Trying to imagine what it was like to be a Christ-follower in the early church is no easy task. It must’ve been so different than being a Christ-follower today. Of course, being a Christ-follower looks very different depending on which Christ-follower you’re looking at.
Christ-followers in Peter’s day had made a decision to follow Jesus, the God-Man who had only recently died and risen from the dead. Many of them were not eye-witnesses to the Messiah and his ministry. They’d been told by friends and relatives of what Jesus had done and who he claimed to be. They didn’t have copies of the Bible on their bookshelves. In fact, the Bible had not even been put together yet in Peter’s day. They had the Old Testament Law, but even then they had to listen to that being read at the temple – it wasn’t available to every believer. Most met in homes of other Christ-followers. It was risky to follow Jesus for them. Many were being banished from their homes and cast out by their families. It wasn’t uncommon for believers to be jailed and beaten and even killed for following Christ. But even the most sold-out believers didn’t always get it right.
Last week I visited my brother and sister-in-law in Tacoma, Washington. Bobby is a church planter there. I remember when they moved to the Pacific Northwest and were helping out at another church near Seattle that had just been recently planted. They knew they were called to plant a new church, but they didn’t know when or where or who or how. Then God showed them Tacoma. Then God called it The Pathway. Then God began to bring people together, first at a park eating hot dogs, and now at an elementary school on Sunday mornings and in homes across the city every night of the week. Many Christ-followers that are a part of The Pathway look and act a lot different than “typical” Christ-followers here in Texas. Some of them are covered in tattoos. Some of them have never held a hymnal. Some of them just talk out loud to the pastor in the middle of a sermon. Some of them cuss in church. (Gasp!) Many of the Christ-followers there have chosen to leave sinful lifestyles and friends and families behind in order to follow Christ. They don’t meet in a church with a steeple and pews. (In fact, my sweet little 5 year old preacher’s-kid/nephew said, “What’s a pew?”) One time a lady said, “Tell me more about this Jesus. I’ve never heard of him!” These Christ-followers are living life together, doing the best they can to walk alongside each other wherever they are while they encourage each other to make disciples and become more like Jesus every day. But even the most sold-out believers don’t always get it right.
I live in Texas and on the same block as my house there are two different church buildings. Across the street is one more. In a mile radius from my house, I bet there are at least 10 different congregations who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Our church meets on Sunday mornings, Sunday night and Wednesday nights, what we consider to be a very traditional schedule. We dress our best on Sunday mornings, come and sit on pews and sit or stand while we worship corporately and then listen to the pastor preach a sermon. Some of us bring our Bibles, some of us don’t. We put on our best faces and when someone says “Good morning, How are you?”, we smile and say, “Fine, how are you?” (no matter how we are). We see each other throughout the week because this is a very small town, but usually we talk about the weather and our kids and the latest town gossip when we run into each other at the grocery store. Other churches in our area have similar schedules, similar dress codes, similar routines. Church sometimes feels more like a social club than a group of believers who are totally sold out followers of Jesus Christ. We have awesome ministry opportunities that reach large groups of people, like concerts and festivals. We have many high-quality programs that present the Gospel message and give people an opportunity to hear and receive the message of Jesus Christ. But even the most sold-out believers don’t always get it right.
So which ones are doing it right? The early church? The newly-planted church? The old established church? The ones that have full bands and lights and contemporary songs? The ones that have pipe organs and hymnals? The ones that meet in homes? The ones that meet in parks? The ones that sit on pews? The ones that sit on dirt floors?
Here’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:1-11. (You knew I’d get to it eventually, right?)
He says that because Christ suffered in the flesh, we ought to also arm ourselves with the same way of thinking. Be ready to suffer in the flesh too. (Have you ever wondered why you don’t suffer like the early church Christ-followers or modern-day-Christians across the ocean? Could it be that we are not standing firm in Biblical truth in the same way that they were and are? Could it be that we are being too tolerant and too accommodating when people tell us what we can and cannot do and say when it comes to being a Christ-follower?) Peter says that our time of reckless living is in the past – we should leave it there and live for the will of God. He reminds us that unbelievers will wonder why we don’t join them in their sin. (Has anyone ever been surprised that your behavior is different? If so, good! If not, maybe a change in behavior is in order!)
In verses 7-9, Peter tells us we are in the end-times, my friends. We need to be self-controlled and sober-minded and love each other (even the unlovable ones!) and we should be hospitable without grumbling. And then he tells us that as believers we’ve been given some gifts. Some are speaking gifts, like encouragement and teaching and prophecy. Some are serving gifts like helping and giving and mercy. And in verse 10, Peter says this:
As each has received a gift, use it….
What a concept.
My friend Megan just completed training camp for her 11-month mission trip, The World Race. They were working on some team-building activities to strengthen their team. One activity challenged them to work together to build a tent. Not too hard. The problem was that most of them were blindfolded. Megan said she did her part and then it was time for her to step back and hold down the corner of the tent while someone else did their part. She sat there in her darkness, holding down her corner, wishing that she could just go over and put that tent up because she KNEW how to do it. It was hard to sit in the corner in the dark and hold down the corner. But in her darkness, God met her there (as he always does, right?) and showed her that even when we feel useless in the middle of waiting, even when we know that we could just go DO SOMETHING, even when it would be easier to let go, He has given us just the right gift in just the right amount to fulfill just the right assignment that he has for us at just the right time.
That’s who is doing it right. The Christ-followers who use their gifts to build up the body. The Christ-followers who love each other earnestly. The Christ-followers who are willing to take a God-given back seat assignment so that others can fulfill their God-given roles. The Christ-followers who are self controlled and sober minded. The Christ-followers who are hospitable without grumbling. The Christ-followers who are willing to stand so firm in the Truth that persecution and suffering are bound to come.
Ultimately, the ones who are getting it right are the ones who have armed themselves with the same way of thinking as Christ, who suffered in the flesh. The ones who no longer live for human passions but for the will of God. There are some in every crowd – the early church, the newly planted church, the old traditional church. Will you be one that gets it right? His precious promise comes in verse 11…
“…that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Glory to God.
My prayer for you always is that God will give you a hunger for HIM. I pray that before you open up any book, you will open up The Word of God. I pray that before you watch any TV show, you will seek His face. I pray that before you call or text that special friend, you will whisper words to your Savior.
John Piper says it well, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Lord, please give us a hunger for you that only you can satisfy. Empty us of us. Fill us up with you. We long for You to be glorified in us. Satisfy us, Lord Jesus.