Acts 4:32–6:6 Three Big Problems of the Infant Church.

Key Notes: Sin in the church. Ethnic discrimination. Lies to God. Miracles. Persecution.

4:32–37 The communal beginnings of the Church were initiated by love and desire for fellowship, and nourished by free-will offerings, some quite large. Joseph "Barnabas" {Note 1}, for example, sold property and brought it to the Apostles.

5:1–11 Not to be outdone, Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a parcel and brought some of the money as a gift to the Church. However, they retained part of the proceeds presumably as security for themselves.

Peter was very stern confronting Ananias. They were under no compulsion to give a whole or a part, but they had lied, not to the Apostles, but to God.{Note 2} Ananias fell dead. Three hours later, his wife appeared and agreed with her husband's version of the story. She too died at once and was buried next to her husband.

5:12–16 A wave of fear swept over the Church but did not deter its growth. Multitudes were being added to the fold. But there appears now to be a demarcation between the believers and the rest of the Jews. Healing ministry became very important, and the mere shadow of Peter was sufficient to heal the sick. People came from surrounding towns and all were healed.

5:17–32. The high priest and the Sadducees, out of jealousy, arrested all the apostles and put them in the common prison. At night an angel of the Lord released them and sent them back to continue preaching "this Life." Although the temple captain and the high priest were most puzzled at the Apostles' disappearance, they were soon told that the escapees were teaching in the temple again. They were carefully recaptured, and charged with disobedience. The high priest was afraid that the Romans might think the situation out of control and destroy the nation.
Peter and the apostles retorted again that they must obey God rather than men. God had raised Jesus whom they had hanged on a tree, and exalted Him to His own right hand as Leader and Savior. The Holy Spirit was being given to all who obey Him.

5:33–42 The Sanhedrin was outraged. Not only did they regard the message as totally wrong, and the messengers defiant, but they were accusing the Sanhedrin of murder--and their impulse was to kill them.
But Gameliel, son of Hillel, the greatest rabbi of his day (and Saul's teacher, Acts 22:3) quieted them.{Note 3} He reminded them that two other insurrections had failed. This one might also, but if not, they might be opposing God Himself. With that, the apostles were beaten and discharged. They went out rejoicing, and continued their daily teaching and preaching Jesus the Christ.

6:1–7 Another problem emerged. Widows of native Israelites (Hebrews) were better cared for than those who had come from elsewhere in the Roman Empire (Hellenists). The Hebrews may have reasoned that their ancestors returned after the Captivity in 536BC to rebuild the temple, and the wall of Jerusalem, fighting off the Greek invasion under the Maccabees and contending with the Romans. Surely they had suffered more than Jews who had lived for generations in luxury in Rome, Athens, or Corinth and they should receive preferential treatment. The apostles solved the problem by selecting seven Hellenist Church leaders to assure fair distribution of food and money. These were no ordinary deacons! They were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Two at least (Stephen and Philip) became evangelists, and were not around to serve tables.

In summary, the Church faced three problems.
a. Sin in the church was dealt with summarily, as Israel dealt with Achan at the beginning of Joshua's conquest of Canaan. (Josh.7). Ananias and Sapphira died for lying.
b. Persecution grew. The high priest faced the memory of Jesus' preaching, His trial, the crucifixion, the empty tomb, Pentecost, the preaching of Peter, the healing of the lame man, and the empty jail cells and none of these events persuaded him.
c. Prejudice emerged in the church early. The Apostles do not preach against it; they solved the problem administratively. In so doing, they created a class of church workers (deacons and deaconesses), whose duties are continued to this day. It is likely that the Apostles would be equally pragmatic in dealing with such situations today.

The Bible is not really interested much in structure except that worship is orderly and the family is upheld. But little is said about organization. If we all obey God, problems such as war, poverty, and crime do not develop. See Deut.28–30

{Note 1} Joseph's nickname, Barnabas, means literally "son of prophecy". But Luke interprets it as son of the paraclete, meaning counselor or helper. Paraclete is also a name for the Holy Spirit. (Jn.14:16). The connection between counsellor and prophet is that much prophecy is intended to encourage and comfort, Isa.40:1 for example. This seems to be the major function of prophecy in our day as well.

{Note 2} Modern readers are often shocked, not at what Ananias and Sapphira did, but at Peter's severe discipline. What's wrong with a little white lie? It was not malicious. No one was hurt. They benefited a lot of poor people. Besides, they did not lie to God, they only lied to Peter. Why not give them a chance to back down at least?

a. Was it a lie to God? Gifts given to the Church are given to God. Lies about gifts given to God are lies to God. The apostles may receive it, and the poor may be beneficiaries, but since ancient times, whatever comes to the Temple, is dedicated to God. The lamb must be without spot of blemish. The finest wheat, oil, wine, etc. is given to God but used by priests.

b. Wasn’t the punishment too severe? It was summary capital punishment, not remedial but punitive. It was also educational. The new Church learned a vital lesson. Do not lie to God.
We all have psychological devices for hiding some of our activities from God, but they are delusions. "And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Heb.4:13).

The punishment of Ananias ans Sapphira occurred at the beginning of the new Church. It is similar to two previous events at the beginning of new ventures.

It appears to be a general rule that discipline at the beginning of new movements tends to be severe. These same sins, when they occur many years later, will be ignored.

{Note 3} Saul will soon be ravaging the Church. (Acts8:3). Perhaps Gameliel changed his mind about the growing church, or Saul did not listen to his advice. God will stop him, convert him, and make him a great missionary and theologian.