Prayer and Sovereignty

A couple of years ago, I was challenged about my view of God’s Sovereignty. I once believe that He did not control all things, but rather had delegated some control (for want of a better term) to humankind. Yet, a careful look at the Bible made me question this view, and ultimately dismiss it. God is in control of all things, directing and holding everything together.

You can read my posts on that subject here – Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God, and – The Sovereign God.

Taking the view that God does indeed have supreme sovereignty and controls everything that happens leads to some very difficult questions. The problem of evil for instance, how can evil exist within God’s will? This is a subject for another day, and is by no means a straightforward one.

Another question relates to prayer. If God controls and directs all things according to His will, then what role does prayer play? The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 9, where he discusses sovereignty, yet also wrote Romans 10 which encourages us to pray. Clearly Paul saw no contradiction.

I have been reading a book on sovereignty this week, and the subject of prayer was briefly discussed in a chapter I read last night. The author did not say what I am about to, but certainly inspired my line of thinking.

Prayer is not about getting God to do what we want. Rather, prayer is God asking us to align to His will and purpose.

Let me explain with an example: football (or soccer for our American readers!).

When I line up a shot in a football game, and kick the ball with all the precision and accuracy I can muster, and it goes towards the corner flag (not the goal), my teammates do not run forward, grab the goal and move it to the corner so that I score! Imagine that for a moment, and how silly it sounds!

Instead, when I play football, I must kick the ball towards the goal. The goal never moves nor does it grow or shrink. I need to get that shot on target and it does absolutely no good to shoot anywhere else on the pitch.

How does this apply to prayer? Well, often we pray and are expecting God to move. We give Him our list of wants, and we are waiting on Him to make it happen. This is akin to shooting at the corner, and expecting the goal to move.

As God is Sovereign, He will do His will and His will only. When we pray, if we are praying for something outside of His will, then it will never happen. Similarly, if we pray in His will, we can be certain it will come to pass.

Why pray then? If God will do His will alone, then our prayers cannot change that. If I pray in God’s will, it will happen, but certainly would have happened independent of me. Likewise, if I pray outside of His will, it will never happen no matter how elequont or frequent my prayers. Prayer is just a waste of time right? Absolutely not!

Take the Lord’s Prayer – we pray “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is a prime example of a waste of breath if we are asking for God’s will to be done. If sovereignty holds, then God will keep His own will no matter what. Yet this prayer is not a request! We are not asking for God’s will to be done, as it certainly will be. Rather, we are praying in recognition and agreement with that! It is not a request but acknowledgement! God’s will is done on Earth as in heaven, and we rejoice of that fact!

God wants us to recognise the fact that His will is good, pleasing and perfect (see Romans 12:1-2). When we accept that, why would we pray for anything else other than His will?

Prayer is not about taming God and getting Him to do what we want. It is about humbling us, and changing our mindsets such that we want all that He plans to do. We pray, “If it be your will…” so that we recognise and accept that God’s will is best for us.

Understanding this, I’ll admit, very difficult truth, provides us with extreme security. We may want one thing or another, yet if it does not happen we know that it is because God did not will it. That means He has a different purpose in mind. Too many of us do not think about the long game, only about our immediate comfort.

I say all of this absolutely realising that many of us are going through some very difficult, even life-threatening things. How dare I say people facing such things are in the midst of God’s will? The objection usually comes down to the fact that no loving God could ever allow us to go through such suffering. I humbly submit that this is a human way of looking at things, and we cannot begin to fathom what God has in mind. I can say with 100% certainty that no matter what you are facing today, it is not because God does not love you. Jesus went to the cross and died for you, that’s how much He loves you! No matter what you are facing, do not let go of that cross and knowing your Saviour bled and died for you!

So, we pray in humble submission to God’s will and purpose. We pray to surrender to God and what He wants for our lives. We are free to ask for whatever we wish, understanding that only His will shall be accomplished.

I close with this. Prayer is not primarily about asking God to do things for us, it is about building our relationship with Him. Our praise and thanksgiving should always outweigh our petition. God is love, and He loves you, and He loves to hear your prayers and loves to answer them according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. Amen.

We’re Here to Serve God (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

As Christians, we are here to serve the Lord, not the other way around

I am certainly not against all television ministries, but an unguarded look at Christian TV might make you think that Christianity is all about getting the best life you can. Some falsely lead you into thinking that having a relationship with God will make all of your problems go away or that all of your dreams will come true. This is not so.

I do want to add though that God does indeed love us and want us to have good lives. He is a good, good Father and wants what is best for His children. However, God’s primary concern is neither our comfort nor our bank balance.

God is not a cosmic genie ready to grant your every request and wish.

God does not exist to serve us, rather quite the opposite is true. If the focus of your Christian life is to get whatever you can from God, then I suggest you perhaps care more about what God can give you than God Himself.

Christians are here to serve and worship God. Our time, energy, money and resources should be devoted to His service. We should go about our days not thinking about what we want to achieve, but seeking to serve Him and follow His lead.

This is a real challenge. Speaking for myself, I am only just realising the depths of my pride at times. Surrendering to Jesus as Lord is a daily (or even second by second) process. Few of us put and keep God at the very centre of our lives. I ask you though, is there anything more important?

Are you in this to get what you can from God, or are you fully committed to serving Him? How might your plans for today change as a result?

God bless; you!

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

We take a little break from the book of Acts to consider this question today. Many individuals over the centuries have tried to answer this one, and the vast majority were cleverer than I am! I offer a few thoughts here which I hope you find helpful.

The argument often goes something like this. If God is supposedly all good and all powerful, then how can there be suffering in the world? If God can remove suffering and chooses not to, then He can’t be all good. If He can’t stop suffering in the world, then good He may be, but He is not all powerful. Suffering therefore disproves a good or all powerful God, right?

It is a compelling argument, and one that many have used over the years. The problem of suffering in the world is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. For most, it is sufficient to conclude that there is no God at all, or at least not one that is in any way interested in us.

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

God is a good God. It is easy to say of course, yet we see throughout the pages of Scripture it is true. There are many places in the Bible where God’s love and goodness are demonstrated, but all could be argued away by pointing to other Scriptures are wrath and judgement. In my view, God’s wrath does not diminish God’s love, but is in actual fact a necessary part of that. Love is not love without hatred of evil. Something for another day perhaps!

I can say with absolute confidence that God is a good God because of one single event. Jesus Christ crucified.

Jesus, who we believe was both God and man, sacrificed Himself for the world. If God was mean or distant, there is no way He would have come down as a Man, lived a perfect life and then allowed Himself to be executed in such a cruel and undignified way. Such a mean or distant God would not have cared about whether humans lived or died for all eternity. Such an uncaring deity would have simply washed His hands of us.

Not our God!

Our God is so good and so kind and so full of love for us, that He became a Man and took on the punishment we all deserve. Not satisfied to let us die in our sin and face eternal punishment, He gave up His very self to pay the ransom only He could pay. Praise this wonderful God of ours!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (WEB)

No one who sees the cross and what it took for God to do that, could ever claim our Lord is not good or loving. Suffering is a very real problem, but the cross, if nothing else, tells us clearly that suffering is not on us because God does not love us. The cross has the final word. Even in the midst of all suffering, we can know for sure that God loves us, and He is good.

God is All Powerful

if you accept this, then perhaps suffering exists because God is simply unable to remove it from us. Good as He is, perhaps He does not possess the power necessary to withdraw all suffering from the world.

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

We read in the book of Genesis in the Bible that God made the entire universe, and He did so by uttering a few words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

We cannot comprehend the kind of power God possesses, and must still possess, to have created all that we know. Neither can we restrict this creation to just the physical, as there is an entire spiritual world beyond that which we can see and perceive with our eyes.

There is probably no other example which better demonstrates the kind of power we are talking about here. Yes, God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, and yes, He made the sundial go back and even held the sun in the sky for a time (see 2 Kings 20 and Joshua 10) but do such astonishing miracles compare to the creation of all things?

Are we to say nothing of the resurrection of the dead? We see many examples in the Bible of those who were dead, and yet lived again. None more important than Christ Himself. Could a God who could do all of this and more ever be considered less than all powerful? I think not.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us then? If you accept the points above, then you accept that God is both good and all powerful. Yet, suffering still exists.

We must therefore conclude the following. If God is all powerful, it means He can remove suffering from the world if He wishes. As He has not, then we see that He has a reason not to do so. As we demonstrated above, if He is good as well as all powerful, then His reason for not removing suffering must likewise be a good one. And we do not know what it is…

I put it to you that God, being both good and all powerful, has His reasons for not withdrawing suffering from the world. Just because we cannot comprehend or understand it, makes it no less true or valid. God has no obligation to explain Himself to us.

I would love to be able to sit here and explain to you why you are suffering. If I did though, it would not in any way reduce that suffering. Someone will always ask, “Why me?” and yet, “Why not you?” For us to try and fathom such things is perhaps no small hubris on our part. We are not God, nor can we expect to understand all that He does and knows. Job lost everything, and he was not privileged to know the reason. When he encountered God at the end of the book, he was silenced before the Almighty daring not to even question the God who made him.

If you are in the midst of suffering right now, then these intellectual arguments probably don’t help all that much. Suffering can rarely be explained away, and especially not when we are personally facing it.

If that is you today, then I urge you to look to the cross. I cannot explain your suffering to you in any satisfactory way, but I can grieve along with you. The cross, if nothing else, shows you that the Maker of all things is not distant, but that He chose to suffer and die for you. He knows how suffering feels, and He will walk through it with you every step of the way.

God bless you.

Apostles Vs. Authorities

In Wednesday’s post – God Rather Than Man – we discussed the events of Acts 5 and the arrest of Peter and the Apostles. Peter miraculously escaped the jail, with the help of an angel, and continued to teach in the temple courts. Again, he is summoned by the authorities, and we close chapter 5 thinking about his words.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were determined to kill them. 34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. 35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. He was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!”

40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.

42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:29-42 (WEB)

Peter begins, as discussed on Wednesday, by telling the authorities that he must obey God rather than man. God has instructed the apostles to share the message about Jesus, and they must obey this command even if the authorities tell them to stop. This is not without risk, and nearly all of the apostles lost their lives because they refused to stop talking about Christ.

Peter pulls no punches. He states that Jesus was raised up by the “God of our fathers,” that is, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and tells them that they are guilty of His death. They killed Him. They hung Him on a tree. Yet God exalted Him, making Him Prince and Saviour. We must understand Jesus is both Lord (Prince) and Saviour. He saves us yes, and we rejoice in that, but He is our Lord also and we must revere Him as such.

Jesus achieved “repentance for Israel,” and “remission of sins.” The people of Israel, not able to fulfil the Law, require a Saviour to act as a substitute for them. Similarly, Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross achieved the remission of sins, meaning that sin is fully paid for. This leaves us the choice of facing the consequences of our sin before God, or accepting what Jesus has done and His payment of that sin. Choose the latter I urge you!

In verse 32, Peter says that they – the apostles – are witnesses for what Jesus has done. Not the apostles only however, but the Spirit of God also. To deny the testimony of the apostles is to deny the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The unpardonable sin, mentioned in Mark 3:29, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In my own mind, I suspect the unforgivable sin is to deny the witness of the Holy Spirit, that is to refuse to believe what He says about Jesus and to reject Christ as our only Saviour.

They react rather angrily to this, as you might expect. But a peacemaker among them, named Gamaliel, interjects and has the Apostles sent out. He names a number of individuals who raised up and gathered followers. Gamaliel points out that all of these came to nothing.

Gamaliel says something very insightful. If this is not of God, then the authorities need not worry about it. If it is of God, then they cannot stop it anyway and would be foolish to try. Two-thousand years later, the church numbers in the millions and stretches across the globe. It did not fizzle out or lose momentum after Jesus’ and the Apostles’ deaths, rather it has only grown and become established.

There is a lesson for us here I’m sure. How often do we try to force open doors that God has shut, or close doors He has opened? We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done,” but at times fight against it. Take this blog for example, I might want it to grow and pay for all manner of advertising to make it happen. That may be a perfectly valid thing to do, but it might also be pushing out ahead of God and beyond His will. Never a good idea.

Are you rushing ahead of God right now? Do you need to fall back and walk beside Him again?

The authorities bring the Apostles back in, and once again strictly command them not to speak in the Name of Jesus. This did not work last time, so I am not certain why they believe it will work now. Peter has already said that he must obey God and not man, so there is clearly no intention to stop their ministry of God. The authorities have them beaten, but this too, does not deter them.

Verse 41 gives us a lot to think about. I don’t know about you, but when I suffer for the Name of Jesus, I rarely “rejoice” about it. In fact, I am sometimes a little offended. After all, I am doing what God has asked me – why would I face opposition or persecution? While we may feel like this, it is not biblical. Our faith cannot be used to move all opposition or to remove persecution from us. Instead, we are to rejoice when we suffer for Jesus.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2 Timothy 3:12 (WEB)

The Bible makes it very clear. If we want to live for Christ, we will be persecuted. But we rejoice when it comes, because it indeed means we are living a life worthy of Jesus. We may suffer persecution now, in this life, yet we have a whole eternity to celebrate and enjoy God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The problems of this life won’t even register!

Chapter 5 closes with the following verse:

Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:42 (WEB)

The authorities have clearly commanded the Apostles to stop, yet this verse tells us that they “never stopped.” At home or in church, we must never stop preaching Christ and Him crucified. Amen!

Consider My Groaning?

Today I share a video message thinking about prayer, “groaning” and biblical meditation. The focus of the video is Psalm 5:1, which says:

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.

Psalm 5:1 (ESV)

And in another translation:

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation.

Psalm 5:1 (KJV)

Hope you enjoy the video!

Sometimes the preview loads upside down, apologies! It will play just fine!

God Rather Than Man

Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to say a massive thank you to those who responded to my blog post – Life Happens – yesterday. I really appreciate your support of this blog, and am so grateful to you all for reading it.

Now, on to the rest of Acts 5:

But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the apostles, then put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”

24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.

27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:17-29 (WEB)

Chapter 5 began with Ananias and Sapphira attempting to cheat the church, or rather God Himself, and were judged as a result. This event acted as a warning to those who would infiltrate the church and in some ways brought the group of believers together. In that group, many miracles were being performed and crowds were gathering, bringing their sick to the apostles.

The high priest and the Sadducees take notice of all of this, and verse 17 tells us they were filled with jealousy. Jealousy is an interesting motive here. The high priest is not arguing on points of theology, but on popularity. While of course they do not agree with the apostle’s teaching about Jesus, that is not their focus. They are more worried about the fact that people are responding to the Gospel than to their own teaching of the Law. They care more about what the people think of them, than what God thinks of them.

This jealousy drives the religious leaders to arrest Peter and the Apostles, putting them in custody. God has other plans though… Verse 19 tells us that an angel appears to them at night, opening the prison doors and leading them out. He instructs the apostles to go and teach the people in the temple. I’m intrigued by the phrase in verse 20 – “all the words of this life.”

The apostles waste no time and enter the temple at daybreak. Meanwhile, the high priest assembles the council ready to interrogate the apostles. They send for them, but the captain of the guard returns to say the prison is empty! Not only that, but the doors remain locked and the guards still at their posts. This means the angel led the apostles out through the locked door and past the standing guards. This won’t be the last miraculous prison break we read about in the book of Acts.

The gathered council are “perplexed,” which I imagine is something of an understatement!

It is reported to the council that these very men were now in the temple, proclaiming the Gospel. The captain of the guard is sent to retrieve them, and yet verse 26 informs us that he does it rather more gently this time, for fear of the people.

Peter, not for the first time, is set before the council. They remind him that they have strictly charged him not to speak in the Name of christ, and yet he continues to do so. Moreover, he is showing their guilt in Jesus’ death, and this is a particular point they mention.

Look at Peter’s response, and this is the heart of what I want to say today.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:29 (WEB)

Peter says that he (and the other apostles) must obey God rather than man.

I must confess to you that I am a natural people-pleaser. I hate conflict and my natural inclination is to do anything for a quiet life. It is one thing to live peaceably and to try to avoid conflict, but it is quite another to disobey God just to please people.

In Acts, the authorities are instructing Peter to disobey God, and he cannot do that. The same should be true for us. This does not give anyone a green light to disobey the law of the land or to cause deliberate disruption, but it says that we must prioritise what God says more than anyone or anything else.

Living in the Western world, there are very few occasions where my faith in Christ comes into conflict with the law of the land. Things are changing though, and perhaps for my children or theirs, there may be a time when faith in Christ is outlawed. I pray not, but should such a time come, Christians in that generation must be ready to choose God or man.

In everyday life though, you may be making choices about serving God or man. Let’s take a married couple for example, one of whom is a Christian and the other spouse not. Will the Christian continue to go to church? Will they be a generous giver as instructed in the Word, or will they compromise their faith in some way?

For many of us, believing in Christ may not lead to our arrest or death, but that does not free us from persecution. You could potentially be looked over for a promotion at work, or lose friends or family over your faith, or come into direct conflict with the education system over your beliefs. As each of us face these matters, we must put God and His ways first and foremost.

What does obeying God, rather than man, look like for you this week? What choices will you face or make? Pray ahead of time that you have the courage and conviction to make the right choice.

Peter says more than this, but we shall pick that up another time. God bless you this day.

Life Happens

It has been a few days since I last posted to the blog, and sadly I have broken my daily posting streak I started when lockdown began. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t reach 100 posts in a row, but, as the title suggests, life happens!

Sincere apologies to anyone who came looking for a post and couldn’t find one!

On 17th March, I put up a post called Coronavirus, and that seems a very long time ago now! I posted each day for a few days, and that turned into an ambition to post something to the blog every day. Three months in, I did not miss a day until the weekend just gone.

It wasn’t a bad weekend or anything, but there were a lot of things going on in life and I just did not have the time to sit down and write. Something had to give in the end and I’m genuinely sorry it was the blog.

I am sure I am not alone in this. I suppose we have all had times where life just happened, and prevented us doing one thing or another. We love to plan our lives, and yet our plans so rarely work out! I praise God that He is in total control.

Writing a blog is actually quite time consuming – I’m sure fellow bloggers will agree. I don’t tend to write opinion pieces and largely try to focus on biblical topics. That requires a bit of thought and study, and so it may take a bit of time to prepare and write a post. While on lockdown, I gained a fair bit of time not spent on commuting to work, volunteering, and helping get children to and from various events. Now the lockdown is starting to ease in the UK, some of those things are coming back and my time is becoming more limited.

For example, I volunteer with our village’s local magazine which was suspended during COVID-19 restrictions. We are now hoping it can return in the summer, and so I am starting to pick up that volunteering again.

I’m sure the same is true for you. All that time you gained during lockdown is now starting to reduce as life – hopefully – begins to return to some new normal.

It is probably now a little ambitious for me to try and post every single day, as much as I would like to. I have seen some growth in blog readers and followers over the last few months and I do not want to let anyone down. I have to be realistic about my time however, and I certainly don’t want to put out posts which are not up to scratch!

After some thought and prayer, I will aim to post on weekdays, leaving weekends off. As well as my usual writing, I will try to incorporate an audio podcast and video as well each week (so perhaps three written blogs, a video and a podcast each week). That is still a fair time commitment, but I am hopeful I can maintain this in the coming weeks. If I return to the office any time soon, then I may have to review!

I am always happy to get constructive feedback, so do tell me what you think. I love writing this blog, and I really want to complete writing another book. Knowing the demands on my time, I need to create space in order to do that.

How are you finding the transition through the lockdown? Life changed dramatically when the restrictions came in, and I feel it will change again as it is reversed. What have you learned from this time of life? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Have a great day!

Many Miracles

Today we tackle a fairly short but astonishing passage from Acts chapter 5. It again highlights to us the kind of life that these early believers lived and it is only natural to compare their experiences to our own.

Many miracles and wonders were being performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 But more and more people were added to the group—a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. 15 As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were sick or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (GNT)

Many Miracles

The passage opens by telling us that “many miracles and wonders were being performed by the apostles.” We must not miss this, as it is clear that miracles were “many” and not “few.” The Early Church saw many wonderous works and this is something to praise God for.

As i said above, it is rather natural to compare this to our own experience. I confess that my experience is not of “many” miracles at all, and they are sometimes rather few and far between.

This is partly because of what we mean by “miracle.” This passage shows that these were wondrous works, and if we do not see things that fit this category, then we assume that miracles are not occurring. This is not so! To me at least, one of the greatest miracles is to see a life changed by God. Someone coming to Christ and committing to Him fully is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

I am not trying to sidestep the passage however, and it is a genuine question as to why we do not see the frequency of miracles the Early Church saw. There are many answers to this question, but I do not think it is because miracles are now extinct – far from it.

A few suggestions:

  • We fail to ask for or expect miracles.
  • We are afraid of failure if we step out in faith.
  • Little of value is taught on the subject (in my experience).

From the Outside Looking In

Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them.

Acts 5:13 (GNT)

I have read this passage many times, and yet this is perhaps the first time I’ve really picked up on this verse. Those outside the group dare not join them – why not? Churches are sadly known for their cliques’ at times, and is this the first example of it? I think not.

In reality, the events at the start of this chapter probably have a lot to do with it. If you recall, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for their deceptiveness before God and the church. This story would have gone around like wildfire and I imagine put many off trying to infiltrate the group. For me, it lends credence to the idea that what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was an act of defending the church from those who would harm it.

Note that all the people spoke highly of the early believers. This is a real challenge to us. Some churches do not have a great reputation among their community. This can be for many reasons. Yet we should aim to have a good reputation as it can only strengthen our witness. This is not to say we should water down our beliefs or be swayed by the winds of the world, but as much as we can, we should strive to be well thought of.

A Crowd of Men and Women

Verses 14-16 clearly show that the Early Church was no impenetrable clique. Many were being added to the group due to the acts of the Apostles – hence the name given to this book of the Bible. These men and women, responding to the teaching and miracles of the Apostles, “believed in the Lord.”

Those who were sick were brought in on beds and mats, and verse 16 says that people were coming in from the towns around Jerusalem. The word was getting out about the church, and the things it was doing in the Name of Christ.

Our passage today closes with the words “and they were healed.” We should not gloss overr this fact. The picture is painted of many sick people coming to the apostles, and the passage does not suggest that many went away empty-handed.

We see the same was true for Jesus in Matthew 8:

When evening came, people brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 He did this to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said, “He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:16-17 (GNT)

Acts 5 also describes how the people crowded around, hoping that even Peter’s shadow would fall on them. This is reminiscent of the woman who wanted to just clasp the edge of Jesus’ garment so that she might be healed. In a time when there were no hospitals and medical science was yet to be invented, people strained to receive healing from the Lord. That too may be a reason we do not see these kind of signs and wonders – few are willing to go to great lengths to reach Jesus.

As I finish today’s post, let me encourage you to meditate on this passage. Use your mind’s eye to put yourself in the middle of the scene. What would it have been like to be in that crowd and to see the miracles right before you? Imagine striving through the masses gathered to let Peter’s shadow fall on you.

Praise the Lord for such wonderous works!

Justice (Audio)

Andy shares about the subject of justice, and considers one of the Proverbs given below.

Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go—both are hateful to the Lord.

Proverbs 17:15 (GNT)

This audio will also be uploaded to the podcast feed for those who prefer to listen to it there. You can find the podcast “The Andy Brown Podcast” on all good podcasting apps, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

You Are They (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

You are “they”

Have you ever heard someone say – “They should do something about that…” But who is “they?”

Depending on the context, we might mean “the Government”. The Government should fix this or that… The Government should do something…

The same might be said in a work context. The management should deal with that… Why don’t the management do something about that…

Often when we say “they should” do this or that, we just mean someone else. The longer I stay on the Earth, the more I realise that we are the “they.”

If we recognise that a change is required in some area of life or society, then our first response ought to be “what can I do about that?” Large scale societal problems of course will need more than an individual response, but there are always steps we can take.

Let’s say, for example, you want to do something about homelessness in your area. It might be extremely difficult for you to eradicate this problem single-handedly. You could help a small number of individuals, but you could also raise funds for a local charity. You could campaign at a local or national level or seek support from local businesses or churches.

My point is that you may not be able to solve the entire problem, but you may be able to take steps to improve the situation even in small ways. We all have a responsibility and must not always assume it is for someone else to deal with.

If “they” need to do something about it, then let each of us remember that we are the “they.”

A Protective Father

At long last, we move on to Acts 5. This chapter opens with a rather disturbing set of events, and I want to try to shed some light on what is happening here. This particular passage is a difficult one, and I admit to having struggled with it for many years. I will explain why, if not obvious, and point you to some insights I now have on it.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, 2 and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, then brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”

5 Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard these things. 6 The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9 But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

10 She fell down immediately at his feet and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. 11 Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.

Acts 5:1-11 (WEB)

God’s Grace Gone Missing?

In my early Christian days, I was taught very strongly about the grace of God. Jesus dealt with sin at the cross, and God no longer holds that sin against us. God no longer punishes us for our wrongdoing, because He punished Jesus at the cross. If that is all true however, how do we reconcile this passage? Why was God’s grace not extended to cover Ananias and Sapphira? Clearly they were punished for their sin here?

A quick sidebar to say that there is a distinction between punishment and discipline. While Jesus took on the full punishment for our sin, that does not mean that God no longer disciplines us as dearly loved children. If a child does something wrong, there is a world of difference between putting them in a “time out” and breaking their leg! The first is discipline, but the latter is abuse!

So how do we read this passage? Were Ananias and Sapphira punished for their sin, and where does that leave the grace teaching? Has God’s grace gone missing?

What Did They Do Wrong?

Before trying to explain this, let’s be really clear about what they did wrong.

Ananias and Sapphira sold a field, and kept some of the proceeds for themselves instead of giving it all to the Apostles. This, I do not think, is the problem however. They were entitled to sell the field and give whatever portion they liked to the Apostles. The issue came when they lied about it. They told Peter and the others that they were giving the whole amount, and this is a deception.

Who did they lie to? Verses 3 and 4 tell us.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4 (WEB)

They lie to the Holy Spirit, and that is the critical sin. Peter points out that they are entitled to buy and sell the field as they wish, and give whatever portion they want. They cross a serious line when they deceive people into thinking they are giving it all, and that God will not know about it.

Attempting to deceive God is a very bad idea!

A Word of Knowledge

How did Peter know that they were acting deceptively? The passage actually does not tell us.

It is conceivable that someone knew about it, and let Peter know in advance. Given the result of their lie i.e. their deaths, it may be that Peter was given a word of knowledge by the Holy Spirit Himself.

A Word of knowledge is a spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8. It is a gift where the believer can gain a piece of information direct from the Holy Spirit, which they would otherwise not have known. This is always done for the benefit of the church, which is true for all of the gifts. It may be that Peter was given a word by the Holy Spirit to warn him of this deception.

A Certain Man

Given all of this, how do we balance the grace of God and the severe punishment inflicted on this man and woman for attempting to deceive the church? I believe the key is found in verse 1 – “a certain man.”

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, is very precise and consistent. Almost without exception, when Luke says “a certain man,” he is referring to someone outside the church. For those inside the church, he uses the phrase “a certain disciple.” Different translations of course may render this in different ways, and in the WEB version quoted above, the only obvious exception is Justus from Acts 18. He is described as a “certain man” but is apparently a believer in the Lord. However, the text may be referring to him prior to accepting Christ.

If we accept this as a rule of thumb, then we see that Ananias was perhaps not part of the church at all, but instead a wolf in sheep’s clothing trying to infiltrate the church for his own gain. If he was not willing to put all the money in and lie about it, I can certainly imagine him taking as much out of the group as he could.

If this is true, then it puts quite a different spin on the passage at hand. This is not a church member caught in sin, but an outsider attempting to take advantage of this fledgling group of believers.

I believe that god is fiercely protective of His family. This passage does not question God’s grace, but in fact demonstrates it. God is protecting those in the church from those who would take from it.

Over recent days I have been mulling over the life of the early church in Acts 4, as you well know! One argument for not living as they did is perhaps those who would take advantage and not do their fair share. If I share all that I have with the church, and others do not, then I am at a disadvantage. The events of Acts 5 serve as a warning to those who might consider this .

Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.

Acts 5:11 (WEB)

We see from verse 11 that a great fear came over the whole assembly. I have little doubt that those who were intending to try and deceive the church, and indeed the Spirit of God, had second thoughts after seeing both Ananias and Sapphira carried out and buried.

God is indeed a gracious and loving God. As I have said before though, God is not just loving, but just as well. A loving God has to be just in fact.

Let us all pray against the temptation to lie to the Spirit, and pray that God would protect us and our church family from those who would seek to harm or steal from us. Praise God the Father, Son and Spirit for His generous grace and loving kindness! Thank Him for being a protective Father over His dear children. Amen.

The Early Church and Podcasts

It has been a bit difficult to write over the last few days. This is largely down to the demands of everyday life, and I sometimes under estimate the time it takes to put a post together. As long as I am able to however, I will continue to post daily. It has been nearly three months since I started to write each day and that is not a bad streak!

I do want to continue with the book of Acts, and we are up to chapter 5 which carries on the narrative of events from chapters 3 and 4. To be perfectly honest though, I am still rather stuck on the following verses which concluded the fourth chapter.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV)

Digression

I do not want to “go on and on” about it, as you’ve probably heard enough from me on this. The post on these verses – One Heart and Soul – came out last week, and then I put up a podcast mulling over some similar issues on Saturday.

Did you know I had a podcast? As I developed this blog further, and as I started to include some audio of sermons etc. I set up a podcast feed as well. The podcasts are replicated on the Audio page here too, but some prefer a pod-catching app to a website, so thought I would offer both.

If you are interested in subscribing, you can find “The Andy Brown Podcast” in your app of choice. It is available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify and where all good podcast are found!

Alternatively, you can find the podcast at the following link: https://anchor.fm/andy-brown2/episodes/Help-the-poor-efcjr3

While I am on the subject, and sorry for digressing from actually discussing the Bible, could I ask you – the reader – how often you read the blog? Would you prefer audio or video content to my written ramblings? I’ve noticed that Facebook videos seem to get more views than a typical blog post, but perhaps that’s because it is easier to just watch the video for a few seconds rather than read an entire 1,000 word post.

In my mind, it may be that the blog stays with its biblical study focus, and I use the podcast for more opinion or “Andy’s musings!” Whatever I do, of course I will seek the Lord about it first, but would also appreciate your views, so please comment below if you have any strong feelings one way or the other!

Anyway, I digress…

Early Church Life

It is fair to say that I have been rather challenged by the way the Early Church lived. It looks so drastically different to how we live today, and while that does not necessarily mean we ought to try to mimic them precisely, I think there is a great deal we should learn from them.

How do we implement their way of life in our modern world? This is something I have been thinking about and yet not necessarily come up with clear answers. As much as I love to teach what the Bible says, I am regularly forced to recognise that I do not know it all and so some of my writing is less instructional and more conversational. I find I can work out my thoughts as I write them, but apologies I cannot tell you to do this or do that.

Verse 32 says that they did not consider any of the things they owned as theirs. Everything they had became shared with the family. One of the problems the modern day church faces in this respect, is that we are not so closely connected as they were. We may refer to one another as “church family” yet, in my experience at least, we still have barriers between our church life and our personal life.

Does verse 32 require me, as a member of Christ’s church, to sell my home and give the money to the church? If I did, where would my family and I live? I think that common sense must apply here, and we ought not to be reckless or irresponsible when it comes to providing for those we care for.

I’ve been wondering about communal living arrangements and shared housing. I have heard and read lots about communal housing and property, where people pool their resources and share responsibility for all the necessary elements of running a large home. For example, they share cooking responsibilities or have a rota to cover the garden or farming work. Perhaps such an arrangement with a group of close-knit believers is a step closer towards the kind of Early Church life we see described.

To be clear, I am not telling you that the Bible or God is insisting you do this. Do not go out, sell your home and buy into a communal living arrangement based on my thoughts here today! I am perhaps “thinking out loud” and wondering if we are falling short of what God intended for His church.

The persecution the early believers faced is certainly a factor in their lifestyle. They had to unite to stay safe in a way that we, in the West, can only imagine. They also lived like people who believed Jesus would return soon. They did not cling to their possessions because they simply did not expect to be here that long. I am not certain we think or live that way either.

One final thought on this subject before moving on. Many would be reluctant to share their possessions in the way described in this passage for fear of being taken advantage of. If I give up all I have, what’s to stop someone else holding back? That question is answered in no small way in chapter 5! But note the passage said there no needy people among them at all!

If you have read this far into the post, then I am hoping it is a sign you do not mind my musings on this subject! It is rare for something to grab me so strongly as this passage has over recent days. Part of me is hesitant to move on for fear that I will forget its impact or just carry on as normal without any change. Keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts at least ensures I won’t forget!

Normal service will resume tomorrow… Lord willing!