The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is not a craven fear, but an honest, reverent, and clean fear. It acknowledges that God is perfectly holy, almighty, and the highest and greatest, and He knows all things, and all that we are is laid bare before Him in humility.
“And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord…” (Acts 4:23-5:16)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
When the apostles were released and returned to the company of Christians, they reported everything, and the response was worship (4:23-30). Specifically, they sing/pray Psalm 2 and apply it before God to what happened to Jesus (4:25-27). They acknowledge the sovereignty of God over all of it, and they ask for boldness to continue speaking, to disobey the priests, and for signs to accompany the Word (4:28-30). Their prayer is answered immediately with the house being shaken and the word of God proclaimed boldly (4:31).
As we noted previously, between the free generosity of the gospel, the immediate needs of thousands of new Christians, many from out of town, and the expectation of the destruction of Jerusalem in the near future, the people began selling lands and houses and the apostles initially oversaw the administration of the funds (4:32-37). Ananias and Sapphira conspired together to lie about giving the entire proceeds from a land sale to the church (5:1-2). Ananias initially brought the gift, and Peter confronted him for lying to the Holy Spirit, insisting that the land and money was his to use freely, and Ananias immediately fell down dead (5:3-6). Three hours later, Sapphira showed up and confirmed that she was part of the conspiracy, and she also fell down dead (5:7-10). Great fear came upon everyone, as God answered the prayers of the apostles through signs and wonders, and many more people believed (5:11-16).
THE SANCTUARY OF WISDOM
Where do you turn when you are threatened? Where do you turn when you run into trouble? Where do you turn when people say all kinds of false things, foolish things? The early church shows us the faithful response: lift up your voice to God (4:24). But it really isn’t an accident that they lift up their voice to God “with one accord.” This is what corporate worship is, the gathering together of the saints to tell the Lord what has happened, and to ask Him for strength and boldness to obey no matter what (4:25-30).
Many of the Psalms describe this: “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues” (Ps. 31:20). “For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning… When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surly thou didst set them in slippery places: thou cast them down into destruction” (Ps. 73:14, 16-18). Worship is the central thing because worship is where we hide safely from the strife of tongues and where we learn to see and think clearly about everything.
WORSHIP IS THE ENGINE
Notice that the “one accord” of worship translates into the “one heart and one soul” and “one accord” of community (4:24, 4:32, 5:12). Worship is the engine for community and culture. Living in the rootlessness of postmodernity means that everyone is desperate for meaning, for identity, to belong, for community, for purpose. But we have to have it fixed in our hearts and minds that community is a byproduct of the gospel and worship. The Holy Spirit calls men and women out of the darkness by the gospel, and He gathers us together in worship. It is a result of those things that the Spirit forms community and Christian culture. But if the gospel and worship are not the central things, it’s not the Holy Spirit, and it’s not Christian community or culture. Notice that as soon as people start gathering together, counterfeits show up on the scene, like Ananias and Sapphira, trying to manipulate and lie their way into community. But Christian fellowship is built upon grace and truth, not manipulation and lies. We have grace and truth to share because we have received grace and truth in Jesus Christ.
APPLICATIONS: THE FEAR OF THE LORD
This passage describes multiple causes of fear: the apostles have just been released from custody and threatened and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying to the Holy Spirit. “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things… And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (5:11, 13-14).
First, notice that fear came upon all the church. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and since worship is the center of our fellowship, we worship with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). Jesus taught this: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Ananias and Sapphire did not fear the Lord, and they thought they could get away with lying. This is the sin of hypocrisy. But the Lord sees all and knows all: “His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of men” (Ps. 11:4). The question is not whether there is any impurity in you, the question is what do you with it? “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts” (Prov. 17:3). If you cling to your impurity, you will be consumed with it, but if you cling to the Cross of Jesus, your impurities will be burned away until you shine like gold.
Second, notice that this godly fear had two effects on those outside the church. Some kept their distance but “magnified” the church (thought highly of them) and multitudes believed and poured into the church. One of the central reasons the world does not fear God is because the church does not fear God. And this has had disastrous effects on our society. When professing Christians don’t fear God they become hypocrites and liars and do their evil in secret, but when pagans do not fear God, they do their evil deeds brazenly in the broad light of day (Gen. 20:11, Ps. 36, Rom. 3). You can also tell who the masses fear by who they give deference to, who they obey. Instead of the living God, our culture fears the tinpot deities of “Science” and “Health” and “the Economy” or just popular opinion, and so we are easily manipulated.
So, are you more concerned about fitting in, being “healthy,” and keeping your head down in the culture, or having a clean heart before God, staying in fellowship with God and your people? Whom do you fear?