What do I mean by the phrase "the early church"? The church that was established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was the early church. It was the church of the first century, led into all the truth by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. Please refer to our feature lesson entitled: "Looking Through the 'I's' of Acts 2" from August 27, 2005 for a detailed study of that important chapter.
Our aim in this lesson is to analyze eight points regarding the faith of the early church, as seen in the book of Acts, and come to a better understanding of the type of faith God wants us to have today!
1. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH WAS FOUNDED UPON THE SCRIPTURES.
Acts 17:11,12 declares - "These [i.e., those in Berea] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men."
Why did they believe? Because they confirmed what they were being taught by studying God's word! Their faith was not founded upon man-made traditions and opinions, but upon God's word!
2. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH RESULTED IN OBEDIENT LIVING.
In general, faith is what motivates obedience to God's will. It's obvious that if one doesn't believe in God, then he is not going to submit to God's will. In fact, if one doesn't have a strong faith in God, then his life will most likely not be one of obedience.
The apostles, after being threatened by the Jewish authorities, affirmed in Acts 5:29 - "We ought to obey God rather than men." Shortly thereafter, they were beaten severely for their faith (5:40). Their deep faith in God motivated these early Christians to obey Him, even when men threatened them and abused them! Their faith wasn't rebellious to God's will; they submitted to Him. Their faith cost them a lot!
3. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH WAS SEEN IN ACTS OF LOVE.
Acts 2:44,45 reads - "Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need."
Their faith was manifested through kind, generous, and loving actions--not attitudes of bitterness or animosity. If any one had a particular need, the others rushed to help. What a marvelous spirit of unity they enjoyed! Their faith motivated them to share, and rightfully so, for they were a family, and family members ought to share and love one another.
4. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH WAS EXERCISED DAILY.
Acts 2:46 states - "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart."
The early Christians had a faith that motivated them to eat together regularly. However, the first part of the verse indicates that Christians were getting together daily in the temple! Why? Because they were thrilled with their newfound faith and wanted to be together daily! Now don't misunderstand, they certainly weren't going to the temple simply to socialize. No, they were being taught; they were studying! These early Christians had a daily faith; being a Christian wasn't just something they did on Sundays!
5. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH WAS SPREAD BECAUSE OF PERSECUTION.
Acts 8:1-4 reads - "Now Saul was consenting to his [i.e., Stephen's] death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word."
Isn't it wonderful how God works? Saul of Tarsus was doing his best to annihilate the Lord's church, but really all he was doing was motivating the Christians to scatter from Jerusalem and share the faith everywhere they went. And that was exactly what the Lord wanted (cf. 1:8)! When faith is challenged by persecution, it will either shrivel up and die or it will grow stronger and spread. Undoubtedly there were Christians who forsook the Lord because of persecution (cf. Matt. 13:20,21), but there were many who grew stronger and shared their faith.
6. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH NEEDED CONTINUAL STEADFASTNESS.
These Christians "...continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). They were persistent in their faithfulness.
We see the same truth in Acts 14:21,22 - "And when they [i.e., Paul & Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'" Baptism is only the beginning. Living as a Christian is a continual task.
7. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH WAS STRONG AND PRODUCED GROWTH.
According to Acts 16:5 - "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily."
There is nothing complex about that verse. When the faith of the early church was strengthened, they grew numerically. If a church isn't growing numerically, it may be because their faith is not being strengthened!
8. THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH RESULTED IN SANCTIFICATION.
Acts 26:18 states - "To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me."
To be sanctified is to be set apart for divine use. Their faith in the Lord set them apart from the world simply because it is impossible to follow the Lord faithfully and blend in with the world.
Now, let's apply these same eight points to our lives today.
1. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT IS FOUNDED UPON THE SCRIPTURES.
Romans 10:17 teaches - "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
Do you want to develop a strong faith? Then you need to be a diligent student of the word!
2. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT RESULTS IN OBEDIENT LIVING.
James 2:26 reads - "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
One who claims to have faith but will not obey God has a dead, useless faith! We need to busy ourselves with the Lord's work; this earthly sphere is not intended to be our place of rest.
3. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT IS SEEN IN ACTS OF LOVE.
Jesus spoke in John 13:34,35 - "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
The early church was willing to sell their possessions (even land) in order to be able to help provide for their needy brethren--do we have that kind of love? Would you be willing to sell certain possessions, even costly ones, to help meet the needs of your fellow Christians? Do you have that kind of sacrificial love? What is the church of today known for? What is the congregation you are numbered with known for? Is it love or something else?
4. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT IS EXERCISED DAILY.
What would the church today be like if we had the same disposition those early Christians did? People have asked the question before: "When in the history of the Lord's church did we start meeting for mid-week Bible study?" Sadly, the real question that one is typically asking in this case is: "Why do we need to gather together for more than one hour a week on Sunday morning?" If we want to have a fervent faith like the early church, we should be looking for ways to spend more time together in fellowship, study, worship, and evangelism! The question I like to ask in response is: "When in the history of the Lord's church did we stop meeting together daily?" I think it would be wonderful for Christians to meet together daily for spiritual work and worship! Think about how strong such a church would be! Think about the influence they could wield in their community!
"But Stephen, it's just not practical for Christians to get together daily!" Why isn't it practical? Is it because we're so busy with the things of this world that we don't have time to meet daily? Is it because we'd rather be about our own business instead of the Father's? Why shouldn't Christians be getting together daily? Is it because we don't love each other? Is it because our faith is weak? Is it because we're lazy? Why are so many Christians satisfied with a once-a-week, in-and-out visit to the assembly? Think about it friends! Are you exercising your faith daily?
The Bereans were noble-minded and they studied the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). What about you? Are you noble-minded? They had minds that received the word of God gladly. What about us?
5. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT IS SPREAD EVEN IN PERSECUTION.
Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:12 - "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
Paul states a general rule here--"all" includes you and me. If you desire to live a godly life for the Lord, then you will be persecuted--it's not a matter of if, but when! Well, what if a person has been a Christian for years and they've never been persecuted? I would suggest that there is a problem somewhere. Maybe they're not living the called-out, set-apart lifestyle that God expects (II Cor. 6:14-18). Maybe they're not "contend[ing] earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3) or maybe they're having "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" instead of exposing them (Eph. 5:11)!
In my opinion, one of the worst plagues upon the church today is apathy (being lukewarm). It is extremely difficult to be apathetic if persecution is severe. Either you'll become extremely devoted or you'll fall away, but in times of significant persecution, there aren't many lukewarm Christians. I believe that if we have faith like the early church, then we're going to be persecuted. Jesus said as much Himself in John 15:19,20 - "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also." Often it seems we do our best to try to blend in with the world. Do you dress like the world? Do you think like the world? Do you act like the world? Do you talk like the world? Are we in love with the world? If so, we're making ourselves enemies of God (James 4:4)! If we have faith like the early church, the world is going to hate us!
6. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT CONTINUES STEADFASTLY.
The end of Revelation 2:10 reads - "...be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."
How long is a marathon? A little over 26 miles, I believe. What does it take to be victorious in a marathon? You've got to go the entire distance! If someone runs 25 miles and then quits, will they get the crown? No! They didn't finish! It's the same way in Christianity. Our faith is all in vain if it is not practiced continually and to the end.
7. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT IS STRONG AND PRODUCES GROWTH.
II Peter 3:18 exhorts - "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen."
How can a disciple increase his faith? Through the ingestion of God's word! If we're growing in knowledge, then we ought to be growing in faith! If we're growing in faith, then we're getting stronger!
8. IF WE WANT TO HAVE FAITH LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, THEN WE NEED TO HAVE FAITH THAT RESULTS IN SANCTIFICATION.
Jesus stated in His prayer in John 17:17 - "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth."
We need to make certain that our lives are devoted to the Lord. This cannot happen without completely embracing and having passion for God's word.
As we conclude, please examine yourself as Paul commands in II Corinthians 13:5 - "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified?"
Friends, it is still true that the just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:17). Is your faith like that of the early church?
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.