Holy Spirit discernment and a message that both offends and invites. These are the characteristics of the early Church that were highlighted for me this morning as I read chapters 7 and 8 of Acts.
Discernment ~ Go back with me to chapter 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Peter said to Ananias, “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”
There was no way for Peter to have known what Ananias was really doing without the discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Now jump ahead to chapter 8, where we meet Simon the Scorcerer. Again it is Peter who says to him, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. (v.21)…For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (v. 23)
You could argue that it doesn’t take much discernment to know that a man trying to buy the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t altogether right with God. But Peter saw more than that. The word for “bitterness” (bitter gall, in the King James version), means extreme wickedness.
Simon had offered money “so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit”. I wonder if some of us today would have argued that his heart was in the right place, his intentions were good, he just needed some teaching…a little redirecting. Because we want to believe the best about people, that they really do have good intentions. I think calling people wicked makes us uncomfortable, unless they are “out there” somewhere, not in here, trying to be one of us, excited about what we’re doing and wanting to be a part of it. But God is not building His Church using our human tendencies or desires to believe that everyone is, deep down, good. To cover the weakness of our desires, He gave us discernment through the Holy Spirit.
Discernment comes before the gate opens. Discernment came before Ananias and Sapphira were able to bring deception into the Church. It came before Simon could bring wickedness into the Church. Both would have brought injury and destruction, if not for the protection God gave through discernment.
Discernment is necessary to the Church as a whole, but no less necessary in our individual lives. Personally speaking, I have often discovered what the enemy is doing after he has brought injury to my life. Discernment after the fact isn’t discernment, it’s hindsight. So today, I have determined to seek God for discernment for myself and for my church, so that neither of us live in hindsight.
The Message ~ In Chapter 4, the Sadducees “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (v. 2)
In Chapter 5, they “were filled with jealousy” (v.17), and said, “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (v. 28), and in verse 33, “they were furious and wanted to put them to death.” (That word “jealousy” in the Greek is really a “contentious rivalry”)
In Chapter 7, we find Stephen giving the sermon of his life to the Sanhedrin. Their response? “When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.” (v.54). But Stephen kept going, and “at this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him…” (v.57) And they stoned him to death.
The early Church preached a message that offended and infuriated people to the point of murder. It was a message that opposed certain people’s belief system and exposed their guilt. The Church was never compelled to water anything down, soften it or try to make it taste sweet. The message is what it is.
On the other hand, 3,000 people accepted their message on one day (2:41), and more were being saved every day (2:47), and more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number (5:14).
A message both offensive and inviting, depending on who is hearing it. Nevertheless, they preached the message. We have the same message, and we preach to people who are no different than those ‘back in the day’. Some will be offended and even furious. Some will say yes to the invitation to believe. But we must remember that the message is what it is.
This is the Church. Protected by Holy Spirit discernment, carrying an offensive, inviting message. Emerging in the midst of the explosion of God’s miraculous power and the enemy’s fury.
For some reason, I hear Stevie Wonder in my head right now.
“Isn’t she lovely, Isn’t she wonderful…”