Monday, April 25, 2016

A lesson in church unity

My Life Group lesson for April 24, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What is the hardest, crummiest, dirtiest job you’ve ever had?

What makes a job like that difficult? What makes it worthwhile?

Would you do it for free as a service?

The leaders of the early church wanted to make sure that followers weren’t doing it out of duty but out of service. It was a heart issue. Their attitudes provided us a great example for serving selflessly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 6:1–8:3

*** A young and growing church is successfully dealing with significant challenges.

*** Two weeks ago we talked about a problem the early church had to deal within, which was hypocrisy. Last week we talked about physical persecution at the hands of religious authorities.

*** This week the apostles learn to organize the early church after internal dissension over the treatment of some widows supported by the early church.

A NEED DISCOVERED (Acts 6:1-2)

1 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters.

*** Take care of the widows.

--- We’re not sure how much time passes during the first chapters of Acts, but some scholars believe it may have been five years since Pentecost by the time we get to chapter 6.

--- There’s unity in the early church, but there are occasional issues that have to be addressed.

--- A complaint about the provision for Greek-speaking widows came to the apostles.

--- The age-old problem (no pun intended) of discrimination emerged: the widows of Greek-speaking Jews were considered outsiders by native-born Jews and were not getting their share of the food distribution.

--- Even in a membership sharing a Jewish background, there were significant language and cultural differences. So we’re not sure if it was intentional or lack of communication.

*** Good leaders delegate.

--- The apostles realized that taking on more tasks would mean neglecting their mission of teaching and preaching.

--- They didn’t have time for drama but it also needed to be taken care of, because for the apostles this could affect the spread of the gospel message to the world.

--- 1 Timothy chapter 5 describes the characteristics of widows, women who could not care for themselves, whether because of financial or physical needs. The selfless act of caring for widows demonstrates love that is shown without any expectation of return. This principle led the early church to direct their attention to the place of ministry needs within the body of believers.

--- The apostles select seven godly men to deal with the issue.

--- The Greek verb used for handle financial matters (diakoneo) is the basis for our word deacon. They aren’t called that and the word “deacon” isn’t used in Acts, but the seven men have a similar role.

--- The church takes on the responsibility of caring for their own.

--- These new leaders would need to deal with the disagreements and reconcile the parties. They would secure the funds to buy the food for those in need. They would make sure the food was available and that no one went hungry.

*** Question - What differences among the members of your church pose a threat to unity? (((Language, music, worship style, and ethnic backgrounds can and do challenge the unity in the local church.)))

A SOLUTION REACHED (Acts 6:3-7)

3 Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” 5 The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

*** A good reputation.

--- The apostles trusted the church to select the seven men based on criteria they set: Good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom:

The men selected must have a proven record of trustworthiness. They would be entrusted with money and must not have a reputation for greediness. They must be above reproach in their personal morality.

Spirit-filled Christians are spiritually mature, growing in Christ, not addicted to sinful habits, and faithful in the pursuit of spiritual disciplines.

Determining the amount to be given to each person required wisdom. Dealing with people who are angry requires the self-control of wisdom. Denying people who ask for things they do not need requires wisdom. Leaders make decisions, and only those who are wise make right decisions.

In 1 Timothy 3:8-10 Paul lays out qualifications for deacons in the church that lines up with what the apostles said: “Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons.”

*** The magnificent seven.

--- Every man chosen had a Greek name, suggesting that these individuals came from the Hellenistic Jewish community. They were best suited to care for the Hellenistic widows.

--- Stephen is mentioned first and noted for his reputation as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen would soon distinguish himself in ministry beyond the care of widows.

--- Philip would play a prominent role in leading the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ in chapter 8.

--- Another interesting reference is to Nicolaus who was said to be a proselyte from Antioch. Nicolaus was a Gentile who followed the Mosaic Law until he accepted Christ as His Savior. His mention at this early stage prepares us for the shift toward Gentile missions later in Acts 11.

--- No further mention is made of Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas.

*** Long story short: It worked.

--- The result was that the preaching of the Word of God flourished and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.

--- The apostles could now devote themselves to prayer and preaching.

--- The apostles did not think the responsibility to care for the widows was beneath them, but no leader can do everything.

--- The ministry of service is taxing and cannot be done by the power of man. As we pour out our lives in service, we need God’s power to sustain us and refresh us.

--- If the apostles had been tied down to management concerns, they would not have had the freedom to preach the gospel.

--- When pastors are able to focus on the ministry of the word, and when servant leaders are full of faith and the Spirit, the church will run on all cylinders.

*** Question - How would you compare the way this issue was handled to the way similar issues are sometimes handled in today’s churches?

A SERVANT TESTED (Acts 6:8-10)

8 Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.

*** Stephen, the ultimate servant.

--- Stephen didn’t just serve the widows, but became known as someone who proclaimed the gospel and performed wonders.

*** Stephen’s haters.

--- The Freedmen’s Synagogue was made up of former slaves who were now free, in this case from Cyrene and Alexandra in North Africa, and from modern-day Turkey.

--- Saul of Tarsus, who appears later in Stephen’s story, was from Cilicia (see Acts 21:39) and may have worshiped at this synagogue.

--- Stephen was so full of grace, wisdom and power in the Holy Spirit that his opponents couldn’t stand up against him.

--- Stephen’s approach was just what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15-16 on how to face opposition: “honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”

--- Stephen didn’t back down, which led to him becoming the first martyr in the early church.

--- As believers, we can know that the Holy Spirit is our helper at all times, and we can withstand any trials or temptations that come.

--- Fear of opposition continues to be one of the primary reasons why Christians do not share their faith today. Most of us do not like conflict. We see potential disagreement in sharing our faith with others, and we remain silent to avoid conflict. Many Christians feel inadequate to potentially engage others for fear that unbelievers will ask questions they cannot answer. A lack of formal biblical training is used as an excuse to leave witnessing to the so-called professionals.

*** Question – What can we do if we do not like conflict but still want to share the gospel?

Christians today need to realize that our greatest assets in sharing our faith are the absolute truth of the message we proclaim and promise of power from the Holy Spirit. Unbelievers may ask questions that we cannot answer, but the personal testimony of Christ’s transformation of our lives is undeniable.

SUMMARY

Music legend Prince died Thursday at his home in Minneapolis.

He was beloved around the world for his music and his message.

You don’t get to be that successful without hard work, a steely-eyed focus, and good organization.

In the early church the leaders knew that to spread the gospel others had to step up and meet the needs of the church and the community.

Even if you’re wearing a “Raspberry Beret” and driving a “Little Red Corvette.”

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** (1) Believers honor God and further His kingdom through selfless service.

*** (2) Organization and unity is vital to church growth. Internal dissension saps the strength and spirituality of a church.

--- Paul spends a lot of time trying to keep the church together during his missionary trips, such as he writes in Galatians 6:10 – “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

*** (3) Even as we take care of our responsibilities in the church, we are called to reach out to non-believers and grow the kingdom of Christ.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Faithful

My Life Group lesson for April 17, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

It’s baseball season!

Who’s your favorite baseball team? Or if you’re not a baseball fan, what is your favorite team in any sport?

What makes a fan faithful to their team?

Today we’re going to look at the faithfulness of the early church.

Our faithfulness to Jesus Christ is more important than loyalty to any sports team, whether they’re winners or losers.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Acts 5:17-42

*** The early church is growing fast.

*** The apostles are healing people left and right. People are just hoping to be in Peter's shadow in the hopes of being healed. (5:15)

*** The apostles are arrested a second time by the religious leaders who are alarmed by the growing numbers of Christians. (5:17-19)

--- Their previous attempt to silence Peter and John failed.

--- This time, an angel divinely released the apostles from jail (5:19-21) and told them to keep preaching in the temple courts.

RETURNING TO THE SCENE (Acts 5:25-28)

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!”

*** Don’t keep it to yourself.

--- After being freed by an angel from prison, the Sanhedrin once again confront the apostles in the temple court.

--- The apostles were feeling very good about what God was doing. The night before, an angel had led them right through the jail cell. Who gets that chance?

--- The leaders ask nicely for the apostles to come with them because they’re actually a little afraid of the people turning on them. They know that there’s a lot of resentment toward them. Everyone knew they were corrupt. That’s why Jesus went there and assaulted the place at the beginning and end of His ministry, called it a “Den of thieves.”

--- The apostles agree to be taken peacefully. After all, no one wants violence, and the apostles are ready to see where God is leading all of this.

--- The Sanhedrin get mad at Peter. They are in denial, worried that they would be seen as responsible for the crucifixion, which they were indeed part of.

--- Remember in Matthew 27, as the leaders stirred up the crowds to choose the criminal Barrabas instead of Jesus, the people called out, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

--- They got it. Peter repeatedly calls them out for it. In chapter 2 he preaches, “Men of Israel, this man you nailed to a cross,” and “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Chapter 3, verse 15, “You put to death the Prince of life.” Chapter 4, verse 10, “Let it be known to all of you and all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene whom you crucified.”

--- After the miraculous deliverance from prison, the apostles are bolder than ever, confident in the Lord’s protection, even from these armed guards.

--- Wouldn’t it be a great compliment if someone came up to us and said, “Hey, you guys at First Baptist, you’re filling Millington with teaching!”

*** Question - What motivated the religious leaders to silence the apostles? How is that motive seen in today’s world?

STANDING THEIR GROUND (Acts 5:29-32)

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

*** Civil disobedience.

--- The apostles won’t even pretend to agree with the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in Jesus’ name.

--- Peter also shows boldness again by blaming Jesus’ death on the religious leaders, right in their faces, and saying that God placed Jesus at His right hand.

--- Peter confronts them with this not to accuse but so that they would repent of their sin. He offers forgiveness by Jesus.

*** Timeless truth.

--- Verse 29 can encourage us to do the godly thing in our daily lives.

--- Peter did not deny that they had deliberately disobeyed the orders of the Sanhedrin; he did, however, indicate that they were following instructions from God.

--- When your commission is from God, it trumps the commands of men.

--- No scheme of man can stop the power of God.

--- We cannot be quiet when we have the life-changing message of God.

*** Question - When is it appropriate for believers to submit to earthly authorities? When is civil disobedience appropriate?

--- Daniel displayed a classic example of civil disobedience when he continued praying to God despite a ban imposed by King Darius (Dan. 6:10). We cannot disobey lawful authority simply because we disagree or don’t like a rule. We are only justified in defiance when obedience to human authority would directly violate a command of God. This was the case when Peter and the apostles refused to obey the Sanhedrin. They respected the authority of the Sanhedrin but could not comply with their command to cease preaching the gospel.

WAITING DURING DELIBERATIONS (Acts 5:33-35,38-39)

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. […] 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him.

*** Gamaliel the lenient.

--- The leaders don’t repent. Instead they get so mad they want to kill the apostles.

--- God then provides help from an unlikely source.

--- One of the most famous rabbis of his time, Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3) and probably a grandson of Rabbi Hillel, the leader of one of the two great schools of Jewish legal interpretation. In contrast to the school of Shammai, Gamaliel and the school of Hillel were known for their lenient interpretation of the law.

--- Is it any coincidence that “Gamaliel” sounds a lot like “Galadriel,” the strict but kind elf leader used by J.R.R. Tolkien in “Lord of the Rings?” (No? Just me?)

--- Luke mentioned the respect Gamaliel had among the Jewish population.

--- Gamaliel was a smart man and a voice of reason. He knew that you don’t fight God.

--- Gamaliel intervened and counseled caution before executing the apostles. He reminded them of previous popular leaders who gathered large crowds but were killed and their followers dispersed.

--- He advised to let events play out, and that without God it would fail and with God it could not be stopped.

--- The apostles were popular with the people. The Christian population now numbered in the thousands, and even many who had not believed had a favorable opinion of the miraculous healings they performed.

--- God used various methods to protect His servants in these early days of church history. He sometimes miraculously sent angels to aid them, and at other times He directed events through actors like Gamaliel who accomplished their release. God uses many different methods today in sovereignly protecting His people and directing events according to His will.

*** Question - How has God directed others around you to protect or guide your life according to His will?

REJOICING FOR THE OPPORTUNITY (Acts 5:40-42)

40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

*** “Forty less one.”

--- Gamaliel’s advice prevailed.

--- The leaders took caution, not really wanting to kill the apostles and this was an acceptable way out.

--- The apostles were flogged, warned to preach no longer in Jesus’ name, and released.

--- We shouldn’t shrug off their beating. This would have been bloody and brutal.

The apostles probably each received 39 blows with a whip made of strands of calf leather.

One-third of the blows would be delivered to the chest and two-thirds to the back while they were in a kneeling position.

The practice was based on Deuteronomy 25:3 that allowed 40 stripes for certain crimes. Exceeding 40 stripes was forbidden, and so it became customary to inflict one less than 40 in case of a miscount. The punishment became known as the “forty less one.”

Paul would later say in 2 Corinthians 11:24 that he had endured five of these beatings.

*** Thank you sir may I have another.

--- After their beating the apostles rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for the cause of Christ.

--- They had been imprisoned and threatened, but this was the first recorded instance of physical punishment.

--- These same apostles fled for fear of this kind of punishment when Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. Now they welcomed the opportunity to suffer for Jesus.

--- The apostles ignored the warnings of the religious leaders and continued to boldly declare the gospel (vv. 34-42).

--- What happened? Chapter 6, verse 1 tells us that “in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied.” So the church kept growing, even now with the threat of physical punishment.

--- God has not promised the sky is always blue with flowers along our path. God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. But God has promised strength, rest, grace and love.

*** Question - How can opposition to the gospel produce encouragement and courage in believers? How does opposition and persecution provide a platform for the gospel to be shared and lived?

SUMMARY

We all value faithfulness.

We celebrate 50th anniversaries of couples remaining faithful throughout their lives.

We love players who choose to stay with our favorite teams. (See: Kobe Bryant)

We appreciate employees who work for their company despite other offers.

Throughout history, many Christians have remained faithful to Christ even as they faced intense pressure to compromise their faith. Christians today continue to risk their freedom and lives in many parts of the world.

A lot of Christians get excited that persecution may increase, because it means Jesus could be coming back sooner than later!

In this session, we saw how persecution against the apostles for proclaiming the name of Jesus became intense. The anger and jealousy among the religious leaders was so great that they resorted to beating the apostles and seeking their deaths. In spite of this, the apostles were faithful to the proclamation of the gospel message.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently facing persecution, severe punishment, or even death for their faith.

*** Proverbs 28:1 says that “the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Pressure can bring out the best in those who are striving to be holy!

*** The apostles were beaten for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to count the cost of our obedience to the mission of God.

*** There will be opposition to the proclamation of the gospel. But remember that when someone tries to stomp out the fire, the embers usually shoot out and spread the fire. God is more powerful than the culture’s threats.

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.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Peter: Always Reppin'

My Life Group lesson for April 3, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What is the bravest thing you’ve seen someone do? What does bravery mean to you? What motivates people to accomplish acts of bravery?

At the same time Jesus demonstrated supreme courage in suffering, His disciples fell away in fear for their lives. Even Peter, who had pledged to stand courageous with Jesus, denied the Lord three times.

But Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. The Risen Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, provided believers spiritual power and courage they had never known before. They would need this power and courage as they faced persecution for Jesus’ sake.

Today we will examine one example of bravery that involved the early church leaders, Peter and John.

Just like these first believers, we are called to live a life of faith and courage.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 3:1–4:31

*** Before Easter we studied the first few chapters in Acts, including the ascension of Jesus, Pentecost and the birth of the early church.

*** Acts 3 provides an example of a miracle performed by the apostles, when Peter and John healed a man who couldn't walk, and gave the credit to Jesus.

*** This got the attention of the Jewish religious leaders. That's where we pick up in chapter 4.

THE CHALLENGE (Acts 4:1-7)

1 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2 because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. 3 So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 5 The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family. 7 After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?”

*** Law and Order.

--- As we begin, Peter and John had been preaching in the temple for a few hours with a lot of success.

--- After Pentecost there were 3,000 saved. Here we see that number climb to 5,000 men, which doesn’t even include the women and children.

*** Opposition appears.

--- With the success of the early church we also see Jewish religious leaders take note and try to stop it, in the form of priests, the commander of the temple police, and Sadducees.

--- The commander of the temple police was a powerful individual with authority second only to the high priest. His job was to maintain order in the area of the temple. He commanded a number of armed guards responsible for maintaining order in Jerusalem and particularly in the area of the temple.

--- The Sadducees were one of three powerful religious sects among the Jews (along with the Pharisees and Essenes).

The Sadducees had serious problems with letting Peter and John preach doctrines that went against the Sadducees’ doctrine.

Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, only accepted the first five Books of the Old Testament (sometimes called the “Torah” or “law of Moses”) as authoritative.

They did not believe in survival after death, final judgment, and resurrection. The Sadducees were infuriated that Peter preached that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah. The declaration that Jesus was the Messiah was heresy to them.

*** Take them into custody, boys.

--- Peter and John were seized and held overnight because it was late in the evening.

--- It’s likely that word spread quickly through the Christian community. The church members gathered to pray for their safety and release.

*** Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin.

--- Peter and John were in a volatile situation: standing before the 71-member Sanhedrin that included two rulers (Annas and Caiaphas). This was the same body that tried and convicted Jesus (Luke 22:66).

--- Verse 6 refers to Annas as the high priest, which he was from A.D. 6–15, and at this time his son-in-law, Caiaphas, served as high priest. The Gospels and Acts agree that Annas wielded the greatest power even though Caiaphas was formally the high priest (A.D. 18–36).

*** Question - What is your typical response to confrontation? How would you have handled being brought before the leaders?

THE ANSWER (Acts 4:8-12)

8 Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: 9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”

*** That’s a bold strategy, Peter.

--- Peter took a risk in speaking boldly and directly to these highly regarded religious leaders.

--- The religious leaders thought that with the death of Jesus that all the talk of Him as the Messiah would end. As a result, they likely thought Peter and John would be intimidated by them and afraid to speak out.

--- Instead, Peter used the opportunity to share the Gospel.

--- Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit and wasn’t going to back down.

--- Peter points out that he and John were on trial for healing a disabled man. This is something Jesus had been through.

--- The leaders gave Peter an opening by asking him in what name does he heal. Peter took the opportunity to say the name Jesus Christ, then stuck it back at them by pointing out that because of them He was crucified.

*** Peter brings the Truth.

--- In verse 12 Peter proclaims that “there is salvation in no one else” except the name of Jesus Christ.

--- Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

--- That’s it, that’s the list. Today’s so-called tolerant culture – the same folks who panic at chalk on a sidewalk but punish Christian wedding cake bakers - demands acceptance of all religions as equal.

--- The Bible never says that all religions are the same. It says that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Jesus is not the best way to Heaven. Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

*** Question - What factors in today’s culture make it more difficult for Christians to be bold in their faith and witness? What examples in the news have you heard of recently that are an obvious attempt to put Christians “in the hot seat” for their beliefs?

THE RECOGNITION (Acts 4:13)

13 When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.

*** The Holy Spirit isn’t a “Phenomenon.”

--- The trial didn’t exactly go as the religious leaders planned.

--- They get bug-eyed when they hear Peter and John speak, as if these lowly Galileans – a.k.a. “hicks from the sticks” - had been made into geniuses like in “Flowers for Algernon,” or had a brain tumor that gave them super smarts like John Travolta in “Phenomenon.”

--- The religious leaders are amazed that Peter and John spoke with love and boldness in the power of the Spirit.

--- They considered Jesus uneducated and untrained, yet they could not match His knowledge of Scripture. Now Peter and John demonstrated a similar knowledge and courage.

--- Verse 13 helps us understand what made Peter and John so courageous. It wasn’t their education or their training. It was simply that “they had been with Jesus.” Jesus had spent three years with them teaching them how to be faithful in small things, such as letting Jesus teach a crowd from one of their fishing boats (Luke 5:1) to helping Jesus feed the multitude (John 6:114).

--- Four years prior to this trial, Peter and John would never have imagined themselves in this situation. Peter, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, could not have predicted how his life would change before meeting Jesus. Jesus called him to be a fisher of men, and now he stood before the supreme court of Judaism in Jerusalem to defend the gospel.

--- The Sanhedrin ultimately let Peter and John go (see Acts 4:21) in order to avoid an uprising and because they had no concrete charges to bring against them.

--- The opponents of the gospel were powerless to stop its advance. The boldness of the disciples and the power of the Holy Spirit continued to prevail over the efforts of opponents to stop their evangelistic efforts.

--- Believers today should be encouraged by the example of the early church. Many institutions of power have become hostile to the preaching of the gospel. Christians may become discouraged in the face of such formidable opposition. We should remember the example of success in the early church.

*** Question - What role did Peter and John’s perceived weakness play in their being effective witnesses for Jesus? How can God use our perceived weaknesses to bring honor to Himself?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

I look around the class and see so many awesome people, so many strong Christians. You guys are kind, loving, and outspoken - almost no jerks! – and we’re exactly who God uses to spread the Gospel.

Peter and John were not responsible for the healing of the crippled man, and they did not take credit for it or become prideful in their actions. Christians can certainly count on the Holy Spirit to equip them to speak with boldness and power, but all honor and glory for anything that is accomplished goes to Jesus Christ.

*** (1) Even in the face of pressure, we must lovingly preach the revolutionary gospel of Jesus Christ. The power of God is greater than the pressure of man.

*** (2) The apostles proclaimed the gospel in the power of the Spirit. Christians are full of the Spirit.

*** (3) It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. or if you’re naturally eloquent, God can work through us to spread the Gospel. We can speak boldly as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We never know what God has in store for us when we trust Jesus. A great God can do great things with humble servants.