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AM Bible Study Archives
"The Church on the Grow"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
October 24, 2007
Theme: This passages gives us a close-up view of the infant church as it grew in Jerusalem.
This passage falls between two stories of persecution (4:1-31 and 5:17-42). It shows us the characteristics of the early church, as it grew in the context of Jewish life in Jerusalem, that inspired opposition from unbelievers.
I. THE VIEW OF ITS FELLOWSHIP (4:32-37).
A. There was unity (32a). The unity that the church of believers shared together was more than simply an external matter. The testimony of the Holy Spirit concerning them was that the "multitude" (4:3) of believers were "of one heart and one soul".
B. There was a freedom from materialism (32b). The unity of the believers expressed itself in a recognition that nothing they owned belonged to themselves, but that they had all things in common.
C. There was affirmation (v. 33). The Lord Jesus was proving that He was very much alive and active in the church. The apostles "gave witness to the resurrection"—not only in word, but also in power (see 1 Corinthians 2:4).
D. There was grace (vv. 33b-37). According to the standard New Testament Greek lexicon (BAGD, 3rd. ed., p. 1079), the word "grace" (charis), in this case, refers to "a beneficent disposition toward someone"—that is, a spirit of mutual care and goodwill. The next verse connects this (through the use of the word "for") to the continual bringing of the proceeds of the sale of property and houses to the apostles for distribution to those in need. As a result, we're told that there wasn't anyone among the believers who suffered "lack". One of the outstanding figures in this ministry of "grace" toward one another was Joses (or "Joseph"), whom the apostles nicknamed "Barnabas" ("Son of Encouragement" or "Son of Consolation"). He was a Jew of the tribe of Levi, who came from a Greek region, who possessed land and sold it. Luke, in this way, introduces us to a key figure in the New Testament work of spreading the gospel.
II. THE VIEW OF ITS PURITY (5:1-11).
A. This bright description of the mutual care of the church gives way to a dark story. A man named Ananias conspired with his wife Sapphira to sell a plot of land and bring only a portion of it to the apostles for distribution to the needy. (Many Bible teachers compare this story with the story of the sin of Achin in Joshua 7.) Ananias' sin was not so much that he kept a portion of the proceeds (because that was clearly his right to do if he wished), as it was that he sought to be deceptive about it. His great sin was that he sought to look more generous and pious to the people of God than he really was. He may have thought that he was fooling men; but in reality, he was led by the devil to attempt to lie to the Holy Spirit. Note the affirmation of the deity of the Holy Spirit: to lie to the Holy Spirit (v. 3) is to lie to God" (v. 4). Peter confronted him; and as a result, Ananias 'breathed his last'. We shouldn't see Ananias dying as a result of Peter's words so much as the Spirit of God revealing to Peter that the Lord was now going to take Ananias' life. No sooner did Ananias die than the young men among them carried him out and buried him.
B. Apparently, Sapphira was gone during the three hours or so that all of this transpired. When she came back, she must have been able to tell immediately that something was wrong; and there may have been a 'questioning' look on her face, because we're told that Peter "answered" her. He inquired into the details and confirmed that she had been a co-conspirator with her husband in this "lie". Peter calls what she did an act of 'testing' the Holy Spirit. She, too, immediately died; and the young men—just then returning—came in to find her dead. They took her out and buried her next to her husband. Not only was he who manufactured the lie guilty, but so was she who joined in on it.
C. Twice, we're told that great fear came upon everyone as a result of God's actions toward Ananias and Sapphira (vv. 5 and 11). Both of them stand forever as a testament to the fact that the church of Jesus Christ must be holy in every way. He demands authenticity. Why it is that more people do not drop dead in church can only be because God is merciful and gracious. In verse 11, we see the first time that Luke mentions the "church" (see also Matthew 16:18; 18:17).
III. THE VIEW OF ITS WITNESS (5:12-16).
A. There were miracles being seen (v. 12a). God demonstrated Himself to the watching world by performing many "signs and wonders" through the hands of the apostles. He was thus authenticating the message of the gospel that the apostles proclaimed and the church upheld.
B. There was esteem being held (vv. 12b-13). Understandably, many of the unbelieving community stayed away from the group. This, after all, was an assembly in which people who got out of line dropped dead! Yet, they saw that the people were all together in "one accord" in Solomon's Porch (see 3:11); and they held the believers in high esteem.
C. There was increase occurring (v. 14). Those who heard the message of Christ and believed it were "added to the Lord" (which pictures them joined to His 'body' on earth). Social barriers were being taken down, because "both men and women" were added (Gal. 3:28).
D. There was a ministry of outreach being done (vv. 15-16). The sick were brought out into the streets, and laid on beds and couches in the hopes that the mere shadow of Peter passing by may fall upon them. The unspoken implication seems to be that, when it did so, they were healed. (Luke 8:43-44 suggests to us that it was their faith that healed them, not merely Peter's shadow. See also Acts 19:11-12). Multitudes gathered from the surrounding regions for healing; which may be why the opposition of the leaders was again aroused (5:17-21).
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This story is sandwiched between two stories of persecution. There's a lesson for us in that. As the church of Jesus Christ in the midst of an unbelieving culture, may we never live as a church in such a way as to justify the scorn of this world (1 Peter 4:15). But at the same time, may we so live as the body of Christ on earth that we become a genuine threat to the kingdom of darkness!