Note: This article is adapted from a brief one by the late Bill Walton.
Before He made the world, God had a plan for our salvation. His plan was that Jesus would die for our sins (Acts 2:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Those who put their faith in Jesus and become His disciples are forgiven, reconciled to God, and therefore saved. “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).
God’s plan includes caring for the saved as well as saving the lost. That plan was revealed through the apostles and put into practice by the first-century disciples. It was an amazingly simple plan, yet one that was eminently successful.
Within a few decades Paul could say that the gospel “was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23), and “in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing” (v. 6). The gospel was sent to the lost, the disciples were built up, and the poor among them were cared for.
How was the gospel sent to the lost? By congregations (Philippians 4:15-16) and individual Christians (Galatians 6:6) supporting evangelists to preach the gospel all over the world. Those whom they taught then taught others (2 Timothy 2:2).
How were the disciples built up? By regularly assembling together on the Lord’s day and participating in worship which was both educational and uplifting (1 Corinthians 14:26); by the elders of each congregation exhorting in sound doctrine and refuting those who contradict (Titus 1:9); and by every Christian “encouraging one another” and “stimulating one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
How were the needy among them cared for? First, by individuals taking are of their own family members (1 Timothy 5:16); then, by each congregation providing for its own needy (Acts 4:34-35), receiving help from Christians in other areas when the need was too great for the local church to meet (Acts 11:26-30); and by every Christian using his or her opportunities to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).
God’s plan worked in the first century, and it will work today. We do not need a “new and improved” plan. What we need is respect for God’s plan and zeal in carrying it out!