The first community of saints celebrated the power and nature of God in their lives. The early Church followed their Biblical example (recorded in the Book of Acts) as they emulated the nature and character of the first disciples. 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 characteristics serve as a template to 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 grateful Christ followers, our gratitude should result in joy obvious to the world around us:
Principle #6: Overflow with Joy
The Church must be focused on God and all that He has done for us:
“…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…”
When we look at the lives of the early believers, we are amazed at the joy they demonstrated even in the most difficult of situations. They were persecuted on all sides and lived in harsh, difficult and challenging environments. Yet in the midst of their suffering, they were still filled with joy. Look at this description from the unknown author of the Epistle to Diognetes (written c. 130AD):
“They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…”
These early believers understood joy is a choice. And they understood joy is often the product of our choice of focus. In the midst of persecution and hardship, the earliest of believers kept their eyes on the prize. They stayed focused on the life awaiting them and they found purpose and abundant meaning in lives surrendered to God in the service and love of others. They understood persecution and suffering are often earmarks of the surrendered life. They knew a life of comfort was probably a life of complacency. So they rejoiced when they found themselves in a place of discomfort as a result of their commitment to God. It simply served as evidence they had surrendered their lives to the God of the universe. The early believers rejoiced at this evidence, and their joy was noticed by all those who were in their company:
“And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…”
The Church needs to be careful to resist our inclination to focus on ourselves. We need to be committed to a new life centered on God’s moral will and the gifts He has already given us. We need to be wise stewards of these gifts and make God the focus of our lives. Like the early believers, singing should be an important part of our lives. We ought to sing not so we can be “ushered into God’s presence” (we know we are already there), but in spontaneous response to what he has done for us. Our songs shouldn’t be the limit of our worship, but the spontaneous result of our focus. We should sing, because we cannot help but sing.
In this short series, we’ve examined the value of six important characteristics of the early Church. Grateful Christians cannot help but respond with gratitude, passion and joy. Our joyful gratitude ought to obvious to the world around us. Although Christian congregations have taken many shapes and forms in the two thousand years since the first community of saints, none of these forms are as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first Church 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, learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, and share with courage, the resulting joy we experience should be obvious to the world around us.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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