A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 4:32-6:7. Satanic counter-attack.
We noted at the beginning of Chapter 3 that, as soon as the Spirit came upon the church, Satan launched a ferocious counter-attack. Pentecost was followed by persecution. An alternative title for this chapter might be ‘The strategy of Satan’. His strategy was carefully developed. He attacked on three fronts. His first and crudest tactic was physical violence; he tried to crush the church by persecution. His second and more cunning assault was moral corruption or compromise. Having failed to destroy the church from outside, he attempted through Ananias and Sapphira to insinuate evil into its interior life, and so ruin the Christian fellowship. His third and subtlest ploy was distraction. He sort to deflect the apostles from their priority responsibilities of prayer and preaching by preoccupying them with social administration, which was not their calling. If he had been successful in this, an untaught church would have been exposed to every wind of false doctrine. These then were his weapons – physical (persecution), moral (subversion) and professional (distraction).
Now I claim no very close or intimate familiarity with the devil. But I am persuaded that he exists, and that he is utterly unscrupulous. Something else I have learned about him is that he is peculiarly lacking in imagination. Over the years he has changed neither his strategy nor his tactics, nor his weapons; he is still in the same old rut. So a study of his campaign against the early church should alert us to his probable strategy today. If we are taken by surprise, we shall have no excuse.
Luke is concerned, however, not only to expose the devil’s malice, but also to show how he was overcome. First, the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira was not allowed to spread, for God’s judgement fell on them, and the church grew by leaps and bounds (5:12-16). Secondly when the Sanhedrin again resorted to violence, they were restrained from killing the apostles by the cautious counsel of Gamaliel (5:17-42). Thirdly, when the widows’ dispute threatened to occupy all the time and energies of the apostles, the social work was delegated to others, the apostles resumed their priority tasks, and the church again began to multiply (6:1-7).
1). The believers enjoy a common life (4:32-37),
Luke has just recorded that, in answer to their prayers, the believers were freshly ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’(31). The immediate result was that they ‘spoke the word of God boldly’. With this we should perhaps link verse 33: *with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus*, which was one of their primary apostolic responsibilities (cf.1:22). Thus they ignored the Sanhedrin’s ban, and their witness was chacterised by both boldness and power. Indeed, *much grace was with them all*, an expression which may describe their ‘wonderful spirit of generosity’ (JBP), or refer to the fact that they were ‘held in high esteem’ (NEB), or be a more general statement that God’s grace was sustaining them.
Luke does not leave it there, however. He is concerned to show that the fullness of the Spirit is manifest in deed as well as word, service as well as witness, love for the family as well as testimony to the world. So, just as after the first coming of the Spirit he describes the characteristics of the Spirit-filled community (2:42-47), so after they are again filled with the Spirit he provides a second description (4:32-37). Moreover in both cases his emphasis is the same. *All the believers*, he begins, in 4:32 as in 2:44, formed a closely-knit group. They ‘were together’ (2:44), as they devoted themselves to ‘the fellowship’ (2:42), and they *were one in heart and mind* (4:32). This was the fundamental solidarity of love which the believers enjoyed, and their economic sharing was but one expression of the union of their hearts and minds.
It is instructive to compare Luke’s two pictures of the same united, Spirit-filled church in Jerusalem. Although the accounts are verbally independent of one another, he mentions in each the same three consequences of their mutual commitment. The first I will call their radical attitude, in particular to their possessions. They ‘had everything in common’ (2:44); *no-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had (4:32b). Both verses contain the two key words *hapanta koina*, ‘all things in common’. In the light of Peter’s later statement to Ananias that his property was his own (5:4), we cannot press these words into meaning that the believers had literally renounced private, in favour of common, ownership. Perhaps the important phrase is that *no-one claimed* his possessions as his own. Although in fact and in law they continued to own their goods, yet in heart and mind they cultivated an attitude so radical that they thought of their possessions as being available to help their needy sisters and brothers.
Tomorrow: Acts 4:32-37. The believers enjoy a common life (continued).
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|