"That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved."
In the book of Acts we get a clear picture of the growth of the early church. The growth in the early church did not occur in any individual in isolation. Growth occurs in community. This is what we see in Acts, a community that grew together. In Acts chapter 2 we see the results of God’s power through a sermon preached by Peter where thousands come to know and to follow Jesus from his simple challenge, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).”
Note, Peter did not say you change your life by yourself. He said, “Change your life by turning to God, by having your sins forgiven, by being baptized, and by receiving God’s Spirit.” In other words, “Do not go at it alone.” What happens next is astounding. The believers grew to about 3,000 and turned their lives from a self focus to a God focus. This turning from solitude and self to the triune God, God in community with Himself, turned into a community of God’s love. This community of love expressed itself in God’s love, and drew people to itself out of God’s love, in an expression of God’s love.
This happening occurred by God’s power in community in ten major manifestations of discipleship:
- People took Peter at his word, God’s word, and were baptized, 3000 people had faith in Jesus (surrender, obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ)
- They committed themselves to the apostles teaching (learning)
- The community continued in life together, they had fellowship (fellowship)
- Meals were shared together, they broke bread together, in communion (community)
- They prayed together and interceded for one another (prayer)
- All things were shared in harmony, they sold possessions and gave to those in need (generosity)
- They were in one accord, they were in agreement, they had solidarity (unity)
- They worshiped with thankfulness, gratitude, and simplicity in celebration (celebration)
- They praised God with joy and exuberant s (worship)
- People were saved and the church, the community, grew and found favor (increase)
Discipleship is communal, it cannot occur outside of community. We cannot go at it alone. These ten manifestations of discipleship, learning from and following Jesus, are communal and influence the development of disciples in the church. None of these elements: surrender, obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, learning, fellowship, community, prayer, generosity, unity, celebration, worship, and increase can occur in isolation; if for no other reason than all of these things require our connection with God. Jesus said it this way in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
This connection with God is not, however, all that is required of us. We are also called to live in community with God’s people, God’s Church. If we are truly to be disciples of our Lord, we must be abiding in Jesus in a community of His believers and followers. Jesus goes on to say this in John 15:12-14, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Jesus calls us to, and empowers us for, a deep love for our friends, His church. We are called to a sacrificial life together that resembles God’s own sacrificial love for us. This manifestation of God’s love in community is the church. It is by this expression of love that the world comes closer to knowing the love of Christ. As Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In community discipleship happens and we all grow, but most importantly God’s church, which each of us is so vitally a part of, grows as well. People come to know Jesus as we love one another in community and grow together as God’s family. This growth is vibrant and has an astounding affect on us all, our communities, and our world; as we surrender in obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, learn together, have fellowship, enjoy community, pray together, are generous to one another, are in unity together, celebrate together, worship together, and enjoy growth and increase together.
We cannot have these fruits of discipleship and community flying solo, so may we, as the author of Hebrews states, “do it—full of belief (in Christ’s work), confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He (God) always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching (Hebrews 10:22-25).”
May we live in community together as God’s church and be His disciples as we grow together!
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 15:5, Jn 15:12-14, Jn 13:35
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Ac 2:41-47, Heb 10:22-25