Introduction: When you want to accomplish a task, do you look at how
people have done it in the past? Or, do you look for innovative
ideas to help you do it better? It seems that we often ignore the
lessons of history. This week our study is about the mix of power,
wealth, and unity in the early church. What lessons can we learn from
history? Let’s dig into our Bible and see what we can learn!
- Read Acts 1:3-6. What do the disciples want? (They want
Israel to have political and military power sufficient to
oust the power of Rome.)
- Read Acts 1:7-9. Is that the message that Jesus wants them
to spread after He returns to heaven?
- Focus on Acts 1:8. They are asking about political and
military power. What power does Jesus refer to in His
response? (Jesus speaks to them in terms of real power:
the power of the Holy Spirit.)
- What does this suggest about the Holy Spirit and
unity? Jesus and the disciples were not unified in
their goal. (The Holy Spirit is the power behind
unity in the Church.)
- How important was the Holy Spirit in this situation?
(If I were Jesus, I would have been devastated and
very unhappy about this question. It is as if the
disciples have learned nothing. Jesus relies on the
Holy Spirit to fix this serious problem.)
- Is this a relevant lesson for issues of
- The Road to Unity
- Read Acts 1:12-14. What is the subject of their prayers?
(Since Jesus told them in Acts 1:4-5 that they should wait
for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I believe that is the
obvious subject of their prayers.)
- Read Acts 2:1-4. Why are the noise, wind and fire
important? (Imagine being there! This is a huge amount of
power. A violent wind is power. Fire is power. They wanted
power and Jesus gave it to them – but in a different way
than they expected.)
- Should they have expected this kind of power?
(Consider the power that Jesus exercised during the
time He was with them on earth. This is the power
that Jesus used. The disciples were just beginning
to understand this lesson.)
- Read Genesis 11:5-7. Recall that we recently studied the
story of the Tower of Babel. We learned that they unified
to resist God. What does God say here about the power of a
universal language? (Nothing will be impossible.)
- Do you see a connection between Pentecost and the
Tower of Babel? (God is reversing what He did. This
time unity is sought to advance the Kingdom of God.)
- Why do missionaries today have to learn foreign
- What were the ingredients for power and unity in the early
church? (A desire for power. Prayer for the power of the
Holy Spirit. The arrival of that power.)
- If we have a serious conflict in the Church, is that
proof that we are lacking sufficient Holy Spirit
- Preserving Unity
- Read Acts 4:32-35. How deep did the unity go? (It even
reached into their pocketbooks!)
- Read Acts 4:36-37. Is Barnabas important later in the work
of the church? (Absolutely! We studied about him in our
last lesson series.)
- Read Acts 5:1-2. Is it appropriate to keep part of your
- Some label the problem here as “covetousness.” Can
you covet what is already yours?
- Read Acts 5:3-4. What is the problem? (That Ananias and
Sapphira lied about it.)
- Why did they lie? (They wanted to appear to be as
generous as Barnabas! It was a misrepresentation of
their character. Perhaps this is where covetousness
comes in – they coveted the reputation of Barnabas.)
- How can Peter say that Ananias lied to God? (We all
know that God knows everything. God was not deceived
- If it is literally impossible to deceive God,
what does Peter mean? (Ananias did not have a
proper understanding of the power of God. He
believed that the Holy Spirit would not know.
Otherwise, what Peter says does not make
- Is this an issue in church disputes today?
One (or both) sides do not understand the
power of God?
- Read Acts 5:5-6. Why did this happen? Is the “great fear”
that seized the early church part of the plan for
- Read Acts 5:7-9. How is this a “test” of the Holy Spirit?
(Once again, it appears that Sapphira did not understand
the power of the Holy Spirit. She “tested” Him by assuming
that the Holy Spirit could be duped.)
- Read Acts 5:10-11. This text makes clear that “great fear”
seized the “whole church and all who heard.” Is there a
lesson in this for us today?
- Should those who doubt the power of the Holy Spirit
fear? Should we punish rebels? Should we leave the
punishment to the Holy Spirit?
- Let’s revisit the issue of covetousness and unity. While I
don’t believe the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was coveting
their own money, we discussed coveting the reputation of
Barnabas. When you think about the unity problems that you
have observed in the church, how many of them involve
people who covet the power and authority of leaders in the
- How does this manifest itself? Is it covetousness to
think that you should be making the decision instead
of church leaders?
- Preserving Wealth
- When you think about Ananias and Sapphira, their problem
has two sides. They coveted a reputation for generosity,
but they wanted to keep their money. Is it possible to do
both? Did they needlessly lie and die? (Read 2 Corinthians
9:6. This tells us that if we are generous, then we will
be blessed financially. It is not only possible to be
generous and rich, it is God’s will.)
- Read 2 Corinthians 9:7-9. Ananais and Sapphira gave what
they had decided to give. Were they “cheerful” about it?
(They thought that misrepresenting their gift would make
them feel better.)
- Read Matthew 6:2-4. Did Barnabas sin? His gift is recorded
( Acts 4:36-37) for all of us to see!
- If the giving process in the early church were
anonymous, would Ananais and Sapphira have gotten
into trouble? (If anonymity were enforced, they would
not have been tempted to keep up with the others,
such as Barnabas.)
- Do churches and other religious non-profits routinely
violate Matthew 6:3-4? (We see this all the time. My
local church does not do this, but Andrews University
publishes my name, my name is engraved in a plaque
where I teach, even Billy Graham has donor names
engraved in bricks at his center. Obviously, I could
control this, but I didn’t and I don’t!)
- Does the practice of publishing donors’ names
undermine unity? Are you like Ananais and
Sapphira, and covet having your name among a
more generous class of donors?
- Am I overstating the nature of the problem? Did Jesus
say ( Matthew 6:2-4) that it was a sin to be a high
profile donor? Or, did He merely say that getting
your name published is your reward?
- It seems to me that we have a twisted view of giving. Read
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 and re-read Matthew 6:4. What will
happen to you if you give money anonymously? (God will
make you “rich in every way.”)
- Do you think others will notice your reward?
- Friend, do you see how humans have things backwards? The
disciples wanted political and military power. God gave
them something greater, His power, the power of the Holy
Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira wanted (coveted) a generous
reputation, but did not want to be poorer. God promises us
that the more generous we are, the richer we will be.
Friend, this is just like righteousness by faith. You must
let God give you power, reputation and money, and not try
to make it happen by your own effort. Will you let God
- Next week: Images of Unity.