Writers like David Gooding and John Stott have observed the way that after the initial explosion of activity, Acts chapters 4, 5 and 6 bring an onslaught of opposition in a variety of forms.
On Sunday we thought about the three key ways it was experienced and we looked at the young church's responses to them.
In broad terms, in these chapters, we see this:
chapter 4: Persecution
chapter 5: Corruption
chapter 6: Distraction
It came from outside. The leaders were arrested, they were told to be silent, not to speak in 'this name' (the name of Jesus was seen as a real threat), they were flogged and generally clamped down on. This was intimidation and pressure from the authorities - persecution from outside of the new community.
THEIR RESPONSE? PRAY FOR BOLDNESS
To gather and pray. And not simply saying 'please God make it stop', but for boldness to stand and continue. What a lesson - they expected the opposition. Their response was to pray for courage to continue.
The second challenge came from inside the community. Ananias and Sapphira, claiming to be followers of Christ, and seeing the way people like Barnabas (end of chapter 4) had sold a field in order to give the money to others in need, decided they wanted the applause without the sacrifice. So they sold a field, and pretended to give all the money while only giving part. As Peter pointed out, they were free to do with their field and the money as they liked. But they lied - to the people and to the Holy Spirit. And dramatically, judgment came as they fell down dead.
And we read this and think - really? Why so serious? We feel a bit uncomfortable. Plenty of other things go unpunished (at least in terms of the immediate - judgement will still come). But this was the early days and while there has been corruption within church institutions over years, the church at this time was only beginning. If a people pleasing, hypocritical, deceptive culture had taken root at this time, the whole thing may have crashed and burned. The very existence of the church was threatened.
RESPONSE? FEAR OF THE LORD
ch5v11 says great fear came on the entire church. In the bible, fear of the Lord is a big theme. Not just knee knocking fear, but awe and respect and reverence. It is the counter to 'fear of man' - people pleasing.
Some infighting had broken out around the question of whether there was discrimination going on in terms of caring for the widows. Possibly there was. It needed dealing with. But the apostles saw another concern. They did not want to get tied up and lose their focus, which can so easily happen - even with good, needed, legitimate things.
RESPONSE? BE CLEAR ABOUT PRIORITIES/ROLES.
The apostles appointed a team to deal with it. They recognised the importance of the issue, but made sure that the focus of the leadership could remain as prayer, and ministry of the word.
For all three, the ultimate guiding principle was that Jesus Christ is God and Lord over all, and what he wants matters most.
What he wants matters most. His name. His fame. His ways. His kingdom.
Being clear on that will prepare and arm us for whatever challenges may come our way.