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Lesson 9: Ministry in the New Testament Church *

Introduction: This week we start our study with a report on what the very early Christians did with their property. Nothing like it is reported in the Old Testament, and nothing like it is ever reported again in the New Testament. Why is that? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more!

  1. The Pentecost Commune

    1. Read Acts 2:5-11. Why do we have people from all over the known world in Jerusalem? (It is to celebrate the "Festival of Weeks" ( Deuteronomy 16:10), which we now call "Pentecost.")

    2. If you do not know the Pentecost story, read Acts 2:1-40. If you know it already, read Acts 2:41. What is the result of the gospel message being given with the power of the Holy Spirit? (Three thousand people were baptized into the church that day.)

    3. Read Acts 2:42. Who is the "they" referred to in "they devoted themselves?" (The three thousand who were converted.)

      1. What were the three thousand doing? (The apostles were teaching these new believers. They were eating, praying and enjoying being together.)

    4. Read Acts 2:43-46. What is the practical problem? (They are travelers, they are staying in Jerusalem longer than they anticipated, they are in school and not working - how do they live? How do they get food?)

      1. When you consider the circumstances, is this a unique situation, or is this how Christians normally should live? (This is a unique situation. If you have ever attended a "camp meeting," imagine that it unexpectedly lasts months, not a week or two. To make sure everyone was fed, you would need to sell what you had with you that was of value to help feed the rest.)

      2. When you consider that this approach to living is not reported anywhere else in the Bible, what does this say about living communally? (Normally, Christians enjoy the dignity and discipline of work. This is a special instructional period. I expect that after adequate teaching, these new converts returned home to share the gospel where they lived.)

    5. Read Acts 2:47. Is the problem of feeding the group getting better or getting worse? (The good news is that more are being saved. The bad news is that the new converts also need to be fed, although these converts are likely already living in Jerusalem.)

    6. Read Acts 4:4. We are now two chapters into the growth of the church. We don't know how much time has passed since Pentecost. How many believers do we now have in Jerusalem? (The complete number of men, women, and children is unknown, but we know there were five thousand men.)

    7. Read Acts 4:32-35. Is this still the emergency situation that existed immediately after Pentecost? (The answer seems to be "no.")

      1. Why do these early believers have the attitude that none of "the things [were their] own?" (It cured the problem of the needy for the moment.)

      2. Acts 4:34 says that house and land owners sold them and brought the proceeds to the disciples to be redistributed. This argues against this being an emergency situation. How long could the commune go on with this funding?

    8. Read Acts 4:36-37. What do we know about Barnabas? (He later becomes a famous leader in the early church. Note that this says that he is a "Levite.")

      1. Read Numbers 18:20-21. What is Barnabas doing owning property? (Some commentaries suggest the restriction on Levites owning property was no longer practiced.)

      2. How much of Barnabas' property did he sell?

    9. Read Acts 5:1-4. Let's discuss the questions that Peter asks of Ananias. What obligation does Ananias have to sell his property and give it to the church? (The implication is that Ananias had no obligation to either sell his land or give the proceeds of the sale.)

      1. What light does this shed on the communal property situation we have been discussing? (It was not required by God or the early church leaders. However, by living this way no one went hungry.)

    10. Read Acts 5:5. What is the problem? (Lying!)

      1. Isn't this an extreme punishment for lying?

      2. Let's drill down on this. What motivated Ananias to lie? (Recall the account of Barnabas? Ananias and his wife wanted to be considered as righteous as Barnabas and everyone else who was sharing.)

      3. What would happen in your church, what would happen to you, if the death penalty was imposed for everyone who tried to look more righteous than they really were?

    11. Let's skip ahead and read Acts 5:9 and compare it with Acts 5:3. Why does Peter inject the Holy Spirit into this matter? (We have now hit upon the true problem - believing that the Holy Spirit was so powerless He would not know the truth.)

    12. Read Acts 5:11. What were the new members fearing? Selfishly keeping their stuff? (It was respect for the power of the Holy Spirit. The church was in the middle of an extraordinary time of the working of the Holy Spirit.)

      1. What does this teach us about aiding the least of these? (This gets back to something we have been discussing. Why give a poor person a temporary fix if you can "do better" by having the Holy Spirit heal whatever is the root of their problem?)

        1. Could there be a selfish motive behind "doing better" - you don't have to share your stuff if the Holy Spirit does the heavy work?

  2. A Test

    1. Read 2 Corinthians 8:7. Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth. What about the Corinthians does Paul compliment? (Faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love.)

      1. What does Paul suggest needs improvement? ("This grace of giving.")

    2. Read 2 Corinthians 8:1 and 8:3-4. Whose example does Paul point out? (The Macedonians who were generously helping in the relief program.)

    3. Read 2 Corinthians 8:8. Wait a minute. How can Paul say giving to others is not "a command," but giving proves your love is "sincere?"

      1. Isn't faking your love a sin? (Think again about Ananias and his wife.)

    4. Read 2 Corinthians 8:9. What example does Jesus provide? (Extreme selflessness.)

  3. The Blessing

    1. Read 2 Corinthians 8:10. Paul gives us his "judgment" that being generous will benefit the giver. What is your judgment on this? (Read Malachi 3:10-12. This is a thread that runs throughout the Bible. If you are generous with God, He is generous with you.)

    2. Read Acts 4:34. Consider this in a new light. Instead of thinking about how difficult it would be to give away your property, focus on the fact that no one ended up being "needy." Do you recall that we discussed whether this communal giving could last? What is the correct answer? (If God keeps blessing it can!)

    3. Read Acts 9:36-38. What do you think the disciples thought that Peter could do about the death of Dorcas?

    4. Read Acts 9:39-40. If Dorcas was just a regular member sitting in the pew each week, do you think Peter would have been called? (No. Dorcas would have been buried.)

      1. What point is the Bible making in this story? (If you are generous with others, you will be blessed. This is yet another example of the thread running through the Bible that obeying God, and loving your neighbor, makes your life better. The reverse is also true, disobedience and selfishness makes your life worse.)

    5. Read Proverbs 11:24. Friend, which would you prefer - to prosper or come to poverty? Why not ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to be a blessing to others?

  4. Next week: Living the Gospel.
* Copr. 2019, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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