What to do with a tough passage: Acts 5:1-11

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image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ananias_and_Sapphira#/media/File:V%26A_-_Raphael,_The_Death_of_Ananias_(1515).jpg

One of the challenges in leading a small group Bible study is what to do about “tough passages.”

An example is Acts 5:1-11. In brief, this is the episode in the early church when Ananias and Sapphira lie about how much money they give to the church after selling some property. God’s judgement fell on them and they died.

If your small group is typical, they are likely to find this story shocking.

What to do?

Let the group wrestle with what happens here. This needs to be aired out: emotional reactions can and should be shared.

After giving a few people in the group the opportunity to address the difficulties, then move onto the point of the lesson.

First, make sure the group clearly understands the nature of the sin. God did not judge Ananias and Sapphira for being “cheap.” Their sin was claiming to have given all the proceeds when they actually did not: they lied. Their money would indeed help meet the needs of the poor in the community. However, by their lie, they placed a higher value on been seen as generous then being truthful to God and the community.

Next address the context.

One context to bring up is the episode before this passage in Acts 4:32-37. Thus, what Ananias and Sapphira did was completely counter to what the people of the church had been doing and experiencing. The dishonesty would be very disruptive of the unity of the church.

The other context worth bringing up is that God has in the past brought swift justice to those within the community of faith. Three prime examples can be seen from the Old Testament: Joshua 7, Leviticus 10, and 2 Samuel 6. Quickly discuss them with perhaps a more detailed look at one of these three passages. In each case, God’s explicit instructions have been violated.

The third context is the impact this episode had on the early churchAnd great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things (Acts 5:11). The church had been seeing so many amazing things happening: (1) the resurrection of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed with boldness, (2) the Holy Spirit’s power was revealed in healings and signs and wonders, (3) the community was transformed toward unity and generosity, and (4) the people have a healthy fear of God’s holiness. Instinctively, we prefer to dwell on the first three items. Nonetheless, item number four is important.

When you lead the group to the closing thoughts, give the group time to consider areas in their lives that needs re-examination. Allow time for quiet reflection. Depending on the personalities in the group, there could also be some sharing and prayer.

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