What is the most common complaint leveled at the church throughout history? “Church is just full of hypocrites”, right? It’s not an unreasonable complaint, it’s just that the scope of that observation is too narrow, because, really, the whole world is full of hypocrites. We’re just prone to that folly as humans.
In our study of Acts this week, we’ll be reading chapter 4:32 through chapter 5:11. It has one of the most somber warnings about hypocrisy in the whole New Testament…maybe the whole Bible.
Chapter four ends on a really high note, describing how the infant church went about caring for each other in community. V 33 says that “great grace was upon them all” as a means of explaining the impetus for this sort of interdependent care. Why do you think experiencing God’s grace is a significant factor in community care and concern?
Chapter four is sort of the set-up, the backdrop for the events that unfold in the first eleven verses of chapter 5.
This is pretty difficult stuff to process. The question that persists is: why would God treat this particular sin so severely and immediately? It is a good question. Contrary to popular opinion, this sort of prompt judgment is highly unusual in the Bible. As best as I can tell, this sin was dealt a quick strike because it sets the tone for the intended character of the church. It never happens again in the New Testament – not sure about the church through history. Obviously, if God decided to strike down everyone guilty of sin in the church, none of us would survive. This particular event must be intended to send a strong message…one we need to pay careful heed to.
The issue doesn’t seem to be about the amount of money given or withheld, at least according to v4. The real issue seems to be in v3. A deception wrapped in spirituality. Religious hypocrisy.
When we think about it, who did Jesus level his most serious charges against? Prostitutes? Tax-robbers? Adulterers? No, he seemed to treat them with surprising tenderness. In actuality, Jesus reserved his strongest rebukes for the Pharisees. What did he often call them? What does Jesus warn about in Luke 12:1?
Why do you think religious hypocrisy such an important threat to the church that God would have dealt with it so severely in this passage? What does the nature of this judgement tell us about why hypocrisy is so dangerous to us?
What ways can you think of that we can avoid religious hypocrisy in our church community? What about in our individual lives?
It should prove to be a thought-provoking study!