by Dr. Vance H avner
A s recorded in the first four chapters of the Book of Acts, the early church rolled along triumphantly for a time, but it soon encountered trouble within as well as without. The fifth chapter begins significantly with the word, “ But . . .” Let those who sigh for the “ good old days” remember that even the first church was not an untroubled brotherhood. What with the murmuring of the Grecians, the break between Paul and Barnabas, Paul’s “ run-in” with 'Peter, the fuss between Euodias and Syntyche and the Corinthian schisms, to say nothing of the failings of the churches in Asia as described in Revelation, the New Testament is no rec ord of unbroken harmony. There were liars aplenty in Jerusalem but Ananias and Sapphira had this distinction that they were liars in the church. What made this sin so grievous that two lives were snuffed out as an eternal warning to all saints of all time? It did not lie in their giving part of the price or in keeping part of it: that they had a perfect right to do. It did consist in feigning that the part was the whole; it was a pretense of full surrender which in reality had not been made. If God struck dead all who so lie to the Holy Ghost today, many a sanctuary would be filled with corpses! Think of the multitudes who sing, “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine, For Thee all the follies o f sin I resign;” who never dream of actually making such a surrender to God! Consider how we invite God to “have Thine own way,” to “hold o’er our beings absolute sway,” when there is not the faintest intention o f thus submitting to His.will. We have had courses in stewardship galore and have been told countless times that we are “ not our own” but that we are “bought with a price,” yet for all that, we withhold from God our time, talent, money and, above all, ourselves. Observe how the matter of lying to the Holy Spirit was dealt with. By the grace of God, the church rose to the situation and cleaned house, exhibiting a holy and healthy intolerance of sin. Here was such a fever of con secration that men with falsehoods on their lips could not stand it. The temperature was high enough to kill the germs! If the church of today would take such a stand against the sins within it and would thunder like Peter against lying to the Holy Ghost, the world would retreat respectfully to a safe distance, and the fear of God would fall on a generation that now laughs at holy things. But sin has been excused and pampered until liars, divorcees and hypocrites fill church offices and seem never to have heard that those who bear the ves sels of the Lord must be clean. We read that, following the death of Ananias and Sapphira, great fear came upon the church and all that heard; many signs and wonders were wrought; some dared not join the church; but the people magnified them
and believers were the more added to the Lord, multi tudes both of men and women. Such consequences would again follow such procedure but of course nobody wants to risk it these days. Discipline has disappeared from the church. There is a lot of sickly sentiment about the sinning individual. The other side of the truth, that the body of the church must be protected from the indi vidual when that person becomes a source of infection, is forgotten. Paul, in his drastic action- in Corinth, had in mind the welfare of the whole church. Of course, the sinner must be restored when duly repentant and all action against him must be taken in love. But a weak tolerance of sin has filled our churches with liars against the Holy Ghost. The world has lost its awe of the church; it now slaps the church on the back in rude familiarity and all too often “church” has become merely another club to join along with civic societies and fra ternal orders. The best way to deal with Ananias and Sapphira is to start with ourselves. “ Let a man examine himself.” Each one of us should ask, “ Is there any of this sin in me?” Believers may grieve the Spirit, may quench the Spirit, may lie to the Spirit. We are not our own, we are bought with a price. All things ace ours but us, and we are His. Yet how many Christians do you know who think of themselves merely as stewards of God? Some give Him a tip, and call it a tithe, as though the nine- tenths were their own. Of course Ananias and Sap phira were not obliged to give all their possessions and to place the price in the common fund, and neither are we. It was and is a voluntary matter. But to pretend to do it and not do it is the sin that God marked with sudden death. Is it not equally sinful to profess a full surrender which we have not made? I do not hear much today about this startling inci dent in the early church. I suppose the liberalists have some way of accounting for it other than by the fearful facts of the case. But I do not hear much about it from the orthodox. Of course the Book of Acts gets a lot of letting alone from the saints. Much about it is most disturbing; our pale copy today is so weak that much of the original is not discernible at all. The modernists stay in the gospels and the fundamentalists sometimes do not get started well until they reach Romans. But Acts gives us the norm. There is where the movement started and, no matter how embarrassing some of it may be when compared with our modern version, we had better face up to it. We need some preaching about Ananias and Sapphira and lying to the Holy Ghost. Any lesson that God illustrates as fearfully as He did this deserves our earnest consideration. If we had the holy intolerance of sin here manifest, we might also share in the aftermath of blessing, of multitudes added to the Lord.
TH E KING'S BUSINESS
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