The Example of Early Disciples
The church for which Jesus died was first constituted of His apostles and the initial obedient believers, as recorded in Acts 2:37-47. It is said in that text, “that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41), and it later tells us, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Later, we find “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). [It should be noted that this was later that same day.]
It is this example to which we often refer when trying to show how the early disciples were saved — correctly so, for Peter will later state to a room full of Jewish disciples, regarding the recent conversions of Gentiles, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11). Clearly, there will be no different plan of salvation for Jew and Gentile, for we are all saved by the same precious blood of Jesus Christ, made effective to all who believe and obey.
But as we consider the example of the early disciples in how one is converted, should we not also consider what they did after conversion as an example for us to follow, too? I believe we should, so let’s consider what the earliest disciples did, and let us follow their example.
They Followed the Teachings of the Apostles. The record tells us they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42); this is not some new doctrine conceived in the minds of the apostles, but merely the teaching of the apostles, as they received such by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thus, the word of God. Before Jesus was crucified, Jesus told the apostles the Holy Spirit would come to them and would “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13), and would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:25, 26). Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commanded that these same apostles go out and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20). That is exactly what they were doing as recorded in Acts 2. The “apostles’ doctrine” was simply the word of God as revealed to the apostles by the Holy Spirit, who taught them all things Jesus had already taught them, and reminded them of the things He had said to them.
Since Jesus has all authority (Matt. 28:18), no man today has authority to teach anything different. In fact, Paul wrote that if anyone does teach anything other than what the apostles taught, they are to be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9). Friends and brethren, let’s stick to teaching the word of God, as revealed to us now by the written word of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit-inspired writers.
They Looked Out for One Another. In this same context of Acts 2, we find the earliest disciples “were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44, 45). Later, it says again that these early disciples “had all things in common” and that “all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:32-35).
The early disciples were simply carrying out one of the most basic requirements and identifying marks of the disciples of Jesus Christ: loving one another as He loved us (John 13:34, 35). They saw their brethren who had a need, and they took care of those needs, demonstrating the love of God was what guided them (1 John 3:17). We must be willing to do the same.
They Went Everywhere Preaching the Word. When Saul the persecutor began directing his attention to the believers in Jerusalem, he was soon “entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). I am certain his intent to was to either intimidate the disciples into giving up the faith or quit teaching the gospel message, or both. They did neither. What we find, as a result of his persecution, was that “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). His persecutions had the exact opposite effect he intended!
They were not the only ones, of course. Another group of disciples, those in Thessalonica, faced persecutions from the very beginning of their faith in Christ (Acts 17:1-9), but Paul would later praise them because they had “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,” and, in spite of this and because of their efforts, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (1 Thess. 1:6-8). The early disciples are an example of what every disciple should be doing in the work of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
So, what are we doing? Are we waiting for ‘someone else’ to do it? Are we using excuses about how we “don’t know what to do,” or how “brother so-and-so could do it better than me,” or, “That’s the preacher’s job”? Brethren, if the earliest disciples did it, and did it under much more trying circumstances than we, what excuse, really, do we think will exclude us from doing what Christ expects us to do? The fact is, there is no excuse that will relieve us of our responsibilities on this, or any other command of our Lord. If anything, we have many more opportunities and many more means of communicating God’s word to those in the world who have yet to either hear or obey the gospel message of salvation.
They Had Struggles. Some today have the idea that all Christians are supposed to be perfect, never making any mistakes or poor choices, and never sin again. Such is simply not the case, and that will never be the case because Christians are still imperfect human beings who sometimes act in ways they should not. The church at Corinth had multiple problems; the churches of Galatia were being influenced to bow to the biases of others to treat some disciples differently; one church had a man who took it upon himself to be the guardian of the gates and forbid some from being a part.
The early disciples were not perfect, and neither will we be. Struggles will always be present, but that doesn’t mean we are failures. God still loved them, and He loves His people today, too. — Steven Harper