‘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)
Luke (who wrote Acts) describes the spread of the gospel over a large area (see Acts 1:8). Stable groups of Jesus’ followers have been established in most of modern Palestine. It now remains for the gospel to go to the ‘ends of the earth’.
The peace the whole church experienced at this point was freedom from persecution. Their arch-nemesis, a Pharisee called Saul, had become a Christian himself, and was no longer a threat.
But though they had a break from persecution, they didn’t just put on cruise control. Luke describes two characteristics of this church that is being built up and multiplying. He describes how the church is ‘walking’; literally how they are moving forward.
The fear of the Lord Though they no longer feared persecution, they still had a healthy fear of God. Remember, this was the church that saw God kill two of its own members for deceit back in chapter 5 (Acts 5:1-11). They knew God was a holy, righteous God and so they were careful about how they lived. They lived to please the Lord and no-one else.
The comfort of the Holy Spirit But fear of God alone is not the message of the gospel. The word translated ‘comfort’ here is literally ‘to call from alongside’. It describes the nearness of God in his Holy Spirit comforting and encouraging to his church. He came near to us in Jesus and remains near to us in his Holy Spirit. In the ‘comfort of the Holy Spirit’, the church prayed and lived dependently on the Lord (see Acts 15:28-29).
It’s easy for us to be out of balance here: either having a joyless grovelling before a holy but heartless God, or (probably more usually) having a disrespectful and dishonouring familiarity with God.
Instead, we ought to pray that God would help us live suspended between these two realities, between the holy ‘otherness’ of the Lord and his intimate nearness, because that is where his church truly flourishes.
The English Bible commentator Matthew Henry described it like this:
‘The professors of the gospel walked uprightly, and enjoyed much comfort from the Holy Ghost, in the hope and peace of the gospel, and others were won over to them. They lived upon the comfort of the Holy Ghost, not only in the days of trouble and affliction, but in days of rest and prosperity. Those are most likely to walk cheerfully, who walk circumspectly.’ 
Live it: Are you striking the right balance between the holiness and the nearness of God?
– Clint Lombard
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Condensed), Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 1996), paragraph 5557.