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!

One Heart and Soul

We conclude Acts 4 today, thinking about verses 31-37.

When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need. 36 Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts :31-37 (WEB)

Answered Prayer

In yesterday’s post – Praying Under Persecution – we thought about the kind of prayer Peter prayed in response to the persecution they faced from the authorities. Peter did not ask for the trouble to be removed from them, but instead asked for boldness to speak the Gospel in the face of that resistance. Perhaps I should have included verse 31 in that post?

Verse 31 clearly tells us that God faithfully answered the prayer. The Father’s power is released and the place where they were was shaken. I must admit that such a thing has never happened to me! Wouldn’t it be amazing if every time we uttered the “Amen!” that we would see a physical sign like this – a kind of “read receipt” acknowledging our prayer had been heard.

Yet, on the other hand, we need no such sign to be assured that God has heard our prayers. We live by faith, and not by sight, and we trust that God has heard and naswwered our prayers irrespective of whether we feel or see anything in that moment. We know when the answer comes, even if it is not the answer we had in mind.

Without the shaking of the place, we would still know that the Father has responded. All who were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then began to speak with boldness. The very thing they had askked for was given immediately.

One Heart and Soul

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

Acts 4:32 (WEB)

Sometimes, when we hear of church division and in-fighting, we can only dream of the unity described in these verses. It tells us they were of one heart and soul, the very epitome of teamwork and unison. They worked together for the Gospel, sharing and supporting one another.

It says that not one of them claimed ownership of the things they possessed, and instead shared everything. This is very hard for us to imagine. For us, who have so very much, it is hard to comprehend the idea of owning nothing and sharing everything.

This kind of selfless lifestyle goes far beyond mere giving. It describes a people who have truly crucified the flesh, letting go of their own desires and living for the benefit of the whole. The modern church in the West has moved so far from these values it is virtually impossible to see a way back.

We might be excused for thinking that perhaps these disciples had very little to share, so maybe it was easier for them to do so. If you have little, then sharing and benefitting from the whole makes sense. yet the passage corrects this view too. It says those who had lands sold them, and placed the money at the apostle’s feet.

Those who had more, shared with those who had less. There was no longer “me” and “mine”, just “ours.” Such a way of life requires all to obey the rules. Everyone must do the same, pooling their resources such that “no one lacked anything.” Imagine lacking nothing… we work hard for what we get, and we keep it all, yet few of us can claim we lack nothing. This family of believers gave up everything for each other, and yet had all they needed. That is God’s economy in action!

And look at the result highlighted in verse 33 – “With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all.” We want the power and the grace, we want the success in ministry and to see God at work in our lives, yet are we willing to live like these beleivers did?

Son of Encouragement

Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37 (WEB)

The passage and the chapter ends with these words about Joses, also known as Barnabas. Bar means Son, and so they call him a Son of Encouragement. I imagine he must have been one who constantly built up those around him with affirming words. Encouragement is a spiritual gift, and yet is something we can all practice in our lives. A rightly placed word of encouragement can make a person’s day and costs us nothing.

Barnabas had a field and he sold it, giving the proceeds to the apostles for the work of the faith. He held nothing back. He may have had plans for that field, perhaps wanting to farm or some other activity. Instead, he gave it up for the good of the family of believers. He chose to have less so that others might have more. What a humbling lesson for us!

Note these actions of Barnabas, because they will be important as we understand the events of chapter 5. Will any successful group, there will always be those who want to get in on the action for their own gain. We see such an example next time.

I have been quite humbled as I’ve read this passage and written these words. My life seemingly falls far short of the life that these believers lived. How can I explain the extra TV I bought, or the bigger house I purchased, when I knew of believers in need around me? I am not telling you to sell all you have and give it away, let me be clear, but all of us ought to look at the Early Church’s example and assess our own faithfulness.

Does this passage challenge us to live differently? I’ll leave that one between you and God.

The Early Church

We continue on with our study through the book of Acts, and today conclude chapter 2. There are only a few verses left in the chapter from where we left off, but there is a lot said.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. 43 Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. 46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 (WEB)

This passage gives us a brief look into what the early church would have been like. Remember that this comes straight off of the back of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where three thousand souls were added to the number of the followers of Christ. The “they” here is the new group of believers joining the disciples.

The Apostles’ Teaching

The first thing we learn is that this group of believers were dedicated to the teaching of the Apostles. We are not told specifically what was being taught, but based on Peter’s sermon and other teaching both in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, I think we can get a fairly good idea. The believers spent time learning what they needed to know. They were not satisfied with a short sermon on a Sunday morning, but rather were “steadfast” or continual in the teaching of the Word of God.

Do we “continue steadfastly” in the teaching of the Word, or do we dip in and out of it as we wish? What a challenge!

Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread

Fellowship means that this group of believers lived life together. They were united, and shared their days with each other. This is also seen in the breaking of bread, meaning they shared meals together also. We need other believers in our life. Life is difficult, and all the more so when you are a serious Christian in a hostile world. We need encouragement and support, and we get this from each other. A life lived alone is very difficult indeed. A life shared with other like-minded believers is not necessarily easier, but at least you can draw on the strength and help offered by the family of Christ.

While breaking bread of course means to eat meals together, in the culture of the Middle East it is more significant than that. To break bread with another means to be united with them. In the western culture, we might liken it to the shaking of hands. When we give someone our word, we tend to shake on it as a sign that we are serious. It implies a sort of contract between us. In the Middle East, the breaking of bread means something similar.

Prayer

Again we see here the believers united in prayer. As we read through Acts, we will see time and time again that the Early Church were constant in their prayers. These were nott prayers prayed alone and in private, but corporate prayer shared with others. Absolutely they would have spent much time in private prayer also, but they made it a priority to pray with other believers. We should do likewise.

All Who Believed

We see in verse 44 that all who believed were “together.” It says that they had “all things in common,” and this is a real challenge to us in the modern church. These verses paint a picture of almost complete unity among the believers. It is a unity we often only dream of in churches today.

Yet Jesus prayed for unity as recorded in John 17. He wanted and expected us to be in unity, to stand together and to hold one another up. I really feel, as i write this, that we are to take it seriously. How many churches have divided over silly issues; the colour of the curtains, the time of the services or other such trivial matters. Let each one of us do our part to protect and maintain the unity among us.

There are many references in these few short verses alone of their togetherness, unity, being of “one accord.” etc. Let each of us pray for that kind of oneness among our church family.

The passage tells us that they also sold their goods and possessions that they might share with each other. This kind of selflessness is unheard of these days. Many of us work very hard for what we have, and yet few of us are true givers. We might give some money to the church, but I’ve met very few who would sell what they have just so that they could share with the family of believers. Again, it is a real challenge for us. Tossing a few coins into the offering basket each week seems woefully inadequate next to the kind of selfless life lived by these believers.

The chapter ends with verse 47:

praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47 (WEB)

As well as all the things we have mentioned above, this verse sums it all up with the words “praising God.” Everything they did revolved around their dedication to the worship of the Lord. He had saved them, in His great mercy, and they now lived their life in worship to Him.

It says that they had favour with all the people, which is a sign that they truly lived humbly and in loving-kindness. Only such a church family would attract such favour.

The chapter closes by telling us that everyday God was adding to their number. As churches, we may long for God to add to our number, and regularly pray that He would do so. It is a great responsibility however, to nurture new believers and we must make every effort – co-operating with the Holy Spirit – to be the kind of church where God can trust us with new believers. Let us not just preach the Gospel, but let us live it out each and every day. As we do so, it will be a witness to the world.

I pray that God will indeed add to the family of believers each day, and that the church globally will look like the early church described above. Amen!

What a Chore!

What is your favourite part of a church service?

Some might choose the sermon, while others enjoy the musical worship. Still others might prefer the fellowship, and yet others the coffee and snacks afterwards!

I am willing to bet very few would say that the prayers are their favourite part.

Few Christians (in my experience at least) are truly excited about prayer. This is my fourth post on the subject of prayer, and I hope it has encouraged you to want to explore more in your prayer life. But does it excite you?

Have you ever met a Christian who boasted about their prayer life? Perhaps they rise very early in the morning and pray for five hours before making breakfast. Maybe they tell you all about the different things they pray for, and the miracles that occur as they petition the throne of God. As much as we know we should be happy for them, if you are like me you will probably feel somewhat small, or even condemned.

Comparing your prayer life to someone else’s is never a good idea!

When we meet someone like this, we might try to replicate what they are doing. We set our alarm extra early and are all set to rack up the hours. Five minutes in though, and we’ve prayed for everyone and everything we can think of.

We sit it out, watching the clock and struggle through an hour. Ultimately we give up and feel even worse. Why is prayer such a chore!

The Father never intended for us to see prayer as a chore. Sometimes prayer is indeed work, but was not meant to be a drag which we dread.

If you want to subdue a group of believers, just suggest an evening of intense intercession!

The early church was not like this, and never seemed to struggle to pray like we often do.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 1:14 (NIV)


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42 (NIV)


When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

Acts 4:24 (NIV)

So why does the modern church struggle so much with prayer?

I do not mean to paint a bleak picture here. I’ve met many Christians who were passionate about prayer, but often they are those with a particular gift for it. The low attendance at many prayer evenings betrays something about our view of prayer.

Some religions mandate prayer requiring its followers to pray four or more times every single day. For Christians, no such rules exist. I believe that this was a deliberate choice by God, who could have easily demanded prayer at regular intervals.

God does not want prayer to be a chore. It is not something we have to do, it is some we get to do.

If you are not all that excited by prayer, then ask yourself why not. As I think about the answer myself, I suggest these might be some common responses.

  1. I never know what to say
  2. I’m too easily distracted
  3. I am busy and just don’t put aside the time to do it, and I must admit it is not a priority for me right now
  4. My prayers seem to go unanswered

Do any of these ring true for you? They are certainly all true for me at different times!

The first three are largely matters of discipline. If we don’t know how to pray or what words to say, then we can use the Bible to help us or buy ourselves a book of prayers to get us started.

If too easily distracted, then we need to know ourselves and put aside things that will get in the way. It might mean putting the phone in a drawer for a while!

The third item was hard for me to write because it hit home. While I would never say that prayer is not a priority for me, do I actually prioritise it? It is tough to be excited about something you put off.

The last one is a complex one, and it can be very difficult when we feel our prayers are not being answered. Often we mean that they are not being answered in the way we would like, rather than not being answered at all.

We do not have the space here to discuss reasons why prayers seem to go unanswered at times. Sometimes it is simple, and sometimes not. For instance, we do not get the answers we want if we have not asked (see James 4:2). Also, if we ask but don’t really believe we will get it, then we stray into wishing and not praying.

One thing I can say for sure is that God is always listening. He wants to hear from you, and He delights in answering our prayers. Remember that if we were Him, knowing all that He knows, then we would answer our own prayers the way He does.

Let me close by reminding you of what prayer is. It is the opportunity to talk with the Creator of all things. And this is not some distant or unknown character, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He loves you and proved this love at the cross. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we cannot help but be excited by prayer.

Prayer is a powerful and extraordinary thing. We have direct access to the Father and can ask Him whatever we wish. We can stand in His presence, and seek His favour. We can ask Him to bless those we love, and to spread the good news about Jesus across the world. He loves and enjoys our prayers, and delights to say “Yes!”

Let us all stir up our hearts and get truly excited about prayer. It is not a chore, but an adventure! Praise be to the God who hears our every prayer!