again on the one we are supposed to live in awe of–Jesus. As we do, awe will grow. We’ll encounter Him more. As we encounter Him, our awe will grow.
When we have this awe of God glowing white hot in our hearts, it’s terribly easy to declare the goodness of Jesus and stand against persecution. Others will see it and turn to the Lord as well, especially as God shows up in the midst of those circumstances. In some crazy sort of way, as we experience the awe of God in our hearts, it whets the appetites of those around us and quickly others become hungry to encounter Jesus.
Friends, I’m writing today to encourage you to get an awe of God. If you’ve lost it, if you’ve never had it, or if you just want more of it, go back to God and ask Him for it. He will give you more awe if you ask.
Who knows? It may even be the start of a church planting movement like we see in the book of Acts.
Yesterday was a hard day. It was the kind of day that would normally discourage me and cause me to wallow in self-pity for more than a few days. The good news was as I was preparing for the event that made my day hard, a Pharrell Williams song started playing in my head. Now, that’s not unusual, because Pharrell’s song “There’s Something Special” has been a song my kids and I have been listening to and singing since we heard it in Despicable Me 3.
But this time, it was different. This time, as I heard the words, I heard them as if the Lord was singing them back to me. I started singing along and felt the Lord draw close to my heart as I sang the song:
There’s something special on the other side of this moment
And it’s about what you and I decide
And it’s important for you to remember we did this together
And finally, they’ll know the story of our lives
It was more than just a song. It was an invitation to remember that no matter how bad the day got, no matter what went wrong or right with yesterday, my reward wasn’t what happened yesterday, but what waited for me “on the other side of this moment.” As I sang and received from the Lord, I could sense He wanted me to know there was a reward for treasuring Him in that moment, not the outcome.
We weren’t promised ease in this life. We were promised joy and trouble. William Barclay wrote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” How do those things go together? How is one absurdly happy and in constant trouble?
Much of it, I believe, is done by keeping our eyes on the reward that awaits us for perseverance, faithfulness, and loving well. This reward may be found to some degree in this age, but it is fully realized in the age to come. There is an eternal reward that is stored up for us that is so easy to lose sight of right now, but it’s real and designed to encourage us when things are difficult.
Friends, regardless of what you’re going through, “there’s something special on the other side of this moment.” We need to remember that even the trials and difficulties we encounter here are forming something is us…something that can receive a reward greater than we can contemplate. Don’t forget the eternal things that are being stored up for you, right now, in this moment, based on your obedience.
It will strengthen you to follow Jesus.