Summary: The need to continue to devote ourselves to prayerful preaching.
THE ENEMY WITHIN THE GATES!
There was opposition to the gospel from the very beginning of the post-Pentecostal phase of the life of the church. After all, Jesus warned us that if there were those who hated Him, there would also be those who hate us, His followers (John 15:18).
1. The least subtle tactic of the enemy of our souls is persecution.
a. This was evidenced first by the efforts of the Sanhedrin:
ii. stoned Stephen (Acts 7:59);
b. Then King Herod:
iv. murdered James the Apostle,
v. and had Peter imprisoned (Acts 12:1-3).
2. The second device of the devil was to seek to undermine the church's witness by internal hypocrisy (Acts 5:1-11).
3. The third sinister ploy was distraction.
The idea was to sidetrack the church leaders from their priority of prayer and preaching into matters of social administration (Acts 6:1-7).
I. Before we look closer at the two latter tricks, let us turn our attention to the nature of the church
The picture of the church in the early chapters of Acts is of a united community who had not yet ceased to believe in the miraculous. Communion was frequent, and they were given to fellowship – or, more accurately “the fellowship”. They were a worshipping, prayerful people who had committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles. They met in both the temple courts (whilst it was still possible) and in one another's houses, blending both the formal and informal aspects of worship. They stood in favour both with God and man, and God was blessing them with an increase in numbers day by day. And they shared all things in common!
The church's love for one another expressed itself in acts of sacrificial giving which have rarely been equalled. People sold their goods to help meet the needs of others. Without giving up their right to private property, they shared everything they had. From time to time they would sell lands or houses, and bring the proceeds to the Apostles for distribution to those with more immediate needs. There was no compulsion: the whole transaction was both occasional, and voluntary. It is in this situation that we first met Barnabas, who sold his land and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet.
II. Judgement against hypocrisy
After the victory of Israel over Jericho, there was a man called Achan who coveted and kept to himself a Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver and a piece of gold. This had been expressly forbidden, and brought disaster ultimately upon his whole family (Joshua 7).
In a similar way, Ananias and Sapphira brought trouble upon themselves when they contracted to bring the whole proceeds from a sale of their goods as a gift to the church, then failed to deliver the full amount. They were under no compulsion to do so: thus Peter could say to Ananias, “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:4).
Yet it is not the sin of misappropriation or embezzlement which is emphasised here, but the sin of hypocrisy, and of lying to the Holy Ghost. It is bad enough for us to withhold from the poor, but to pretend all the while that we are actually giving to them is reprehensible. By doing so we do not lie to men, but to God.
Whilst Achan and his family had to be stoned by all Israel, the judgement against Ananias and Sapphira was executed by God Himself: Peter only served as the one employed to pronounce the sentence of God's court. As a result, the fear of God fell upon and surrounded the Christian community.
Thereafter the church continued to meet in Solomon's Porch, in the Temple. Apostolic signs and wonders were multiplied. More believers were added to their number. People sought the miraculous, recognising Peter as a man of God. Unbelievers, on the other hand, dared not try to join the church, but were awestruck into keeping their distance!
III. Internal strife
It is sad that, after all the church has come through, the devil is so often able to reek havoc through internal divisions. Where persecution has failed, and moral subversion has been prevented, there is so often a clash of personalities or of interests.
If we cannot be bullied into unfaithfulness, nor bewitched into insincerity, then perhaps we can be beguiled into disunity? Furthermore, if preachers can be distracted from their specific calling by being pressed into matters of social administration, then perhaps the voice of the gospel can be silenced once and for all?