Monday, April 11, 2016

Integrity

My Life Group lesson for April 10, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

First Thoughts

What price is your integrity?

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?

Two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several of the following:

Would abandon their entire family (25%)
Would abandon their church (25%)
Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
Would give up their American citizenship (16%)
Would leave their spouses (16%)
Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
Would kill a stranger (7%)
Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

[James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth, 1991.]

Jesus designed His church to be a group of people focused on obeying Him and striving to fulfill His mission.

However, the church is not an assembly of perfect saints.

Sincere believers sometimes fail to practice the virtues they have committed to uphold.

Understand the Context
Acts 4:32–5:16

*** So far in our study of Acts we've looked at the ascension of Jesus, Pentecost, the birth of the church and the first persecution.

***Today we'll see the first recorded reference to a new threat to the church, how sin entered within.

--- Luke recorded no problems in the fellowship of the church in Acts 2–3. Believers were unified and growing in numbers. We see them united in purpose and prayer under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (4:31-35).

*** In Acts 4:36-5:16 Luke contrasts the good deeds of Barnabas with the sins of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, which resulted in the judgment of God.

--- The unexpected internal threat would challenge the resolve of the apostles and the membership to respond appropriately. If they did not respond properly, the witness and integrity of the early church would suffer.

--- God’s Holy Spirit responded with judgment, sending a message to the church—God demands integrity from all members.

Exhibit A: Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37)

36 Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

*** Mr. Encouragement. (Barnabas is like the SNL character Stuart Smalley: “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and Jesus loves you!”)

--- Barnabas was born on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean and is from the Israel tribe of Levi (which was where priests came from, but there's no indication he served as one).

--- He was named Joseph by birth, but earned the name Barnabas from the apostles, which meant "Son of Encouragement."

--- Jesus used the same Greek word translated “encouragement” to refer to the role of the Holy Spirit who would come to aid believers after His departure (John 16:7). The word literally meant “to come alongside another” for the purpose of assistance. The nickname by the apostles was a great honor and recognition of Barnabas’s outstanding character.

--- Barnabas would be a key leader in the early church:

Barnabas would encourage the early church to accept a recently converted Saul (Paul) of Tarsus (Acts 9:26,27).

He would retrieve Paul from Tarsus and include him in opportunities for ministry at Antioch (11:22-30).

He would be chosen to lead the first missionary journey commissioned by the church at Antioch (13:1–14:28).

Barnabas would insist on including John Mark in a second missionary journey despite Mark’s initial failure.

He would take Mark with him after a disagreement with Paul (15:36-41). Paul would later acknowledge Mark’s value to his ministry (2 Tim. 4:11)—a spiritual recovery attributable to mentoring by Barnabas.

*** All for one, and one for all.

--- Acts 4:32-35 says that believers were "of one heart and mind" to voluntarily pool their resources.

--- They sold their homes and land, then they gave the money to the apostles to distribute according to the church's needs.

--- Barnabas was specifically held up as an example for his generosity.

--- His sacrifice allowed others to benefit the world to come. His gif encouraged others to give.

--- Barnabas followed the key doctrine of stewardship, which is that God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him.

*** Question - Who has encouraged you at critical times in your Christian life? How have you encouraged others in your ministry to them?

Exhibit B: Ananias (Acts 5:1-6)

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? 4 Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God!” 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him.

*** All about me.

--- In stark contrast to Barnabas, Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied about their gift and paid a terrible price.

--- What we know about Ananias: He was married, he sold a piece of property, he plotted with his wife to deceive the church about the selling price, he was given an opportunity to explain, he dropped dead, he was buried.

*** Why a death sentence?

--- Ananias and his wife had the right to keep all of the proceeds from their land since the land and the money was theirs.

--- But Ananias was looking for pats on the back similar to how the apostles used Barnabas as inspiration.

--- Instead, Ananias and Sapphira plotted to deceive the church. They wanted the praise without the sacrifice.

--- Selling their land? Good. Giving a bunch to the church? Great. Lying about how much they’ve given out of pride? Deadly.

*** God’s precedent for punishment.

--- By using the phrase “kept back” using the same language found in the Old Testament, Luke may be drawing a parallel to the story of Achan in Joshua chapter 7.

--- After the Jews took Jericho, God told them not to keep any of the spoils from the city. But Achan took some and lied about it.

--- Until Achan’s sins were uncovered, Israel couldn’t continue with their military conquests.

--- Similarly, Ananias’s and Sapphira’s lies also had to be dealt with before the church could proceed.

--- As in the case of Achan, God would not allow such rebellion to go unpunished.

--- God is patient with those who sin, but there is a limit that no one can predict. Those who fail to respect the holiness and power of God do so at their own peril.

--- All sickness and death cannot be linked to judgment, but in this case it can. God disciplines those He loves!

*** Our word is the Word.

--- In the early church it was necessary that their reputation was clean. The testimony of the whole church was at risk because of the sins of a few.

--- Spiritual warfare is subtle, and Satan knows his greatest successes will come by corrupting church members.

--- Christians today who commit acts that harm their local church should realize that they are attacking the Body of Christ. God will not allow those who attack His church to go unpunished, whether they are unbelievers or unspiritual Christians.

*** Question - How should the church respond to the conduct of willfully disobedient believers?

Exhibit C: Sapphira (Acts 5:7-11)

7 There was an interval of about three hours; then his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the field for this price?” “Yes,” she said, “for that price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” 10 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.

*** Til death us do part.

--- Sapphira comes home a few hours after Ananias is dead and buried, unaware of what happened.

--- Peter asks about the money, if she was telling the truth about how much the field was worth and how much they gave.

--- The question gave Sapphira one last opportunity to tell the truth.

--- Sapphira, like Ananias, missed the opportunity for repentance.

--- You can sense Peter saying to himself, "Please don't lie, please don't lie, please don't lie." Then "Aaaugh! You lied! Now you’re dead."

--- To test the Spirit of the Lord referred to the lack of fear she and Ananias demonstrated when they lied about their gift.

--- Peter pronounced God’s verdict, and her life was supernaturally taken in a judgment identical to her husband’s. Following her death and burial, the events surrounding their lies and divine judgment became known throughout the church. The result was great fear that served as a deterrent to any others who might consider taking lightly the call to holiness for the church. Verse 11 is the first time Luke used the Greek word translated church (ekklesia) in Acts.

*** Harsh judgment.

--- Understandably, seeing Ananias and Sapphira killed for lying to the church might seem a bit of an overkill, so to speak.

--- Four things to understand about why this happened:

(1) God takes sin seriously.
(2) Sin is visible to God even if it is invisible to man.
(3) Sin requires punishment.
(4) God expects those who are a part of His church to live holy lives.

--- Maybe the question is not why God’s judgment came with such force on Ananias and Sapphira but why it does not come on others more often.

--- Paul described God’s judgment on disobedient believers in the church at Corinth. Because of persistent sin by some Corinthians believers, Paul said God had brought sickness and even death to some in the church (1 Cor. 11:30).

--- A final consideration involves the question of whether Ananias and Sapphira were genuinely believers. Nothing in Luke’s account of the story casts doubt on the assumption that they were believers. Believers do not lose their salvation through acts of disobedience, but they do risk discipline and the loss of eternal reward.

*** Question – How do you think non-Christians in Jerusalem viewed the early church? Do you think the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira helped or hurt the early church in their community?

Summary

When the Titanic sank in 1912 on its maiden voyage from England to New York, killing 1,500 people (and Leo DiCaprio), everyone assumed that the iceberg left a giant gash in the side of the “unsinkable ship.”

However, scientists later studied the wreckage and found out that the damage was surprisingly small. Instead of a huge gash there were six relatively narrow slits across the six watertight holds.

Small damage overcame the “unsinkable ship,” but that’s all it takes to sink not only a great ship but also a great reputation.

The Lord knows our hearts. No matter how much we may try to cover our tracks, the truth will be revealed.

We are called to genuine sacrificial giving, like Barnabas shows in this passage.

We are to encourage others by meeting their needs with the same love and care that we would use to meet our own.

Take-Away Points

*** (1) Barnabas demonstrated the heart of a faithful follower of Christ who was willing to sacrifice in order to honor God and help his fellow believers.

*** (2) Ananias and Sapphira revealed how Christians can sometimes become prideful and self-promoting. The lives of Ananias and Sapphira were cut short by their own failure to fear God.

*** (3) We should strive to imitate Barnabas and avoid the sins of Ananias and Sapphira. Our effectiveness and future reward depend on a daily decision to fear God and serve Him with all of our hearts.

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