Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts
Don’t Mess With the Holy Spirit
“Mess” is such an understated word. Although there may be a better word that describes the intensity of this thought, “mess” will have to do. Every now and again, we are reminded that indeed God is God, and we should be aware that He is not someone to “mess” with.
Mess: to meddle; to use something carelessly; to make something dirty.
One of the most important principles in doing the work of the King is this:
If you are going to be part of the Kingdom,
then do the work of the King in the manner of the King.
This is a Foundational and Critical directive for all followers of Jesus. Paul put it this way to his friends in Corinth:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
This passage is a good example of how it often helps to understand the cultural context for this principle to take hold in hearts.
After a discussion of spiritual empowerments (Chapter 12) which many of his friends in Corinth equated with spiritual maturity, Paul brings them and us back to the real measure of spirituality.
“If I have all the spiritual gifts, and I do not have love for others, then I am as a “chalkos echon” or a “kymbalon alalazon”, says Paul. His readers got it. They understood what Paul was saying, but this is one of those cases where knowing the meaning of the original Greek words does help us with discerning the meaning of the statement. Take a look:
“Chalkos” – a hollowed out brass vessel.
“echon” – to cause to sound; make a noise
The New Kings James Translation renders this as: “sounding brass”.
“Kymbalon” – a shallow metallic basin which
when struck give out a noise
“alalazon” – to clang or ring loudly (also to wail)
In our culture and language, we often translate this into “noisy gong” and “clanging symbol”. Our understanding of what Paul is communicating is that “if I am exhibiting spiritual gifting and I do not have love for others, then I am just making a lot of noise.” That is true. But the message for Paul’s friends in Corinth was more specific, and significant.
Corinth was a Greek city where most of the population went to the theatre and witnessed dramas, which was a public performance involving actors and sound effects. Drama was a Greek invention, and writers such as Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes were famous for their stories of man and women facing the issues of life, often interacting with the host of Greek gods. In Greek drama, actors (hypokrites) stood on the stage, often with masks on their faces, while the “chorus” stood in the circular area in front of the stage called the “orchestra”, singing out their parts and dancing. Often the dialogue was spoken from the orchestra area. For the voices of the gods, the speaker would usually speak into a hallow brass drum, which would cause his voice to take on very deep tones, and actually sound like the “voice of a god”. Often at the same time, another person would drop a sheet of copper onto the floor, causing the sound of thunder to reverberate throughout the theatre (a technique still used in modern theatre).
The audience understood that when the reader stuck his head into the brass drum and read his lines as Zeus, while another dropped the cymbal on the floor to make the sound of thunder, it was only actors simulating the voice of a god.
Paul’s friends in Corinth understood that actors (hypokritis) were actors- they were not gods, even when they tried to “simulate” the voice of a god through speaking into a brass sounding drum. They knew, for example (hypothetically) that their friend Alexander was part of the chorus but worked at the butcher shop down the road from Apollo’s Temple when he was not performing at the amphitheatre as a hypocrites. He was always “Alex” even though he often “simulated” being a god.
Paul said that if he himself had all the outward marking of a powerful spiritual man, unless he treated others as The King wanted him to, then he was just another hypokrites, simulating being a follower of Jesus. It is important for followers of Jesus to act like Jesus as much as possible. The Christian life is all about transformation- changing from the natural man (and woman) into the new creation that God is making you- one that reflects His morality and values. When one who claims to be a Christian fails to follow Christ in the basics- loving others, being fair & truthful, and giving of ourselves- then we are giving the world a false understanding of who Jesus is. The Number One Reason that people do not want to coming into our churches is because of “hypocrites”- actors who only simulate being followers of Jesus and really do what they want to do.
If however we do acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, and submit our lives to Him, then we will try to do what He wants us to do in every situation, in an others-centered manner.
Luke ends Chapter 4 of Acts with the account of this “others-centered” lifestyle.
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. Acts 4:32-37
What a witness of the power of Jesus in the lives of these followers that they would consider everything they owned to be at the disposal of the King for His use! When you share your possessions with others, it goes against basic human nature, and speaks loudly to others that you take seriously what your King says. This lifestyle of giving to others was one of the most powerful elements of the First Century church. Luke specifically mentions a disciple from Cyprus named Joseph who was also known as Barnabas. Most Jews had a Greek name in addition to their Jewish name (Saul/Paul and Simon (the Rock)/Cephas are two examples). Joseph/Barnabas sold a piece of land and brought it all to the leadership to distribute to the needy.
However there were some in the group of disciples who did not understand fully that adopting and following the values and morality of Jesus was essential to their lives as members of God’s family. Luke mentions a couple named Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who also sold a piece of property, but attempted to deceive the leadership by saying that they sold it for a certain price which they were donating all to the needs of the church. In reality, they sold it for more money than they claimed, and kept a portion for themselves. That was not wrong, but Jesus tells His followers to be honest and to tell the truth. Ananias and his wife apparently wanted the status of a “100%” giver (“Wow, those two really have a lot of faith!”), and were willing to lie to their leaders to achieve the appearance of a high level of spiritual maturity.
But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” Acts 5:1-5
What was the result of this deception?
5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”
“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”
9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”
10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened. Acts 5:11
What a lesson for these followers of Jesus! Christianity is serious business! It’s life and death! And in reality, what we are offering humanity is literally life or death. Through this incident, God let His followers know that to represent Him properly in the affairs of this world is critically important. It is a lesson that He has often found the need to give through the ages.
People who call themselves Christians are eventually called to account for their behavior. Listen what Jesus says about this:
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23
This thing called “Obedience” is significant for one reason: It tells us where our hearts are at.
It is important to remember that once we have received Jesus as our Lord, and are part of His family, sin will not end our relationship with God if we handle it properly. John says in his first letter that Christians will occasionally sin, and when we do, we are to confess our sins to God and receive the forgiveness He freely gives. If we find ourselves in habitual sin that we do not feel the need to deal with, then perhaps we are not members of God’s Family, and we need to get saved. Occasional sin does not mean that we lose our salvation. Remember is it just Jesus, and nothing else. Follow John’s thought on this matter.
5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
3 And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. 1 John 1:5-2:6
God knows what our thoughts are, and He gives us His Commandments so that we know what things are important to God. Occasional disobedience is natural for a follower of God- because the Bible says that our inherent sin nature will occasionally raise its head, and we will do what we want, what is good for ourselves, and what makes us comfortable. It’s not the others-centered living that God recommends. The more mature we become, the less we allow our own will to get in the way of what God wants to do in our lives. Many times we learn these lessons by suffering the natural consequences of not doing what Our Heavenly Father recommends. Other times we sense the “rightness” of God’s commands and they become part of our lives by a simple decision process.
When God directs us to do something, and we refuse, or delay, or eventually do it while grumbling, it shows us that there are more areas of our heart that God is going to deal with. As we instruct our children, Obedience has three characteristics: Immediate, Complete, and Cheerfully. Remember, it’s all about what is going on in our heart. Ananias and Sapphira did not have it right in their hearts. They were all about outward appearances. As a result, they stepped over a line, and God took them out.
Luke connects this event to a manifestation of the power of God among the apostles which results in a major influx of people into the family of God.
12 The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. 14 Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. 16 Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. Acts 5:12-16
There is a connection present between righteous living and a release of the power of God. When God’s family dedicate themselves live their lives according to God’s standard of morality, and to do God’s work according to His principles of relationships, usually there is a definite release of God’s supernatural gifting through His people which touch and affect many.
Jesus spoke about this in His last conversation with his disciples before His crucifixion.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. John 15:1-8
The word “remain” is an interesting one in the Greek Language. “Meno” has the meaning of “to stay with, to wait on, to continue to exist, and to stand against opposition”. Jesus tells us that if we “stay with, continue with, stand with, and wait on Him”, there will be much “fruit” in our lives; Jesus will be very present with us and He will cause many supernatural things to happen. How do we “meno” (remain or abide) in Jesus? He explains a critical element in the life of a Christian:
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. John 15:9-10
Abiding and remaining in Jesus means that you are living in obedience to Him and His commandments. This Obedience leads directly to “fruit”, which is the Greek word “karpos”.
Although it is translated as “fruit from a tree or vine”, according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, “karpos” is that which originates or comes from something, an effect, or a result. It means a work, an act, or a deed; an advantage, or profit.
We are called to specific works of the Kingdom which God has prepared us for. He has given us His Authority to carry out these works, and a supernatural empowerment through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12) to accomplish things that will amaze the people around us. If we really want to see God move in supernatural ways, we must commit ourselves to living for Him according to His ways, knowing His will for our lives and pursuing it.
My friend and pastor Craig Englert always says it this way:
“Faithful, Faithful, Faithful- Fruitful. Faithful, Faithful, Faithful -Fruitful.
Ananais and Seppharia were not committed to obeying God in the small things of truthfulness. They aspired to be well known as people of great faith and ones that God was using in a mighty way. Many of us share that desire, but they were not willing to pay the price of letting go of their own agenda and will, and following God in the big and small choices of life.
However Peter, John, Barnabas and the others were committed to laying down their lives and allowing Christ to live thru them. The result was miracles, and as Luke describes, a sureness and boldness to stand on God’s word when facing opposition. It is an amazing story worth reading in its entirety.
The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out. Then he told them,20 “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!”
21 So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.
When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council—the full assembly of the elders of Israel. Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial. 22 But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone. So they returned to the council and reported, 23 “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!”
As my friend Dustin says, you can’t make stuff like this up. The Sanhedrin (the council of religious leaders) were bewildered, and it was about to get even more perplexing.
24 When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end. 25 Then someone arrived with startling news: “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!”
God does have a sense of humor!
26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.* 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.
Peter, the uneducated Galilean fisherman, along with his other fishermen, tax collector, and general riffraff cohorts have confounded these well educated religious authorities. He obviously has something that they do not. According to Peter, that “something” it is the desire to obey God and follow His will, rather than do what seems right in your own eyes, and the resulting presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It infuriates these men who by all outward appearances are the experts on God, but have just been shown that like Ananias and Seppharia, they are only “hypokrites”. Well dressed actors at that!
34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. 35 Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! 36 Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. 37 After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered.
38 “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”
40 The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.
41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. 42 And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah”. Acts 5:17-41
Righteous Living leads to obedience to God, and a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. That results in miraculous events, and boldness when facing opposition. This demonstrates a true connection to God that is very attractive to a world which has witnessed many hypokrites use the name of God for their own purposes.