Phenomenal growth characterized the early church. Starting with about 3000 conversions on Pentecost Day (Acts 2:41), it wasn’t long until the number of men reached 5000 (4:4). When we get to 5:14, “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Dizzying, isn’t it? What characteristics produced such growth? Can we develop those same qualities?
Obviously, our first-century brethren were intensely evangelistic. Even when threatened with severe punishment, they proclaimed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and salvation through Him (Acts 3 & 4). But it doesn’t stop there. Evangelism bears fruit only when people are listening. What motivated the crowds to hear?
The early church had credibility, and for good reason! Generous brethren gave bountifully to supply the needs of the less fortunate (2:44, 45). As a result, the church enjoyed “favor with all the people” (2:47). Someone has observed that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” By demonstrating the love of Jesus, the Christians in Jerusalem earned the right to be heard.
A couple of them, however, sought to be praised rather than to be helpful. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lied about their contribution, claiming to have donated the full proceeds from selling a possession when, in fact, they gave only part of it. Peter affirmed that they had every right to keep a part for their own use (5:4). Their sin was in lying about it. Ananias was struck dead instantly, carried out, and buried without ceremony; Sapphira, appearing later, suffered the same fate. “So great fear came upon the church and upon all who heard these things . . . but the people esteemed them highly” (5:11, 13). Here was a church that upheld high standards! Even worldly people respected that. In our day, when so many are afraid to say or do anything that might seem “intolerant” or “judgmental,” we might take a lesson from Acts 5!
Besides being evangelistic, being generous, and upholding high standards, these brethren were unified. “And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch” (5:12b). Nobody complained when Ananias and Sapphira were severely disciplined. None were introducing strange new doctrines or practices. Such unity attracts people who are weary of the world’s chaos. They crave the rest that Jesus offers. No wonder they listened to the gospel. No wonder the church grew!
– Joe Slater
Justin Church of Christ