‘I have no silver and gold …’ – I wonder how often the lame man in Acts 3 had heard a form of Peter’s opening words before, as people hurried past him into the temple to pray, patting their pockets in the pretence of hoping to find some coins and then apologising that they had come out without any change. But what Peter said next changed the man’s life. He and John famously gave the man what they did have – the blessings of the stunning power of the risen Lord Jesus, whose Spirit had just been poured out on all the believers. Peter had looked the man straight in the eye and instructed him. And the lame man discovered that what had been impossible for him all of his life had, in the Name of Jesus, been made possible.
In the aftermath of this miracle of creation, everyone who recognised the walking, leaping, God-praising, apostle-clinging, formerly lame man was astonished at the power that had been at work in him. They cornered Peter and John in an effort to understand what had just happened and how. The next thing Peter said also has life-changing power –
Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this,
or why do you stare at us,
as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?
This wasn’t false modesty on Peter’s part. He was making it clear that the astounded crowd had misdirected their fascination. They were filling their eyes with Peter and John when they could have been focusing their gaze on the Lord Jesus. That’s where Peter instantly redirected them. Rather than explaining the miracle that God had enabled them to do, he puts his energy into proclaiming the message that God had sent them to tell. And the rest of the chapter is a distillation and application of the gospel that Peter had just preached on the day of Pentecost.
Isn’t it great though, this early in Acts, to see the apostles making it unmistakably clear that when great things happen in gospel work it has absolutely nothing to do with their personal physical or spiritual power?
…why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?
The quest for power
We don’t have to go much further in Acts until we meet Simon the Magician who offers the apostles money in exchange for spiritual power. For Simon the joy was to be found in being known and respected as a powerful man. Money and power, and the links between them, are the great quests of this world.
The joy of powerlessness
Peter is not complaining when he says he has neither silver nor gold nor power nor piety. For him the joy was in making it crystal clear that there was resurrection power at work, but it neither originated with him nor was at his disposal. He didn’t possess it by his prowess and he hadn’t earned it by his godliness. The joy was in realising in that moment what Paul expressed later, that God had put treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power was His and not ours (2 Corinthians 4:7). So Peter and John could rejoice, not because spirits are subject to them, or that the lame walk for them, but that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). They had been filled by the Holy Spirit who gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). This is incomparable joy!
It’s not just that being personally unimpressive doesn’t bar us from gospel work. It’s the opposite. We can’t do the work if we think we are impressive. What joy! We don’t need to compete with each other. There are no grounds for ministry-envy or insecurity-by-comparison. The Lord distributes His gifts to His people as He sees fit. He gives the grace and power on which we depend, so He receives the glory, and the Holy Spirit within us testifies to us that we are the children of God.
The fellowship of the powerless
Like me, you will have your heroes in the work of the gospel, those to whom we look for leadership. But we shouldn’t stare at them in wonder. We are all uniquely gifted from a range of backgrounds and experience. But none of us possesses the power that energises, or the piety that qualifies us for the work of making Christ known. None of us has it all worked out. None of us should feel that collaborating with other genuine gospel workers is going to slow us down, or risk us feeling left behind in the dust.
When we get over ourselves then we’re ready to be the clay jars in which God has placed treasure. His is the surpassing power at work in us who believe. The reconstitution of ‘A Passion for Life’ as a national spur to local church evangelism is a rallying call to apply this Biblical logic to our gospel ministry. It is not set up by the strong for the benefit of the weak. Rather, it’s a joyful acknowledgement that we are all weak; that we need each other. So, let me warmly encourage you to join me and thousands of other brothers and sisters throughout the UK and Ireland in embracing and being embraced by this joyful fellowship of the powerless, as we help each other hold out the gospel, the power of God, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.