The first community of saints reflected the power and design of God in their lives. The early Church followed their Biblical example (recorded in the Book of Acts) as they emulated the nature and essence of the first community of saints. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to imitate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, as Christians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These principles serve as a template and guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. As Christ followers, the love of God should be evident in our lives with one another:
Principle #4: Serve in Love
The Church should live a surrendered life of sacrificial love for those in need:
“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need…”
It’s not enough to simply say we are Christians. The Christian life is a life of evidence. When we examine the evidence in our world, we eventually understand the reality and nature of God. And when we surrender our lives to Christ, there ought to be evidence we are now children of God. The “fruit” of a transformed life is a love the world doesn’t understand; a love few of us have ever truly lived; a love evident in the lives of the earliest believers. Tertullian (a church scholar who lived in North Africa c.160-225AD) had this to say about the way that the early Christians were described by non-believers:
“But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See’, they say, ‘how they love one another’, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. ‘See’, they say about us, ‘how they are ready even to die for one another’, for they themselves would sooner kill.”
The Scripture repeatedly describes the early Christians as people who gave a significant portion of their wealth and time to the cause of the needy. This desire to love others enough to care for them with our time, our talent and our money is simply an expression of our love for God. We know we cannot say we are Christ followers if we are not concerned with the plight of those who are in need:
1 John 3:16-17
But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
The Church should use its resources to bless those who are less fortunate. For this reason, the Church ought to be hesitant to spend its money disproportionately on buildings or staff. We ought to understand a movement of God can easily become an institution of man; we should be careful to dedicate our money to caring for the needy and to sharing the truth. The earliest Christians spent their resources on those in need, and we should also give with this kind of unbounded love.
The Church ought to be looking for those in our community who are in need. We should be sensitive to their situation and refuse to walk or drive past them. Serving the needy must become an integral part of our lives and our faith. We will be known by our love for one another and for those who are in need. For this reason, serving the needy is something we must plan for, make time for, and integrate into the fabric of our lives and our relationship with God.
In this short series, we’ve examined the value of six important characteristics of the early Church. Christians who love God should love those who are in need and those who are still far from Him. Christian congregations have taken every shape and form in the two thousand years since the first community of saints. The current form is not nearly as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first Church as it was described in the Book of Acts, we see God’s design for us as a family. The Church is not a place to meet; it is a people to be. When we, as a Church, care for and serve one another, we demonstrate God’s love for us. When the world sees our care for one another, they’ll properly understand the power and activity of God in our lives.