This text was a stark warning for the early church and the seriousness with which God takes holiness and integrity. It remains a stark warning and dramatic reminder for us today as well. I see three warnings worth noting...
1) We must be intentional of the influences in our lives
In their case, Ananias and Saphira obviously were married. But v. 1 points out that they agreed together to this deception. Someone probably had the idea and the other went along. Or both were of the same mind. Whatever the case, they were complicit together in this lie and had either one refused to be, the other couldn't have even tried. They needed the cover of one another. And tragically, they got it.
How are you influencing those closest to you and how are you influenced by those closest to you?
Are there any people in your life for whom you lower your standards, blur the lines, or just lose all sense of judgment?
2) There is constant Spiritual Warfare over our hearts and lives
"Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" This is not a conflict between Ananias and Peter, or between Saphira and church leaders. This is a clash of Kingdoms. It's always a clash of Kingdoms. We are faced constantly with choices that seem "personal" and "practical" or in this case, "financial." But really, such choices are spiritual. They are all about whose lordship we are submitting to, and whose Kingdom we are advancing. You are in a spiritual war, brothers and sisters. That's the larger reality that we live within. And our hearts will either be filled with the Spirit are submitted to his authority, or we will submit to some other authority... whatever that authority is, Satan's kingdom advances when we ignore the Spirit.
What authority are you really submitting to in your life?
What are the potential consequences, based on Acts 5, if you keep ignoring the Holy Spirit and surrendering to Satan?
3) God's graciousness still takes sin seriously, and so should we
God's grace to us in Jesus doesn't wink at sin, diminish sin or downplay sin. God's grace pays for sin and forgives sin. The cost is the life of his own Son. That's how seriously he takes sin. To take sin seriously costs Jesus his life. But make no mistake... to not take sin seriously costs us our life. God dealt swiftly and scarily with Ananias and Saphira in the moment. I'm not going to overdramatize this normative, obviously. But sin in general, and the sin of deceit in particular, lead to death. Period. This passage isn't void of God's grace because it vividly portrays God's judgment. The grace of this passage is that it rightly depicts the realities of sin and it's effects which we so easily and often trivialize. God is not playing. The Devil is not playing. Sin is serious. Our choices matter. They will lead us to life or death.
This is a stunning passage. Signs and wonders weren't just occasional in the first century. They were a regular part of the Apostles ministry. There is strong debate among scholars, theologians, pastors and Christians, as to whether or not signs and wonders are meant to be normative in our own day or if God intended for them to be done in a more extraordinary way in order to validate the authority of the Apostles, and vindicate their teaching and preaching of the gospel. (I'll touch on this as we move through Acts at different points.) But what is not up for debate, is that signs and wonders were normative in the early church, and especially at the hands of the Apostles, as this text specifies.
They were so normative, in fact, that people were just trying to get in Peter's orbit. Like the woman reaching out for just a touch of Jesus' robe, people are deperate to just get in Peter's shadow. That's seems like a lot of hype, except those people are getting healed.
One of the cases made on the side of signs and wonders persisting beyond the early church and into our own time, is that God can heal and do miracles, but he just doesn't always do them. So we pray and ask for them and sometimes he will and sometimes he won't. What's incredible to me, is v. 16 says that people brought to them ALL their sick and afflicted and they were ALL healed. ALL OF THEM! Not some. Not most. ALL. That's incredible. I'm in awe of that. I long for the manifestation of such power in Jesus' name.
Now, it's easy to get hung up on the extraordinary and supernatural signs being done and just get stuck there. But notice that Luke says multitudes are being added to the Church. The signs and wonders are having their effect... and that's not for popularity of the apostles, or television ratings, or book deals... it's for the greatest miracle of all - The Salvation of guilty sinners; the new birth of dead souls; the reconciliation of former enemies with God. Real conversions are happening on a massive scale.
We lose sight of salvation and redemption as a supernatural, miraculous act of God. We are calloused to the miracle of the life of God poured into our hearts and the revelation of God to our once blind eyes. Beloved, if you are in Christ, you have experienced the greatest miracle of all. Whatever wishing you have to experience or witness signs and wonders, you best rejoice in that you have received the greatest wonder of all.
This is probably even more stunning than the healings we read about yesterday. Here, the apostles are arrested for their ministry. Notice that religious people have always had a problem with real spiritual revival and progress. Because when the Spirit is moving, religious people can't control it, but they will always try to.
An angel, a spiritual being, now enters time and space, to go Prison Break on the Pharisees. This angel unlocks the gates, ushers them out of prison and back to the temple to continue doing what got them arrested in the first place. Understandable, by the time they are found, the authorities are a little hesitant to try to overpower the apostles because they are clearly operating at a higher level of power which doesn't make sense to the religious leaders.
I am wondering even personally today, for me (and you may examine this for yourself), am I more like the apostles or Pharisees?
Am I more prone to speak up in boldness for Jesus, or come up with reasons not to?
Am I more likely to suffer repraoch for the sake of Christ in ministry, or bring repraoch on others in my jealousy of their ministry?
Am I more comfortable operating in the supernatural or explaining away the supernatural?
Am I more prone to try and contain the power of the Spirit, or celebrate the power of the Spirit?
Am I more afraid of the Holy Spirit coming in power among us... or more afraid of His absence among us? **
As the Pharisees charge the apostles again not to speak about Jesus, Peter reasserts their position. In his explanation, Peter emphasizes 3 things...
1) The Authority of God
They are not intending to be rebellious or combative. But they are under a higher authority. And they will not disobey God in order to obey earthly authority. This should be the attitude and conviction of every Christian... to submit to earthly authorities so long as it is not disobedient to our ultiamte authority. But when obeying earthly authority conflicts with God, we don't have choices to make. We are bound to the Lordship of Jesus.
2) The Gospel of Jesus Christ
He uses the opportunity to proclaim the gospel again. He speaks plainly about their sin, Jesus' finished work, and the forgiveness available through repentance and faith.
3) The Present Ministry of the Holy Spirit
I love Peter's awareness of the Holy Spirit in his explanation... their witness to Jesus' resurrection is really the witness of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe have received the Spirit, and the Spirit bears witness to our own hearts and through our testimony, to the redemption of Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals the person and work of Jesus to us and testifies to us concerning his grace and glory. All that we rightly believe about Jesus is testified to by the Spirit so that we can believe and testify to others of these things. But Peter has this robust trinitarian theology working here, with a mindfulness of each member of the God-head.
This is sound doctrine leading to bold witness appropriating the gospel into real life for real people in real need.
Then we meet Gamaliel... a Pharisee who is more reasonable and thoughtful than most seem to be. Rather than reacting and raging against the apostles, he reminds them of other times when teachers have made bold claims and how things tend to run their course. There is a good lesson here for us... where religion and a religious spirit tend to be hyper vigilant in controlling things, wisdom often gives time for counterfeits to run their course. We don't have to react quickly and aggressively to everything we disagree with. We don't have to fear every teaching or idea and oppose it with such aggression and hostility. Sometimes that may be required. I wonder if we can learn from Gamaliel, though, that sometimes, being gentle, winsome, and patient in responding, time will show error for what it is... or in this case, time will validate truth.
I'm not suggesting that we allow for false teaching to run rampant in the church. But, as Charles Spurgoen is credited with saying, "The Word of God is like a lion. You don't have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”
I think it's important to recognize that these verses are more descriptive than prescriptive. This is what happened, and how the apostles responded to the challenges of a growing church and the massive needs represented within the church. There are some key principles I think we can derive from this that all reflect the wisdom of God in the birthing and building of His Church.
1) Pastors/Elders are responsible to organize and oversee a believing community
It is the calling of overseers to oversee. This includes preaching, teaching, leading and caring for God's people. All of these things are under the scope of responsibility for church leaders.
2) Some of those responsibilities can be delegated and some can not
Ultimately, as any church grows in numbers, caring for her individual members gets more challenging to sustain and more easy and even natural to overlook. When that happens, it is right and good that members of Christ's body should speak up, and let leadership know in respectful ways that needs within the body are being neglected. The biggest challenge as a leader, and yet the biggest necessity to grow in a healthy way, is to equip more leaders and entrust them with real minsitry responsibilities. Acts 6 tells us that the work of caring for people in the church and administrating the ministry of the church can be delegated to other godly, non-elder leadership.
3) Some of those responsibilities cannot be delegated
However, the ministry of the Word and Prayer cannot be outsourced or delegated. That is the most essential work of an individual elder and an elder team. The ministry of the Word includes the diligent study of the Word, the faithful preaching of the Word, the helpful application of the Word, and the Spirit empowered advancement of the Word, all grounded in a sincere love for and humble submission to the Word. The ministry of Prayer includes personal repentance of sin, eager attentiveness to the Spirit, dogged intercession for members, persistent pleas on behlaf of the city, spiritual warfare with the forces of darkness that seek to hinder the gospel, and a constant dependency upon the power and presence of God. Leaders are to have an imbalanced ministry tilted in the direction of Word and Prayer.
4) With these parameters, we are to organize the local church wisely for the fulfillment of the mission of the church.
v. 7 says "the word of God greatly increased and the number of disciples multiplied greatly..." The mission of the church is to make and mature disciples and we organize to facilitate that mission. In other words, as churches grow and develop over time, we are to be constantly re-assessing how the structure of the church is serving the mission of the church.
In a discussion with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, Jesus tells us that, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In the same way, church structure exists for man, not man for church structure. The mission of the church is not to keep every program or ministry they've ever started fully functioning; nor is it to get people into a small group; nor is it to create a well-produced Sunday event that would appeal to so called consumer Christians and non-Christians. Local churches exist to make disciples... period.
And whateer structures or organizing we do to achieve those ends exist for the people impacted by them, not the other way around. We don't funnel people through our systems and programs so we can feel good about those systems and programs and point to how great our systems and programs are because so many people are serving in them and being served by them. We have to be careful to maintain within our structures a hyper focus on ministering to the needs of people and making disciples of Jesus. That's the whole point. And the requires revisiting and refinement and flexibility to constantly strive to more effectively fulfill the mission with which we have been entrusted.