The Church facing opposition from within, by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

The fact remains that Satan is still attacking the believers, and as he does, he uses a dual plan: deception from within (Acts 5:1-16) and persecution from without (Acts 5:17-34). Satan is a liar and a murderer, and we see him operating in both spheres in this chapter. The main purpose for this material is to do an expository study on Acts 5:1-16 with an emphasis on reflecting on the opposition within. Here, we see Satan operating as the serpent, using believers within the assembly to hinder the work of the Lord.

The sin of deception (verses 1 – 2)

Ananias and Sapphira wanted to gain the reputation for being more spiritual than they actually were. When the others brought their donations (4:34 – 37), these two were jealous and wanted the same recognition. Please keep in mind that their sin was not stealing money from God, because Peter stated in verse 4 that it was in their own power to use the money as they wished. Their sin was hypocrisy, trying to appear more spiritual than they really were. They had wanted others to believe they had sacrificed everything when they had only given a portion.

 
The Spirit of discernment at work (verses 3 – 4)

Peter was a man with Spirit – given discernment.  Sin is always discovered in one way or another. This couple had not mentioned anything openly, but the terrible sin was in their hearts. They had lied to the Spirit of God who was graciously working in the hearts of the believers, leading them to sell their belongings and share with others.

 
The consequence of deaths (verses 5 – 11)

This was not a case of “church discipline” since God dealt with the sinners directly. The two deaths illustrate the kind of judgment the Messiah will exercise during the kingdom (Jeremiah 23:5 and Revelation 19:15). Unlike local church discipline, where the pastor and the church investigate a matter, give an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness, and seek to restore the erring ones, this was a definite case of divine judgment. It is interesting to compare this chapter to Joshua 7, where the covetous Achan tried to hide sin from God and was killed. Great fear fell on the church (verse 11) as people saw the hand of God at work.

The testimony (Acts 5:12-16)

The assembly was now unified and magnified, and it therefore multiplied. This will always happen when an assembly is purged of sin. Satan works inside the church and tries to divide it, disgrace it and destroy it.  But if we let the Spirit work, we will detect the devil’s operation and avoid church problems. A local church must have standards and must let the Spirit lead. Note that Peter is the key man at this period of church history.  Even his shadow was thought to bring healing.

Conclusion

Satan still opposes the work of the church from within. Paul warned the elders that wolves would come in from the outside to attack the flock.  Also, men would arise “from among you” to harm the church (Acts 20:29 – 30). The greatest danger the church faces today is not so much opposition from without, but sin from within. Thus, it is important to seek God’s guidance in receiving new members and in disciplining those who stray.

Questions

  1. In which practical ways does Satan oppose the Church from within?
  2. To what extent can the sin of hypocrisy in the form of seeking attention hinder the growth of the local Church?
  3. How does the phenomenon of divine judgment in Acts 5:1-16 compare with that of church discipline practiced in some local Churches?
  4. Is it possible to lie to the Holy Spirit in the local Church and in which ways can that be possible?

Essentials of being part of covenant community of givers, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Acts 4:32-37 describes the early community of believers in Jerusalem. In this study, essentials of communal living are looked at with particular attention to unity in mind, belonging to the Church as covenant community of givers and keys to giving that meet practical needs in the community of believers.

The church as covenant community of those united in mind (Acts 4:32)

Acts 4:32-37 pictures essentials of communal living. The first characteristic is that the early community of believers were united in mind. Jeremiah 32:39 portrays unity as a distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the New Covenant.  It is most probable that the unity of “one mind” described in Acts 4:32-37 alludes to 1 Chron 12:38-39 that describes the beginning of the Davidic kingdom.  For the passage portrays that whole nation is of “one mind” to make David king, as demonstrated in their eating and drinking together for three days with David.  Unity of mind does not mean there was no differences in opinion. It could be said that differences of opinion are inevitable among human personalities and can actually be helpful if handled well. The passage therefore brings out the importance of spiritual unity. For it is this virtue that brings out loyalty, commitment, and love for God and his Word. This means that without spiritual unity, the church could not survive.

The church as covenant community of givers

The passage shows that none of the early believers felt that what they had was their own, so they were able to give and share, thereby eliminating poverty among them. The idea was that  they would not let a brother or sister suffer when others had plenty. In this light, concerning our possessions, Christians should adopt the attitude that everything we have comes from God. And so we are to share what is already God’s.  Again, worth noting here is that the early church was able to share possessions and property as a result of the unity brought by the Holy Spirit working in and through the believers’ lives.

Keys to communal sharing

Worth noting here is that this way of communal giving is different from communism as practised in secular countries. The keys to the faithful sharing in the community are that, in the first place, their sharing was voluntary. They did not give out of compulsion.

Next, the giving did not involve all of their private properties. They gave as much as what was needed. The case in point is what Barnabas did. Last but not the least, the giving was not a membership requirement in order to be a part of the church. However, they gave because they saw themselves as saved and belonging to the covenant community of believers.

Conclusion

The spiritual unity and generosity of these early believers attracted others to them. Worth emphasising here is that this organizational pattern about the early church is not a biblical command for every Church to follow. Rather it offers vital principles for the contemporary Church to follow.

Question

  1. How can we be one in mind in our local churches?
  2. To what extent can we learn from Barnabas in order to be faithful members in the community of giving.
  3. Giving is not a requirement to be part of God’s Church. But one cannot claim to be part of God’s church but fails to practice giving. Discuss.

Boldness in defending the Gospel, by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study on Acts 4:13-31 focuses on the boldness of the Apostles as they faced the Sanhedrin. Reading Acts 4 shows that boldness serves as the theme of the chapter.

Boldness after walking with Jesus

In verses 13 – 17 the disciples were told to leave the council of the Sanhedrin while they considered the case. They were impressed with the boldness of the apostles. This is significant inasmuch as Peter had denied his Lord in fear just a few weeks before. The phrase “unschooled and ordinary” (verse 13) literally means “untaught and unlettered”.  That is, the apostles had not been instructed in the official schools of the rabbis. Yet, they knew so much more about the Scriptures than did the religious leaders. The leaders also realized that these men “had been with Jesus” (verse 13) in the Garden and during His last week in Jerusalem before His death. However, they faced an even greater problem: how could they explain the healing of the beggar? They could not deny the miracle, so they decided to silence the messengers.

Boldness in loyalty to Jesus

The apostles did not accept this verdict of the opposition.  Their loyalty to Jesus, their Lord meant more than any protection from the government. The judges finally had to let them go. The boldness of the disciples, the power of the Word, and the testimony of the healed beggar were too good a “case” and the judges had no answer.

Boldness through corporate prayer (4:23 – 31)

True believers always return “to their own people” (1 John 2:19). The assembly did not lament because persecution had begun.  Rather, the believers rejoiced and prayed! Note that in verses 25 – 26 they referred to Psalm 2, which is a Messianic Psalm, speaking about the day when the Messiah shall return to rule with power. Believers today ought to imitate the first believers in their praying, for they tied their praying to the Word of God (John 15:7).

They prayed for boldness, and God answered by filling them with the Spirit. This was not a “second Pentecost,” for the Spirit came to fill with power and not to baptize the believers. The Holy Spirit also gave them a wonderful unity, so much so that they sold their goods and shared with those in need. This “believers’ communal living” was another proof of the presence of the Spirit, a sample of what will happen in the Kingdom age when all nations have the Spirit and unselfishly love one another. This “communal living” has no relation to Marxist communism. Please note that this sharing of goods was a temporary occurrence and is not required by the church of Jesus today.

While believers today are to have the same spirit of love, they are not expected to sell their goods and form a separate community. In 11:27 – 30, the believers at Antioch sent an offering to the Jerusalem believers (Romans 15:26,

1 Corinthians 16:1 – 3, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 4 and 9:2).  When Israel rejected the message, this gracious working of the Spirit gradually disappeared. The pattern for New Testament church giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, 1 Timothy 5:8 and

2 Thessalonians 3:7 – 13.

Conclusion

“Boldness” seems to be a key thought in this study. The early believers received this boldness as they were filled with the Spirit (verses 8 and 31), prayed and were loyal to Jesus by relying on the word of God. You and I may have boldness in our walk and witness if we feed on the Word, pray and surrender to the Spirit. We may have boldness on earth because Jesus gives us boldness in heaven (Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19).

Boldness in defending the Gospel

Introduction

This study on Acts 4:13-31 focuses on the boldness of the Apostles as they faced the Sanhedrin. Reading Acts 4 shows that boldness serves as the theme of the chapter.

Boldness after walking with Jesus

In verses 13 – 17 the disciples were told to leave the council of the Sanhedrin while they considered the case. They were impressed with the boldness of the apostles. This is significant inasmuch as Peter had denied his Lord in fear just a few weeks before. The phrase “unschooled and ordinary” (verse 13) literally means “untaught and unlettered”.  That is, the apostles had not been instructed in the official schools of the rabbis. Yet, they knew so much more about the Scriptures than did the religious leaders. The leaders also realized that these men “had been with Jesus” (verse 13) in the Garden and during His last week in Jerusalem before His death. However, they faced an even greater problem: how could they explain the healing of the beggar? They could not deny the miracle, so they decided to silence the messengers.

Boldness in loyalty to Jesus

The apostles did not accept this verdict of the opposition.  Their loyalty to Jesus, their Lord meant more than any protection from the government. The judges finally had to let them go. The boldness of the disciples, the power of the Word, and the testimony of the healed beggar were too good a “case” and the judges had no answer.

Boldness through corporate prayer (4:23 – 31)

True believers always return “to their own people” (1 John 2:19). The assembly did not lament because persecution had begun.  Rather, the believers rejoiced and prayed! Note that in verses 25 – 26 they referred to Psalm 2, which is a Messianic Psalm, speaking about the day when the Messiah shall return to rule with power. Believers today ought to imitate the first believers in their praying, for they tied their praying to the Word of God (John 15:7).

Praying corporately for corporate blessings

They prayed for boldness, and God answered by filling them with the Spirit. This was not a “second Pentecost,” for the Spirit came to fill with power and not to baptize the believers. The Holy Spirit also gave them a wonderful unity, so much so that they sold their goods and shared with those in need. This “believers’ communal living” was another proof of the presence of the Spirit, a sample of what will happen in the Kingdom age when all nations have the Spirit and unselfishly love one another. This “communal living” has no relation to Marxist communism. Please note that this sharing of goods was a temporary occurrence and is not required by the church of Jesus today.

While believers today are to have the same spirit of love, they are not expected to sell their goods and form a separate community. In 11:27 – 30, the believers at Antioch sent an offering to the Jerusalem believers (Romans 15:26,

1 Corinthians 16:1 – 3, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 4 and 9:2).  When Israel rejected the message, this gracious working of the Spirit gradually disappeared. The pattern for New Testament church giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, 1 Timothy 5:8 and

2 Thessalonians 3:7 – 13.

Conclusion

“Boldness” seems to be a key thought in this study. The early believers received this boldness as they were filled with the Spirit (verses 8 and 31), prayed and were loyal to Jesus by relying on the word of God. You and I may have boldness in our walk and witness if we feed on the Word, pray and surrender to the Spirit. We may have boldness on earth because Jesus gives us boldness in heaven (Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19).

Salvation in the name Jesus (Acts 4:1-12), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

The mention of a name brings about mixed feelings to those who hear it. For names constitute one of the most important forces in the universe. The mention of the name Jesus produces a multitude of reactions: both positive and negative feelings. This study on Acts 4:1-12 highlights the power of the name Jesus that brings about salvation and personal wholeness.

Being ready to proclaim Jesus Christ

The whole context of Acts 4:1-12 is on the healing of the lame beggar at the temple’s gate called Beautiful. After the healing of this crippled beggar, Peter used the interest of the multitudes as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message centered on the death and resurrection of Christ. In this message, Peter called for repentance and returning to God through faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter and John probably were answering questions and giving further exhortations concerning the need for the hearers to come to Jesus Christ.

Persecuted for acts of kindness

Amidst sharing the gospel, some religious leaders and groups, named Sanhedrin and Sadducees decided to thwart their work of evangelization. These were the main religious leaders of the nation. The Sadducees were one of the four parties of religious leaders in Israel (along with Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots). They did not believe in the supernatural and so denied the resurrection of the dead.

It is important to note that not all religious leaders believe in Jesus and are thus willing to defend the name of Jesus. Hence so many systems and some political leaders have the agenda to silence the name of Jesus.

Various reactions about the name Jesus Christ

The name of Jesus has been used both by believers and unbelievers alike. On the one hand, some unbelievers have used the name of Jesus negatively. In this regard some kings have cursed the name Jesus, some multitude has blasphemed it, charlatans have misused the name of Jesus. On the other hand, some believers and for that matter the disciples of Jesus have used the name positively by  proclaiming the name Jesus and the gospel which represent him and his salvation ministry. People can be made whole for eternity only through the name Jesus. Jesus’ name represents Jesus’ life and the entire revelation of him. Jesus’ name thus constitutes the gospel that we preach.

The powerful effect of the name of Jesus

The physical healing of the beggar serves as a demonstration and illustration of our spiritual healing. After being healed, the beggar went “walking and leaping and praising God.” He was a changed man from inside out. He became a new creature in Christ for he was more than just a physically healed man. The whole lifestyle of this man became one of “praising God.” Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ affects the whole person!

Conclusion and application

There is power in the name of Jesus. There is healing and thus salvation in the name of Jesus. In the light of the power in the name of Jesus, namely, to save, the statement that all religions lead to the same God needs to be questioned. For to Luke, only the name Jesus brings complete wholeness.  Demons and evil Spirits flee when they hear the name Jesus. It is therefore questionable to claim to know Jesus and yet run after other gods.

Questions

  1. What does the name of Jesus mean personally to you?
  2. In the light of Acts 4:12, do all religions truly lead to God?
  3. What are some of the inappropriate ways that, in your opinion, people use the name of Jesus?

Presenting Jesus as our ultimate healer (3:12 – 26), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study on Acts 3:12-26 is a continuation of our previous studies on Peter and John’s healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful gate. As we learned from the previous chapter, Peter used the healing experience to preach the gospel. In this light studying Peter’s sermon in this chapter always presents us with four major aspects including current issues at stake as part of the introduction, presenting of Christ, Scripture and making relevant application of the message to the practical life of the audience.

Peter’s message was a response to a current issue and observation (Acts 3:11-12)

Peter used this healing as an opportunity of the experience to present Jesus and offer forgiveness to the nation. Miraculous events are to be regarded as opportunities to present the gospel. Worth noting here is that genuine manifestations of the Spirit are to be interpreted in the light of scripture.

Peter acknowledged Jesus as the subject of the healing miracle

In presenting the Gospel after the healing event, Peter directed the attention of the people to Christ as the subject of the miracle and not to himself. Peter did not regard himself as the bearer of numinous power but Christ (Acts 3:12). To Peter, the man was healed only through faith in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:16). It is worth noting that, although Peter and John served as human agents, they did not regard themselves as people having power within themselves to do a miracle.  

For Peter preached Jesus to them in recognition of his limitations that he had denied Jesus three times just a few weeks ago. Yet, because he confessed his sin and made things right with the Lord (John 21), Peter was able to forget his failure (Romans 8:32 – 34). How does this scenario inform you about contemporary miracles and the disposition of some men or women of God?

Peter’s message was scripturally based

In the sermon, Peter used the opportunity to discuss scripture which mainly revolved around God’s forgiveness of the nation Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. In this regard, Acts 3:17 is most important, for there Peter stated that Israel’s ignorance caused them to commit the awful crime of crucifying Christ. Ignorance is no excuse, but it does affect the penalty handed out. This is why Jesus prayed — “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God was now giving Israel one more opportunity to receive their Messiah. Peter promised in Acts 3:19 – 20 that if the nation would repent and receive the Lord, He would blot out their sins (Isaiah 43:25 and 44:22 – 23).  He would send the Messiah to them and give them “times of refreshing.” These “times” were described in Jeremiah 23:5, Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 11:2 – 9, 35:1-6 and 65:19 – 23. Peter was not describing individual salvation here so much as the blessing that would come to the nation if they would but repent and believe. Of course, national salvation depended on personal faith.

Heaven would receive and hold the Messiah until Israel would repent.  Then the “times of restitution” would come. This refers to the kingdom Jesus will set up when Israel turns to Him and believes. Peter states in Acts 3:21 that this event was spoken of by the prophets.  This proved that he was not talking about events of the church. The “mystery” of the church was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets. The prophets spoke of Israel’s future kingdom, and that kingdom would have been set up had the rulers and the people believed Peter’s message and repented.

What about the Gentiles? Peter answered this in Acts 3:25. The Jews were children of Abraham and of God’s covenant, and God would keep His promise to Abraham and bless the Gentiles through Israel. “And all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 and 22:18). God’s program in the Old Testament was to bless the Gentiles through a restored Israel and Peter and the other Jewish apostles knew this. They realized that God promised to bless the Gentiles when Israel was established in its kingdom. This is why the apostles could not understand why Paul went to the Gentiles after Israel had been set aside. They did not realize then the “mystery program” that God would reveal to Paul.  This “mystery program” was that through Israel’s fall the Gentiles would be saved (Romans 11:11 – 12). This program was a “mystery” hidden in Old Testament day but revealed through Paul (Ephesians 3). When the nation killed Stephen and committed that “unpardonable sin” against the Holy Spirit, God’s prophetic program for the Jews ended. From that day, Israel was set aside, and the church took center stage.

How did the nation respond to Peter’s invitation? Many of the common people believed and were saved, but the rulers had the apostles arrested. The Sadducees, of course, did not believe in the resurrection and rejected Peter’s message that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He had condemned them (Matthew 23). The persecution that Jesus promised the apostles in John 15:18 – 16:4 began to take place as we will see in the next chapter.

Peter applied the message to the needs of the audience and invited them to make a decision (Acts 3:17-20)

As a characteristic of Peter in presenting the Gospel, Peter invites his audience to decide for Christ. He called them into repentance so they would be refreshed. Here too, Peter drew their attention that true repentance and life change comes from God

Questions and Areas for discussions

  1. After healing the cripple man, Peter used the opportunity to preach Christ but not Peter’s own abilities. How can we compare that to the contemporary “prophets and miracle workers” in their comments?
  2. Regarding Acts 3:16, explain the major pre-requisite for experiencing miracles?
  3. Who is the subject of genuine repentance – the preacher or God? Discuss

Power to heal and save (Acts 3:1-11), by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Acts 3 presents Peter and John’s healing of a man born cripple at the beautiful gate. The fact remains that God works through us. Thus, we are partners with God in touching lives especially in saving souls. This lesson looks at the scriptural significance of the passage and to illustrate what it means to live without Christ and to live after encountering Christ.

Historical and Scriptural significance of the miracle

The fact that Peter and John still attended the temple and kept the Jewish customs is evidence that the first seven chapters of Acts are Jewish in emphasis. No believer today who understands Galatians and Hebrews would participate in Old Testament practices.

Peter performed this miracle, not only to relieve the man’s handicap and save his soul, but also to prove to the Jews that the Holy Spirit had come with promised blessings. Isaiah 35:6 promises the Jews that Israel would enjoy such miracles when their Messiah was received.

Life without Christ illustrated

The crippled man of Acts 3 is a vivid illustration of a life without Christ.

  1. He was born lame, and all are born sinners.
  2. He could not walk, and no sinner can walk so as to please God.
  3. He was outside the temple, and sinners are outside God’s temple, the church.
  4. He was begging, for sinners are beggars, searching for satisfaction.

Life after encountering Christ illustrated

The man’s conduct after the miracle shows how every believer ought to act. The man entered the temple in fellowship with God’s servants and praised God. His walk was new and different, and he did not run from persecution. His was such a testimony that the officers had no explanation for what had happened.

Conclusion and application

In an unexpected and extra ordinary way, the crippled man met the two apostles and was healed. As believers of God we are to learn to be ever ready to do something for God. The best opportunities to do God’s work often comes in an unexpected way. Peter and John did not plan to heal the beggar. In the same way, the beggar did not plan to be healed. Yet, God was pleased to use both. How ready are you to work with God as a soldier of Christ? Worth noting here is that those who have needs will cross our paths. The man was in pain not only of physical ailment, but spiritual as well. In all Peter and John met his needs.

Surveying Peter’s Sermon at the Pentecost event (Acts 2:14-41), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Acts 2:14-41 records Peter’s first sermon in the book of Acts. In this sermon, Peter sought to answer the people charge that the people were drunk. He went on to interpret the speaking in tongues of Pentecost in the light of a quotation from the prophet Joel. Acts 2:22-32 then presents the kerygma or the proclamation of the Good News of Christ. Peter then establishes a relationship between the coming of the Spirit with the Good News of Jesus Christ in Acts 2:33-36 as the last part of his sermon. The main purpose of this study is to analyse Peter’s sermon so that we will be equipped with the know-how of preaching and witnessing Christ.

Peter answers the charge that the people were drunk (Acts 2:14 – 15) – Sermons are to address current issues

Peter first answered their charge that the men were drunk. To Peter, no Jew would eat or drink anything before 9:00 am on a Sabbath or feast day.  It was then the third hour, or 9:00 am. Note that throughout this sermon, Peter addresses Jews only (Act 2:14, 22, 29, and 36). Pentecost was a Jewish feast and there were no Gentiles involved. In this sermon, Peter addressed the Jewish nation and proved to them that their Messiah had been raised from the dead.

Peter interprets the speaking in tongues in the light of Joel 2:28-32 (Acts 2:16-21) – Sermons are to be biblical

In Acts 16 – 21, Peter referred the men to Joel 2:28 – 32. He did not say that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy, for Joel’s words will not be fulfilled until the end of the Tribulation when Jesus returns to earth. Peter does say that this is that same Spirit spoken of by Joel. Verses 17 and 18 took place at Pentecost, but verses 19 – 21 did not, and will not until the end times. Between verses 18 and 19 unfold the entire church age.

Peter explains who Jesus is (Acts 2:22 – 36) – Sermons are to be Christocentric

Peter now proved to the Jews that Jesus was alive. He used five very convincing proofs of the living Messiah:

(1) Jesus’ Person and life demand that He be raised from the dead (verses 22 – 24 and John 10:17 – 18). He who raised others could not remain dead himself.

(2) Psalm 16:8 – 11 predicted the resurrection (verses 25-31).

(3) The apostles themselves were witnesses and had seen the risen Lord Jesus (verse 32).

(4) The coming of the Spirit is proof that Jesus is alive (verse 33).

(5) Psalm 110:1 promised His resurrection (verses 33 – 35). It appears here that Peter was not preaching the Gospel of the cross as we preach it today. Instead he was accusing Israel of a great crime (verse 23) and warning them that they had rejected and crucified their own Messiah (verse 36). Peter was giving Israel one more opportunity to receive the Messiah. They had slain John the Baptist and Jesus, but God was now giving them another chance. The resurrection of Jesus is likened to the promised “sign of Jonah” that proved Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 12:38 – 40).

Peter applies the message to the existential needs of the people (verses 37 – 40) – Sermons are to be applicable and thus relevant to the needs of the hearers

The men were convicted and asked Peter for counsel. Peter told them to repent, believe, and be baptized. In that way, they would be identifying themselves with Jesus as the Messiah. This is the same message John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and Jesus (Matthew 4:17) preached. To make baptism essential for salvation and the receiving of the Spirit is to deny the experience of the Gentiles in Acts 10:44 –48, which is God’s pattern for today. The Jews in Acts 2 received the Spirit when they repented and were baptized.  The Samaritans in Acts 8 received the Spirit by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.  However, believers today receive the Spirit when they believe, as did the Gentiles in Acts 10. There is no salvation in the waters of baptism, for salvation is by faith in Jesus.

Peter stated that the promise of the Spirit was not only for the Jews present in Jerusalem but also for the Jews scattered abroad (verse 39 and Daniel 9:7).

Conclusion

This material has focused on studying Peter’s first sermon in the Acts of the Apostle. In this sermon, Peter responded to the charge that the believers were drunk as they spoke in tongues. Thereafter, Peter sought to link the phenomenon of speaking in tongues to the event prescribed in Joel 2 and went on to explain who Jesus was to the people. Peter did not conclude his message without making a relevant application of his message to the lives and needs of the people. It is important to study this passage serving as a recorded sermon of Peter if we desire to share the gospel message in contemporary times. In this light, the gospel message must be current, biblically based, Christocentric, and contextualized. Thus, it must meet the needs of the people.

The Pentecost event and my Christian life (Acts 2:1-13), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

One of the most important New Testament events that reminds us of the fact that the Spirit of God is with us, upon us and in us is the Pentecost event. As an important event in the Christian calendar, it reminds us of how the Holy Spirit came upon the early disciples of Christ in a dramatic sense. Thus, the Pentecost event gives us the picture of how the Holy Spirit began to use the Apostles of Jesus and thus how the Church began. This study thus purposes to reflect on the significance of the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13. To do that, a brief historical background of the passage would be given. Thereafter, attempt is made to describe the text of Acts 2:1-13 and finally give the significance of the event to our Christian faith and practice.

The historical background of the Pentecost event

The notion of Pentecost has its root in the Old Testament. The Feast of Pentecost took place fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits. The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth.” This feast is described in Leviticus 23:15 – 21. Just as Passover is a picture of the death of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 5:7), and Firstfruits a picture of the resurrection of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 15:20 – 23), so Pentecost pictures the coming of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). The loaves of bread with leaven that were presented that day to some extent serves as a picture of the Church which is composed of Jews and Gentiles. The priest presented two loaves as a wave offering to the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, the church is pictured as a loaf of bread. The leaven in the bread speaks of sin yet in the church. There are two occurrences of the Spirit’s baptism in Acts: upon the Jews in Acts 2, and upon the Gentiles in Acts 10. The two loaves presented at Pentecost foreshadow these events.

Describing the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1 – 13)     

The believers were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded (Luke 24:49), and at the proper time, the Spirit descended. When the Spirit descended, the Spirit baptized them into one spiritual body in the Messiah (see Acts 1:4 – 5 and 1 Corinthians 12:13), and the Spirit filled them with power for witnessing (2:4). The sound of rushing wind reminds us of John 3:8 and of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the dry bones (Ezekiel 37). The tongues of fire symbolize the divine power that would speak for God.  These tongues of fire are not to be confused with the baptism of fire mentioned in Matthew 3:11. For the baptism of fire mentioned there refers to the time of Israel’s tribulation. Since every believer is baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), it is more appropriate to pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Worth emphasizing here is that the believers spoke in tongues. They did not preach in tongues. Instead, they praised God in languages they did not naturally know (2:11). Apparently, they were in the Upper Room when the Spirit descended (Acts 2:2) but must have moved out to the temple courts where a great crowd gathered. The purpose of the gift of tongues was to impress the Jews with the fact that a miracle was taking place. In Acts 10:46, the Gentiles spoke with tongues as proof to the apostles that they had received the Spirit.  In Acts 19:6, the Ephesian followers of John the Baptist spoke in tongues for the same reason.

Significance of the Pentecost event

Three main significance of the Pentecost event can be identified in this study. These are theological, ecclesiastical and practical importance. In other words, the Pentecost event gives us a picture of the nature of God and the church as well as how Christians are to live their lives. These three purposes are explained below.

Theological significance – It teaches us about the nature of God

The Pentecost event reminds us of the fact that God’s Spirit came upon all who had gathered to wait upon the promised Spirit. In the sovereignty of God, God sought to reach all by this outpouring of the Spirit. That is to both Jews and Gentiles alike. In this light, and in the first place the Pentecost event reminds us of the nature of God that God is the God of all flesh. God is the God of the rich and poor, the literate and the illiterate and the God of all races. Thus, in God exclusivist attitudes are to be avoided. In the second place, the Pentecost event reminds us that God fulfills promises. Jesus had instructed the disciples to wait for the promise. And in the faithfulness of God the Spirit came upon the believers. Relatedly, being faithful in fulfilling promises, Jesus’ promise of his second return will also come to pass.

Ecclesiological significance – It teaches us about the nature of the Church

The Pentecost event teaches us about the diverse nature of the Church as both spiritual and human organization. That in God’s wisdom the Church is a mystery. For the Spirit of God lives in the followers of Christ. This reminds us of our need to depend on the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that builds God’s Church. As human organization, we ought to plan and organize the Church as we do for any other human organization if we desire to see growth. Since the coming of the Spirit brought about diversity as reflected in the speaking in tongues or glossolalia, it reminds us again that the Church out to be diverse. The Pentecost event thus reminds us that we are to be open minded in terms of doing cross-cultural ministry in the Church.

Practical significance

Practically, the Pentecost event reminds us of what the church ought to be. For a meaningful Christian life, we ought to rely on the Spirit. The spirit helps us in our weakness, teaches us, guides us, helps us and intercede on our behalf. Again, the Spirit helps us to be confident and thus fills us with unction to function (Acts 1:8). Practically, it is worth noting that the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples was for a purpose. God blesses us for us to be a blessing. God anoints us to do something for God’s Kingdom. Last but not the least, as a practical implication, the Pentecost event reminds us to come out of our comfort zone. The pre-requisite to receiving the Spirit is waiting upon God. Walking with the Spirit requires a disciplined lifestyle. For the Spirit of God can be grieved.

Conclusion

This study on Acts 2:1-13 has sought to give important reflections on the Pentecost event. Reminding us of the coming of the Spirit on the early followers of Christ, the Pentecost event among others teaches us about the nature of God, the Church and practically how we are to live our lives as Christians. It is important to remind ourselves that we are to daily rely on the Spirit for meaningful Christian life. We are also to come out of our comfort zone in our desire to be filled by the Spirit and thus to do cross-cultural ministry.

Questions

  1. When was the feast of Pentecost celebrated?
  2. What Old Testament prophecy did the sound of the rushing wind (Acts 2:2) remind us?
  3. The Pentecost event reminds us of the nature of the Church. Explain.
  4. State and explain three main purposes of the Pentecost event.

The meaning and significance of Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11), by Rev. Dr. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg bible study material

Text: Acts 1:9-11
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Introduction
This lesson purposes to study Acts 1:9-11 by focusing on its theme of the ascension of Jesus Christ. It is of great importance that contemporary Christians do not just mention concepts relating to a particular phenomenon in the life of Jesus such as ascension but to actually study its biblical narratives and so reflect on them.

The meaning of Jesus’ ascension
The ascension of Jesus Christ in Christian faith has to do with Christ’s exaltation and glory after accomplishing his saving ministry on earth (Philippians 2:9). In other words, it pertains to the completion and the highest point of Christ’s redemptive work (Hebrews 8:1). In simple terms, Jesus’s ascension means that Jesus went (up) into heaven after his resurrection appearances.

The Christian doctrine of ascension complements Christian faith about the present position of Christ. Jesus is presented to be at the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:21). Ascension, therefore, serves as the proof of Christ’s victory (Ephesians 4:8). Jesus is now in the position of glory and honour at the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1) in heaven. Jesus is therefore conceived to be in the permanent place of power (Acts 2:33), joy (Psalm 26:11) and rest.

Evidence of Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:9-11
Acts 1:9-11 presents some evidence regarding the ascension of Jesus in the form of when, where, it did happen, who were the eyewitnesses and how it did happen.

When and where did Jesus’ ascension take place
Luke recorded that the ascension of Jesus took place after 40 days of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:3). During these 40 days, Jesus made several appearances and taught about the Kingdom. Jesus then ascended from the Bethany side of the ridge of Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).

Who were the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ascension?
Luke shows that there were eyewitnesses to the ascension of Jesus Christ. Chiefly among them were the disciples of Jesus and in general the “men of Galilee.” Moreover, Luke records that “two men in white clothing” stood beside the people and remarked ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?’” (Acts 1:11). As to who these “two men” are is not clear within biblical scholarship. Drawing inspiration from the transfiguration of Jesus, on the one hand, some think the two men were Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:2-3). On the other hand, many bible scholars regard these men to be angelic messengers who occur frequently in the book of Acts (Acts 5:19-20; 8:26; 10:3-7, 30-32; 11:13-14; 12:7-10, 23; 27:23).

How did Jesus’ ascension happen?
Luke used the Greek word blepw (looking) which means to see, to look, to direct the eyes and the attention upon an object. It paints the picture of the disciples and for that matter, the eyewitnesses physically saw Jesus going up. This word then portrays that Jesus was not suddenly snatched away out of their sight nor did Jesus vanish from their sight. The eyes of those present were fixed on Jesus as Jesus ascended. Thus, the event is pictured to be of supernatural whereby Jesus suddenly ascends into a cloud.

Implications of Christ’s ascension for Christian living
Many implications of Christ’s ascension for practical Christian living could be drawn. First, Christ’s ascension reminds us that Jesus is always with us. Having ascended, Jesus is not and cannot be limited by space and time in his relationship and presence with us. We can, therefore, have a personal relationship with Jesus just as Christ promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20). Second, the ascension of Christ demonstrates the fact that it is enough that Jesus died for us and thus saved us. Jesus is our great high priest who could adequately sympathize with us, comforts and save us (Heb. 9:12; 4:15; 2:18; 7:25). Third, Jesus’ ascension implies that Christ is the head and Lord of the Church (Eph 1:22). Last but not the least, Jesus’ ascension reminds us of Christ’s second coming.

Question
1. What does it mean to say that Jesus ascended?
2. When and where did Jesus’ ascension take place?
3. Who were the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ascension?
4. How did Jesus’ ascension take place?
5. How does faith in Jesus’ ascension shape what you do and how you conduct yourself as a Christian?

Preparation towards the coming of the Spirit, by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg Bible study material on Acts 1:1-8

Introduction
In our previous lessons, we have been looking at the introductory studies on Acts. This lesson begins our close reading and studies of the book of Acts by studying Acts 1:1-8. As a first step, it is important to give a brief overview of the book categorized under Peter’s ministry to Israel in Acts 1-12 and Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Acts 13-28. Since this lesson falls under the first section, an attempt is made first to present an outline of Acts 1-12.

An outline of Acts 1-12 focusing on Peter’s mission to Israel
I. Peter and the Jews (1 – 7)
A. Preparation for Pentecost (1)
B. Peter’s first message (2)
C. Peter’s second message (3)
D. The first persecution (4)
E. The second persecution (5)
F. Israel’s final rejection: Stephen slain (6 – 7)
II. Peter and the Samaritans (8)
III. The Conversion of Paul (9)
IV. Peter and the Gentiles (10 –11)
V. Peter’s arrest and deliverance (12)

Preparation for the Pentecost event (Acts 1)

Inscription: A new book introduced (Acts 1:1-2)
Forming essential part of Peter’s ministry to the Jews, Acts 1 prepares the ready for the Pentecost event. Acts 1:1 identifies the writer in the form of a pronoun “I,” the recipient “Theophilus” and a reference to a former book and Acts 1:2 mentions the occasion or event that closed the former book. Worth mentioning here is that in our previous introductory study the author and the recipient (Theophilus) have already been discussed.

The former book and its relation to the new (Acts 1:1-2)
Luke mentions his former book that has traditionally been referred to as the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1 – 4). In this former book, Luke told the story of what Jesus began to do and teach while on earth. The Book of Acts then continues the story by telling what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church on earth. Thus, the Gospel of Luke tells of Jesus’ ministry on earth in a physical body, while Acts tells of Jesus’ ministry from heaven through Jesus’ spiritual body, the church. For example, in Acts 1:24, the believers ask the ascended Messiah, or Christ, to show them which man to elect as apostle; in Acts 2:47, it is the Lord who adds believers to the assembly; in Acts 13:1 – 3, it is the Lord, by who by the Spirit, sends out the first missionaries; and in Acts 14:27, Paul and Barnabas relate what God did through them.

Jesus’s earthly ministry after the resurrection (Acts 1:3-4)
Jesus ministered to the apostles during the forty days He was on earth after His resurrection. Luke 24:36 should be read in connection with these verses. In both places, Jesus instructed the apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit. They were to begin their ministry in Jerusalem.

The promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5-8)
This baptism of the Spirit had been announced by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 and John 1:33). It could be observed that Jesus said nothing about a baptism with fire, because the fire of baptism refers to judgment. Among other things, the coming of the Spirit would in the first place unite all the believers into one body which is the church (1 Corinthians 12:13). Secondly, it aimed to give the believers power to witness to the lost and thirdly, the coming of the Spirit sought to enable the believers to perform miraculous deeds to awaken the Jews in the expectation of signs (1 Corinthians 1:22).

There are actually two occurrences of this Spirit baptism in Acts in chapter 2, when the Spirit baptized the Jews and in chapter 10, when the Spirit came upon the Gentile believers. According to Ephesians 2:11, the body of Christ is composed of Jews and Gentiles, all baptized into this spiritual body. It is therefore more appropriate to ask God to fill us (Ephesians 5:18) or empower us for special service (Acts 10:38). Worthy of note here is that Baptism of the Spirit occurs at the time of our salvation.

A question about the restoration of God’s Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6-8)
Were the apostles correct in asking Jesus about the kingdom (Acts 1:6-8)? Yes. In Matthew 22:1 – 10, Jesus promised to give Israel another opportunity to receive Him and the kingdom. In Matthew 19:28, He promised that the apostles would sit on 12 thrones (Luke 22:28 – 30). In Matthew 12:31 – 45, Jesus said that Israel would have another opportunity to be saved even after sinning against the Son, and He promised to give them a sign to encourage them. It was the sign of Jonah: death, burial and resurrection. The apostles knew that their ministry would begin with Israel. Now, they wanted to know what Israel would do. Would the nation accept or reject their message? Jesus had not told them whether it would or would not. If He had told the apostles that Israel would reject this good news, they would not have given their people an honest offer. Their ministry would have been false. What He did tell them was that they would be witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, and eventually reaching across the world

Conclusion and application
It could be said that every believer needs to move out of Luke’s Gospel into the Book of Acts. Knowing about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is enough for salvation but not for Spirit – empowered service. We must identify ourselves with Jesus as our ascended Lord and allow Him to work through us in the world. The church is not simply an organization engaged in religious work. It is a divine organism, the body of Jesus Christ on earth, through which His life and power must operate. He died for the lost world. We must live to bring that world to Christ the Lord.

Questions
1. State two major parts of Acts of the Apostles
2. Mention two ministries of Jesus after his resurrection.
3. What does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit?
4. Explain Acts 1:8.

Purposes of the book of Acts, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction
This study seeks to explain some major purposes and themes that the book of Acts emphasizes. Many reasons underscore the purposes and for that matter the significant themes of the book of Acts. For the sake of clarity and brevity, however, these purposes are summed up under historical, theological and practical significance.

1. Historical purposes
Luke purpose as recorded in Luke 1:4 and Acts 1:1 is to set forth a historical account of the continuation of God’s redemptive purpose in history. In this light, Luke gives a historical documentation of the origins of Christianity in general. Thus, for historical purposes: Acts tells of the establishment of and the growth of the Church. It also gives the historical account of how the Gospel spread. Further, it records the start of congregations. Moreover, it documents the evangelistic efforts of the apostles. Thus, whereas the Gospels firmly established the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, the book of Acts gave a comprehensive account of the establishment of the Church. This point makes Luke a historian.

2. Theological purposes
Many significant themes support the fact that the Book of Acts is not only a historical book but theological as well.

God’s continuous salvation history
Theologically, the book of Acts demonstrates the theme of God’s continuous redemptive purpose in history. This means that the wondrous deeds recorded in the book of Acts are comparable in might to those seen in the gospels and in the OT. This perspective is referred to as “salvation history.” The faith of those who responded to the Gospel was mysteriously tied to this understanding that God was at work in history.

Jesus as the Messiah
Jesus of Nazareth is presented in the book of Acts as the long-awaited messiah who is the only source of our salvation (Acts 5:31; 13:23). For in him alone is forgiveness and from him alone the Holy Spirit is received. In this light, it is worth noting that in the Book of Acts, emphasis is placed on Christ’s resurrection and exaltation.

The Church
The book of Acts shows that the church began at Pentecost but was not fully revealed by God until later, primarily through the writings of Paul. Promising to build his Church in Matthew 16:18, Jesus then gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Peter used these “keys” in opening the door of faith to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2), to the Samaritans (Acts 8), and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). In other words, there is a transition in these first seven chapters of Acts, with Israel and the kingdom moving off the scene, and the church and the Gospel of God’s grace moving onto the scene.

The Holy Spirit
The Emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is evidenced in Acts 2:25-28. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit is mentioned almost every chapter of the book. He is the Holy Spirit of promise, 1; power, 2; healing, 3; boldness, 4; Judgment, 5; administration, 6; steadfastness, 7; evangelism, 8; comfort, 9; guidance, 10; prophecy, 11; deliverance, 12; mission, 13; protection, 14; wisdom, 15; restraint and constraint, 16; opportunity 17; revelation, 18; purpose, 19; leadership, 20.

The Holy Spirit is Active in the leadership and direction of the Church. Paul and his companions respond to the Spirit’s guidance, the Holy Spirit speaks through prophets (11:28), appoints elders in the Churches (20:28) and the Spirit is the principal witness to the truth (5:32).

3. Practical purposes
The book of Acts also emphasizes practical significance in areas of prayer, generosity to the marginalized, witnessing and mission.

Prayer
Luke emphasized prayer. Every chapter shows the result of earnest prayer and almost every chapter makes mention of it by name.

Ministry to the marginalized in the society
As a sequel of the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts continues the theme of emphasizing God’s acceptance of the marginalized in the society such as the poor, the rich, the sick and women. Luke seems to portray that the early Church is marked by commitments to eliminating poverty (Acts 4:34) and thus having an all-inclusive vision of incorporating people from all nations, including traditional enemies such as Samaritans (Acts 8:4-25).

Mission and Witness
Acts is also basically a book of mission and witnessing (Acts 8). They were to evangelize the world, spreading the Good news of Christ’s person and redemptive work, including his vicarious death and bodily resurrection. It was agreed that Judas’ replacement had to have the witness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22). Peter proclaimed his witness to the Jewish pilgrims on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:32), to the temple crowd who marveled over the healed lame man (Acts 3:12-26).

Conclusion
This study has identified the purpose of the book of Acts. Significantly, the book of Acts brings out the story of the spread of the Church through the Roman world of the first century. Luke writes also with a pastoral heart that the essential task of the Church is mission and proclamation of the gospel which leads to repentance and faith. God’s purpose is to have a Church made up of all races. Thus, there are no distinctions of race or anything else among God’s people. The Holy Spirit empowers and guides the Church. The Holy Spirit gives gifts for mission and not for personal enrichment.

Questions
1. State three major ways in which the book of Acts is significant to your Christian life and ministry.
2. The book of Acts could be described as the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Explain.
3. Discuss Luke’s emphasis on God’s acceptance of the marginalized in the society.
4. How does the book of Acts orient your understanding about God’s all-inclusive ministry?

Introducing the book of Acts: Authorship and Addressee, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg Bible study material 

1. Introduction
This bible study material begins our studies on the book of Acts. The book of Acts is the name given to the second part of a two – volume work traditionally identified as having been written by Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul. The book of Acts is basically historical book that forms a bridge between the Gospels and the New Testament letters. The author’s major interests are theological/spiritual and pastoral. The book is sometimes called “Acts of the Apostles” though this title seems to be misleading. For Luke appears to recount stories of the Apostles and other prominent church leaders. However, Luke’s major interest is to tell the Acts of God. Thus, the book of Acts could be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit” or “Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ”

2. Authorship of the book of Acts
The knowledge of an author of a book is very important to understanding what the person writes. Therefore, this aspect of our study discusses the authorship of Acts. It is believed that Luke wrote the book of Acts although no mention of the name is made. Traditionally, several reasons support Lukan authorship. To begin, the early Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertulian, Jerome and historians such as Eusebius all attest to Luke’s authorship. It is worthy of note that these Fathers were closer to the age than we are now and so their witnesses could be more credible. Further, Paul was a close friend of Luke (Col 4:14). This makes Luke to be able to carry firsthand information. In this light, Luke’s use of “we” and “us” in Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:5-21, tells us that the author is an eyewitness of the many events recorded in Acts.
If it is most probable that Luke wrote the book of Acts, then the following unique factors make him to be well suitable to tell his story:

a. Luke was a Gentile
Luke appears to be the only Gentile among the New Testament Gospel writers. Some factors that indicate Luke’s Gentile origins include: Paul appears to describe Luke, the doctor as non – Jewish who is not part of his three Jewish companions (Col 4:10 – 14); Luke appears to use the Septuagint versions of the Old Testament instead of translating from the Hebrew; Luke refers to the “Aramaic language” in ways that give the impression that he could not speak it (Acts 1:9); Luke shows special interest in Antioch in Syria. He thus shows special interest in the birth and growth of the Church in Antioch; and Luke’s dedication of his work to Theophilus appears to endorse the fact that he was a Gentile and wrote to a Greek patron, Theophilus.

b. Luke was highly educated
This uniqueness has to do with the fact that Luke was a Doctor. At that time, medicine was a special branch of philosophy, and Luke’s general culture and education was clear in his writings. The reasons being that Luke uses rich vocabulary choices, Literary skills and calls his work an orderly account.

c. Luke was a historian
Luke introduces his gospel in Luke 1:1-4 as a researcher who has done a painstaking investigation. This points out to the fact that Luke shows meticulous accuracy in matters of geography and civil administration.

d. Luke was a traveller
The word Luke uses in Luke 1:3 implies that he travelled in order to carry his investigation out. This interest in travelling is reflected in the story itself. Both Luke’s Gospel and Acts are based on several journeys.

3. Addressee of the book of Acts
The book of Acts is addressed to Theophilus meaning “Lover of God” or “Loved of God.” The recipient thus seems to be an influential citizen. The purpose was to give Theophilus an orderly account of the things in which he had been instructed. It is most likely that Theophilus was a believer already and there were other documented accounts that were in circulation. Luke’s orderly and systematic account thus suggests that true faith must base on facts.

4. Conclusion
This study has purposed to introduce the book of Acts by means of presenting issues regarding its authorship and recipient. Writing to a respected citizen, Theophilus, it can be said that Luke was a man of the extensive Graco – Roman world of his day. He was a man of unique background in areas of his professional experience, literary and historical gifts, travels and association with Paul. All these made him to be well suited for his writing ministry.

Questions
1. Why is it important to know something about the author of a biblical book?
2. State two important unique factors about Luke as the suggested author of the book of Acts.
3. Who was Theophilus?
4. How does your background and experience in the Lord affect what you say and write about Jesus and his Church?

Fasting explained, by Rev John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing  Grace Baptist Church Bible Study material on the meaning and significance of prayer and fasting 

Text: Matthew 6:16-18
Memory Verse: Psalm 69:10

Introduction
The meaning and significance of fasting in matters of faith cannot be overemphasized. What this means is that fasting is not an exclusively Christian discipline. For all the major religions of the world recognize its importance. Islam has fasting as one its five pillars. Zoroaster practiced fasting as did Confucius and the Yogis of India. Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle all fasted. Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed in fasting.

Within Christianity, the Scripture identifies some key persons who fasted. Some of them are Moses the lawgiver, David the king, Elijah the prophet, Esther the queen, Daniel the seer, Anna the prophetess, Paul the apostle, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son. Also, many of the influential Christians throughout church history also fasted and testified to its significance. Among them were Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd and Charles Finney.

In today’s lesson, we purpose to study Jesus’ instruction on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. Issues for our discussions from the passage include the meaning of fasting, fasting as one of the spiritual disciplines, kinds of fasting and rewards (significance of fasting) of fasting.

The meaning of fasting
In a specific biblical sense, to fast means to abstain from food for spiritual purposes (Matthew 6:16). Fasting involves abstaining from food and not water as seen from the example of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4. In a broad sense, however, Richard Foster, defines fasting as “the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” It stands in distinction to the hunger strike, the purpose of which is to gain political power or attract attention to a good cause. It is also different from health dieting which stresses abstinence from food for physical purposes. In contemporary times and in a broader sense, however, apart from abstaining from food, one may need to fast from involvement with other people, the media, the telephone and sleep for spiritual purposes.

Fasting as a spiritual discipline or a devotion to God
Jesus’ instruction on fasting is situated in the context of his teaching on giving and prayer. As such, prayer, giving and fasting are all to be part of Christian devotion. By Jesus’ use of the phrases “And whenever you fast,” and “But you, when you fast,” and his instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast (Matthew 6:16-17), Jesus teaches that his followers are supposed to fast and so they fast. This assumption implies that fasting is and should become part of our devotion to God. Similar expressions are used about prayer (Mt. 6:5-7: “And when you pray, …But you, when you pray, . . . And when you are praying…) and giving (Mt. 6:2-3: “When therefore you give alms, . . . But when you give alms…). Thus, just as we are to give and to pray, so also Jesus implies that it is our obligations as his followers to fast. Similarly, Jesus says of His followers in Matthew 9:15 that after He leaves and returns to Heaven “then they will fast.”

Kinds of fasting
The kind of fasting in Mt. 6:16-18 that Jesus talked about could be regarded as a private fast. That explains the reason why Jesus emphasizes proper attitude that we are to anoint our heads and wash our faces so that we will not appear to men that we are fasting. In the Bible, however, different kinds of fasting could be identified:
a. A normal fast involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid but not from water (Mt. 4:2; Lk. 4:2).
b. A partial fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food (Dan. 1:12; Mt. 3:4).
c. An absolute fast is the avoidance of all food and liquid (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9).
d. There is also a description of supernatural fasts of Moses (Deut. 9:9) and Elijah (1 Kin. 19:8)).
e. A congregational fast (Joel 2:15-16)
f. A national fast (2 Chr. 20:3)
g. An entire city Fast (Jonah 3)
h. A regular fast (Lev. 16:29-31; Lk. 18:12)
i. Occasional fasts (Mt. 9:15).

The rewards and importance of fasting
In Matthew 6:18, Jesus assures the believers of an open reward when fasting is observed in a proper way. To begin, fasting helps us to maintain our focus on God. Sometimes there is much stress on the blessings more than the giver of blessings. We are therefore not to use fasting for our own ends. Fasting must centre on God. Like the Prophetess Anna, we are to love and worship God with fasting (Luke 2:37). Fasting and Worshipping the Lord must be the same.
Next, fasting reveals what is controlling our lives. David said in Psalm 69:10 that I humbled my soul with fasting. In this case, anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife and fear that are hidden within us surface during fasting. Moreover, fasting reminds us that we are sustained by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God sustains us and so through fasting we are feasting on the word of God.
Other significance of fasting can be identified from diverse scriptural references. Some of which are to strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Acts 13:3); to seek God’s guidance (Judg. 20:26-28; Acts 14:23); to seek from God deliverance or protection (2 Chr. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Ps. 109:21-26), to express repentance and the return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8); to humble oneself before God (1 Kings 21:27-29; Ps. 35:13); to express concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-11; Isa. 58:6-7; Dan. 9:3); to minister to the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-7) and to overcome temptation and dedicate ourselves to God (Mt. 4:1-11).

Conclusion
Our studies on Matthew 6:16-18 reveals that by Jesus’ instruction that when you fast, he appears to make assumption that believers will fast, and consequently give instructions on how to do it properly. In the words of Martin Luther, “It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting, …it was His intention to restore fasting.” Thus, these words from Jesus do not constitute a command, rather he was giving instruction about a proper exercise of a common practice of his day. And that when fasting is properly done, it is richly rewarding.

Questions for application
1. What does it to mean to fast?
2. Are some Christians exempted from fasting? Give reasons for your answer?
3. What kind of fasting are appropriate to our situations as Christians in diaspora?
4. Narrate any personal testimony that confirms the significance of fasting that you have learnt.

Found faithful in all kinds of financial giving, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

 

Introduction
The call to be saved is the call to be part of a giving community. For the Christian God is a giving God. Jesus, who is God incarnate gave himself first for us. So being part of both the universal and local church is therefore to belong to a giving community. The Christian is therefore expected to participate in the following kinds of giving: Giving as in thanksgiving, fundraising, pastoral support, helping the poor and the needy and giving as in tithing.

1. Thank God with your money
The value of expression of gratitude or thanksgiving cannot be downplayed in human life and in the practice of our Christian faith. God expects us to give financially, as part of our attempt to express our gratitude to him. This desire and expectation challenged the Psalmist to ask himself: What can I repay the Lord for all his benefits (Psalm 116:12). And as part of his expression of gratitude, to promised to pay his vows to God.

2. Be involved in fundraising activities
Another kind of giving relates to the involvement of fundraising activities especially in the context of the church. We are to take part in fundraising activities such as contributing money to build Auditoriums, buy musical instruments and towards evangelistic and mission related activities.

Fundraising periods therefore constitute the time to meet needs and worship God in highnesses. It is against this background that Paul challenged the Corinthians to give using two big examples: that of the Macedonian churches (Philipi, Bereans and Thessolonica) and that of Christ (2 Corinthians 8). The Macedonians gave to support the needy Jerusalem Church at the time.

In the book of Haggai, the Israelites were admonished to examine their priorities by contributing to the building of the Temple.

3. Be a tither
Another kind of giving that has often generated controversies and thus misunderstanding among some Christians is tithing. When one recognises that all that he or she has, belongs to God, then giving God at least one-tenth should not be a problem.
A careful study on tithing in the scriptures reveals that both the Old Testament and the New Testament encouraged it. In the Old Testament Abraham out of faith tithed. Then Jacob later through this same faith and trust in God followed suit. As part of the law, God demanded that the Israelites also Tithe in Leviticus 11. It was also explicit in the prophetic books (Malachi 3) where the Israelites were expected to tithe for heavenly opened windows. Jesus did not condemn the faith and obedience of the law needed on tithing and thus implicitly encouraged it in Matthew 23:23.
Samuel Kirk Mills insightfully brings out the purpose of Christian Tithing by writing that,

The purpose of Christian Tithing shows the use of the tithes. It is God’s economy for meeting the living subsistence of His delegated Priests (Pastors, Bishops Elders, General overseers) by whom the High Priestly Ministry of Christ on earth is served; and the maintenance of the Temple of God, which includes both the physical buildings, and the children of God in whom he dwells.

Tithing therefore shows our obedience and trust in God that all that we have belong to him. In fact the context and teaching of Malachi on tithing suggests that it serves as a weapon against the devourer. God promised to defeat the devourer and thus prevent the Devil from attacking God’s children who were faithful. In this case, God promised to protect the lives, business and family of those who were faithful in tithing (Mal 3:10 – 11). They were also to receive divine favour as in opened windows of heaven. This is also true today.

4. Give to support pastors and ministers of the Gospel
This kind of giving is very crucial in the African context and for that matter amongst African immigrant churches in that it is least taught. Some pastors fail to teach on this kind of giving simply because they don’t want to be seen as carnal men or women of God. Could we be justified in saying that such pastors are not teaching their church members the whole counsel of God? Denying church members of support to their pastors is preventing them from exercising their biblical stewardship mandate to their ministers. For if the family of Levi was to be cared for by the rest of the other clans then Christians have the stewardship mandate of caring for their pastors.

Three main reasons underscore the need to support our ministers of the gospel. In the first place, God’s word commands us to support ministers. Implicitly, the example of Abraham teaches us to support our ministers (Gen 14:20). Moses also taught about supporting ministers (Numbers 18:21-24). As Jesus sent his disciples to evangelize, he commanded them to be fed by the people to whom they ministered unto. To Paul, supporting pastors is the responsibility of every church member (Galatians 6:6).

Secondly, God’s work demands that the minister be supported. The nature of the pastoral ministry requires a divine calling and professional training. What this implies is that ministers are to be supported so that they will have total commitment and concentration on the work of the ministry (Acts 6:2-4).

The third reason is that God’s blessings and prosperity demands that his ministers are financially cared for. Before Paul could pray for the Philippian Christians, they had sown into his life and ministry (Phil 4:19). In the case of Abraham God blessed him with Children, financially and materially and physically in good old age. For he had financially supported Mechizedek (Genesis 14:20). The Shunamite woman had a miraculous encounter after supporting a man of God (2 Kings 4:8).

5. Give to the poor and the needy
The Bible makes it clear that God is concerned about the poor and needy and the oppressed. In the Old Testament, the Lord God is the champion of the poor and the needy. He reveals himself as their refuge, their help, their deliverer, and their provider (Psalms 40:17, Is. 25:4, Luke 1:52-53, I Sam. 2:8).

When God revealed his law to the Israelites, he provided a number of ways to dealing with the poor amongst them: God forbade charging interest on loans to the poor (Lev. 25:35-36); taking their cloak as security for loan; they were to be paid their daily wage so they could eat; all debts of the poor were to be cancelled at every seven years (Deut 15:1-6); During harvest time, grain that dropped on the ground was to be left so that the poor could feed on it. In fact, the edges of the farm were to be left unharvestered for the poor (Deut 19:9-10, Deut. 24:19-21).

God also instructs us to show deep concern for the poor and needy in the New Testament. Much of Jesus’ ministry was to the poor and disadvantaged in the Jewish society. This includes the downtrodden (Luke 4:18, Samaritans, Luke 17), those with leprosy and widows.

The early church established a caring community that shared their possession so that no one was in need. When they increased in number that made it impossible for the apostles to see to their needs, deacons were appointed to attend to the needs of the widows and the caring ministry. Thus in exercising our financial stewardship mandate, giving to support the poor and the needy is a way of partnering with God.

Our Christian Calling and money matters, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg  – Bible Study material on Financial Stewardship (Luke 12:15)

Introduction
This write up looks at the Christian’s financial stewardship mandate. Having looked at the power and limitation of money, this material provides some biblical principles needed to be very good stewards of money.

The power of money
The power of money in the life of people and its place in the Church cannot be overemphasised. No wonder Solomon simplifies that by saying money answers all problems (Ecclesiastics 10:19). Money provides some physical needs such as food, shelter and clothing. Money is needed for providing good environment of mental development such as going to school. Money plays key roles in our spiritual growth and in the Church. Essentially, the Bible points out that we are to serve God with our money. And money is needed in our part of worship. Our good attitudes towards money show our faithfulness in fulfilling our stewardship mandate as individuals.

The limitation of money
The above influence of money has the potential of leading people into the belief that we exist only for money. It is clear in the Scriptures and in life that although money can buy a house, it cannot buy a home. For example, money cannot give or produce children. Similarly, although money can create happiness and amusement by way of organising parties, it cannot give joy. Money can give external happiness but it cannot give internal peace. That is why Solomon in spite of his riches could say that life is meaningless.

Moreover, the influence of money is limited in that it cannot buy the grace of God. Money can influence people into standing by your side such as in times of political elections, but not the grace of God such as forgiveness of sin and long life. Thus, money only has a temporal dimension. On the discourse on eternity, money plays no eternal role.

In the context of the local church, money is needed to pay off the bills of the church, to buy some equipment needed for worship such as set of musical drums, projectors, pews and to embark on missionary trips. In today’s technological world where the gospel travels on the wheels of various forms of media technology such as radios, television broadcast and through the internet, money plays a key role.

Biblical Principles of Financial Stewardship

1. Recognize that God owns everything: Including Silver and Gold
As the idea of stewardship implies, taking good care of other person’s property, the original owner of all that we have including money is God (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8). If God owns all that we have, then we are just stewardship of God’s possession. We shall therefore give account to the owner as to how we manage his resources. Hence, one of the greatest errors when it comes to issues of money is lack of the recognition that God owns it. When that happens, God is not included in our plan of expenditure. That was the deception of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. In his planning, he excluded God.

2. Recognize that God gives power to acquire wealth
Money must be worked for. This means that hard work pays. This truth about the acquisition of money has the potential of making one to think that the amount of money that one has relates to one’s own ability or hard work. But the Bible says in Deuteronomy 8:18 that it is God who gives strength to acquire wealth. The implication of this is that the rich is not to boast over his riches. Neither should the poor be condemned and undermined. Also, the one who gives us power to acquire or make wealth deserves to be praised and worshipped and not the money.

3. Be a person of integrity in money matters
One of the tests of true spirituality of a person relates to one’s attitude towards money. God expects his people to be men and women who have an attitude of integrity concerning how they acquire and use money. In this case, how one receives money is more important to God than the money itself.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary states, “Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.” God wants his people to be distinguished by financial integrity. The English have a saying, “A gentleman is one who uses the butter knife when he is alone.” The true character of a person is seen by what that person does when no one is looking at him or her. Integrity in money matters has to do with being honest and upright when you are alone. It means constantly acting according to biblical principles, even if you think you’ll never be caught. This comes as a result of the awareness that God is watching and that you want to please him.

4. Manage debts
The Bible enjoins Christians to stay away from debts where possible because the borrower or the debtor becomes a slave to the creditor. Inasmuch as in some cases we will have no other option than to be under debt, managing debts is therefore necessary if we are to fulfil our financial stewardship mandate. This can be possible when we make a saving plan towards the payment of our loans or debts. Another crucial way is by desisting from the habit of continuous borrowing, especially when we have not paid off the previous debt.

This discipline of managing debt applies not only to individuals but also to some organisations and nations. Some developing countries such as Ghana have the culture of borrowing in order to meet their development needs. Against this background of indebtedness, the third government of the fourth republic of Ghana had no other option than to apply to belong to the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPIC). It appears that, even after some years of been dismembered from the HIPIC countries, the culture of borrowing has resurfaced.

5. Being content is crucial
Writing about financial stewardship will not be complete without making mention of Paul’s teaching about contentment. That is the quality of being contented with our financial status and not being covetous. In speaking about the subject of contentment in his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages us to desist from the love of money by saying that, it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:6). It is worthy of note that Paul did not say that money itself is the root of evil, but the love of it.

It must be understood that contentment does not mean one must not apply principles of wealth creation in order to acquire wealth for godly purposes. It is about avoiding all forms of unhealthy competition for wealth and also avoiding all forms of jealousyness of other people’s financial status and material possessions.

Contentment is not therefore about becoming satisfied with one’s status of poverty. For nowhere did Jesus magnify poverty or criticize the legitimate getting of wealth. God made all things, including food, clothing and precious metals. God has declared that all things that he has made are good (Genesis 1:31). God knows that we need certain things to live (Matthew 6:32). In fact, God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). It is therefore not wrong to possess things, but it is wrong for things to possess us.