And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:46-47).
When Christians consider the relationship that exists between them and the people in the world around them, it is easy to focus on the difficulties they present. Since people in the world are living according to the flesh and are therefore hostile to God, unable to fulfill His law, and unable to please God (Romans 8:6-8), many such people will persecute and revile Christians (Matthew 10:17-18, 22-23; 1 Peter 3:16), not understanding why Christians set themselves apart and do not engage in licentious debauchery (1 Peter 4:4).
There are times in our lives when we will be compelled to deal with such people, and we must prepare ourselves to reflect the love of Christ even to them (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-16). But if we were to project these negative reactions upon all people, we would go too far. Yes, the New Testament reveals that many Christians suffered terribly at the hands of their fellow men. But there are many other examples of times when people respected Christians!
At the end of Acts 2 we discover that the new Christians were “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). This was possible because they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrines, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), were together and had all things in common, selling all that they had and giving to any who had need (Acts 2:44-45), and assembling in the Temple together daily, eating in each others’ houses, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God (Acts 2:46-47). The people around them saw the great transformation in these Christians and were respected and appreciated for it. Granted, it would not be long before the religious authorities would begin to persecute the Christians (cf. Acts 4-7), yet the Christians here have favor among the people.
Dorcas, or Tabitha, was full of good works and acts of charity, and when she died, all the widows mourned for their loss (cf. Acts 9:36-39). It is also interesting to note that one of the qualifications for an overseer/elder in 1 Timothy 3:7 is that he must have “good testimony from them that are without.” This says as much about Paul’s expectations of “outsiders” as it does about his expectation of the overseer. Even if many people do not believe in God or obey Jesus Christ, they can respect and appreciate a man who lives by a high ethical standard, and what ethical standard is higher than the standard of Christ? Even if they do not agree with him on religious matters, they recognize the benefit of living by conviction.
People in the world yearn to see the image of Christ reflected in Christians. Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” and quite a number of people in the world entirely agree with him. Those who claim to follow Jesus Christ ought to strive to act like Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6). Those who do no such thing will not obtain the blessing, and represent a hindrance to God’s purposes (Matthew 7:21-23).
Christians can have favor with the people when they reflect Christ and show the love, mercy, and compassion of Christ while remaining His humble servants. When people are confronted with the message of Jesus Christ spoken to them by one whom they know is living that message, they will surely be impacted by the experience. Yes, some will turn away, convicted of their sin, and will seek to justify themselves. But many others may want to learn more because they see that the Christian has something they do not. But this is only possible when Christians act like Christ– if Christians think and act like the world thinks and acts, there is nothing distinctive there, and therefore the person in the world cannot find the advantage to being a Christian (cf. Matthew 5:13).
The greatest testimony to the message of Jesus is the Christian whose life reflects the love, mercy, compassion, and humility of his Master. One of the greatest hindrances to the cause of Christ are the many who profess belief in Jesus but do not reflect that love, mercy, compassion, and/or humility. Notice the conclusion of the matter in Acts 2:47: the early Christians, being active in their association with one another, devotion to the teaching of the Apostles, love for one another, and praise toward God, have favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. It worked in the first century, and it can work today. It is true that when Christians are like their Christ, many worldly forces stand up to resist them and persecute them. Yet, by being like Christ, those Christians will gain favor with other people, many of whom will be receptive to the Gospel of Christ, and God will add to the number of those being saved. All of this is contingent, however, on Christians acting like Jesus!
Let us, therefore, gain favor with those with whom we are able to gain favor through reflecting the love and humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry