In the west, we think if someone has something bad to say about us that we are being persecuted. Not even close. The early church gave it all; they welcomed it, and they were ready with a steadfast faith.
Martin Luther said it best, “Peace if possible. Truth at all costs.” This should be the motto we live by. I would say something similar was the motto of the early church. They may not have spoken Luther's words verbatim, but they lived them out.
The early apostles and disciples followed Christ at all costs, including their lives. They went to the ends of the earth defending and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.
There is a great deal we can learn from the book of Acts, about the early church, how they lived, served, and shared the Gospel. While it is a historical narrative telling us of the things that took place after Christ’s ascension, we can take lessons from them for our lives and our churches.
Just like we learn from the history of the world, as Christians, we can learn a great deal from the history of the Church.
The book of Acts is the longest in the New Testament not just in chapters but in time. The book covers thirty-two years from the time of Christ’s ascension through the ministry of Paul and the other disciples. A great deal happened in this time. Thousands were added to the church, and the message of the Gospel went out hundreds, if not thousands of miles.
The church in the west cannot even begin to imagine the difficulty the early church faced. The persecution, church within the homes of other believers, the sacrificial Gospel, was their lives. They did not make excuses for not being a part of what was going on. There was nothing else in their lives that mattered more than the Gospel and being disciples of Christ. It was in their mouths at every turn and in their movements of every step as they dared to enter places we cannot even imagine.
We may live in a different time and culture, but our lives should still be about the Gospel at every turn.
1. The Holy Spirit called and fueled their ministry
From the very beginning of Acts, before the ascension of Christ, He reminds the apostles and disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit. From that power, they will be witnesses to the ends of the earth. This ministry they had been called to could not be achieved apart from the Holy Spirit. This is what gave them the ability to go forward with the Gospel.
We are no different. As believers, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and equips us for the ministry and the places to which we are called. We are weak and sinful people; we cannot accomplish the mission of the Gospel without the Spirit of God. It gives us boldness, teaches us, and strengthens us to do the work.
2. They discipled one another
If the church today lacks anything, it is discipleship. The early church thrived by one-on-one relationships. They invested in the life of someone else, instructed, led, and journeyed together. They lived out the principle of discipleship - follow me as I follow Christ. This is how the church grew not just in number but also spiritually. They discipled one another, they gathered together often, they did life together.
Discipleship is a frightening word in the western church, most churchgoers shy away from small groups or even one on one discipleship settings. I think the main reason for that is they have no frame of reference for what true discipleship looks like. The church will never thrive spiritually without discipleship. Evangelism is not enough.
3. They worked with the end in mind
Before Jesus ascended, the disciples were concerned about when He would return. Jesus’ reply is the reminder that it is not for us to know what the plans of God are but to work with the end in mind. They worked while waiting for Christ to come again. They worked as though it could be any moment.
This wasn’t a distraction like it is to the church today; it was what fueled the work. It increased their longing and gave them hope to press on no matter what.
4. They spoke boldly of Christ
This is where I think Martin Luther had it right. The early church sought to speak truth at all costs. They spent many nights in prison, stood before courts, faced death threats, and even gave their lives. Yet, they never stopped. They knew the cost of the Gospel and were willing to pay it. They walked with Christ, they knew the truth, and they willingly gave their lives for it.
Today's culture will come for us if we say the wrong thing. Should that motivate us to silence? Should we allow the world to dictate the Gospel? By no means. We go forward and speak boldly no matter the cost. It is worth the cost to speak boldly for Christ. We are not called to comfort but are called to pick up our cross and follow Him.
5. They accepted persecution
Do we really know what persecution is? I don’t think we do. Churches in the Middle East and Asia have a great understanding of what this is. Even as I write this there are churches meeting underground so they are not arrested for gathering. There are countries where owning a Bible is illegal and could cost you your life. People are murdered for their faith daily in these countries.
In the west, we think if someone has something bad to say about us that we are being persecuted. Not even close. The early church gave it all; they welcomed it, and they were ready with a steadfast faith. Persecution will come for the west. Maybe not today, but it will. The early church teaches us how to face it in faith, with the strength of the Spirit. They teach us to stand firm no matter the cost.
6. They went wherever they were called
The apostles and disciples went where the Gospel was needed. They listened to the call of God and evangelized everywhere they went. We will be called out of our comfort zone to share the Gospel. Will we go willingly as they did? Will we serve as they served? They were willing to do the task, travel the roads, sail across seas, so that people would know the hope of Christ.
The book of Acts challenges us as believers: will we live for Christ no matter the cost?
We can see their example and be confident that God too will see us through. He is faithful to give His Holy Spirit to those who have accepted Christ. He is gracious to meet every need, not just in material things, but in the people we get to do life with, the church. Will we be challenged and changed by their example? Will we share the Gospel no matter what? Will we make disciples even when we feel afraid? Will we live as Martin Luther said, “Peace if possible. Truth at all costs”?
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Michelle Rabon is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who feels called to help women thrive in their walk with Jesus every day. In 2012, she started Displaying Grace, a ministry that is focused on helping women engage with God’s Word. Michelle has also served in women’s ministry for the past five years seeking to equip women in the local church through Bible study. When she is not writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, being close to the ocean, and drinking a lot of coffee.