Opportunities to spread the gospel seem plenteous in foreign mission-fields; reports of people flocking in droves to feast upon the fare of faith come to our attention frequently.
But here in America, such opportunities for evangelistic expansion develop at a more leisurely pace. Overseas-missionaries appear to be running a million sprints everyday; whereas we seem to be running one giant, grueling, marathon.
I cannot speak for the missionaries and their ways, whether for good or ill. But I can consult the example of the first-century church of Christ, which spread the faith with immense rapidity (cf. Acts 6.7; 12.24; Col. 1.6). What was their recipe for evangelistic growth?
The Jerusalem congregation in particular demonstrates how it should be done.
“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, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
This passage may not divulge all of the ways our ancient brethren spread the faith, but it does provide us with a few of the key ingredients.
Devotion (vv. 46a, 47a)
In those early days, the disciples of Christ were able to use the temple-complex in Jerusalem to congregate for worship and prayer (cf. Luke 24.53; Acts 3.1; 5.42).
Conducting their religious services in public view no doubt served mightily both to demystify who Christians are and what we do, as well as to welcome the curious passerby into their number. The brethren of a century ago realized these benefits to the open-air/tent meeting too.
But, more than the welcoming nature of their public devotionals, the Jerusalem church loved the worship assembly! They pursued congregational worship with enthusiasm and dedication, “with one accord in the temple…praising God” — and doing so “daily.”
Try to encourage brethren today to assemble for congregational worship even just once a week and, in some circles, it is as if you are pulling teeth and stepping on toes. To many brethren, worship has become dull and boring; instead, other interests engage their attention.
Can we really expect others to take interest in attending worship if we ourselves view the assembly with apathy or irritation?
Amiableness (vv. 46b-c, 47b)
The togetherness of the Jerusalem congregation was not limited to religious fellowship; they became friends, “breaking bread from house to house,” eating “their food [together] with gladness.” A church that worships together, without spending social time together, is only half-whole; and outsiders will notice this.
The pleasantness which the Jerusalem church shared must have been truly infectious, for it spread into the community too — “having favor with all the people.” Friendliness, gladness, and pleasantry will always be appealing.
Integrity (v. 46d)
Not only did the disciples enjoy being around each other in religious and social fellowship, but they did so with “simplicity of heart.” The term, “simplicity,” in the New Testament rarely signifies something intellectual; rather, it is moral in thrust. Here, it carries two significances.
First, it denotes sincerity, singleness (not duplicitous), genuine, honest. Their feelings for each other were not artificial. They genuinely cared for each other, and the integrity of their conduct toward each other was most winsome.
Conversely, a congregation full of backbiters, quibblers, and mischief-makers will never appeal to those seeking rest from a sin-turbulent world.
Liberality (v. 46d)
Second, the term, “simplicity,” additionally suggests, benevolence, generosity — and, hence, on the whole the word has to do with genuine affection and liberality. The brethren gave of their means in staggering displays of kindness and love, even selling off “their possessions and goods” to provide for the needs of their new brethren in Christ (Acts 2.45). Liberality causes increase, but stinginess depletes itself (cf. Prov. 11.24-26).
The faith of the early Christians did not stem from casual indifference. They yearned for something greater (cf. vv. 37-38). Theirs was a “living hope” (1 Pt. 1.3). When others saw this hope, and asked about it, they were ready to answer “with meekness and fear” (1 Pt. 3.15).
Why should our neighbors want to be added to our number if they see no hope-for-tomorrow inside us?
A Final Observation
One word connects each of these ingredients together: “So continuing daily…the Lord added to the church daily…” The daily D-evotion, A-miableness, I-ntegrity, L-iberality, and Y-earning of our ancient brethren lead to the daily conversion of the people in the community! In fact, the term, “added,” is in the imperfect tense, signifying: “the Lord kept adding to the church daily those being saved.”
Luke’s point is this: as long as they kept worshipping together, fellowshipping with one another with gladness, expressing their genuine love for each other through liberal giving, and yearning for better things, they kept bringing their neighbors to the faith!
And since they expressed their excitement, love, faith, and hope every day, they kept drawing their neighbors to the Lord, who added them to his church, every day.
Surely, this is a recipe we can replicate today, with equal soul-winning potency, is it not?