Category Archives: Acts

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.

Interpretation – When are the “last days?”

One challenge we face in the interpretation of the Bible is that sometimes we may jump to certain ideas about what the Bible is saying based on some preconceived ideas about what things mean.

Think of the phrase, “the last days.”

What comes into your mind?

For many, the thought is “the last days” equals “the end of the world just before Jesus returns.” As such some would say “the last days” is still in the future. Or some might say, “the last days” are just beginning now.

What does “the last days” mean in Acts 2:17-21?

‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (NASB)

The first rule of Bible interpretation is: context, context, context.

And so what is the context of this passage?

Take a look at the material just before it in Acts 2:1-16.

Briefly, the context is the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the gathered faithful and they began to speak of the mighty deeds of God in various languages. Some of the observers were amazed at this event while others thought those speaking were drunk with wine. Peter responded in Acts 2:14-21 saying the people aren’t drunk as it is 9AM in the morning and instead what is happening is a fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel.

And so when is “the last days” in this passage?

It was actually the very moment of Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago!

Thus, in some Bible verses, the last days are not the end of the world just before Jesus returns but rather the era of time marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which happened at Pentecost and continues to this day for any who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus the Christ for salvation.

While we are at it, go to Hebrews 1:1:-2.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (NASB)

Here the last days are the times marked by God speaking through His Son.

Thus, perhaps, in some passages, “the last days” is the time in salvation history inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus?

What do you think about this possibility?

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