God's Plan In the Church:

Study Guide
by David Chadwell

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Lesson One

First century realities:

For Jewish Christians: when Christianity began in Acts 2, it was exclusively Jewish (though it included proselytes who were non-Israelite converts to Judaism). Early in the Christian movement, the good news about the resurrected Savior was preached only to Jewish people. (1) God promised Israel that they would receive the first opportunity to accept the Christ [Matthew 15:24; Acts 3:26; 13:46]. (2) Jesus was an Israelite who was a descendant from King David [Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38]. (3) Jesus lived his life and conducted his ministry in Palestine; the people of Israel actually witnessed his life, miracles, teachings, resurrection, and the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. (4) From the life of Abraham, God worked through Israel to bring the Christ into this world. (5) This nation had known God and scripture for centuries.

For all these reasons, Christianity needed to be firmly established in Israel before it was presented to peoples who did not have these experiences. Though Christianity began with an excellent reception among the Jewish people [Acts 2:47], it soon encountered deadly opposition from the leaders of Israel [Acts 4:1-31; 5:17-42; 9:1,2].

For Christians of other nations: Christians who were not Israelites or converts to Judaism commonly left the gods and goddesses and idolatry. These deities were commonly regarded to be (a) territorial and (b) none exclusive. A person was always careful not to offend the prominent god or goddess of the area. However, a person could worship all gods and goddesses without offending any of them. As was true in Judaism, Christianity was exclusive. Conversion to God through Christ meant that you worshipped no other deity.

The reality: After Christianity was firmly established, it was not uncommon for Jews who became Christians to be ejected from their nation, culture, extended families, and immediate families.

Read Matthew 10:34-39.

1. Did Jesus come to bring (literally, cast) peace on the earth (verse 34)? What did he bring? In context, explain what Jesus meant.

2. What would be the result of a Jew devoting himself/herself to Jesus (verse 35)?

3. A Jewish Christian's most powerful enemies arose from where (verse 36)? [Remember that family and genealogy were everything to the Jewish individual.]

4. When a Jewish person became a Christian, what basic decision did he or she have to make (verses 37-39)?

The problems created by conversion to Christ were as severe for many non-Jewish persons as for many Jewish persons. Accepting the resurrected Jesus as God's Son meant rejecting the gods and goddesses. The prestigious temples of the gods and goddesses served central roles in the cities, the regions, and the empire. Idolatry and government were inseparably interlinked. These temples also filled key economic roles. Therefore, becoming a Christian was often a "politically offensive" decision. Making that choice often was viewed as an act of "irresponsible citizenship." It offended the gods and goddesses who served as patrons deities of craftsmen and trades. Christians could not participate in festivals that honored patron deities who "blessed" the craft or trade. When Christians refused to participate in such festivals, they were considered a threat to the security and future of the craft or trade.

Therefore: conversion to Christ created a basic need for relying on, helping, and nurturing each other as a community of believers in Christ. Christians lived in a powerful bond of togetherness as an interdependent community. The church of the first century did not exist and function as an institution. It existed and functioned as a community. Powerful evidence supports that fact in Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37; and 6. The epistles provide similar evidence (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Philippians 2:1-11; etc.). Anything that threatened the community relationship of Christians as they interacted, nurtured, and sustained each other also attacked the work and purposes of God in basic, fundamental ways.

This is a basic difference in the church as exists today and the church as it existed then: (a) in today's church Christians place "membership" in an "institution" whose existence is symbolized by a building; (b) in the first century church, Christians were a responsible, reliable part of a community of believers who provided each other a sense of being and belonging. Today, "church membership" often is highly impersonal and requires little or no interaction. Then, being a part of the community was highly personal; they belonged to each other because they belonged to Christ.

Christians in the first century needed each other and knew it. Christians today need each other and do not know it. The realities of love and mutual care within the Christian community attracted unbelievers to the faith of Christians in spite of the obvious cost of believing in Christ. A restoration of Christian community among today's Christians would do the same thing now.

To see the common biblical emphasis on Christians functioning together by interacting and interrelating as responsible, reliable community members, read Romans 12:3-16; Romans 14; and 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:13.

David Chadwell

Christians Nurturing Christians Study Guide (lesson 1)
Wednesday evening Bible class, Summer Quarter 1999
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Copyright © 1999
Permission is granted to freely copy and distribute with text unchanged, including author's name.
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