31 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 (ESV)
Ah, peace. It is a pleasant thing when a church is granted a period of peace. Here it is the church as far as it reaches at this time, throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria. The Holy Spirit gives it paraklesis, comfort. Jesus had once called the Holy Spirit the paraklete, the comforter. Luther describes this comfort as that which a lawyer gives his client in times of deep distress. We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one. The Holy Spirit is his spokesman. It’s an analogy that a person gets quickly if he has ever been in need of legal counsel. It goes hand in hand with fear of the Lord.
I mean it is quite easy to read law and gospel into this little section of scripture. The law does its job when it creates a fear of the Lord. We are sinners and we ought to tremble a bit before the Lord. We do not stand righteous before him. We are all guilty before him. At least we are if left to our own devices, to stand on our own feet. All we have earned before God is guilt. No, that is it. No, I don’t care to hear of all the good things you have done, you are an unworthy servant who has not managed to do a tenth of what is demanded of you in God’s law, but you expect to be rewarded for doing something you weren’t asked to do. That is the reality of our position before God. We have neither loved him with our whole heart or our neighbor. The best of our moments are nothing to brag about, but we do anyway. Before God we need an advocate. We have it in Jesus, he is our righteousness, our glorious dress. And it is with this gospel that the Holy Spirit comforts us, pointing us to Christ, pointing us to the cross and the resurrection, training our minds on things above where Christ is, our advocate, sitting at the right hand of God the Father. This comfort is a peace that surpasses understanding.
It is through this comfort and peace that the church is edified, built up. It is through this work that the church multiplies.
I am not sure what is to be said that this period of peace and edification is something that the church experiences in the wake of sending Paul off to Tarsus. There always seems to be a calm before the storm and a calm after the storm. Neither should the storm be feared. They can be trying times in the church. Congregations are full of sinners. Sometimes it takes a storm to shake things up and get people to see themselves in that light. To finally restore a fear of the Lord in their own lives, a fear that is necessary if they are ever going to be comforted by the Holy Spirit, and truly understand their need for an advocate in the Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. Far too often, it is easy to mistake peace with complacency. And this complacency is never the result of God’s word. It does not edify. That is it does not build up in Christ. Complacency builds up one’s own ego. Complacency says, I’m not that bad all in all. In any case I’m not so much a sinner that I have anything to fear from God. This is the sort of lukewarm idiocy that Jesus can do nothing with but spit out. But when the storm comes, then the gospel comes. It is when we are shaken to the core, then the Spirit comes to edify and to comfort, and that sort of comfort allows the church to grow, yes numerically to multiply, but more important than that the growth that is needed before it is possible for the church to multiply, spiritual growth in the congregation that causes it to appreciate what it has as a church, and what it is as a church the body of Christ, forgiven sinners who have an advocate with the Father.