Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday School Commentary by Dale Timien

Dale is a good friend of mine and he is leading our Sunday School class. Each week we discuss something new about the Bible or pose questions to the group for study. Dale responds by writing a commentary that is good to get us started on our journey of discovery. I've asked, and gotten his permission, to post these on this blog. Here is the first one. It is about Acts 5 and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.

Acts 5

Ananias and Sapphira
1-2 But a man named Ananias—his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him—sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.
3-4Peter said, "Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got into you to pull a trick like this? You didn't lie to men but to God."
5-6Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard of it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.
7-8Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, "Tell me, were you given this price for your field?"
"Yes," she said, "that price."
9-10Peter responded, "What's going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you're next." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with.

Commentary:The death of Ananias and Sapphira.

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may fore-go their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles.

The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavoring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls. How sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech. (Ac 5:12-16)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paul's Contributions

The Apostle Paul is one of the key figures in the growth of Christianity from simply a splinter-Jewish group to the largest religion in the world today. How could one man make such a difference?

What's even more bizarre is that Paul was a Hellenistic Jew (named Saul), trained as a Pharisee, who hated the Christians and even led the early assaults in Jerusalem against them. He was a witness to the murder of St. Stephen and was considered one of the biggest anti-Christian's in Israel. Not satisfied with his "threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" in Jerusalem, he attainted letters from the High Priests to go to the synagogues in Damascus to search for any members of the Way (Christians). On the road to Damascus he had a personal interaction with Jesus that changed his life forever.

Acts 9:3-9:9 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

First we need to understand that the original persecution following the stoning of St. Stephen was according to God's plan. The Christians of Jerusalem had to be broken up to spread into the rest of the middle east. The communal life style of their first few years was set up to await His coming, and did not really go forth to preach the Good News to all the Earth. The persecution led by Paul caused many Christians to spread into Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and soon the rest of the Roman Empire.

Second, we need to know that Saul was a Godly man, who was devout in his Hebraic studies, and lived as a Pharisee. He was attacking the Christians because he believed they had blasphemed the Lord of Abraham, and the laws of Moses. God knew his heart, and that is why he chose Saul to become his instrument on Earth to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles and to help start the early Church.

Third, as devoted as he was as a Pharisee, he was just as devoted to the Lord following his conversion, if not more so.

Time and again in the Bible we learn that God chooses those whom we would not. Moses suffered from a speech impediment, David from Lust, and Saul the Christian hating Pharisee!

He can use anyone! He can use you!

Will you answer the call?

Will you stand for Jesus?

De Colores

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stephen, the First Martyr

The two groups of Christian-Jews were experiencing some difficulties in their communal living arrangements. The Hebrews, those born in Israel, were taking better care of the Hebraic widows, while the Hellenistic (Greek-foriegn born) widows were being "neglected in the daily distribution of food."

The Apostles realized that something had to be done, but they had too much on their plate already. So they ordained seven others to see that the apportionments would be equal for all. One of the men they chose was Stephen, "a man filled with the Holy Spirit," who was "full of grace and power, did wonders and great signs among the people."

Stephen was on fire for the Lord and preached to all who would listen. He spoke of the good news that Christ was the Savior to such an extent that one Jewish group was offended by his words and accused him of blasphemy against God and Moses. They had Stephen arrested and brought to the ruling Sanhedron to have him judged. They had many "false witnesses" who swore that Stephen spoke against the "holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazereth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."

The book of Acts then says that as they looked upon him, his face was "like the face of an angel." What does this mean? Perhaps it means he was quiet and serene. Some think the Holy Spirit was with him, and it was obvious for all who looked upon him that day.

Then they asked him to reply to these charges. Stephen took the opportunity to preach! He boldly spoke of the history of Israel and of how time and again they turned their backs on God and his prophets. His harangue started with Abraham then went to Joseph, to Moses, to Jacob, then he attacks the idea that God lives in a temple, "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hand." He's really rolling in his attack on them now and ends with, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in the heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that recieved the law as ordained by the angels, and yet you have not kept it."

Okay. This made them furious! He had just told the most "religious" men of Israel that they did not hear, nor head the Holy Spirit, that they persecuted the prophets, and had murdered Christ! I wonder if the "Angelic face" made them realize that he spoke for the Lord, as they lost all control and took him out to kill him. They "dragged him out and began to stone him" to death. God was with Stephen through this. He was "filled with the Holy Spirit," and "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jsus standing at the right hand of God!" As they were killing him, Stephen prayed for them, "Lord Jesus, recieve my spirit." He knelt down and cried, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

You can imagine the anger and venom with which each stone was hurtled at Stephen's head. One of the men there that day with the Council was Saul. He held the coats of those that killed Stephen and he "approved of their killing him." Saul hated the Christians and led much of the persecution against them that began following Stephen's martyrdom.

The Book of Acts states that the Church of Jerusalem was scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Saul led many righteous Jews and Romans against the Christians and was "ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women," and placing them into prison.

Where did the Christians go and what did they do? They went forth and spread the Good News "from place to place." Samaria became the next place where the Good News would take hold and many were converted to Christianity, thanks to the work of Philip and the testamonies of Peter and John.

This would only be the first of many times of persecution, but the Church would grow with each organized attack on it.

Remember, the early Christians "boldly" spoke the Good News.

Go Boldly into the World and proclaim the Good News, "Jesus died, Jesus is Risen, Jesus will come again."