The Lord charged His followers to teach the message of repentance and remission of sins “to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). They took His commission seriously, and we see evidence of that in the Book of Acts. The thrilling account of the first-century disciples spreading the good news of salvation through the resurrected Savior begins with the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and concludes with Paul preaching the gospel in Rome (Acts 28). Let us take a quick look at their evangelistic outreach.
- Who participated in evangelism? The apostles (Acts 5:41,42), joined by evangelists like Philip (Acts 21:8), did. So did “ordinary” members of the church. After intense persecution arose in Jerusalem, the scattered disciples went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4; 11:19-21). It is clear that the task of evangelism was not handed over to “professionals.” No doubt some were more skilled in telling the glad tidings than others were, but each “servant of the Lord” was called on to be “able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24).
The evangelistic saints came from a variety of backgrounds. Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36). Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers (Acts 18:2,3). Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14). Among the apostles, there were fishermen and a tax collector. Yes, evangelism was for all saints, regardless of their occupation or past.
- Why did God’s children make an effort to teach lost people the good news? Surely they did it in order to carry out the command to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). They were convinced that the gospel has the power to save sinners (Romans 1:15,16). And, they cared about people. They wanted lost people to be blessed with the redemption that is in Jesus (Romans 10:1; 3:24).
What about you and me? How much do we care about the Great Commission? Are we really persuaded that the gospel saves? Do we care enough to open our mouth and teach? (Acts 8:35).
- Where did they sow the seed? On the day of the church’s establishment, there were Jews present from “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The geographic progression which the Christ outlined for the spread of the gospel was fulfilled: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Specific accounts are recorded of people from Africa (the eunuch, Acts 8), Europe (Philippi, Acts 16), and Asia (Antioch of Syria, Acts 11) being taught the gospel. In comparison, how widely are modern-day local churches spreading the gospel?
In what places did the early Christians teach the word? In the area of Solomon’s porch (Peter, Acts 3), in the temple (apostles, Acts 5:20), and in Jewish synagogues (Paul, Acts 17:1,2). Where else? In a chariot (Philip, Acts 8), in people’s houses (Peter in Cornelius’ house, Acts 10,11), in prison (Paul to Felix, Acts 24), and in the marketplace (Paul in Athens, Acts 17:17).
In general terms, evangelistic efforts were made in public and private settings (Acts 5:42). In modern times, we might call that “a balanced approach.” Certainly you and I would be wise to follow that combination of private and public teaching. In short, when we have a listening audience of one or fifty, whether it be in private or in public, let us take advantage of the opportunities that come our way.
- When did the early disciples teach the lost? They did it on the day of a special religious feast (Pentecost, Acts 2). They did so on Saturdays, that is, on the day when the Jews observed the Sabbath (Acts 17:2). In fact, the biblical record indicates that first-century members of the church taught the gospel on a daily basis. The apostles did so in Jerusalem (Acts 5:42), Paul did it in Athens (Acts 17:17), and he did the same in Ephesus (Acts 19:9).
Because the followers of the Christ taught so frequently, it does not surprise us when we read that in one time period, people were being saved and added to the Lord each day (Acts 2:47). When we see the saints’ evangelistic labors, we also are not shocked to read that the local churches “increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). Brethren, despite our hectic lives and busy schedules, we must all make time for evangelism. Lost souls are depending on us.
- How did the earliest Christians spread the news of salvation through Jesus? They were persistent in the face of opposition (Acts 5:28,29), they were bold in the face of danger (Acts 7:51-53), they worked tirelessly despite their own infirmities of the flesh (1 Timothy 5:23), and they preached to sinners without partiality (Acts 10:34,35). I think you and I can learn some things from them, do you not agree?
Let us imitate the evangelist fervor of our brothers and sisters who walked the earth in the first century. Let us teach and teach and teach until our throats become soar, our bodies weary, and our bellies growl as we are so engrossed in teaching that we miss or postpone a meal because we are busy telling the old, old story. It is high time for us to make evangelism our top priority.
— Roger D. Campbell