Called to Live 

A series in the Book of Acts
House Group Leaders Notes
Intro to the series:
With a new chapter soon to begin in the life of the church we’re going to spend some time looking at a short section of the Book of Acts.  In particular we’re going to look at some of the ways in which the early church lived out their calling to a life of radical missional discipleship. 
As we read and pray through the passages we’ll take some time to stop and ask the question:
‘As someone with the same calling, how does the experience and way of life of the early church relate to and inspire my call to live as a radical missionary disciple?’
Week 7 Living Honestly
Acts 5:1-11 Luke 16:1-13

Commentary on the passage

Having seen the example of Barnabas who embodied what appears to be the normal way of life for the early church, this week we see an example that is rather different.
Annanias and Sapphira, in the context of a community of people who were willing to place all at the disposal of the Lord and each other appear to land themselves in a spot of terminal bother for thier failure to do so.  Although a very well known passage it's often mis-interpreted and mis-understood so here's a brief exegesis:

The story is difficult to interpret.  DId it really happen?  Is it a legend that grew up around a kernel of truth in order to present an important teaching or warning?
Whether or not it is historically accurate, there are further questions to ask about Peter's seeming ability to pronounce fatal curses, the seemingly magical working of Gods Spirit, and the lack of opportunity for either Annanias and Sapphira to repent - all are warning signs that a superficial interpretation should be avoided and that we must acknowledge that were looking through a window on a very different thought world to our own.

So what can we say?

We're immediately told that Annanias and Sapphira 'hold back' some of the money from the sale of thier field.  The term 'held back' is the same term used to describe Achan 'holding back' some of the spoil from Jericho - all of which was meant to be handed over to the house of Lord or destroyed. So immediately we see this issue is one of honesty and trust.  Achan was not honest, Annanias and Sapphira are being less than honest too.  
As the story goes on we learn that Annanias and his wife were under no compulsion to sell the land or give any money over to the community - to have done so would not have been wrong.  The problem is that Annanias and Sapphira want to be seen to do one thing whilst doing another. 
Peter seems to know what's going on - perhaps the Holy Spirit has allowed him to see what is hidden, or maybe someone else has simply told him - we dont know.   But he calls the dishonesty.  
And then, well Annanias falls down dead...maybe it was the shock of having what was secret exposed, maybe it was because to lie to the apostles (and by extension the Holy Spirit) was a cause of such shame that to be exposed was truly horrifying - again we don't know.  
Not long after Sapphira appears - in what seems a slightly harsh episode, Peter, instead of telling her first of the tragic news of her husband questions her about the gift.  Sadly Sapphira too is caught up in the deception and she too lies to Peter and in response we read what appears to be a death sentence.  In truth it is difficult to know what to make of this and perhaps as far as we can go is to say that this passage (whether legend or history) reflects the seriousness with which the sin of dishonesty was viewed in the early church.

Some questions to start us off…

Culturally we find ourselves a long way from that of the early NT period.  In our culture  'spin' and 'image management' all occupy a fine line between truth and deception, so much so that we're all probably accustomed to accepting a degree of latent dishonesty.
In what ways does this manifest itself in church? 
In what ways do you see this in your own life?
How might we live more honestly with each other?

Some prayer prompts:  

Pray for ever growing honesty in the life of our church
Pray for each other, for courage to speak honestly and live honestly
Pray for each other that where there is dishonesty it may be addresed and changed

Simon Butler, 24/07/2015