I believe that our churches in North America today really struggle to have an overflowing life. I think we have become quite good at containment; keeping our faith within ourselves and our spiritual fruit to a minimum. Yet the whole goal of our relationship with God, as far as God is concerned, is that we will overflow with his life; that we will have an abundance of the product that comes from having God’s life within us. John 15:16 – Jesus told his followers, in John 15:16, “I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last.” The product of our faith is supposed to be overflowing from us. And for some generations of Christians, this was their experience. Consider the different dynamics of the first generation of Christianity; Think about our faith for a minute and then think about the faith of the first century believers:
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1. The First Christians were abundantly fruitful.
Here is how Colossians starts: chapter 1 verses 1-6: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. It is written to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace. We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard that you trust in Christ Jesus and that you love all of God’s people. You do this because you are looking forward to the joys of heaven- as you have been ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere just as it has changed yours that very first day you heard and understood the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners.”
From the time that Jesus died, something funny happened on the way to the forum. Christianity, which began as a small gathering of 120 people on Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem, exploded onto the world map. Within 30 years the seed of the Gospel had rooted itself significantly in the city of Rome and had become a powerful force all over the Roman Empire. They were stirring up so much commotion that the government felt the need to try to contain the spread of this movement. Paul, in fact, most likely wrote this letter to the Colossians, while he was in prison in Rome for talking about Jesus. Something had made this young, pumped-up Pharisee so dramatically change the course of his life that he logged thousands of miles of travel; endured scores of beatings and imprisonments; he zealously spoke to large crowds, politicians, and kings; not to mention that he broke through ethnic and gender and slave and economic barriers along the way. Even under arrest, Paul continued relentlessly sharing his faith with prisoners and guards, with judges and rulers, and writing letters to new groups of Christians all over the place. And he wasn’t alone. Numerous others did virtually the same thing: people like Timothy and Titus, Barnabas, Lydia and Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos, and many more.
The Colossian church itself had become a growing movement of Jesus Followers. Colosse was a small city, in what is now Turkey, immersed in pagan festivals and the worship of Roman gods. The Good News about Jesus came into this city by a guy named Epaphras. Colossians chapter 1 verse 7: “Epaphras, our much loved co-worker, was the one who brought you the Good News. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us in your place. He is the one who told us about the great love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.”
Now I know I’m only giving a snapshot here, but just think about this for a second. Before this group of believers gathered in Colosse, there was no church in that city. None. 2000 years later, this is hard for us to understand in North America because we’re used to churches existing on virtually ever corner of a city and we’re used to our society traditionally being somewhat Christian-ish. We’re used to First Baptist and 2nd Baptist and Fifth Baptist of the 12th Split and Twentieth Baptist Church of the 1875 Convention of the Immaculate Postmillennialists… or something like that. Back then people didn’t church shop. Back then people didn’t go somewhere because they liked the preacher better or because it was a more comfortable time or because they had the best looking drapes or the best music program or kids ministry. Back then people heard about Jesus and they had to make a decision: Am I going to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord? Am I going to lay my life on the line to follow this man? People were introduced to Jesus and were faced with a dilemma: Am I going to worship Jesus and obey him rather than Caesar? Am I going to risk my career? Am I going to risk alienating my family? Imagine yourself in a city where the message about Jesus Christ had never been heard before. Imagine yourself in a city that is filled with other gods, other options, other systems, other ways of doing life and you decide to commit yourself to a growing movement based on a personal relationship with the living Christ- not because your family had always gone to church on Christmas or Easter, but because you yourself became so gripped in the core of who you are that you had to give your whole self over to Jesus. It’s interesting to note here, that things now in North America are actually similar in culture to the way things were back then. Most people today are not from church backgrounds anymore; our society today is filled with other gods, other options, other systems, other ways of doing life than Christianity.
The difference today is the Christians. Something made Paul live like he did. Something made this guy, Epaphras, go to his hometown of Colosse and start telling people about Jesus. And something made thousands upon thousands of people in this first generation of Christians absolutely change their lives by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord. All over the world, the Gospel was spreading and it was changing lives everywhere. People were realizing “Wow, this Jesus, he is amazing and I need him.” And within a very short while, Christianity had gone out and taken root all over the world.
For instance, in Acts chapter 4, Peter and John got arrested for healing a man and telling people that the healing was done in the power of Jesus Christ. When the authorities told them to stop talking about Jesus or else, they said they couldn’t stop. “No, you have to stop!” the frustrated rulers demanded. “No,” Peter and John said, “you really don’t understand. We really can’t stop. We can’t help it. It just overflows from us. We can’t contain what’s inside of us! We have to let Jesus out! If we don’t we’ll burst!” They said literally, “We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.”
It seems that back then in that time there was a freshness and an incredible power to the Christian faith. It seems that people let their lives grow down into Christ and be so dramatically changed by God that they couldn’t contain the life that was drawn up inside of them. The first Christians were abundantly fruitful.