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16. The early church

16-1 A Taste Of The First Century: The Positive : 16-1-1 " With one accord" || 16-1-2 The Early Church Our Example || 16-1-3 Prayer Meetings || 16-1-4 Christ-centredness || 16-1-5 Radical Preaching || 16-1-6 Women In The Early Church || 16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith || 16-2 A Taste Of The First Century: The Negative: 16-2-1 Division In The Church || 16-2-2 Politics In The Church || 16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century : 16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church || 16-3-2 Oikonomia And Household Fellowships || 16-3-3 Rich And Poor In The First Century || 16-3-4 Unity In The Church || 16-4 The Obstacles : 16-4-1 The Obstacles To The Growth Of Christianity || 16-4-2 The offence of the cross || 16-4-3 The rejection of Caesar || 16-4-4 Women And Slaves In The First Century || 16-4-5 The Roman Empire And Christianity || 16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism || 16-4-7 Other First Century Objections To Christianity || 16-5 How They Succeeded: 16-5-1 Why Christianity Spread In The First Century  || 16-5-2 The Example Of The Community || 16-5-3 House Meetings In The First Century || 16-5-4 Witness In The Workplace || 16-5-5 The Witness Of Christian Unity In The First Century || 16-5-6 The Role Of Women   In The First Century || 16-5-7 Style Of PreachingIn The First Century || 16-5-8 Christian Ethics In The First Century || 16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity || 16-5-10 Early Christian Doctrine || 16-6 Where Things Went Wrong: 16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy || 16-6-2 The Rise Of Traditions || 16-6-3 Legalism In The Church || 16-6-4 Social Tensions In The Church || 16-6-5 Wealth In The Church || 16-6-6 Worldliness In The Church || 16-6-7 Lost Emphasis Upon Grace || 16-6-8 Loss Of Faith In The Church || 16-6-9 Poor Church Leadership || 16-6-10 Dogmatism And Legalists


16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith

There are about 70 references to there being joy of faith amongst the early brethren. It was undoubtedly a characteristic of the community, despite the moral and doctrinal failures amongst them, the turning back to the world, the physical hardship of life, and direct persecution from the authorities. There was a joy of faith in conversion and in beholding it (Acts 2:41,46; 3:8; 5:41; 8:8; 13:52; 15:3; 1 Thess. 1:6). Letters to new converts like the Philippians reflect this theme of joy, even though it was written from prison. Paul and Silas could sing in prison. The earlier brethren rejoiced that  they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ sake (Acts 5:41). Paul rejoiced daily in the fact the Corinthians had been baptized (1 Cor. 15:31). Many a photo taken at baptism reflects this same joy amongst us today. Sower and reaper rejoice together (Jn. 4:36). To hold on to the Truth was described as holding on to the rejoicing of the hope unto the end (Heb. 3:6).  

But if we lose joy, we have lost our faith. It was the same with OT Israel. “The vine [of Israel] is withered…for joy is withered”; the people of God were to be a people of joy, and when their joy was no more, they were no longer God’s people; for “joy and gladness” were cut off from the house of God (Joel 1:12,16). The experience of joy is the litmus test for a community of God’s people. This thought gives rise to some sober self-examination, especially for those who may have come to feel that ‘holding the faith’ is a matter of glumly trudging onwards through this evil world, grimly gripping hold of our statement of faith as we bemoan the state of those around us. If we are not a community based around reaching out into the world, there will be no joy for us. Those individuals and ecclesias who have effectively given up preaching are markedly lacking in the joy that should characterise the true life in Christ. Joy and praise are not merely emotions of little worth; they are legitimate and powerful motivators to concrete action. For the Macedonians “the abundance of their joy… abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2). Their joy for what the Lord had done for them, for the “abundance” [s.w.] of His grace and giving to them (Rom. 5:17), led to their giving to the poor.  

If we are converting others, then the whole community gets into an upward spiral of joy and zeal; for there is always joy over the expansion of a true family. Thus Apollos “helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, showing publicly by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:27,28 RVmg.). He helped / inspired the other believers in that he publicly converted others; thus an upward spiral of converting was initiated. The ecclesia was a growing family; the apostles returned ‘to their own’ when they came out of court (Acts 4:23 Gk.). Each baptism was and is a birth into our family. Visiting brethren were gladly received, as one would receive a relative; it was the logical thing to seek out the believers in a town and stay with them (21:7,17; 27:3; 28:14; 3 Jn. 5). Their mental and perceptional geography revolved around the existence of the brethren, rather like I once perceived the vast map of ‘Brazil’ as just Cuiaba, a town in Amazonia where at that time the only Brazilian Christians lived whom I personally knew. Whole households were converted (Acts 10:2; 16:34; 18:8; Col. 4:15), and the earliest Christian meeting places unearthed were rooms in the homes of rich believers. And with us too, the success of our community depends upon God’s Truth first and foremost being the centre of family life, with the joy of faith permeating it.