The Experience of Unity in the Early Church

Acts 1-5, 2 Corinthians 9
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 5 The Experience of Unity in the Early Church

(Acts 1-5, 2 Corinthians 9)

Copr. 2018, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study.

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!

I. Disunity

A. 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.)

B. Read Acts 1:7-9. Is that the message that Jesus wants them to spread after He returns to heaven?

C. 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.)

1. 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.)

2. 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.)

a. Is this a relevant lesson for issues of disunity today?

II. The Road to Unity

A. 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.)

B. 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.)

1. 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.)

C. 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.)

1. 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.)

2. Why do missionaries today have to learn foreign languages?

D. 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.)

1. If we have a serious conflict in the Church, is that proof that we are lacking sufficient Holy Spirit power?

III. Preserving Unity

A. Read Acts 4:32-35. How deep did the unity go? (It even reached into their pocketbooks!)

B. 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.)

C. Read Acts 5:1-2. Is it appropriate to keep part of your own money?

1. Some label the problem here as “covetousness.” Can you covet what is already yours?

D. Read Acts 5:3-4. What is the problem? (That Ananias and Sapphira lied about it.)

1. 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.)

2. How can Peter say that Ananias lied to God? (We all know that God knows everything. God was not deceived by this.)

a. 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 sense.)

(1) Is this an issue in church disputes today? One (or both) sides do not understand the power of God?

E. Read Acts 5:5-6. Why did this happen? Is the “great fear” that seized the early church part of the plan for preserving unity?

F. 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.)

G. 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?

1. Should those who doubt the power of the Holy Spirit fear? Should we punish rebels? Should we leave the punishment to the Holy Spirit?

H. 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 church?

1. How does this manifest itself? Is it covetousness to think that you should be making the decision instead of church leaders?

IV. Preserving Wealth

A. 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.)

B. 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.)

C. Read Matthew 6:2-4. Did Barnabas sin? His gift is recorded (Acts 4:36-37) for all of us to see!

1. 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.)

2. 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!)

a. 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?

3. 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?

D. 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.”)

1. Do you think others will notice your reward? (Absolutely.)

E. 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 bless you?

V. Next week: Images of Unity.