Christianity 201

June 17, 2019

The Early Church Moment Where Fear Overtook Love

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. He is the author of several books, including Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God; and the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

Great Love or Great Fear?

It’s one of the weirdest things in the book of Acts. One minute you’re reading about how love filled the community of Christ; how everyone shared what they had in common with people who only days before were total strangers; selling land and property to buy food for their hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, meeting daily in homes, breaking bread together; they “ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” and devoted themselves to the fellowship of the Saints and the Way of Christ,….and then…

Well, then we read the very next chapter about how two people are struck down dead for not giving as much money to the community as they said they were giving, and then we read this:

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events…(and) no one else dared join them…” [Acts 5:11-13]

So, in just one chapter, the early Christian community went from being filled with great love to being seized with great fear.

What is it that we’ve learned about fear and love? They cancel one another out.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” [1 John 4:18]

Sadly, just at the moment when the love of Christ had broken through the darkness; when the light of Christ had filled their hearts and opened their fists to share all that they had with one another, when the unconditional love of Christ had just started to blossom in their hearts, this great fear seized them and crushed the flow of unity and trust.

Now, people were afraid – both within the Body of Christ, and outside the Church. Love was not the driving force. Fear was.

Maybe it was this flash of fear that cast out the perfect love of Christ and prevented the Apostles from remembering what Jesus had told them the night he was betrayed; when he took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and knelt down to wash their feet, exactly as a slave would have done.

Maybe it was momentary lapse of love the kept them from recalling the words of Jesus as he asked them,

“Do you know what I have done for you? I am your Teacher and your Lord, and yet I knelt down to wash your feet. I have set you an example that you should was one another’s feet.”

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D.

I think this is why one of those lowly servants they selected to wait tables – a job the Apostles were too important to keep doing – is suddenly filled with the Spirit of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak powerfully to preach the Gospel – even greater than the Apostles themselves. We read that whenever engaged with those who opposed the Gospel of Christ, …they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke,” [Acts 6:10] and that when he is taken before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” [v.15]

And then Stephen gives one of the most moving [and one of the longest] testimonies of Christ to the Jewish leaders and onlookers, and at the end of it, he is martyred for his witness and stoned to death. Yet even as he is dying, he forgives his murders – just as Jesus had done – and his eyes are opened to see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.

It’s a glorious and troubling testimony, and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

Stephen is not only the first martyr of the Church, he’s not one of the Twelve. He’s no one. And yet, that seems to be the point: God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.

Love – not fear – is what drives us.

Humility – not fame – is where our true strength is found.

Service to one another, and to those in need around us IS the ministry of the Word of God, who is Christ.

Christ is revealed in us when we are like Christ: Humble, loving, compassionate and willing to wait tables in obscurity for the rest of our lives without ever seeking, or needing, any other recognition from anyone.

This challenges me. It makes me pause and rethink my own life, and my own mindset.

Sometimes we have to take a few steps backwards to move forward.



  1. Wow, this ‘message’ is off the wall. To judge the Apostles of shirking their ‘real’ work because they had become famous is a senseless commentary on what was transpiring at the beginning of the church. There is no other commentator who has understood this passage as stated (which, in my book, puts this particular commentator on the edge of heresy!). Seems to be just another case of someone who uses scripture to prove their personal viewpoint rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to teach them.

    The idea that the ‘true’ Gospel is only one way totally ignores the concept of the Spiritual gifts which the Spirit was administering among the believers. This includes the Apostles coming to realize where they fit in the body and how their gifts would best serve people (both believers and unbelievers).

    To claim the true Gospel is only waiting tables and washing feet ignores what the word actually means. This concept of the Gospel is mainline Christianity today which has ripped out parts of the Bible to satisfy how they choose to serve God rather than allowing the Holy Spirit guide them into the Truth (good works rather than true repentance). I could comment further on the ideas presented related to fear and love and more. The fact that this author disdains any authority and runs his own ‘home’ study smells very cult like (and I know since I was in 2 before discovering the truth).

    Frankly, this type message is dangerous. We are warned in Scripture to be wary of those who come bearing different Gospels. It is the duty of leaders to be sure such messages are not disseminated among the faithful. Although the current culture says we should accept all viewpoints, God does not. He does require us to choose the right way, not any way.

    Comment by Tim Hillenbrand — June 18, 2019 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

    • I waited an extra 24-hours before responding to this, but still find myself carefully examining what was written and not getting the reaction that you had.

      Scripture is full of contrasts. Earlier, when Jesus breaks bread with his disciples at that famous last meal, Luke tells us that immediately an argument broke out among them as to who was the greatest. Personal insecurity in the wake of Christ’s immense love? We can’t try to over analyze it, but we can certainly look at the context and wonder.

      I think it’s the same here. They’ve seen a powerful, post-incarnation demonstration of God’s presence, and they immediately start to organize for whatever reason. The choosing of Stephen is a very important step in the development of their ecclesiology, and Stephen proves to be spiritually over-and-above the presumed qualifications.

      For the work of The Church to go forward, it’s going to involve both the meeting of practical needs and spiritual needs, but those chosen to do the practical work still need to be spiritually equipped to do it in Christ’s name.

      I think the context then is interesting background and worth considering, especially at the Christianity 201 or Christianity 301 level. To me this hardly meets the definition of “another gospel.” Again, I think your reaction is a tad severe.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 20, 2019 @ 9:52 am | Reply

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