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Definitions of Doctrine
by C. D. Cole
Volume III- THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
CHAPTER 11-Tested in Fellowship
As a fellowship they had all things common. This was an inspired fellowship, nothing political or legislative about it. It was voluntary and not compulsory. They were as knit together as one soul that they said nothing they had was their own. Those who had property sold it and put the proceeds into a common fund. Nothing was taken from anybody. Out of this common fund distribution was made according to the needs of the members.
This was a voluntary and temporary measure to meet the present emergency. This fellowship was tested. It resulted in tragedy as well as victory. Barnabas sold his property on the island of Cyprus and put the proceeds into this common fund. This large gift was the envy of Ananias and wife Sapphira. They had some property and they wanted honor, but they did not want it to cost them too much. They conferred and agreed to sell the property and keep part of the price, but leave the impression that they were giving all. That seemed innocent, but it wasn’t that easy, they had to say out right that what they gave was all it brought. Peter asked the embarrassing question. As Ananias made his offering, Peter asked, “Is that all the land brought?” Then Peter went into action: “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price?” (Acts 5:3). It was yours. You did not have to sell and when you sold it you did not have to bring all of it or any of it; but you lied unto the Holy Ghost when you planned to leave the wrong impression. Ananias had heart failure and died on the spot. Fear spread through the crowd as young men took his body to the cemetery. Sapphira came in and was asked by Peter the same question: “Did you sell the land for so much, naming the amount they gave?” She said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter brought the indictment and made the announcement that the young men were coming for her body. She was so frightened that she dropped dead at his feet, and the young men made another trip to the cemetery and buried her by the side of her husband.
All this checked the rush to join the church, but it also resulted in more believers being added to the Lord. The people magnified them. The church had the respect and confidence of the people. They brought their sick into the streets in the hope that the shadow of Peter might fall on them. They were having a great time in their healing services.
But all this aroused the ire of the Sadducees. The high priest and other members of his party had the apostles arrested and jailed. But the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and sent them back into the temple to preach Jesus. They got there early next morning. The high priest called the Sanhedrin court into session and sent officers for the prisoners. The officers came and found they were not in prison and went back with this report. We found the prison shut and guards at their places, but no prisoners inside. This threw the court into a panic and they could see no way to stop the movement. While they were expressing their fears, a reporter came and said “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people,” (Acts 5:25).
The temple police went and brought the apostles without violence for they feared the people. The prisoners were placed before the council and questioned. The high priest asked them if they had not been charged not to teach in the name of Jesus. Peter replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29). They preached Jesus to the court and charged them with murder of Jesus whom God raised up. The court was cut to the heart and took counsel to slay them. They were saved temporarily by Gamaliel, a Pharisee who was a member of the court. He offered worldly wisdom.
This section begins with a crisis resulting from the community of goods. There were two social classes in the church: The home-born Jews and the foreign-born Jews who were called Grecians or Hellensist. They spoke the Greek language and were not as narrow as the Jerusalem Jews. The Grecians had a complaint. They murmured that their widows were not getting their share in the daily ministration.
The twelve called a meeting of the church and had full discussion of the matter. They neither confessed nor denied the charge. But they said, We need a division of labor. It doesn’t make sense for us to serve tables, minister to the poor; our job is to minister the word and pray. “Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business...And the saying pleased the whole multitude and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, Prochorus and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:” (Acts 6:3, 5). Apostles have set an example for preachers of all ages.
Two of these men whom we think of as deacons soon became prominent, not in serving tables, but in witnessing. Stephen became a martyr and Philip a foreign missionary.
Stephen did great wonders and miracles. He was soon opposed by the members of a certain synagogue to which he also probably belonged. They were not able to meet him in debate. He was too much for them. They got somebody to accuse him of blaspheming Moses and God. So they brought him into court and had false witnesses who said they had heard him continually blaspheme against the temple and the law. “We have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us,” (Acts 6:14).
But as the court looked at Stephen they saw a face that looked like an angel. The high priest asked Stephen if he wished to plead guilty or innocent. Stephen reviewed Hebrew history, shot through and through with instances of sin and failure on the part of their fathers. When he comes to Solomon who built the temple, he says, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” (Acts 7:48). Then he bursts forth with an awful indictment: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,” etc. (Acts 7:51).
This cut them to the heart and they gnashed on him with their teeth. They had heard the charge of murder once too many times. He saw the heavens opened and Jesus standing on the right hand of God and he told them what he saw. They screamed at him and stopped their ears and ran upon him. They stoned him, but he went down praying. We are here introduced to a new character in Acts: Saul of Tarsus. He held the clothes of these who stoned Stephen and consented to his death. This young man took the lead in this awful persecution against the church. He will be heard from later.
The church was scattered. Everybody had to leave Jerusalem except the apostles. A deacon by the name of Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. He had a good hearing and a big revival. When the apostles hear about Philip’s big meeting at Samaria, they send Peter and John. When they came they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost.
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