God’s Word for You
Acts 12:24 spreading and growing
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 7, 2020
24 But the word of God kept spreading and growing.
The classic textbook An Introduction to Greek by Crosby and Schaeffer (Allyn and Bacon, 1928) defines the imperfect verb tense this way: “Denotes action continued, repeated, customary, or attempted in past time” (p. 22, para. 41). Both verbs in this verse are imperfects, and in this context, both of them show continuing action. In other words, we should pay attention to the word “kept” supplied by the translator. The word “kept spreading” and “kept growing.”
What’s the difference? Or does Luke just use two similar words to emphasize what was going on? They could be translated in either order, either “spreading and growing” or “growing and spreading.”
The first verb, auxano (αὐξάνω), is used of plants growing (Matthew 6:28), of a child growing up (Luke 1:80), and of Jesus “increasing” (gaining many followers, John 3:30). Here the last idea is meant. The second verb, plethyno (πληθύνω), is used when showing that something increases in number or multiplies, such as when the people of Israel “increased” in Egypt (Exodus 1:20). Also: “God has multiplied (πληθύνω) mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah” (Lamentations 2:5). Luke is telling us that the word of God went from place to place and through it the number of people joining the Christian church kept growing and growing. The word spread, and the number of followers grew.
Luke reminds us that the only tool we have for the growth of the Christian church is the word of God. It is the spread of the word that causes growth in the church. If we want our children to grow in their faith, we use the word of God. If we want more people to come to faith, we use the word of God. If we want to change the hearts of sinners to turn them to their Lord, we use the word of God. If a friend should ask you, “How do we get the people of our country to stop leading such immoral lives?” there is only one answer. We must carry the word of God to each person, person by person, and let the word of God do its good work. Sadly, the best answer to give the mother of grown children who asks, “How do I get my kids to go to church?” is usually: You should have taken them to church when they were young, and talked about what you sang and heard and did in church at the dinner table. By keeping the word of God in the ears of our friends and family, we keep the word of God in their hearts. New converts get excited because the word of God is a new fire burning in them, but they often forget to bring their loved ones along to the flame.
Earlier in the book, Luke was able to estimate the number of converts in these early years of the church, but now, less than fifteen years after Jesus’ ascension, there was no way to keep track of them all. Christianity had taken hold in the world, and soon there would be more Christians in the world than Jews. The time was right for the gospel to travel from the land of Canaan out into the world. And the Lord had prepared just the right man to carry it along. It was time for Paul to go to work.
Pastor Timothy Smith