1021) How the Early Church Grew

Chapel of St. Ananias, Damascus, Syria, an early  Christian house of worship (1st century)

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Adapted from A Godward Life, by John Piper, pages 303-404, Multnomah Press, 1997.

      About A.D. 133 Aristeides, a teacher of philosophy, presented a defense of Christianity to Emperor Hadrian.  From it we get a glimpse of what the early Christians were like and why the church grew the way it did— like wildfire— in those early centuries.  Surely this is a fulfillment of the words of Jesus that we should let our lights so shine that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

     Christ died and was buried; and they say that after three days He rose and ascended to heaven; and then these twelve disciples went forth into all the kingdoms of the world, telling of his greatness with all humility and sobriety; whence they who still serve the righteousness of his preaching are called Christians, who are well known.

     Now the Christians, O King, have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself engraven on their hearts, and they are looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness.  They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man.  They do not do unto others that which they would not have done unto themselves.  They comfort those who wrong them, and make friends of them.  They labor to do good to their enemies.  They are meek and gentle.  As for their servants or handmaids, or their children, they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them, without distinction, “brethren.”

     They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan.  Those that have, distribute liberally to them that have not.  If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if it were their own brother, for they call themselves brethren not after the flesh but after the spirit and in God.  And if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him.

     And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they don’t have an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.  For Christs sake they are ready to lay down their lives.

     So it was spread abroad, “Behold how they love one another.”  What shall we be known for?  Let it be that we are willing to die for Christ and even more, that we are willing to live for him in loving his people— and his enemies.  The early Christians fasted so that they would have more to give to the needy, which means they did not have a lot stored up. 

     O Lord help us see Christ, and to show Christ, as they did.

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Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said),  “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

John 13:34-35  —  (Jesus said), “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Romans 12:9-18  —  Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction,faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

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  O Lord, give us the faith to be like the early Christians.  Help us to see Christ, and to show Christ, as they did.  Amen. 

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