But Acts also shows the bad news. It not only records natural disasters (from famines and earthquakes to shipwrecking storms), it also shows much human-caused misery. Acts shows the imprisonment of believers great and small; it shows them accused, berated and physically beaten on numerous occasions. More tragically, it shows, of course, the first Christian martyrdom and the deaths of many others for their faith. So Acts certainly doesn’t look at Christianity through rose colored spectacles. In fact, it gives us an honest appraisal of many of the difficulties experienced by early Christians that we would be missing if we only had the epistles written by Paul and the other apostles.
The epistles speak of problems, but more often than not they are doctrinal problems in the early Church: discussions of apostasy, perversions of the gospel and moral issues relevant to specific congregations. When the epistles speak of the problems of everyday life, it is usually in a generic sense, and it is mainly in Paul’s letters written to individuals that we find specific problems such as Paul’s instruction to Timothy “Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23).
Acts, on the other hand, continually grapples with instances of the things that go wrong in everyday life. It names the names and gives us actual examples ranging from those who tried to steal from the church (Acts 5:1-11) to someone who dozed off and fell to his death during a sermon (Acts 20:9)! The actual examples give Acts an immediacy and a relevance that touches us all. If we have ever felt tempted to fudge on a tax return, or ever felt drowsy in church, we can relate to the stories Acts gives us at a very real level.
So, compared to the epistles we might say that Acts more frequently gives us specific examples – to which we can relate – of the problems of everyday life. We may turn to the epistles more frequently for doctrinal guidance and generic examples of moral and doctrinal issues, but Acts often speaks to us through its real life examples - of both the positive and negative type.
Both Acts and the epistles are given to us for a purpose, of course (2 Timothy 3:16), but we should not overlook the everyday quality of Acts. We need the doctrinal and moral guidance found in the epistles, but we often need encouragement and role models to look to in our daily life as well. Acts provides verbal pictures that are worth a thousand words. So don’t neglect Acts in your study of the New Testament. It includes both the bad news and the good, and in that respect, it’s very much like your life and mine.
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