Should We Follow the Apostles’ Example? Philippians 4:9

Should We Follow the Apostles’ Example?

One of the major controversies in the religious world and a big issue that distinguishes the churches of Christ from Protestant and Catholic churches is the role the example of the apostles serves in dictating how we are to exist as a church and engage in worship.

The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:9: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The immediate context of this verse is referring to morals and ethics (verse 8).

But, in John 16:13, Jesus had promised His apostles, “He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” Because the Holy Spirit was going to guide each apostle into “all truth,” the apostle Paul was able to say back in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” We’re going to look more closely at this context next month. But the point here is that Paul has authority to guide the church in what we “see” in him: his example.

The churches of Christ have long promoted the idea that the New Testament gives us authority in what we do through three ways: direct command; drawing appropriate inferences; and examples of the apostles. I suggest that the inferences and the examples give us authority only when it is obvious that there is a divine command behind it.

An example is “a case, punishment, etc. that serves as a warning or caution [to fine a speeder as an example to others] or a person or thing to be imitated; model; pattern; precedent.”

We see, then, that “examples” can be negative - what not to do; and positive - what to do.

The example of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5) is a great example of what not to do: don’t lie to God about your giving.
But what about the examples of what to do? How should we follow those examples?

In Acts 19:9, Paul “reasoned daily in the school of.” Do I have to follow Paul’s example and teach only in schools? How about only in the school of Tyrannus? Obviously, the answer is “no.” But why not? Well, not only would that hinder the broader command to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:16) but also, it would limit me to someone named Tyrannus and who knows if such a person still exists! Third, the apostle himself taught in other places.

What about the example of Barnabas, who in Acts 4:36-37, “owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet”? Must all Christians sell their land and bring it to the elders? Again, the obvious answer is “no,” but why not? Because in the very next example of giving - that of Ananias and Sapphire - Peter clearly shows that what they did with their money and land was entire under their own “control” (Acts 5:4). Their sin was not in keeping back part of the money; their sin was in lying about it.

These examples could be multiplied and we understand, intuitively, that we are not obligated to follow these types of examples because there is not a command behind them. In other words, there is no teaching in the NT that shows Ananias and Sapphire were obligated by God to give all their land - there’s no command behind the example.

But, are there any examples of Paul or the other apostles doing something in which there is a clear command behind the example which must be true for all Christians everywhere?

First, let us observe that the apostle Paul, in fact, used examples from the OT as binding patterns for Christians themselves, such as 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11.
Secondly, Paul uses the examples of some churches of Christ to teach others, such as 1 Corinthians 4:17 where Paul taught the same thing “in every church.” And Acts 14:23 where Paul appointed elders “in every church” and then commanded Timothy and Titus to do the same (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). We appoint elders today, not because we have specifically been commanded to appoint elders, but because we have the example of Paul commanding Titus to do so in Titus 1:5 and Paul, himself, did so in Acts 14:23.

Then we also have Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:33 - “in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent.” So there are some commands and examples that are universal.

Two examples of matters from NT teaching that we are to follow as matters of doctrine… These seem to be binding examples because they have the power of the divine command behind them:

Immersion for the forgiveness of sins: When someone wants to be immersed into Christ, as soon as they have appropriate knowledge, they need to be baptized immediately as the jailer did in Acts 16:33, being baptized at midnight. The reason behind it was that the apostle Paul believed immersion was so important and so necessary for the forgiveness of sins, that he commanded the jailer to do so immediately. We have no suggestion that God will delay one’s death or judgment simply because someone wants to wait for a convenient time to fulfill God’s command.

Weekly assembly for Communion: In Acts 20:7, we read that the Christians in Troas took the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. The clear implication of the text is that the reason the Christians came together on the first day of the week was to observe the Lord’s Supper. “To break bread” is a clear infinitive of purpose. But this is not the only verse that requires a first-day-of-the-week assembly:

In Hebrews 10:25, the author says that Christians should not forsake the assembling of Christians together. Now, remember that Hebrews was not written to a specific congregation like Romans or Corinthians, but to all Christians. Since the Hebrew writer, here, is not explicit about the details, there is implied that the Hebrew Christians already knew the details of this assembly.

In 1 Corinthians 11:20 & 33, we have the implication that there was an assembly for “eating the Lord’s Supper” and this “coming together” was a regular pattern. This context of 1 Corinthians 11 clearly does not tell us when the Lord’s Supper was eaten or how frequently.

But, one text ties together all three of these texts (Acts 20:7; Heb. 10:25; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33) for us. In other words, Acts 20:7 tells us that it was not a one-time decision nor was the Lord’s Supper specific to the city of Troas. That one text is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. When Paul wants the Christians in Corinth to take up the collection, he does not command them to assemble. They were already in the habit of assembling “on the first day of the week.” Why the first day of the week?

First, because that was the day that Jesus arose from the dead.
Second, on that day was when the apostles guided the first-century Christians to observe the memorial of that death, burial, and resurrection, that is, the Lord’s Supper. So here in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul is saying, “When you gather together on the first day of the week to take the Lord’s Supper, when the whole church is gathered together, then take up a collection.”

What we observe now, is this. The apostles - Paul specifically - commanded the first century Christians to gather together on Sunday - the Lord’s Day - in order to observe the Lord’s Supper. At that very assembly, we note rom Acts 20:7 that there was preaching and from 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, there was giving. From other passages, we also learn they sang and prayed.

One last thing should be noted. In 1 Corinthians 11:20, Paul calls the Communion the “Lord’s Supper.” The word translated “Lord’s” is unique in that it is an adjective (“lordly”). There is only one other time in the NT in which that word is found - in Revelation 1:10 - the “Lord’s Day.” The implication then is that every Lord’s Day ought to have a “Lord’s Supper” and if it is not the “Lord’s Day,” then there should be no “Lord’s Supper.”

There is no doubt from early church history that weekly communion was the pattern of the first-century church. G. W. Bromiley, writing in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume three under “Lord’s Day,” writes (158):

The expression "Lord's Day” found only in Christian sources, first appears in Rev. 1:10 as a designation of the first day of the week. …[I]t derives from the parallel expression “Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), since the early Christians gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate this meal as the culmination of their corporate worship. An account of an early (late 50s) Lord’s Day service is found in Acts 20:7-11. …Hence, Lord’s Day worship is the Christian festival of the Resurrection, in which Christians, like the original disciples, have fellowship with one another and with the risen Christ whom they trust as Savior and worship as God (emph. mine).

Take home message: Let us be faithful to the apostles’ teaching by following their inspired examples.


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