The Church’s First Internal Problem

The Church’s First Internal Problem

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

We cannot call what happens in Acts five the church’s first problem. Having your members hauled before community leaders and threatened would be stressful and concerning. Having members in financial need would be considered a tough issue. But, neither of those things were “unforced errors.” In an organization filled with people, there will be internal problems because we have struggles and sins. What we do about them and after them spells the difference in ultimate success and failure. 

THE REBELLION (1-10). We are introduced to a couple named Ananias and Sapphira, members of the Jerusalem congregation. In the spirit of sacrificial generosity, Barnabas, who owned a tract of land, “sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). This couple also sold a piece of property, an admirable and generous thing to do to prevent needs among the Christians (4:34). But, what they did after the sell was anything but righteous. They kept back part of the proceeds from the sale. What was the sin in that? Apparent there was an intent to deceive, to suggest that they were giving all the money while keeping part of it for themselves. The word translated “keep back” is the word for pilfer or embezzle, suggesting they had pledged the full price of the sale but kept back some for their own security. This would also suggest covetousness or greed, hearts influenced by worldliness. It also certainly implies pride, wanting to be seen as generous as Barnabas while not suffering the full sacrifice of surrendering all the money for the needs of the saints. This husband and wife were united, but in the worst possible way. Do we struggle with materialism, pride, greed, dishonesty, and selfishness? It is good for us to appreciate how seriously God takes the willful sin in the lives of His children (Heb. 10:26ff). God preserved this in Scripture for us to contemplate how harmful “sin in the camp” is to the spiritual health and well-being of His sacred community (the church). 

THE RESPONSE (3-10). Peter calls out Ananias (3-4), then Sapphira (8-9) three hours later. He specifies what they had done and why it was so wrong. God’s response was to strike each of them dead! Looking back on this, especially if we struggle to see the “big deal” of their sin, we might think the reaction was overly harsh or unreasonable. No doubt this event gets our attention and sharpens our focus on how seriously God views premeditated sin and sin that threatens to harm the entire spiritual community. Conceiving transgression in the heart and attempting to lie to God is such a basic betrayal of our Lord. While we should be grateful that God does not choose to respond with such immediacy today, we should also reflect deeply upon how grave it is to engage in unrighteousness. It’s not “no big deal,” something to be rationalized away. Even if church leadership does not address it in this life does not mean God will not address it at the judgment. This text encourages us to keep our heart soft to His will and to the reality of our willfulness. 

THE RESULT (11-16). We might think that people would have left that church in droves! After all, if they had a marquee in front of their “building,” it might say, “Come inside and try us. The Holy Spirit strikes down our liars.” Yet, what happens next? As we might suspect, “great fear came upon them all” (11). But, the judgment on the couple did not drive people away or even send the cause in a backward direction. The apostles demonstrate God’s power (12), the church spent more time together (12), the broader community held them in high esteem (13) and benefited from their benevolence (15-16), and, maybe most startling, “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (14). How could this be the result of the ultimate example of “church discipline”? Simply, this is God’s wisdom. Paul will later say, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Just because we don’t understand God’s ways does not make them inappropriate and improper (Isa. 55:8-9). The Potter has a right over the clay (Rom. 9:20-21). We must resist the temptation to protest the teaching and conclusions God’s Word makes because we find it too hard and narrow. If we trust God’s wisdom and pattern, we’ll find it works in any culture, time, and place. 

The Lord Will Provide

The Lord Will Provide

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Harold Nicks

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham where God instructs him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. We know from the text that God was testing Abraham and we know that God stopped him and then provided a ram to sacrifice instead. Because of God’s provision Abraham named that place THE LORD WILL PROVIDE! Three months ago, a tornado devastated many parts of Bowling Green affecting some of our own members, as well as many others in the community.

We have witnessed the outpouring of help and concern by the aid and donations made over 100 congregations and individuals – giving their money and their time to help those who have lost their homes and possessions. God has used us as the facilitators of this aid and used it as an opportunity to show His love and tell people about Him. We can honestly say THE LORD WILL PROVIDE.

I want to keep with the theme of God’s provisions but change the verb tense to THE LORD HAS PROVIDED!

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a magnificent world to live in. In Genesis 1 we read that everything he made was good and He has provided everything we need to enjoy a fulfilling life. As Spring approaches (my favorite time of the year) we will see God’s handiwork as the trees begin to bud and flowers bloom and He created it all for us.

David wrote in Psalms 8 : “when I consider your heavens the work of your fingers, the moon, the stars you have set in place What is man that You are mindful of him.” He loves us and has made this world for us to enjoy.

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED each of us with talents, abilities, and opportunities to serve….and He expects us to use them to serve Him, as well as our fellow man. The Bible instructs us to use our talents and gifts to the best of our abilities as pointed out in Matt 25 in the parable of the talents and again In Romans 12: 6-8, Paul says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a peace in times of trouble. Those who do not know Him can’t really understand. With Covid and all the political turmoil in our country and the war in Ukraine we can still have the assurance of God’s love and understand HE is in control.

We read in Philippians 4:6-7 to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. His assurances are also given to us in Romans 8. Verse 31 says, “If God is for who can be against us. In verse 38 and 39 Paul encourages us with these words “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a way to live with Him for eternity through Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

He has provided reconciliation through Jesus – He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Col. 1:22).

He has provided redemption through Jesus – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).

God has provided many things for us, but most of all is the way to live with Him forever. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

If you are searching for peace and a way to be with God for eternity, He has provided a way.

A Small Portion Does Not Mean Small Proportion

A Small Portion Does Not Mean Small Proportion

Neal Pollard

Those who address us prior to our giving often make a statement like this, that we are giving back but a small portion of what God has blessed us with. In other words, if you could owned and could contribute all the world’s wealth, week after week, how would that compare to the sacrificial gift of Christ (cf. Mat. 16:26)? In fact, how could it compare with the many additional blessings besides atonement—a body equipped with the ability to perform involuntary actions (breathing, blood flow, cell regeneration, etc.), an environment conducive to life (air to breathe, photosynthesis, etc.), a planet in harmony with sun and moon making life possible, and the list is endless. It is not only impossible to out-give God, it is impossible to come anywhere close.

The Bible does not dictate a percentage for the New Testament Christian giver. The inferior covenant (cf. Heb. 8:7-8) required a tenth of all (Heb. 7:5), a pretty good benchmark for those of us having access to the better covenant established upon better promises. It is impossible to know what anyone might be thinking who hears the well-intended, if well-worn, statement, “We have the opportunity to give back a small portion of the many blessings we have received…” It does not mean, “A small proportion.” Nowhere does the Bible sanction stingy, leftover-style giving. In fact, it condemns such (read Malachi). Instead, Paul writes, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

Giving involves a monetary, financial exercise, but it is a distinctly spiritual activity. It is an act of trust, a faith that the God who has provided will continue to provide and bless the one who bountifully shares what he has been given. When we, like the Macedonians, give beyond what we believe is beyond our ability (2 Cor. 8:1-5), we open up an exciting door in our walk with Christ.

If you are one who gives a small proportion of your income, may I challenge you to increase it? See what happens in your life. You are not giving to manipulate or coerce God, but you will experience a growth not possible on the “small proportion” side of generous giving. Trust Him! He has never broken a promise yet (read Mal. 3:10 and Luke 6:38).


Church Cooperation

Church Cooperation

Neal Pollard

I have become more acutely aware of the importance of “church cooperation” working with a congregation that operates a school of preaching.  To get every student here and to support every teacher who prepares them for ministry, several congregations and individuals must give to make this a reality.  Those who contribute range from the very wealthy to the financially struggling, the highly educated to those not as much, the urban to the rural, and from the west coast to the east coast.  Congregations who give may be large or tiny.  But, all are needed and each works together to help produce men prepared to fulfill their ministry.

“Church cooperation” also is a term which applies to a necessary, internal function.  Within the church, there must exist a spirit and willingness to work together despite our differences—be it race, societal status, religious background (whether raised in the church or converted), and the like.  God anticipated such diversity, but still expects unity.  He is displeased with multiple, divergent “agendas” and frowns most emphatically upon self-seeking and self-serving individuals.  Whatever would fuel division, pride, fleshly lusts, greed, or worldly philosophies, must be identified and scuttled.  Paul wrote one congregation, saying, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:1-4).  Why cooperate?  Because of Christ and what He has done. How cooperate? Positively, by oneness of mind, love, spirit, purpose, and humility. Negatively, by avoiding selfishness, conceit, and serving self-interest.

How easy it is to read that divine guidance, but how hard to practice!  Yet, it is essential to a congregation thriving and growing…together!  The sobering thing is that each of us is either a cooperator or a coagulator (hardening and hindering).  That is determined by our attitude, words, and decisions.  May we each resolve to be a “church cooperator”!