“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…”
|Dr. Rick Flanders|
- When the church is healthy, new converts will be joining. Jesus teaches us in the book of John that healthy Christianity is lived by the principle, “Abide in Me” (read John 15:1-8). When a believer lives his life absolutely submitted to the will of Christ (John 15:9-10) and in total dependence on Him for power to live and serve Him, he can expect to reproduce. The fruit-bearing of John 15 is reproduction, Christians producing new Christians through divinely empowered evangelism. The first church was full of abiding-in-Christ believers (or “filled with the Holy Ghost”) after the day of Pentecost, and the result was amazing reproduction (see Acts 2:37-47). New believers were being added to the church every day for a time. This is what can be expected when we are living in Christ as we should. There certainly should be addition.
- When discipleship is the emphasis of the work of the church, as well as evangelism, we can expect the growth to rise to multiplication. And the reason is obvious to anyone who knows anything about math and about Christian discipleship. Discipleship in the New Testament had to do with how we live, and the call to discipleship was, “Follow Me” (read Matthew 4:18-25, 8:18-23, and 9:9). Disciples of Jesus are followers of Jesus. They seek to follow His teachings, His example, and His leadership. We believe on Jesus to be saved, and we follow Him to be His disciples. And every believer in Jesus has a moral obligation to live as a follower of Jesus. That’s why Jesus said to “those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). It’s also why Romans 12:1 beseeches us on the basis of God’s mercy to us as believers to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in the service of Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Because of the great persecution waged against the Jerusalem church, “they were scattered abroad” and “went every where preaching the Christ. Believers in Jesus, saved people, have the duty to live for the One Who died for them (see also Second Corinthians 5:14-15). And they need training to know how to do so. This is the reason why, in the book of Acts, believers who join the church by baptism are called “disciples” (notice this in 6:1, 6:7, 9:1-2, 9:10, 9:22-28, 9:36-38, 11:26-30, 14:21-22 [where the word translated “taught” comes from the word “disciple” and means to make disciples], 19:1-7, 20:1, 20:7, 21:3-4, and 21:16-17). It means that when believers joined the church, they were signing up to be disciples. They would be trained to be true followers of Jesus Christ (remember the instructions our Lord gave us in Matthew 28:16-20, where the word for “teach” in verse 19 is translated from the Greek word for making disciples, and the word “teaching” in verse 20 means instructing the would-be disciples). When the church is training believers as disciples the result is multiplication. The new converts will soon have the know-how and the faith to reproduce themselves, and to instruct their spiritual children to reproduce themselves. Just do the math. The disciples will multiply. Effective evangelism will add believers to the church, and intense discipleship will multiply them. Soul-winning churches ought to become disciple-making churches.
- Growing congregations should be expected eventually to plant new churches. This is what happened when the churches, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy word” (Acts 8:4). The Lord was and is serious about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, given for the last time in Acts 1:8. Because the first church didn’t move past the first stage of evangelizing their own city, he forced them to go forward to the next stages of the Acts 1:8 program by sending them withering persecution. As a result, “they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (compare Acts 8:1 with Acts 1:8). These scattered Christians evangelized new areas and started new churches (review chapters 8 and 9). After a while, the scattered disciples actually “travelled” to new areas deliberately to evangelize the people and found new churches (read chapter 11). And one of the churches planted in this time of multiplying churches became the first missionary church, sending some of their own to regions beyond them to preach the Gospel and start new churches all over the world (see Second Corinthians 10:14-17, and watch the missionaries work, producing believers through the preaching of the Gospel, multiplying disciples by instructing believers, and multiplying the churches, in Acts 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, and 19). This scenario is what we should be seeing in the world today. And as God revives us, putting us back into His program, we will.
- Increasing numbers of believers, of church-members, and of New Testament churches must be the hope and prayer of every dedicated Christian. Now, of course, the increase of the numbers is not the ultimate goal. The membership and attendance at the Jerusalem church was devastated in Acts 8:1 by divine design. But the spread of the Gospel and the forwarding of the Great Commission were accomplished. The ultimate goal of our lives and churches is the fulfillment of God’s will to His glory. But His promises and His revealed plans include addition and multiplication. This is not numerical growth at any price, but it is also not “numbers don’t matter.” More saved and serving God is certainly on some level better than fewer enlisted in the Lord’s army, from a Biblical perspective.
- We can expect a plentiful harvest if we follow God’s plan. Those in our day who expand their church attendance by abandoning God’s plan fail to glorify and please Him, and also ultimately fail to reach their own goals.Those who follow God’s plan for evangelizing the world not only do the right thing, but also do it in the right way! God’s plan for us in the New Testament age is Acts 1:8.
“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
The numbers and the math in the book of Acts give us insight into what to expect when New Testament Christianity is restored. All of this scriptural material gives us more motivation to pray every day for revival in our lives and in our churches, and to believe that what God has told us in Acts is what we can expect Him to do through us. Let God’s servants get back to God’s program, and go forward by faith in the God Whose program we are following.The world in which we live is in desperate need of renewed, revitalized, and aggressive Christianity, such as we view in the book of Acts.