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The First-Century Gifts

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Several months ago, I preached on the passing of the miraculous spiritual gifts.  After services, Jeff Nicholson and I had an interesting conversation about the gift of prophecy, and he suggested that it might be worth devoting a sermon to explaining what those miraculous gifts were. 

After rolling that around in my mind for a while, I decided that Jeff was right.  Often, we don’t study this because we don’t have any of those gifts today, but I think that’s a mistake.  Let me explain.  Usually, when we encounter somebody who believes the miraculous gifts still continue, we address their confusion by going to 1 Corinthians 13 and explaining that the gifts faded with the completion of the written word.

However, I think there’s yet another way to handle the issue.  Typically, these people have had experiences that they say are miraculous. However, when we compare their experiences to the Scriptural record, their “miracles” invariably don’t measure up.  In order to make that argument, though, we have to know what the gifts actually did.  With this in mind, let’s spend our evening considering the first-century gifts.

The first gift that I want to look at is the gift of TONGUES.  We see the apostles employing this gift in Acts 2:5-6.  It’s clear here that the apostles aren’t speaking in a prayer language or in the language of angels.  They are speaking in the foreign languages that these visitors to Jerusalem knew.  That’s what the gift of tongues did:  it gave people the ability to speak foreign languages they had not learned.  This gives us a test that we can use with those who claim to have the gift of tongues today.  People who can’t miraculously speak in foreign languages don’t have the gift of tongues.

Next, we logically come to the gift of INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES.  I think the text that gives us the best insight into this one is 1 Corinthians 14:10-13.  Notice first of all that Paul is talking about “languages in the world”.  It’s clear that he connects the gift of tongues to speaking foreign languages.  However, his words also highlight a weakness of the gift of tongues.  I can be jabbering away at y’all all day long in Russian, but unless somebody can speak or understand Russian, my miraculous gift of tongues is pointless.  That’s where the gift of interpretation came in.  It allowed either the speaker or an audience member to miraculously understand and translate foreign languages.

Third, let’s consider PROPHECY.  This is a unique gift because it appears to have not one but two main manifestations.  We see the first in Acts 11:27-28.  Here, Agabus uses his gift of prophecy to predict the future.  Let’s notice three things about this prediction.  First, it was specific.  Second, it was falsifiable.  Third, it was fulfilled.  These specific, falsifiable, and fulfilled predictions are characteristic of the true gift of prophecy.  By contrast, the so-called prophets today make predictions that are either a) not fulfilled (anybody remember Harold Camping predicting the end of the world in 2011?) or b) so vague that they can’t be falsified.  Anybody can predict that hard times are coming, but hard times are always coming!  It’s meaningless.

Second, in addition to foretelling the future, the gift of prophecy was used to forth-tell the word of God.  Look at how Peter describes the prophetic work of Jesus in Acts 3:22-23.  Clearly, God’s people are supposed to obey God’s prophets.  Indeed, it is their ability to predict the future that tells us when we should listen!  On the other hand, any prophet who can’t correctly predict the future can safely be ignored.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the gift of HEALING.  There are many Scriptures we could examine here, but let’s look at Acts 3:7-8, the story of Peter healing the lame man.  Once again, pay attention to the characteristics of this healing.  First, it’s a healing of a man everybody knows is sick.  The lame man isn’t a ringer.  Second, his ailment is obvious.  It’s not like one of his legs is longer than the other.  The dude can’t walk!  Third, Peter heals him instantaneously.  Thus, the gift of healing was the instantaneous cure of a publicly known, obvious illness.  That’s a test that every healing in the Bible can pass, but no modern day “healing” will.

The gift of MIRACLES was similar.  For our example here, consider what Paul does in Acts 13:8-12.  Once again, take note of the spectacular nature of the use of this gift.  We start off with Elymas the sorcerer, a man who can see perfectly.  Everybody knows he can see.  Then, Paul curses him, and he loses his sight.  This too is obvious to everyone.  It’s not like Elymas would fake being blind in order to make Paul look good!  A miracle, then, is an obvious working of God in the world with no natural explanation.  Throughout the New Testament, we see the enemies of Jesus and the gospel being unable to explain away miracles.  They might say that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, but they couldn’t deny that he was casting out demons.  Any true miracle today would be equally undeniable.

Let’s wrap things up by looking at a couple of gifts people don’t usually claim to have today.  The first is the gift of KNOWLEDGE.  I think the best explanation for this gift comes in John 14:25-26.  Note that we’ve seen part of this before.  The Holy Spirit teaching the apostles all things was the gift of prophecy.  On the other hand, the Spirit bringing to their remembrance all that Jesus taught, I think that’s the gift of knowledge.  It was supernatural total recall of spiritual teaching, especially the teaching of the Lord.

Finally, we come to the gift of WISDOM.  Normally, when we think of Biblical wisdom, we think of the wisdom of Solomon, but that’s not really how the gift manifested in the New Testament.  For instance, look at Luke 21:14-15.  Basically, the gift of wisdom was the gift of winning debates.  Jesus was able to make His opponents look like idiots, even though they weren’t, because He had the spirit of wisdom.  Similarly, in Acts 6, the people who want to argue with Stephen aren’t able to withstand the spirit and wisdom with which he is speaking.  People with the gift of wisdom never lost an argument!

When Words Become Gossip

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

When I returned to my store of sermon requests last week in preparation for this lesson, I saw that the next topic on the list was for a sermon on gossip.  As they asked, I will keep the requester anonymous! 

All of us must acknowledge, though, that whether or not we requested a sermon on gossip, we can benefit from a sermon on gossip.  In fact, I think that gossip is one of the particular temptations to which disciples are exposed.  After all, we are more interested in others than sinners are because Jesus calls us to be. 

However, just like any other good thing, Satan can turn our interest in others into evil.  The book of Proverbs is full of warnings about the dangers of whispering and gossip.  At the same time, though, we know that not all discussions of others constitute gossip.  For instance, when the elders meet to discuss the welfare of the flock, that’s the furthest thing in the world from gossip! 

How, then, can we tell the difference?  How can we know when neutral or even praiseworthy speech about others turns into ungodly speech?  Let’s spend this morning, then, considering when words become gossip.

The first thing that causes words to become gossip is WHEN THEY ARE UNTRUE.  For instance, consider the warning of Ephesians 4:31.  Among the things that we are to put away is slander, which is telling or repeating a lie about someone, and malice, which is an insidious desire to hurt someone that often leads to slander. 

Hopefully, it isn’t news to anybody here that it’s wrong to lie about somebody else in order to cause them harm in some way.  However, I think it’s easier for all of us to end up on the wrong side of that line than we think. 

What if somebody has done us wrong—really wrong!—and we’ve got all this rage and indignation built up inside of us?  We’re talking to one of our good friends about how no-good and low-down this person is.  We’re telling the story of all the horrible things they’ve done to us, and this. . . idea springs into our heads.  We could tell our friend that this person has done this other horrible thing too!  Well, no, it’s not true, exactly, but they’d have done it if they’d have thought of it!  And so we slip it in to complete the narrative.

Brethren, I’m well aware that some of us are storytellers and some of us aren’t, but a good story is no excuse to slander somebody else.  No matter how enjoyable that might feel in the moment, the price is more than we want to pay.

Second, words become gossip WHEN THEY ARE CARELESS.  One of the most sobering warnings in Scripture appears in Matthew 12:36-37.  Here, Jesus tells us that we endanger our souls not only when we lie, but when we speak idly and carelessly.

There are several ways in which speech can be careless.  First of all, we can be careless with the truth.  We heard this juicy tidbit about a brother, and it’s so good that we pass it on without much concern for whether it’s true or not.  Maybe we make up the juicy tidbit ourselves and start spreading it around because we think it’s plausible. 

Note, by the way, that carelessness with the truth is a serious problem when it comes to stories and memes on the Internet.  When we hit “Share” on some piece of political clickbait without checking it out carefully, we are sinning according to the terms of Matthew 12:36.  Wouldn’t it be the dumbest thing in the world if we ended up in hell because of the garbage we shared on Facebook?

Similarly, we can be careless about the consequences of our words.  Just because something is true doesn’t mean it needs to be said.  The truth carelessly spread can cause strife in friendships, in marriages, and in churches.  We need to think about the strife-causing potential of our words, and if we see possible problems, we need to keep those lips zipped.

Third, words become gossip WHEN THEY PROCEED FROM EVIL SUSPICIONS.  Once again, let’s look at a laundry-list verse to extract this idea, 1 Timothy 6:4.  Contextually, Paul is talking about evil suspicions stirred up by doctrinal controversy, but whatever their origin, evil suspicions are problematic, and they lead to speech that is problematic.

We know that our hearts are in the grip of evil suspicions when we find ourselves imputing bad motives to others when it is not justified by the evidence.  We especially have to be careful about this when we are talking about others whom we dislike. 

There are times when it is necessary to talk about the bad behavior of others.  I’ve watched elders all across the country do this.  However, when we do, we have to be careful to make sure that there is a factual basis for every word that crosses our lips. 

For instance, let’s say that Freddy is a Christian who has been struggling with his attendance.  One Sunday, Freddy is absent.  We notice, and we say to our friend, “I bet Freddy saw that it was a nice day outside and went fishing instead.”  Let me point out that we don’t know that.  If we had called Freddy, asked him where he was, and he said, “Fishing,” that would be one thing, but we didn’t.  In the absence of evidence, we’re letting our evil suspicions do the talking, and that’s wrong.  By contrast, the godly thing to do is to assume the best about others and their motives until we find out the truth.

Finally, words become gossip WHEN THEY DO NOT GIVE GRACE.  Here, consider Ephesians 4:29.  In this text, Paul is drawing a contrast between two kinds of talk:  corrupting talk, which eats away at the hearts of those who hear it, and edifying talk, which builds up those who hear it.  Edifying talk gives grace.

Some people say that whenever we are talking about a third party who isn’t present, that’s gossip.  I don’t think that’s true, and this verse is one of the reasons why.  It is totally possible for such a conversation to edify and give grace.  If Bradley comes into my office, and we start talking about a brother with whom I ate lunch the other day, if I am motivated by love and by the desire to help Bradley do his job better, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.  I’m bringing the church closer together.  I’m giving grace.

On the other hand, let’s say that my motives are different.  Let’s say that I think somebody is a bad guy, and I want to make sure that Bradley thinks he’s a bad guy too.  I don’t want to help him.  I want to make sure that Bradley and I are up here and he’s down there.  Even if I am scrupulously careful to make sure that everything I say is true, that’s still gossip.  I’m trying to corrupt my audience, not help him.

In this, brethren, we have to pay close attention to our hearts.  I can imagine two Christians having a conversation about some brother who has fallen in sin, saying all the pious things about praying for him and helping him, yet each coming away with secret glee that they’re righteous and he isn’t.  Even if we aren’t lying about somebody else, we have to make sure that we aren’t lying to ourselves about our motives too.

Zion, the Mountain of God

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

I have to say, there are few better ways to vary up the content of your preaching than to solicit sermon suggestions from the congregation!  Frankly, the suggestions I get show me how narrow my perspective is.  Even if I never got another sermon request, I wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with two sermons a week indefinitely, but almost invariably, the requests that I do get are on subjects that I never would have thought to preach on.

This evening’s sermon is a case in point.  Its inspiration came from Landon, who noted that in our hymns, we sing a great deal about Zion, but we don’t necessarily understand as much about Zion as we think we do when we’re singing.  Once I started studying for the sermon, I realized, somewhat to my dismay, that Landon was right.  I can’t speak for anybody else, but I sure didn’t know as much about Zion as I thought I did!  In fact, there are some pretty important things that I learned that may well not be common knowledge.  With this in mind, then, let’s consider Zion, the mountain of God.

Let’s begin by considering ITS OLD-TESTAMENT SIGNIFICANCE.  Mt. Zion appears in the Bible for the first time in 2 Samuel 5:6-7.  I have to say, this was an eye-opener for me.  I had always associated Mt. Zion with the Temple Mount, but it isn’t.  Instead, Mt. Zion is the eminence directly to the south of the Temple Mount.  It’s the location of the Jebusite citadel that David conquered and made his capital.  Mt. Zion held the oldest, earliest parts of the city of Jerusalem, which is why “Jerusalem” and “Zion” are used interchangeably in the Bible.

Here’s why this matters.  It means that whenever we read or hear “Zion”, we should not think “temple”.  We should not think “priest”.  Instead, we should think “fortress”, and we should think “king”.  It’s a whole different set of imagery than the temple-priest-sacrifice imagery of the Temple Mount.

Instead of all those things, Zion was significant in three main ways.  First, it was the dwelling place of God.  Look at Psalm 76:1-2.  I find this surprising for a couple of reasons.  First, once I figured out the actual location of Zion, I expected the Bible to make a big deal about the kings of Israel and Judah living there.  That doesn’t happen.  It’s mentioned a time or two, but the main inhabitant of Zion is the great King, God. 

This is disorienting for another reason.  Typically, when we think of God’s dwelling place in the Old Testament, we think specifically of the temple.  However, the Scriptures point out over and over again that Zion is His dwelling.  To put things another way, even though there was a sense in which God lived in the temple, apart from His people, He lived in their midst, in Zion, too.  Even today, it should matter deeply to us that God dwells in our midst!

Second, Zion also features prominently as a place of safety.  Here, look at Psalm 125:1-2.  This makes perfect sense.  In a purely physical sense, Zion was a mountain in the middle of a bunch of other mountains.  It was hard for invading armies to get to.  Additionally, it was heavily fortified.  There’s even a psalm, Psalm 60, that’s about the Israelites asking for God’s help after the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed in an earthquake.  When you are surrounded by homicidal neighbors, walls are important!

However, what made Zion truly secure was that it was God’s dwelling place.  Notice that in Psalm 125, the true source of protection isn’t the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, but the Lord surrounding His people.  This is still important to us today.  The hymn-savvy among you will already have noticed that the words to our hymn “Surround Us, Lord”, come from v. 2.  Even now, as the inhabitants of a spiritual Zion, we look to God for protection.

Finally, in an Old-Testament sense, Zion was the source of salvation.  Consider Psalm 14:7.  Once again, this is something that I can only connect back to Zion as God’s dwelling place.  Because only God could save, salvation had to come out of Zion.

This theme continues even in the books of the prophets.  Isaiah, for instance, talks about Zion a great deal, though his focus was on post-exilic Judah returning to Zion.  When the exiles re-entered the city, that was when they could rejoice in God’s salvation. 

Today, of course, this subject is even more meaningful to us.  We don’t regard the dwelling place of God as the source of our salvation from earthly enemies or earthly captivity.  Instead, we rejoice because our spiritual deliverance has come out of Zion!

Shifting forward in time, we see that Zion is also a concept with MESSIANIC SIGNIFICANCE.  To capture this, I think we need to read the entirety of Matthew’s account of the Triumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-11.  Notice how prominently the prophecy of Zechariah 9 features in this text.  Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to fulfill a prediction made hundreds of years before.

However, there’s more to the idea of the king entering Zion than merely that.  As we have seen, yes, Zion was the dwelling place of the Davidic kings, but it was really the dwelling place of God.  As a result, all the people who were hailing the return of the king to Zion weren’t just hailing the son of David, though they thought they were.  They were hailing the Son of God.  Only when the great King is in Zion can His people be restored.

Today, restoration is still THE MEANING OF ZION FOR US.  Let’s wrap up our reading for the evening with Hebrews 12:18-24.  There are plenty of people out there who insist that the physical Mt. Zion and the earthly Jerusalem still have spiritual significance.  As this text makes clear, they could not be more wrong.  Today, it is the spiritual Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to which we have come.

However, even though the location may have changed, its symbolic significance remains the same.  Zion, partially in the church and fully in heaven, is still the place where God dwells with the assembly of His people.  It is where we come into contact with the blood that purifies us instead of condemning us.  Most of all, Zion is the place where we can be perfected through our covenant with Jesus.  Zion has been meaningful to the people of God for 3000 years, and even after the earth is destroyed, its significance will continue. 

Understanding the Covering

Monday, September 30, 2019

In the adult class several weeks ago, we came to the first part of 1 Corinthians 11, which is famous for being one of the most difficult contexts in the entire New Testament.  Of course, this was not news to me.  I’d studied it and even preached on it before.  As a result, when Doug bravely began exploring the context and comments began trickling in, I started composing my own comments.

However, after I reached about the fifth paragraph of those comments in my head, I realized that I was about to preach a sermon disguised as a Bible-class comment.  Rather than holding forth, I suggested to Doug that it might be best if I simply preached a sermon on the subject.  He agreed that such a sermon would be useful, so I slotted it into the next available preaching slot, which for me happened to be today.  With this in mind, then, let’s return to this perilous context and see what we can learn about understanding the covering.

In this study, we first have to consider THE COMMANDMENT.  It appears in 1 Corinthians 11:4-6.  At first glance, this seems pretty straightforward.  Men aren’t supposed to pray or prophesy with their heads covered, but women are.  This text certainly mandates the covering for women in the Corinthian church and possibly for all women everywhere. 

However, it’s obvious from considering the congregation this morning that most women here do not put an artificial covering on their heads in worship.  Generally there are two arguments being made for this practice.  First, Paul says in v. 15 that a woman’s hair is given to her for a covering, so hair is enough.  Second, it’s clear from context that this is a commandment given to people in a particular culture, and because we don’t share the culture of the Corinthians, it doesn’t apply to us.

These are popular arguments, but there are problems with both of them.  First, consider v. 6.  There, Paul tells the Corinthian women that if they don’t adopt the covering, they might as well cut their hair short.  From this, we can conclude that in Corinth, long-haired women still were expected to wear an artificial covering.  Even today, long hair is not a reason to refuse to.

Second, we need to be very, very careful dismissing Biblical commandments on the basis of culture.  As Jason observed in class that day, culture is the key that opens every door.  Whatever you don’t like in the Bible—baptism, restrictions on divorce, the role of women in the church—you can dismiss on the basis of culture.  This is not to say that the cultural argument is a bad argument.  In fact, I think it’s correct.  However, we must not reject commandments because of cultural differences without a very good reason.

From here, let’s turn to examining PAUL’S ARGUMENTS in this context.  The first appears in 1 Corinthians 11:1-3, 7-10.  In these texts, Paul is arguing from creation.  Just as man was created for God, woman was created for man.  As a result, there is a spiritual hierarchy:  First God, then Christ, then husbands, then wives.  Paul’s concern is that without some symbol of authority on their heads, some reminder of this hierarchy, women will imitate the angels who did not honor God’s authority and become rebels too.

Of course, this leaves open the question of whether the covering is Paul’s conclusion or simply a cultural application of that conclusion.  As I’ve said, the first is the preferred interpretation.  However, notice how strong this argument is.  It is universal in scope.  If the covering is demanded by this argument, we should expect to see the covering in all places and times.  After all, the hierarchy that Paul lays out exists in all places and times.

The same thing is true of Paul’s second argument, the argument from nature.  Look at 1 Corinthians 11:13-15.  Logically, I think this is similar to the argument that Paul makes in Romans 1, where he describes same-sex intimacy as “unnatural”.  We can tell that it’s against nature by comparing the anatomy of men and women.  Clearly, nature intends men to be with women and women to be with men.  In the same way, Paul is arguing that differences in anatomy ought to be reflected in appearance.  Men shouldn’t adopt the hairstyles of women, nor women of men. 

This too is a universal, since-the-creation, argument.  If Paul is arguing specifically against long hair in men, we never should see men of God in the Bible with long hair.  If, on the other hand, we do see men of God elsewhere in Scripture with long hair, then that’s evidence that Paul is speaking to a cultural context and not laying down a universal principle.

Thankfully for us, there is a way to test whether the covering and hair length are universal requirements or culture-specific applications.  We can do that by considering THE WITNESS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.  If we see Old-Testament women covering themselves in worship, that shows that God intends the covering for everyone.  On the other hand, if we don’t see the covering in the Old Testament, that’s evidence that the covering is culture-specific.  The same thing holds true for long hair on men.  Long-haired Old-Testament men show that Paul is only binding short hair on the Corinthians.

So then, what do we see about the covering in the Old Testament?  Frankly, it’s kind of weird.  Old-Testament women did cover themselves, but they didn’t do it as a prelude to worship.  They did it as a prelude to intimacy.  Look at Genesis 38:13-15.  How does Tamar indicate her availability?  She covers herself. 

There is, by contrast, neither requirement to or example of Old-Testament women covering themselves to pray or prophesy.  These women did honor the hierarchy of God-husband-wife, but they didn’t show it with the covering.  We can conclude that the covering isn’t meant to be universal because it wasn’t universal in the Old Testament.

The same holds true for hair length.  Look at Judges 13:3-5.  Clearly, godly men in the Old Testament weren’t required to have short hair.  In fact, Samson was required to have long hair, and cutting his hair short got him in all sorts of trouble!  Hair length on men is a cultural issue too.

We have good reason, then, to confine both the covering and hair-length rules to the cultural context of first-century Corinth.  However, we still must honor the principles of 1 Corinthians 11.  Women still have to look and dress and act like women, not men.  Men still have to look and dress and act like men, not women.  Our cultural expression of these principles is different, but it still must exist.

Ananias and Sapphira

Friday, September 06, 2019

Sometimes, the stories from the Bible that we most need to hear aren’t the pleasant, uplifting ones about the righteous who overcame through God.  Instead, they’re the sobering ones about when God’s people chose to forsake Him and paid the penalty.  As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, we are sure to face the same temptations that those people did.  If we come to those temptations unprepared, that makes it all the more likely that the devil will overcome us and destroy us as he did those unfortunates so long ago.

As a result, it’s important for us to spend some time considering those stories, but it’s even more important for us to consider our own lives in their light.  Could it be that our souls today are imperiled as the souls of the ancient Israelites were, or the souls of the church in Ephesus were?  This kind of introspection is the only cure for the disease of self-deception.  With this in mind, then, let’s spend this evening considering the first Christians in the entire Bible whom we know for sure were lost.  Let’s consider Ananias and Sapphira.

This downbeat story, though, begins with an upbeat narrative about how our first-century brethren were of ONE HEART AND SOUL.  Let’s read about them in Acts 4:32-37.  Because many of the brethren in the Jerusalem church were only in town for the Passover when they obeyed the gospel on Pentecost, the local Christians had to step up and provide for them.  This they did joyfully, even selling their houses and lands when that became necessary to support their brethren. 

In this section of the story, I see two main lessons.  The first is that good hearts bear good fruit.  Luke begins by observing that the Jerusalem church is of one heart and soul, and he is able to point to particular actions taken by brethren, sometimes even particular brethren, to back up his claim.  So too for us.  We know that this congregation, like every congregation, is supposed to be of one heart and soul too.  If we are, that’s going to show up in the way we lavish money, time, and energy on one another.

Second, this is one of several places in Scripture where we see evidence of a church treasury.  Sometimes you’ll hear folks arguing that there’s no Scriptural authority for a church to have a treasury.  However, in this text, it’s clear that money was being laid at the apostles’ feet for them to distribute in a time and manner that seemed best to them.  If an accumulation of money to be spent over time isn’t a church treasury, I don’t know what is!

This takes us, though, to THE SIN OF ANANIAS.  Look at Acts 5:1-2.  I’ve heard it said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and so it is here.  Ananias and Sapphira see all the acclaim that people like Barnabas are getting for their generosity, and they want that praise too.  However, they don’t want to give everything to the Lord, so they keep part of the proceeds back for themselves while claiming they’ve given all.

On one level, this seems like a victimless crime, doesn’t it?  We don’t have to imagine too hard to see Ananias and Sapphira convincing themselves that their little white lie wouldn’t hurt anybody. 

Indeed, we have to watch out for this trap in our own lives.  We must beware of the temptation to give part while acting like we’re giving all.  We want people to think of us as super-Christians, as pillars of the church, so we talk a good game around brethren, but we don’t live the way we talk.  We wring our hands about how filthy our society is, then we go home and watch the latest pornfest on HBO.  We exalt selfless love in marriage, but behind closed doors, we treat our spouses like dirt.  This too seems like a harmless pastime, a victimless crime, but we must be aware that God sees things differently.

We see just how much differently in PETER’S INDICTMENT of Ananias’s sin.  Let’s continue with Acts 5:3-4.  As Peter points out, there was no good reason for Ananias’ hypocrisy.  The property belonged to him; nobody made him sell any of it.  Likewise, nobody required him to give every penny from the sale.  When it would have been easy for him to tell the truth, he chose to lie instead.

In this, I think there are two lessons for us.  The first is that when we lie, we must remember whom we’re trying to lie to.  I suspect that Ananias didn’t have the slightest thought that his “little white lie” was directed at God.  He figured that he was going to fool his brethren and go his way.  However, the spiritual consequences of his sin—and our sin too—were much wider than he thought.

 Second, we must remember that hypocrisy never fools God.  Sure, we might well deceive everybody at church.  We might go on fooling them for decades.  However, we never should think that we are deceiving the Lord, not for an instant.  He knows what we’re up to, and He is not pleased.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira ends with GOD’S JUDGMENT.  Consider Acts 5:5-11.  The husband-and-wife team tells the same lie, and both of them meet the same fate.  God strikes Ananias down, and a few hours later, He strikes Sapphira down too.

Once again, I think there are two applications here for us.  The first is that God hasn’t changed since the Old Testament.  Of all the myths of pop religion, this is one of the most persistent and dangerous.  People say all the time that God in the Old Testament was wrathful and harsh, but in the New Testament, He is merciful and forgiving. 

The problem with this theory is that it simply doesn’t match up with the evidence.  By the end of this story, Ananias and Sapphira are no less dead than Nadab and Abihu, or Uzza, or any of the other poor fools who put God to the test in the Old Testament.  God’s conduct does not change because God does not change, nor will He ever do so.

From this, we can conclude that God will judge iniquity.  In fact, I think this is the reason why God did what He did.  He destroyed Ananias and Sapphira to leave us with no doubt about what the fate of hypocrites always will be.  If we practice hypocrisy, God may not blast us on the spot (although He might!).  However, when we choose to continue in sin, secure in the delusion that we will not suffer for the wrong we have done, we do nothing less than make our punishment certain.

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