(Make an acrostic on the whiteboard using the letters for the phrase “Imperfect People”. Have members add words or phrases that describe qualities of people who make up the body of Christ—the church.)
1. Should actions that damage the integrity of a congregation be addressed?
2. What motivates people to give to organizations or causes?
3. What differentiates gifts to the church from these causes? (Believers give to the church to support its mission to tell everyone about Christ. The early church experienced challenges soon after its founding. Churches are made up of people, and people are not perfect.)
God holds believers accountable for their actions and motives. Believers are to take sin within the church seriously.
4. Do you think people who claim to be Christians but poorly reflect Christ should be confronted? Explain.
(Pause and pray for wisdom and understanding as we examine our Scripture passage from Acts 4-5 today.)
Exhibit A: Barnabas! Read Acts 4:36-37
The early church had experienced phenomenal growth since the day of Pentecost; however, these examples of Barnabas, Ananias, and Sapphira underscore God’s expectations of truthfulness and integrity within His church.
1. What do we know from Scripture about Barnabas? (Given name was Joseph; of the tribe of Levi—all priests are Levites but not all Levites are priests, only Levites who were descendants of Aaron are priests; from Cyprus; key leader in the early church; prominent companion of Paul; cousin of Mark; nick-named “Son of encouragement”; stood up for Paul after his conversion; defended John Mark and stood by him when Paul refused to take him on a missionary journey.)
2. What characteristic of Barnabas stands out more to you: his generosity, his devotion to the church, or his willingness to encourage and care for others? Why?
3. How would you describe the relationship between generosity and encouragement?
4. Can one be done without the other? (Encouragement can come in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is by our indirect actions and at other times it is our direct interaction with an individual that gives them encouragement.)
5. How did Barnabas support the early church’s ministry? (The gift Barnabas gave was voluntary. The early church did not have any form of communal ownership of property and possessions. Participation and giving were voluntary.)
6. When have you witnessed the actions of a modern-day Barnabas? (Some might see Barnabas’s actions as a way to get attention or personal acclaim. However, his generosity also can serve as a source of encouragement to others and is therefore worthy of being shared.)
If we were privy to only this incident in the life of Barnabas we might think it might be to gain attention but when we see his life as a whole we see it was a sincere offering to the Lord through his local church! It was meant only to help others and the motivation was pure.
7. How were you encouraged by his or her example?
Luke highlighted Barnabas as an example to demonstrate the unity and generosity of believers in the early church.
Exhibit B: Ananias! Read Acts 5:1-6
1. What do we know from Scripture about Ananias? (He was married; he sold a piece of property; he plotted with his wife to deceive the church about the selling price; he was given an opportunity to explain; he dropped dead; he was buried.)
2. What factors do you think led to Ananias’ actions?
3. What did Peter mean when he said Ananias did not lie to men but to God?
4. How did Ananias’ and Sapphira’s actions compare with that of Barnabas? (They sold a field and gave part of the proceeds to the apostles, but claimed they gave all the proceeds just as Barnabas had done. However, Ananias kept back part of the money, or put it aside for himself.)
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was their deception in the pursuit of personal praise—for acting as though they were being generous while being stingy instead.
We must examine our motives for giving, realizing that not all motives are honorable.
5. What happened when Peter revealed Ananias’ action?
6. How would you explain the reason for Ananias’ sudden death?
7. How did others respond?
8. How might this have affected the credibility of the early church? (The credibility of the early church was compromised because of Ananias’ deception. Yet, most of all, he lied to the Holy Spirit. Sinful and selfish actions affect other people. They also harm the witness of the church as a whole.)
9. What are some other ways Satan leads Christians to commit acts that can harm the local church?
10. How should the church respond to the conduct of willfully disobedient believers?
Exhibit C: Sapphira! Read Acts 5:7-11
1. What do we know about Sapphira? (Married to Ananias; together they plotted to deceive the church about the selling price of their property; she lied to Peter; she died and was buried next to her husband.)
2. Why was Sapphira held to the same standard as her husband?
3. What does it mean to test the Lord? (Peter based his confrontation on what Sapphira had done to the Lord—not specifically to the church. When we sin within the church, we sin unto the Lord.)
4. What would happen if a leader in our church confronted one of our members in a similar manner? (Believers are to take sin within the church seriously. It is not something that can be brushed under the congregational rug.)
Read Acts 5:11 again.
5. What was the result of what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira?
We must realize God takes sin seriously. Sin is visible to God even if it is invisible to man. Sin requires accountability. God expects those who are a part of His church to live holy lives.
6. What are some reasons God expects Christians to live holy lives? (We are to be holy as He is holy. We are to set a good example for others inside the church AND outside the church. Our lives are to be different from the world so others can see the transformation that comes when the Holy Spirit indwells our hearts!)
7. How do you think non-Christians in Jerusalem viewed the early church?
8. Do you think the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira helped or hurt the early church in their community?
Summarize and Challenge!
Barnabas demonstrated obedience, sacrifice, and encouragement through his actions.
Ananias demonstrated pride, greed, and manipulation through his actions.
Sapphira demonstrated a lack of courage and a willingness to deceive through her actions.
1. Are my motives honorable?
2. Am I being obedient?
3. Are there areas of my Christian life where I try to deceive others by appearing more “spiritual” than I really am?
4. To whom am I accountable?
Invite the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and point out characteristics that are unholy and unpleasing to the Lord.
Ask Him for strength and courage to live a life of integrity!