We’re continuing our study of the book of Acts in our weekly classes here and recently we did Acts 5. [Here you can find the link to the audio of the live class.] One of the big things we talked about in relation to this chapter was fear, the fear of God and the fear of man.
To those who are not familiar with Acts chapter 5, I’ll copy in here the first 11 verses of the chapter and this will help you to understand why we talked about fear in the class.
(Act 5:1) And a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. (Act 5:2) And he kept back part of the price, his wife also knowing, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Act 5:3) But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart for you to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? (Act 5:4) While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own authority? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God. (Act 5:5) And hearing these words, Ananias fell down and expired. And great fear came on all those who heard these things.(Act 5:6) And the younger ones arose, wound him up, and carrying him out, they buried him. (Act 5:7) And it was about the space of three hours afterward, when his wife (not knowing what was done) came in. (Act 5:8) And Peter answered her, Tell me whether you sold the land for so much? And she said, Yes, for so much. (Act 5:9) Then Peter said to her, How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out. (Act 5:10) Then at once she fell down at his feet and expired. And the younger ones found her dead, and, carrying her out, buried her beside her husband. (Act 5:11) And great fear came on all the church and on as many as heard these things.
Pretty heavy stuff. And like someone said in our class, “This isn’t from the Old Testament, it’s from the New!” Ananaias and his wife dropped dead after being confronted by Peter for their lying to God. “God is not mocked.” (Galatians 6:7) You can’t play games with God. At the beginning of the early church, the standard had to stay high and there was no place for hypocrisy or deceit. But the people magnified them. And no one joined themselves to the church but the Lord added daily.
And even the shadow of Peter passing by brought healing to some. (See Acts 5:15) Someone in the class said that sounded almost like something Catholic. But then we talked about that and how for hundreds of years, there was nothing but the Catholic Church. And God had ones like St. Patrick, Columbanus, Columba, Gellért in Budapest and so many more who were apostles to peoples across Europe and around the world, many of whom died a martyr’s death. Some would tell us that all those folks will go to hell because they were Catholics. I certainly don’t think that’s the way it is. God worked with the faith that people had then. Many people had no knowledge of God at all and could not read or write before the apostles of their day came to their land. So God did some things back then in the way of unusual miracles that are not normal any longer in our times.
The chapter continues with more persecution. Peter and John were thrown into prison (again) but this time they were released by an angel who told them bluntly, “Go, stand and speak in the temple, to the people, all the words of this life.” (Acts 5:20) And when Peter and John did have to face the religious authorities (again) they again didn’t shilly-shally or pull their punches. They told the high priest that they had killed their prince and their Savior. When the religious authorities commanded them not to teach in the name of Jesus anymore, Peter and John told them, “We ought to obey God, rather than man.” (Acts 5:29)
So this is a strong, emphatic chapter. Of course it’s just so good to get in the Word together with others, to see how God worked in those first days of the Christian era. God is love, Jesus is pictured as the gentle Lamb of God, and the fruits of the Spirit begin with love, joy and peace. But also, life’s a serious business. In the early church era, it was a wonderful, but also an awesome and perhaps even a frightening experience at times.
Many equate fear with something bad. And often that can be true. But there’s a verse that has always spoken to me, “The fear of the Lord is clean.” (Psalm 19:9) Acts 5:11 says “And great fear came on all the church.” But it wasn’t a debilitating, hindering fear. It brought wisdom, sobriety, and Godly caution. This all resulted in a time of tremendous growth and reaping. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Acts 5:14) The chapter ends with another stirring verse which may capture the spirit of those times. “And daily in the temple and in ever house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:42) [You can find the link to the 40 minute audio of the live class here.]