Unity in the Church

While a member of Mars Hill Church, I was honored to serve on the team that wrote inductive studies in support of the sermon series. From 2011 to 2014, we wrote seven inductive studies; many are no longer in print. This series of blogs include the individual lessons I contributed to each study. I pray that they help you come to a deeper understanding of Jesus through the study of God’s word.


Read Acts 4:32 – 5:16.

What motivates your actions?  Are you generous because you should be, or because others are watching? “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  If we’re honest, we’d have to admit we’re all motivated by self-interest at one time or another.  But praise God that he gives Christians an undivided heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19).  As we’re empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can serve others for God’s glory.

As the Holy Spirit filled the early believers, he unified them in heart, mind, and deed.   They demonstrated radical generosity with their belongings, and Barnabas is introduced as a model of Spirit-filled generosity. But just as Satan entered the garden to tempt Adam and Eve, he entered the early church through the duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira.  God’s response to this sin is shocking, but he will not tolerate anything that threatens to tear down Christ’s bride, the Church.

The Holy Spirit used the resulting fear of the Lord along with signs and wonders to add even more believers to the church.  People from surrounding cities gathered in Jerusalem and were changed by the Gospel, and like a river overrunning its bank, Jesus’ name and glory would soon spill over the walls of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria (Acts 1:8).

 

OBSERVATION

As Peter and John defended the faith and the believers prayed for boldness, Luke wrote specifically of how the community was unified in everyday life.

In Acts 4:32-33, what four descriptions are used for the community of believers?

What were the apostles doing and how were they doing it (4:33)?

How were the needs of the community met (4:34-35)?    

Now, turn to Acts 5:1-11.

Who are the characters in this section, both physical and spiritual?

Specifically, what wrong actions did Ananias and Sapphira commit?  In contrast, what sins did Peter expose?

How is the Holy Spirit at work within the accounts described in this passage (5:3, 5, 10, 11)?

 

INTERPRETATION

Unity appealed to Ancient Greek sensibilities.  The Pythagoreans and Plato championed no private ownership.  This depth of unity is also apparent in the early church.  How do the believers in Acts 4:32-37 display the fruit of Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17)?

In Acts 4:36, we are introduced to Barnabas, who will later play a major role as the Acts narrative unfolds.  How was Barnabas described, and why was it important at this point in the story of the early church?

In Acts 5:3, Peter describes the impetus for Ananias’ actions.  What specific words were used to describe Satan’s arrival into the narrative?  Similar words were used to describe both the origin of Judas’ betrayal (Luke 22:3) and the result of the believers’ bold prayer (Acts 4:31).  What do these three references tell you about Satan’s strategy both then and now?

In Acts 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, we see the repetition of what phrase?  What does this description mean, both literally and figuratively?  Why does Luke emphasize this phrase?  Ananias and Sapphira withheld money, and because of their deception, where do their lives end (Acts 5:5, 10)?

Peter described the sins of Annaias and Sapphira in Acts 5:3 and 5:9, respectively.  How do their sins differ?

There are several important concepts mentioned for the first time in this passage.  Who did Peter say Ananias lied to and what does this tell us about the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4)?

 

APPLICATION

Barnabas is offered as a positive example of a person who displays deep generosity.  Are generous people encouraging to you?  Or do you compare yourself to them in order to stroke your ego, defend your actions, enforce your brokenness, or all of the above?  Is God calling you to repent of comparing yourself to other believers?

What keeps you from giving financially in such a way that there is “not a needy person” among those in your church?  How can you make practical changes so you can be even more generous?  In what ways are you resisting the Holy Spirit’s call to generosity?

In some ways, we are all an Ananias or Sapphira because we say one thing, but think or do another.  How are you faking it with other Christians?  How are you faking it with Jesus?

Just as in the early church, God longs for unity among contemporary Christians, both within individual churches and across churches.  What can you do to help unify your church?  Do you need to repent of anything you may be doing that promotes disunity in the church?

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