Winning Ways

Winning Ways

Acts 8:25-40

 

Let’s be honest: Most Christians would rather do almost anything than witness. There are a number of reasons for this feeling. One is ignorance –  we really don’t know how to go about it. Another is indifference. We have other things to think about, after all, and besides there are plenty of people with the gift of evangelism who can do the job better (we’re plenty willing to pick up the tab if they’ll just do the work.) Still another reason we’re reluctant is fear. Nobody likes being made a fool of, or being asked questions they can’t answer. And what if the response is hostile? The whole idea is just too scary. Also, some of us have an unpleasant memory of a bad experience when someone grabbed us by the collar and shoved the gospel down our throat. We remember that embarrassed, intruded upon pressured feeling and the last thing we want to do is to make someone else feel that way. We know we should share our faith, but we still feel awkward.

 

Yet God longs for us to get into the game. He has chosen us to be His voice, to introduce lost people to the most important message they will ever hear! And here in the last half of Acts chapter 8 we have an example of how He wants us to go about it. – and it is quite different than what most people would think.

In this passage we have 5 principles that are necessary to be a person whom God uses to get the gospel out. The focal point of this passage is Philip, one of the original 7 deacons chosen back in chapter 6. And the importance of that to most of us is that he was not a “professional” evangelist. Even though in the first part of the chapter he is doing many impressive things in the area of evangelism, he is still a “layman.” But suddenly, right in the midst of that, God changes Philips’s direction. Look at verse 26:

 

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is desert.

 

And Philip’s response to that command demonstrates the first guideline for God’s plan for evangelism: Attentiveness. Out of the blue God tells Philip to take off for the desert. No reason is given, and no arrangements are made for someone to take his place in Samaria. There’s just this command. How tempting it would have been to brush that still, small voice away like a gnat buzzing in his ear. Things were going so well; the Samaritans were open to the gospel; but Philip had walked with God long enough to know that He sometimes throws a curve. And when He does He always has His reasons. He knows that to be an effective witness he had to be “attentive” to God’s call. S. Lewis Johnson says that “attentiveness” has a Siamese twin by the name of “availability.” There is not much good in hearing God’s call if you’re not willing to follow it when it comes. Look at verses 27 and 28:

 

So He arose and went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, had come to Jerusalem to worship (28) was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

 

Who would you have thought it?  Out in the middle of nowhere is a political leader, riding in his chariot and reading the word of God. No one but God could have known he was there, and how receptive he was going to be to the gospel. Philip didn’t know that this Ethiopian was the reason for his unexpected detour to the south. He simply was available to the Lord, who in his sovereign plan had caused their paths to cross. I wonder how many times God directs our steps – or wants to, across the path of someone whom He knows is ready to hear. We should look at every unexpected happening as a possible opportunity for evangelism. And sometimes those opportunities come to people who are not strangers to us, too.

 

The next principle is in verses 29 through 34, and it is alertness

 

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (30) So Philip ran to him, and he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said “Do you understand what you are reading?

 

First Philip was alert to the Spirit’s voice in verse 29. Remember, he didn’t know why the Spirit had told him to come out there, even when he saw the man riding in the chariot. And who would have even dream-ed of overtaking a moving chariot (which was probably being pulled by several horses)! But Philip was listening for further instructions. And again, I wonder how often we have missed opportunities to witness, – or some other kind of service – simply because we were not alert to the situation around us and attentive to the voice of the Lord.

 

There is a striking example back in the Old Testament. It occurs in Exodus chapter 3 as Moses was on the back side of the desert working for his father-in-law. As he is moving around in the desert he sees something unusual – a bush was burning. I grew up out in west Texas where the atmospheric conditions are almost identical to those of Israel in “the back side of the desert.” And it is not unheard of to see a bush burst into flame by spontaneous combustion in that area. But the thing that was significant in this case was the fact that even though the bush was burning it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. And so, in verse 3 Moses says:

 

I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed.”

 

Now we don’t know if Moses pondered this deliberately over every decision that he made, but look what the next verse says: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see God called to him from the midst of the bush and said “Moses, Moses and the implication seems clear that if Moses had not stopped to notice the unusual nature of the burning bush that God would not have spoken to him. Now listen carefully: it was in that conversation that God called him to be, from the human standpoint, the deliverer of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, the ministry in which he would be involved for the rest of his life. And the point is a simple but extremely important one. “Pay attention to what is going on around you.” The thing that the Lord wants you to see may not be a physical burning bush; it may be simply a person near you whom you can see by the look on his or her face that something is wrong in their life. It may be a painful tragedy or a struggle with sin – and when it is all said and done you wind up being able to have an eternal spiritual impact, perhaps on a whole family. The bottom line is that we as Christians need to be alert to what is going on around us.

 

Now going back to the book of Acts we have seen Philip’s alertness in listening to the voice of the Holy spirit, but there is something more. Look at Acts 8:30:

 

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “do you understand what you are reading?

 

Philip didn’t wait for the man to lean out of his chariot and say, “excuse me, but do you happen to know anything about the Old Testament? But at the same time, he didn’t run up to him and say, “say buddy, do you know the savior?” No! Philip was alert to the situation. He looked for an appropriate way to open the conversation. And verse 30 shows how he did it. He started simply by talking about what the man was interested in. He simply said, “do you understand what you are reading? And that simple question got a straightforward answer. Look at verse 31:

 

 And he said, “how can I, unless someone guides me? And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

 

Now Philip has established personal contact, but his alertness doesn’t stop there. Again, he lets the other man express himself. Look at verse 32 and following:

 

The place in the scripture which he read was “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (33) In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (34) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this? of Himself, or some other man?

 

By simply letting the other man go first, Philip opened the door to a perfect opportunity for the gospel.

And by the way, isn’t it “lucky “that he “happened” to be reading such a perfect passage!  – Don’t ever forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preparing another person’s heart for your ministry!

 

But Philip is an example to us of the right way to go about witnessing. He tactfully let the eunuch ask his questions and with accuracy he gave the answers. And that is the fourth guideline for witnessing. Look at verse 35:

 

Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning at this scripture, preached Jesus to him.

 

He began right where the man was – “at this scripture” and he went from there (in the Old Testament) to preach Jesus. It takes skill to continue with accuracy and keep from getting sidetracked when you are witnessing – Satan gives people an amazing ability to pull you off the subject and onto arguments about evolution or the latest church scandal. But Jesus is truly the only subject that matters.

 

Well, Philip’s strategy (and really it is the Lord’s strategy) is working. The gospel message penetrates the man’s heart to such an extent that in verse 36

 

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, here is water:what hinders me from being baptized?

 

At this point, Philip brings in the fifth guideline for witnessing. He speaks with authority to his disciple. You may soon turn your new convert over to someone whom you consider more able, but at first you will be that person’s only authority. And Philip wisely puts first things first, knowing that salvation comes through faith, not through baptism, he says decisively in verse 37:

 

If you believe with all your heart you may. And he answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”(38) So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him.

 

First there was a private acceptance of the message, then there was an outward demonstration of faith. And I think these verses demonstrate also that any Christian can officiate at the baptism. It doesn’t have to be a “Reverend” or a “Father.” And notice too that this had nothing to do with joining a local church There is nothing in the scripture that links baptism with joining a local church; it is simply based on tradition.

 

Normally in our witnessing the next step would be follow-up – spiritual guidance for the new believer. But in this situation something startling happens. Look at verses 39 and 40:

 

Now when they came up of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (40) But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

 

Now as I say, this is not the norm. Usually a soul winner needs to be extremely careful to guide his new convert into some thorough follow-up, whether he does it himself or makes arrangements for someone else to do it for him. But this passage does demonstrate that true follow-up is really in God’s hands ultimately. His job was finished, but the court official’s was just beginning, because he carried the gospel back to the land of Ethiopia, and eventually the entire continent. This was such an important issue that it was prophesied in advance. Psalm 68:31 says:

 

Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God.”

 

The exciting thing about soul winning is that you never know how it will end up.You see, a whole nation eventually embraced the gospel because Philip was “attentive,” ”available” “alert” “accurate” and “authoritative.”

 

 

 

 

False Christianity

Chances are ,most of us will never know what it is to be persecuted. The worst kind of persecution we endure is a little mockery at school, a little sarcasm at the office, or a little trouble in the neighborhood. Yet even those kinds of things can rattle us for days, can’t they? It would be pretty revealing of our true character if the kind of persecution the early Christians endured suddenly came upon us. that’s when we’d move from theory to reality. At that moment our faith would either stand or fall, because persecution always separates the pure from the phony; and the authentic from the artificial. AS we come  to chapter 7 we’ve reached a turning point in the book of Acts. back in chapter 1, verse 8 we saw the outline for the book. Do you remember it?

But you shall receive power after you have received the Holy Spirit, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and in samaria, and to the end of the earth” 

We pointed out when we looked at that verse in the beginning that the first 7 chapters deal with the first part of the verse; “you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem.” And the next 5 chapters, chapters 8 through 12, cover the phrase “in all Judea and Samaria .” Then the last 16 chapters cover “the uttermost part of the world,” where the disciples move out into the territory around Jerusalem. And that movement is characterized by a change in atmosphere as well. Because he catalyst for all of that movement is the persecution of that begins in earnest in this chapter. Someone has said that “Acts 1:8 was fulfilled in Acts 8:1 and that is really true.

The chapter falls into two different parts:

In verses 1 through 3 we find the persecution of christians described Then in verses 4 through 40 we find the permeation of Christianity So let’s begin looking at the persecution of Christians that is described in verses 1 through 3 . And the first thing we find is the time of the persecution in verse 1a 

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem. And they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Now at first glance it would seem that the first line of verse 1 would logically go with the last verse of chapter 7 – and there is a sense in which it should. But actually, it fits the context better the way it is. Because the focal point I impriall of the persecution that we are going to see in the next chapters is this man Saul. Getting a little bit out of order in the verses, skip over verses 1b and 2 and look at verse 3 there we have information about the type of the persecution 

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Saul was determined  to wipe out Christianity. And the context seems to indicate that the death of Stephen was what really got him fired up. Later, after he became “the apostle Paul”  Look at chapter this statement from chapter 22:4 persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

Then down in verse 19 he says . .  . in every synagogue I imprisoned  and beat those who believe in you. 

Then over in chapter 26 he says, in verses 9 through 11:

Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth(10) This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests and when they were put to death, I cast  my vote against them (11) And I punished them often in every synagogue an compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign  cities 

So the point is that this was no minor matter. It was real persecution. And we can also get the feel of it in verses 1b and 2. There we have the toll that it took

“. . . . And they were all scattered throughout the  regions of Samaria and Judea, except the apostles (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentations over him.

The mention of Stephen’s burial and the mourning that went with it reminds us how personal all this was.

Now we ought to digress a little at this point (although its not really a digression) and remind ourselves how God “worked all things together for good” in this situation.

Because not only did He use this terrible persecution to spread Christians out preaching the gospel, but He demonstrated His power in turning His most fanatical enemy into His greatest evangelist! And in this way He killed two birds with one stone. Only God could do that.

Well, as Paul persecuted the christians in verses 1 through 3 he discovered what we might call “the law of spiritual thermodynamics” – heat under pressure = expansion. Because in the remainder of the chapter, verses 4 through 40 we see the permeation of Christianity. 

The catalyst for the permeation is in verse 4:

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word 

The suffering that we have been talking about sent many Christians into regions which they would have never thought they would have entered. And one such place was Samaria, where the next events take place. John tells us in chapter 4, verse 9 of his gospel that “the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (because they were half-breeds against whom the Jews discriminated) But God doesn’t discriminate. He is “not willing that any should perish” according to II Peter 3:9 (even though you and I might as soon would.) And so in verses 5 through 8 we see the characteristics of the permeation. then, in the remainder of the chapter (verses 9 through 40 we will see two case studies of the permeation. So let’s look first at the characteristics of the permeation in verses 5 through 8:

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. (6) And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things  spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did (7) for unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice came out of many who were paralyzed  and lame were healed (8) And there was great joy in that city. 

Remember that Philip was one of the seven deacons appointed in chapter 6 along with Stephen. Since then his ministry had extended beyond Jerusalem and he had become an evangelist. (Incidentally, this demonstrates that the “secular” nature of the work of deacons is not incompatible with spiritual gifts which involve “spiritual” ministry – sometimes  the office of deacon is good training for the office of elder or pastor . But also, in looking at Philip’s ministry described in these verses we can see three “characteristics” of true evangelism. First, true evangelism emphasizes the centrality of Jesus  – “Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them.” Philip didn’t draw attention to himself or to a “movement,” he focused on Christ.  Second true evangelism focuses on liberation  from sin and a change of life values and goals (as in verse 7) and third, true evangelism is characterized by  joy  (verse 8) If anyone has a right to be joyful, it is Christians  – think of all that we have in Christ and all that awaits us! but too often we get so weighted down with the cares of this life that we forget the basis of our joy. We need to make a practice of focusing on our true status in Christ at regular intervals. Now in verses 9 through 40 Luke presents two “case studies” to demonstrate the nature of the permeation of Christianity through the whole area.

The first case study is that of  “the flashy phony” in verses 9 through 24 and, by contrast, verses 9 through 24  we have the case of the sincere seeker 

Now this flashy phony  is introduced to us by means of his reputation  in verses 9 through 11. And the first sure sign of a phony ministry is in verse 9:

But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously had practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of  Samaria, claiming that he was someone great 

Philip proclaimed Christ;  Simon proclaimed himself. The primary characteristic of a phony faith is that it exalts a person rather than Christ. The second characteristic of Simon’s act was that he was drawing a following based on flashy attractions and impressions. Look at verse 10:

(10) To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “this man is the great power of God” 

You can almost hear the sideshow barkers calling “come and see the great power of God”Don’t be fooled just because a ministry talks about “ministry” and service to God – always look where the focus is, not where the talk is. then the third sign of a phony ministry is in verse 11:

And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

Here is something that a lot of sincere, well meaning Christians do not realize: Satan can empower supernatural works in  his efforts to foil people’s understanding of the truth! Probably the best example of this is Pharaoh’s “wise men” who duplicated Moses rod turning into a snake in Exodus when Moses first appeared before to demand the release of the Jewish slaves. And don’t be fooled hasn’t changed his tactics! The focus should never be on the  seemingly miraculous nature of a ministry, but on whether or not it is consistent with scripture.

So that is Simon’s reputation  But in verses 12 and 13 the scene changes. In those verses we see His reform

(12) But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized (13) Then  Simon himself was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs that were done.

Philip watched as people heard and responded to Philip’s message And he himself responded to to Philip’s message – at least temporarily. But the next verses are going to show us that this was not genuine belief. And therein we find a fourth characteristic of phony faith: going through religious motions with the wrong motives. The last line of verse 13 indicates that Simon was fascinated with the miracles that Philip was doing. (incidentally, this also demonstrates that God’s miracles are more impressive than Satan’s – Simon had been doing those already but was “amazed” at the response to the miracles Philip was performing. But the next verses are going to show us how it all came apart for him.  In verses 14 through 23  we see his revelation. This is not a revelation to Simon, but but a revelation of  him to us. The setting  for the revelation is in verses 14-17 

 

 

 

 

   

Division in the Ministry

Studies in Acts

Lesson 10: “Division in Ministry

Acts 6:1-7

 

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

 

Even though he said that in the context of politics, there is a real sense in which it applies to the ministry also. There are many people in the world and in the church, who just assume without thinking about it, that the pastor is the central figure in the church, and that he does any kind of ministry that needs to be done. And even though there have been many years of history to back up that idea, the scripture doesn’t back it up at all; in fact, it says just the opposite! And the place where that concept is introduced is the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Acts. The chapter falls into two parts:

 

In verses 1 through 7 we see the appointment of servants And then in verses 8 through 15 we have the accusation of Stephen. Even though this may seem like a very simple chapter, it is actually the beginning of a turning point in the entire New Testament. It is a turning point in terms of the organization of the ministry, and there is a turning point in terms of the “cost” of the ministry.

 

So let’s look first at the appointment of servants as we find it in verses 1-8 And the first thing we see there is the setting of the whole incident in verse one:

 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists[Greeks] because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

 

Here is a situation which many churches would envy – “church growth” – we know that the church had grown to at least 5,000 within just a few months. This is probably the hottest topic among pastors and seminary students today. Countless books and articles and seminars have been given on the subject. But this passage shows that church growth is not without its problems – it is not always the perfect situation it is sometimes cracked up to be. But even in the midst of all that growth they were doing a lot of things right. And one of those things was a distribution of food to widows.

 

We know from chapter 3 that they were concerned with each other’s needs. And this may have been an outgrowth of the practices of the Jewish synagogue of that time. It may have included more than widows, but that is the problem focused on in this chapter arose. Women in general and widows in particular were an especially disadvantaged group in that society. First century customs and practices did not include the welfare of widows, and a widow who had no adult children was particularly in need. But its importance is shown in the fact that it was still a concern of Paul much later (near the end of his life) when he included it in his instructions to his protégé Timothy. And because it was included in the New Testament, it is still a valid concern today. Incidentally, this is another illustration of how the onset of Christianity improved the situation of many groups which had been the objects of discrimination or neglect in society in general.

 

Now the disagreement in this chapter arose in a “perceived” discrimination against the Gentile widows in favor of the Jewish widows. This at least implies that the Jews were administering the program. At this point in time there were more Jewish Christians than Gentiles. And it was the Gentiles who were complaining. There is no historical evidence that this was or was not true –  and that is really beside the point of the passage anyway. But just the “perception” of discrimination is at the root of many church problems even today.

 

So that is “the setting” out of which this situation arose, but in verses 2 through 7 we find the settlement at which the apostles arrived. The first factor in the settlement of the problem is the explanation which we find in verse 2:

 

(2) Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.

 

The importance of this situation is demonstrated in the fact that they called the whole church together (“the multitude of the disciples”) The importance was not so much in terms of the subject that was being disputed, but in terms of the action they were about to take in settling the dispute was a whole new direction in ministry. And the principles involved in that new direction in ministry were important enough for all Christians to understand (although many don’t, even today.) So there was first this “explanation,” then the second part of the settlement of the dispute is in the organization that is described in verses 3 through 6:

 

Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business, but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”

 

Here we have the first instance of “shared ministry” between the apostles and other Christians. And notice how the division is made: “business” – verse 3, and “’ministry of the word” – verse 4. And this is a division that is carried out throughout the New Testament.

 

Romans 12:3 through 12, one of the passages that deals with the doctrine of spiritual gifts, gives a good summary:

 

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (4)For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, being many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another (6) Having then gifts differing, according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8)he who exhorts in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads with diligence; he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”

 

Here we have the illustration of Christians working together like the various parts of the body do – all with different functions. And the distinction in the kinds of gifts is made in verse 7 – “ministry” and “teaching” (“prophecy” is no longer needed because of the completed canon of scripture.) Then he gives examples of each of the divisions. So obviously, God does not expect every Christian to be a pastor or a missionary. There are other valid, important, ways to serve the Lord. Another place where this distinction is taught in even more detail is I Corinthians chapters 12 through 14. Now something that is very important in understanding this new arrangement is to notice what the apostles were not saying: They were not saying “the feeding of widows is not important enough for us to fool with.” Neither were they saying “if peripheral programs cause problems we just won’t have them.” But they also were not saying this is so important that we will just have to give up our prayer and ministry time to take care of it.”

 

So what were they saying? They were saying, “this is an important issue that must be dealt with”

But there are other equally important things that must be dealt with.” Therefore, we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (even though it is largely overlooked.)

 

So what were they saying? They were saying “this is an important issue that must be dealt with. “But there are also equally important things that must be dealt with. “Therefore we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (although it is largely overlooked.) The subconscious assumption of most people is that the pastor is supposed to do everything. But the real focus of the work of the pastor is given in Ephesians 4:11-15.

 

And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (12) for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ;(13) till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (14)that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.  (15) but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in Him in all things which is the head, even Christ.”

 

Verse 11 says that Christ gave to the church men who have the gift of pastor-teacher, and men with the gift of evangelism (apostles and prophets too at first) and His purpose was “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. “Now I can just hear someone thinking, listen to that, “preachers only work one day a week,” and now they want us to do the work of the ministry.” (just kidding) but actually there is a sense in which that is what these verses are saying.

 

And the result of that arrangement will be a stable maturity where Christians are not “tossed about with every wind of doctrine” according to verse 14, but who can counsel and teach each other as newcomers to the group. Let me give you what I believe to be a pastor’s order of priorities in the ministry, based on these various passages of scripture: First and foremost is the preparation and presentation of the teaching of the Word of God (8 hours of preparation per hour of teaching should be the norm.) This would include worship services, funerals and weddings, and bible studies (home or church).

A second priority would be activities that help with the application of the teaching. This would include such things as premarital counseling and working with families about funeral services. It would include such things as encouraging people with serious illnesses or injuries in the application of scripture to their situation. Only then does the pastor’s ministry involve general visitation, public relations, community activities, etc. It is my opinion (although probably none of my business) that the large majority of pastors and churches have these priorities exactly backwards.

 

Now we have seen “the explanation” of the situation, and “the organization” designed to facilitate it. But the third aspect of the situation is the ordination of these men that took place in verses 5 and 6

 

(5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the holy Spirit and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (6) whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

 

We have a tendency to think that the pastors and Sunday School teachers have very spiritual work to do, but that other church workers (staff members and otherwise) are more of a secular nature. But look at these men. They were chosen for their godliness and set apart with a public prayer of dedication. Even though their work was not in the area of teaching and preaching, it was just as sacred as the work of the apostles. And that is demonstrated in the next point: because after the “explanation” and the “organization,” multiplication was a natural result. Look at verse 7:

 

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

 

We began our study in the context of “church growth” and now we come full circle back to it again. Do you see where church growth comes from? Not from putting on a catchy, entertaining program that will attract people who are disenchanted with the church they are going to, not by offering a class for every interest group in town, and not by having facilities that are on a par with the best shopping malls and office buildings. Those things may have their place under certain conditions, but real, biblical church growth comes from bringing people to Christ as a result of a spiritually centered, cooperating organization of spiritual gifts and abilities.

 

Although it might not appear so at first glance, what we have here in the beginning of chapter 6 is yet another attack of Satan. First he had attacked from outside – the Sanhedrin in chapter 4; then he attacked from within – Ananias and Saphira in chapter 5. But here is the most subtle attack of all: distraction from ministry by means of an argument of an argument about methods. Fortunately the apostles were able to “nip it in the bud” before it became a problem, but many ministries fall prey to this kind of thing, and it is hard to deal with because often “the good is the enemy of the best.” and it is hard to see beyond some good that is being done. And remember that this took place under the leadership of the apostles themselves! Good leadership in and of itself is not necessarily a preventative of problems. But God has His own designs for the way things should be done, and we ignore it to our peril!

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Deadly Deception

Lesson 8: “A Deadly Deception”

Acts 4:23-5:16

 

As we come to chapter 5 we come to one of those places where the chapter divisions cause the text to be a little confusing. (remember that the chapter and verse divisions, as helpful as they are, are not a part of the inspired text of scripture.) They were added later after the laborious process of deciding which of the books written by the Apostles were to be included in the New Testament. That is an important subject, but it is beyond the scope of this lesson. It would seem that it would have been better to have included verses 36 and 37 as the beginning verses of chapter 5. If that had been done, the text would have read something like this:

 

Chapter 5

 

(1) And Joses, who by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation,) a Levite and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. (2) And a certain man named Ananias with Saphira his wife also being aware of it, sold a possession and kept back a part of the proceeds, (3) But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? (4) While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (9) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed 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) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all those who heard these things. (12) And through the hands of the Apostles many signs were done among the people and they were all with one accord. In Solomon’s porch (13) and yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

 

Almost everyone knows that there are certain people who have the ability to project themselves as something they are not. Sometimes it is something that they have studied and worked on, sometimes it just comes naturally. And when they do it to entertain us in the movies, on the stage or on television we applaud them. But when they do it in an “everyday” setting, we usually reject them. As we come to Acts chapter 5, we find a couple who tried to “put on an act” with their fellow Christians, but it proved to be “a deadly deception.” The word “but” as the first word of chapter 5 of the book of Acts presents a real contrast to what has gone on in the last section of chapter 4.

 

Chapters 4 and 5 are still talking about the “first things” of the church: the first public impression of it was on the day of Pentecost, as we saw, back in chapter 2. The first sermon was delivered there too. Then the first opposition was demonstrated in that chapter too. The first understanding of fellowship was in chapter 4 also – the total sharing of everything.

 

But sadly enough, the first church discipline takes place there also; and it is the primary subject of this chapter. As we look at the subject we will see: The Cause of the Discipline in 4:36 through 5:2. Then in verses 4:36 through 5:2 then in verses 5:3 through 10 we see the Course of the discipline. And finally, in chapter 5:11 through 16 we see the consequences of the Discipline. And the first thing to notice is that it was a sin that occurred within the fellowship of the church. A couple by the names of Ananias and Saphira were already members of the group, not “outside infiltrators.” And the significance of that is that Satan had just tried to attack the church with opposition from outside in the previous chapters– and it was repulsed. But this was a more dangerous form of opposition It was opposition from within. This has always been his method: to try different tactics – if he can’t get us from one angle he will try exactly the other. Interestingly enough, attacks from the outside have never hurt the church on a long-term basis – and Jesus had predicted this. He said that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” But attacks from within have been successful time and time again. Well, what was this sin that had such a powerful outcome? It was not the sin of refusing to contribute – there were no laws governing who gave what – look at verse 2:

 

And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the Apostles’ feet

 

Nor was it the sin of refusing to give at all. Look at verse 4:

 

And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.

 

(7) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed 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) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her by her husband.

 

So what was the sin? Well, that is answered by looking at Peter’s statements to them. It was the sin of trying to appear what they were not – the sin of hypocrisy; trying to get praise for Godliness as Barnabas had in 4:36. This is the one thing that really made Jesus angry. Look at Matthew 23:13 and following

 

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

 

On the other hand, honesty never makes God angry, even when it seems blasphemous. For example, look at Jeremiah 20:7-9:

 

O Lord, you induced me, and I was persuaded: You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me . . . (9) Then I said I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name . . “but His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of holding it back and I could not.”

 

Or think about Habakkuk in 1:2-4

 

Oh Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out to You “Violence!” and you will not save. (3) Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises (4) therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgement proceeds.

 

Or again, Mary and Martha in John 11:20-24

 

Then Martha as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went out and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house (21) Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (22) but I know that even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give it you” (23) Jesus said to her, your brother will rise again (24) Martha said to Him I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”

 

Or Job, Jonah, Elijah, Moses, etc., all of whom spoke seemingly harshly but honestly to God about their situations.

 

This sin can only be fully understood in light of the conditions at the end of chapter 4. In those verses the disciples experienced love that drew them together in fellowship. They had spiritual insight that gave new meaning  to their relationship with Christ. They were thinking in terms of eternity’s values rather than earthly possessions. And Ananias and Saphira were the opposite of all of this. they had been thinking of self rather than love of others. They had been thinking in terms of honor for themselves rather than the honor of Christ. They were thinking about possessions rather than trusting God for their livelihood. And ironically, the sin did not profit them at all. They were operating with worldly wisdom, which said “take care of yourself.” And they lost everything . Ananias and Saphira died because they simply could not live in that rarified spiritual atmosphere. All because they pretended to be something they were not. It was awe-inspiring. Not the deaths themselves, but the purity of spiritual life that would bring recognition and death to one who was impure. And verses 4, 5, and 10 demonstrated that it was administered by God himself.

 

Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.

 

And it purified the church. People with these kinds of attitudes would have spoiled the church’s effectiveness, so they were removed. God has always done this in times when important spiritual things were being accomplished. A positive illustration of this is Gideon, who was told to send home 100 times as many soldiers as he kept. Another is “the mixed multitude” who were allowed to go with the Israelites out of Egypt – and they were always a hindrance. Don’t be too upset when someone leaves the church – it might God’s doing! people wonder why this kind of thing doesn’t continue today. The answer is two-fold: First, those were foundational times; we have the completed canon of scripture and years of experience. But second, probably because we have accepted too many of our own “mixed multitude” and therefore are not very usable by God in the first place.

 

Now we have seen the occasion of the discipline and the occurrence of it. Now lets think about the outcome of it as it is recorded in verses 11 through 16 First there was great fear on the part of unbelievers. Look at verse 5:

 

Then Ananias, hearing these words fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Then look at verse 13:

 

Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. People have a disdain for the church to the extent that the church is impure. Here is a sobering question in light of this chapter: how long has it been since you have heard of someone being afraid to join a church?

 

The second result of this discipline was similar, but somewhat different. Great fear within the church – verse 11:

 

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

 

Incidentally, here is the first use of the word “church” to describe the believers. But the effect was fear also! This is a legitimate aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about love, joy, peace, etc. – and they are legitimate. But power and purity are also a part of his work. A third result is in verses 12 through 16: Great power

 

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.

 

And the effect was two-fold. Look at verses 13 and 14. As we have already seen, it kept the wrong kind of people out of the church. But it also brought many into the body of Christ.- verse 14

And believers were increasingly added to the Lord

 

A fourth result was in verses 15 and 16: great ministry

 

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them (16) Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits and they were all healed.

 

The reference to the shadow in verse 15 is purely an eastern custom, practiced even today – people try to get in the shadow of a good man or stay our of the shadow of a bad man one. And the subconscious reason for that is that everybody knows, whether that purity has power. These people knew that supernatural power was connected with this couple’s death and that that power could heal – not the shadow itself, but the power that it represented. And notice Dr. Luke’s specification  in verse 16 that both physical and spiritual illnesses were healed.

 

In closing, just note some observations from this story: The story begins with death and ends with healing, but it was the same power in both cases. (G. Campbell Morgan, a famous English pastor from the 19th century, spoke of this chapter as a story as “the blessing and “the blasting of God.” And a review of church history will show that down through the years “the church pure is the church powerful”

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com

 

 

 

How to be A Christian without Being Religious

Studies in Acts

Lesson 7

“How to be a Christian without being Religious”

 

Acts 4:1-22

 

 

A few years ago, a teen age boy who had accepted Christ but was a member of a liberal church, got into a serious argument with his youth pastor. For every point the boy made, he quoted scripture. Finally, the Youth Pastor said “Clyde quit quoting the Bible. I want to know what YOU think, that’s what’s important! Now that little story illustrates something that we are going to see on a larger scale in Acts chapter 4, and that is the difference between “Christianity” and “Religion.” Now at first hearing that might sound a little confusing. Someone might say, “aren’t they the same thing?” But the answer to that question is an emphatic “NO.” Religion is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a particular system in which the quest for the ideal life is embodied.” The key word in that definition is the word “system.” All of the various religions of the world are merely “systems” or “programs” by which men try to reach up to God. But Christianity is a “relationship.” And that makes all the difference in the world! And what we find here in Acts chapter 4 is a head-on collision between those two ways of thought.

 

Remember the background of this chapter: Peter and John had been used by God to heal a lame man at the gate of the temple, then had preached a sermon identifying Jesus Christ as the source of their power and 5,000 Jews believed in Him. But now as we come to chapter 4, the news of this had gotten to the religious authorities – and that is where our lesson begins: The chapter falls into 3 parts: first we have The confinement of the Apostles in verses 1 through 4. Then in verses 5 through 22 we have The confrontation by the Sanhedrin  And finally in verses 23 through 37 we have The companionship of the Saints.

 

So let’s think about the confinement of the Apostles, which we find in verses 1 through 4.

 

Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, (2) being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (3) And they laid hands on them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. (4) However, many of those who heard the word believed, and the number came to be about five thousand.

 

The verses pretty well speak for themselves – the Apostles got thrown in jail. But notice that it began while Peter was still preaching in verse 1 – as they spoke to the people . . . .” (Incidentally, have you ever noticed how rude Satan and his pawns are? Satan is many things, but he is not a gentleman. The perpetrators of the situation are specifically named in the last part of verse 1: the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.”

 

These three taken together represent “the religious establishment” in Jerusalem. The priests are obvious, but what about the others mentioned here? The term “captain of the temple” indicates that this group included the Sanhedrin – the political/religious authority that Rome allowed to continue after Israel’s captivity. They were limited by the Roman government to hearing cases concerning violations “temple laws” (basically Old Testament laws). But interestingly enough, they did have the power of death in such matters. (basically, the way that Jesus got the death penalty – even though the Roman government did have supervisory power – that’s where Pilate came in to the trial of Jesus, and why he was so nervous. If he messed up something like a death penalty case, he could be held liable for whatever repercussions occurred. Then there was this third group: “the Sadducees.”  This was a group that we hear a lot about (along with the Pharisees) Surprisingly enough the two groups were very different. The Pharisees were the religious fundmentalists, who demanded strict adherence to the Old Testament. The Sadducees, on the other hand were more relaxed Actually this is another example of one of Satan’s many strategies: to unite two fundamentally different groups and get them to quarrelling with each other. Now you would think that any “religious” person would be gratified that this poor man had been helped out of his sad situation (after all, isn’t that what its all about, helping the underprivileged?) its not, but that’s what “religion” constantly tells us.) But instead verse 2 says that they were “greatly disturbed.”

 

Now, to be fair to them, it goes on to say that they were disturbed, not so much about the healing, but about the preaching that accompanied it. But after all, what does it matter, if someone has been helped? (as “religion would ordinarily say, don’t “all roads lead to Rome?” More particularly, the last part of verse 2 says that they were upset that “they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It is easy to overlook the significance of that statement. Its not just that they were preaching about Jesus’ resurrection, but that “in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead.” “for all who believe.

 

But verse 4 brings out an interesting point by way of contrast: all of the power of Rome and the most powerful Jews together couldn’t stop the power of the gospel.

 

However, many of those who heard believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

 

In verses 5 through 22 we find that the next morning, there was a confrontation by the Sanhedrin. And the first thing to notice is what an August group it was, as brought out in verses 5 and 6

 

And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders and scribes (6) as well as Annas the High Priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem

 

Here are the most important men in the religious affairs of Judaism. And this indicates that the activity of the Apostles was not just a simple flurry that they could overlook – it was something that would change the course of Jewish history if they didn’t do something about it. But not only was it an August group, it was an accusing group as well. Look at verse 7:

 

And when they had set them in the midst they asked, “By what power or what name have you done this?

 

It is obvious that they were not there to try to determine guilt or innocence, they were there to assess punishment. A literal translation of the question would be something like: “why are you guilty of this thing that we know you have done?

 

Deuteronomy 13:5 said that if a false prophet did some significant thing and then tried to get Israelites to worship some God other than Jehovah, he was to be put to death. So no doubt the Sanhedrin was trying to put Peter and John in a situation where they could call for the death penalty.

 

So this was a situation in which all the cards were stacked against the apostles right from the start. It was “an august group,” “an accusing group,” but also, to their amazement, in verses 8 through 12 they became an accused group as well! Here we have another sermon from Peter. And it demonstrated that these “religionists” didn’t know what they were dealing with: a man under the influence of the Holy Spirit (verse 8 states specifically that this was the case.) And this is always true of “religion” when it comes up against Christianity – they understand the terms, but don’t begin to understand the concepts because they know nothing about the power of the Spirit. Look at the details:

 

Then Peter, filled with the Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel (9)”If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he is made well, (10) “Let it be made known to you all, and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised up from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole (11) “This is the stone which the builders rejected by you builders which has become the chief cornerstone (12)Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”

*

This sermon comprises just 92 words in the Greek text. But in those few words Peter each one of their questions and left them with no comeback. Basically, he stated three things: First, in verse 9 he reminds them that this was a good deed in the first place – how foolish to criticize something like this! (So much of what “religion” questions about Christianity in the first place – such as Clyde Hanks quoting scripture to make his points to that youth pastor.) Second, in direct answer to their question he tells them in what name it had been done – Jesus of Nazareth. Notice that he boldly points that He was the one whom they had crucified. Then in verse 11 he points out that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. This is a quotation of Psalm 118:22 which every one of these men would have known. And it proves that Jesus was the Messiah.

 

The third thing Peter did in this sermon was to zero in on the necessity of belief in Him for salvation. Look at verse 12 again:

 

(12) Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter is a lesson in soul winning. Not only did he clarify exactly who Jesus was, but he clarified the absolutely necessity for belief in Him and Him alone for salvation. And in this particular setting this took more courage than you and I will probably ever face. Back in chapter one, verse 8 Jesus had said, “you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes.” And here in 4:8 we are told that Peter was “filled with the Spirit.” And the most significant aspect of that is that you and I have the very same promise, even today!

 

Now we have seen that these religious leaders were “an august group” an accusing group,” and an accused group. But now in verses 13 through 18  we see that they are an amazed group. Their confusion  is described in verses 13 and 14:

 

(13)when Now they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. (14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them they could say nothing against it.

 

They had come there to do away with these bumpkins once and for all. But, having heard Peter’s spirit filled message they “marveled” – couldn’t figure out how to deal with them (and religion never can figure out how to deal with a Christian)

 

And all of this is complicated by the unnerving fact that the one who had been healed was “standing” with them (- brilliant little piece of understatement) So because of that confusion we see their conference in verses 15 through 17.

 

(15) But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves (16) saying, “what shall we do to these men? For indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it.(17) But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on, they speak to no man in this name.”

 

At least they were wise enough not to deny the healing. So the best they could do was to keep it quiet (verse 17) And notice how perceptive they were. They knew that the key to keeping the news of the healing from spreading was to control the preaching in the name of Jesus. And this is still Satan’s tactic. He doesn’t mind people going to church as long as they don’t talk about Jesus. Or if they talk about Him as savior. And so out of that background comes the command in verse 18:

 

And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

 

Notice that the command was not just to preach about Jesus, but to speak of Him in any way – not to speak at all.” But in verses 19 and 20 we find the Apostles ‘counter proposal

 

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot which we have seen and heard.”

 

These are some of the best-known verses in the Bible, and at the same time some of the least known. So we need to think about them carefully. Of course, the basic underlying principle is that it is better to obey God than man. And this is the Biblical for “civil disobedience.” And that is a concept that may become more and more necessary if our nation continues to deteriorate. But there is something that is very important underlying all of this. This is not just a statement that they had seen some exciting things that they couldn’t keep quiet about. Rather, it is a statement of obedience to scripture. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20? Basically Jesus had told them to “speak the things that they had seen and heard” (the root meaning of “witness”). And the bottom line is this: Unless you have a scripture for the law you want to disobey you don’t have a right to civil disobedience. Don’t try to cloak disobedience to a law that you don’t like in this verse.

 

This passage teaches many lessons, but one overreaches them all: And that is that God intends to be a way of life – not bound in by rules and regulations, but “practicing the presence of Christ.” – even if means civil disobedience.

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com