God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17 - Acts 4-6: The Ups and Downs of the Infant Church

Today’s Reading: Acts 4-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The new church had struggles from within and without.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Peter told the religious leaders who questioned him, "I heal by Jesus' Authority."
The leaders were dumbfounded—Peter and John, country bumpkins, had God's Authority without their approval.
The Believers shared everything. Ananias and Sapphira decided to deceive God by acting as though they gave everything. God struck them dead. No one could deceive Him.
The Apostles were jailed. After an angel released them, they were arrested again.
"We will obey God and not men," Peter declared.
Gamaliel stopped their execution.
The Believers chose men to oversee the task of helping the Greek-speaking widows. Stephen was persecuted by rabble-rousing Jews.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God used uneducated, unsophisticated fishermen to spread His Message to the world.

All of the leaders in Jerusalem could not believe Peter and John, two uneducated, unsophisticated country bumpkins, could heal a man. Peter and John then confessed to healing the man using God's Authority! They could not believe it. These fishermen then accused the leaders of rejecting God's Cornerstone. They had no choice but to warn them not to speak about Jesus and release them, since they could not find anything against them. Peter's final salvo rubbed salt in their wound—the Apostles would not comply.
The second encounter did not go much better. Peter and the rest of the Apostles would not listen to threats. They would obey God, not people. Once again, God will use anyone willing to obey Him.
Many of God's Chosen People believe they do not know enough to talk to others about setting things right. Many who are educated often resent those who teach though they are not educated. We must remember that education should supplement faith, not replace it. The educated rejected Jesus because He did not conform to their expectations. Faith and obedience dictate who should pass on God's Way, not education and training.

The infant church shared so much that no one had unmet needs.

Yesterday I mentioned how these sections sounded like communism. Today's reading sounds like what communists purport to accomplish—rich people selling what they can to give to poor people so that there are no wants. It can happen, ironically when people do it out of gratitude to God! When God's Chosen People give to those in need, the church eliminates poverty within itself.

Ananias and Sapphira were struck down because they wanted to look more righteous than they really were.

Peter told Ananias and Sapphira that they had lied to God, not to people. Keeping part of their land's proceeds was not wrong. In fact, they could have kept their land and lived. Their sin and what cost them their life was the need to look good in front of everyone. God would not stand for people puffing their reputations at the expense of God's Chosen People's reputations. God will not stand for believers who place their status over righteousness.
Today we struggle with this. We want to be seen as perfect people who do not struggle with temptations. We keep quiet when people ask if anyone is struggling. We deflect to physical issues when we develop prayer lists, not wanting to "offend" anyone or appear to be gossiping. We maintain surface-level relationships with fellow Chosen People because we are too afraid to let them in to our deep, dark secret lives. I believe Ananias and Sapphira's story could be the main reason churches are dying. We worship God as though no one needed help but inside we die by giving into our temptations. If we want the church to grow, we must be willing to stop trying to look more righteous than we are. Only then can we help each other as God wanted—and the infant church did.

The Apostles became synonymous for setting things right.

It's a small section and somewhat strange, but I really appreciate that Luke included the fact that people hoped that Peter's shadow would heal them. God was being praised by many and many had their relationships with God set right. When God's Chosen Messengers spread God's Message, many will be healed and have their relationship with God set right. We may not be able to give sight back to the blind, but we can give spiritual sight back to the spiritually blind.

Gamaliel provided a small ray of hope in a vast darkness of Pharisee pride.

Gamaliel, who learned from the mistakes of others, went out on a limb and gave a suggestion that sounded very un-Pharisee-like. He realized that either the Apostles were authentic and they were wrong for fighting God, or the Apostles would be found out and the movement would disperse. If he were listened to by the others on the council the rest of Acts would have been a long list of cities who praised God once the Message came to them. Unfortunately, he was ignored. Unless God blesses a movement, it dies. If God blesses a movement, anyone who fights it will be fighting Him.
Gamaliel's suggestion to let things progress naturally provides a great philosophy for people today. We struggle with movements that "steal" members away from our churches. We would do well to take Gamaliel's advice,
Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God! (5:38-39, The Message)
The Spirit will convict others of their wrongs. We should continue to set things right by helping others set their relationship with God right and leave in-fighting alone.

The Apostles did not want to stop helping people spiritually in order to better serve people physically.

As the believers grew in number, logistical problems emerged. The Apostles did not want to stop their work—helping others set their relationships right with God—to serve tables. The solution was to appoint what we now consider the first "deacons", a term we will read later. Notice that these men were appointed for a task, not for a position. God's Chosen People have two tasks which should be done by people willing to submit to God to do their part in one or both—set relationships with God right and set physical needs right on earth. Jesus did both. So should we.

Stephen endured harassment and lies because of his willingness to obey God.

Jesus told the Apostles that they would be persecuted because the world hated the Father and Him. Stephen became the first one to face that to the end, as we will see tomorrow. God's Chosen People should not be surprised when the world wants to destroy us. They wanted to destroy Jesus, our Master.

How do you keep a "strong" image?

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