Over the last several weeks we have examined eight different churches or congregations of the Lord’s people found on the pages of the New Testament. As always, the Good Lord has provided us with numerous examples in which we can grow by today. Let’s not forget the purpose of our study of all these churches is to aid us in our efforts to have congregations of the Lord’s people that that will shine forth in this world of sin and be pleasing to our Heavenly Father. That means, as we have seen, a local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship, sound in doctrine and united. It must always remember its first Love, and never be lukewarm in its efforts. The Lord’s people who make up the church MUST distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ, for the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of His Will. We must also not forget that we must not run, but stay and fight, which means utilizing what little strength or talents we may have to teach the doctrine of Christ where we are. A congregation must “Be Watchful” and “Be Faithful” and “Fear None of those things which it will suffer.” The first church we examined was the church at Corinth. We studied this congregation of the Lord’s people and identified numerous disorders found amongst its members. Then we went to the book of Revelation and studied the seven churches of Asia, each having a letter presented to them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We studied the church at Ephesus, which we can call “The Honeymoon Is Over” congregation because they left their first love. Then we studied the church at Laodicea which we can call “The Lukewarm” congregation because they were content with themselves neither doing work for the Lord nor working against the Lord. From there we studied the church at Pergamos which we can call, “Faithful in the Midst of Evil” for they resided in the midst of paganism and some in the congregation held to the doctrine of Balaam.” From Pergamos we studied the church at Philadelphia which we can call, “An Open Door” for even with their little strength or talents, the Lord opened the door for them to do His Will. From there we studied the church at Sardis. This congregation we can call “The Living-Dead Church” for they had a name or were well respected, but their character was known by God and they were hiding behind their reputation and not living up to it. From Sardis we moved on to the church at Smyrna. This congregation of the Lord’s people, like the church at Philadelphia, had nothing the Lord held against them and we can call them “The Poor-Rich Church.” For they were in the midst of worldly poverty, but rich in their spiritual relationship with the Father. Finally, last week we studied the church at Thyatira which we can call the “Compromised With Evil” church. For like the church at Pergamos, this congregation allowed false doctrine to have an influence on them. With these eight congregations we learn from their mistakes and their successes. However, there is one congregation we must look at and recognize, that this congregation, was the congregation all these congregations discussed could look to and emulate, the church at Jerusalem.
From the book of Acts we read the story of the church at Jerusalem. As the book of Acts begins, we find the apostles of Christ being instructed to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit that the Lord would send to them, who would guide the apostles into all truth. The day of Pentecost had come and dwelling in Jerusalem were Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. It was on this day, that the apostles gave the first gospel sermon. The Lord provided us with the Apostle Peter’s sermon. It is from Acts 2:36 which prompts the beginning of the church in Jerusalem and from Acts 2:36-47 we read of its membership. Listen to what the Holy Spirit has provided us through the pen of the physician Luke in Acts 2:36-47, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
From this section of Scripture, we learn that the church at Jerusalem was one that came into existence through plain gospel preaching. As the apostles preached their audience responded through repentance and baptism as we read in Acts 2:37-41, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”
It is from this point we are shown what these people were like as a congregation of the Lord’s people for in Acts 2:42 we learn they were a steadfast church, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” From Acts 2:44 we learn they were a “United” church, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common…” From verses 44 and 45 we learn they were a congregation of brotherly love and liberality, or a willingness to share their possessions with their brethren, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,”45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” When we read Acts 2:46 we can see the closeness of the brethren for the members enjoyed the shared life of one another, “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…” When we arrive at Acts 2:47 we learn two things. First, they were a congregation that had favor with all the people. This means it was respected by the people around, not that it was popular, “praising God and having favor with all the people….” The second part is that the congregation grew daily, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
As we consider what we read concerning all the congregations we looked at in the New Testament, it is this congregation that basically sets the standard to be followed. Part of that reasoning stems from the fact that this church was also a persecuted church as we read in Acts 8:1, “Now Saul was consenting to his 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.” As well, this persecution did not stop them from being a zealous evangelistic congregation as we read in Acts 8:4, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”
As the church in Jerusalem was a congregation of people who “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers,” it is here in these four items that we find the church at Jerusalem, a model for all imitation. To continue steadfastly in the fellowship of the apostles, is to have continuous fellowship with God and Christ and all the saints in light. In this case, such a church is certain to experience a rapid growth in numbers. Its high qualities will draw the true hearted in the community about it. This church did grow with marvelous rapidity. And the multitude of believers was of one heart and one soul. Here, in this first church, was a mass of men, women, and children of whom the inspired writer says, that they were all of one heart and soul, so completely so, that not one of them counted anything which he possessed as his own. It was all ours not mine. Not one was allowed to lack anything needful, though it required the sale of houses and lands on the part of some to supply the needs of others.
When God established His church here on this earth, He began by bringing into existence one church perfectly united in itself and Him. In order for us, today, to know how we are to be as a local congregation, we must look backward to the church that was, and not forward to some imaginary church of the future, for the model of union, and the union must begin in the individual congregation. Let’s remember, as we have looked at the church at Jerusalem, as well the eight other congregations of the Lord’s people found in the new testament, as perfect as the union was in the Jerusalem church, it was a union of imperfect human beings, as we can clearly see from all the congregations we have studied.
Every congregation of the Lord’s people must always remember that without Christ and His word, we can do nothing. With Christ and his Word, we frame our own destiny. Recognizing both the admonishment and praises to the various churches in the Bible aid us in our endeavor to serve our various communities as the pillar and ground of the truth, as the Lord’s church is to be. And as we’ve learned from all the churches, each local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship sound in doctrine and extremely important as was seen in the church at Jerusalem, united. It must always “remember” it’s first Love and it must not be lukewarm in its efforts but be zealous for good works. The local congregation must always distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ. Let’s not forget the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of his will. As well, the Lord’s people MUST take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to spread the Gospel of Christ no matter what “little strength” or talents we have been given. The Lord “opens the door” for us to take advantage, especially in this country, of teaching the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. Local congregations of the Lord’s people are to “Be Watchful” And “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer.” Do not fear persecution, for if we endure a crown of life awaits us! Every congregation of the Lord’s people must “Hold fast to what we have, and those who overcome and keep the works of the Lord, are given a promise of triumph and reign and the suppression of all enemies. The Jerusalem church provides us with a wonderful example of a church steadfast in the doctrine of Christ. IT shows us the epitome of being united with its brotherly love and liberality. They truly enjoyed the company of one another. They were of good reputation and character with all the people around them in their community. They grew and were zealous in their efforts to spread the Gospel of Christ when they were persecuted and scattered. As Christ warned the seven churches in Asia, he gave each of them the opportunity to fix those things necessary to keep their candlesticks shining brightly, just as He is doing for us today. For He, is longsuffering and patient. Every congregation of the Lord’s people must look closely at those things revealed on the pages of the New Testament that will aid us in striving to bring Glory and honor to our Father in Heaven. That will bring many souls out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Sadly, many congregations fail to truly find that unity which will bring honest growth to the body of Christ and have brought reproach upon the church.
In order for congregations of the Lord’s people to make up sound congregations they must start with every individual striving to imitate Christ in their walk in this life. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Each one of us needs to take the Word of God seriously and allow it to permeate our hearts in a way that we will make His Will our very own. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”
All MUST believe Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Let everyone hear the Word of God and have the faith described by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:1- 6 which helps us see those who were given various levels of strength or talents and they chose to live and obey as God instructed them, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
We all need to do as Peter told those to do on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
We MUST all confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God as Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Ask yourself if your obedience to Christ is or was like that of the wonderful example of obedience found in Acts 8:36-39 where Philip has been teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” The apostle Paul helps us see the importance of baptism in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” When one has been baptized, their sins are washed away and they rise a new child of God, a Christian. This is where the “walk in newness of life” begins. This new beginning requires a lifetime of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life.”
Now for those who have obeyed Christ through baptism and have fallen from grace, we urge you to do as the apostle Peter told Simon in Acts 8:22, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”