RETURN TO UNITY SESSION 5. The Point Our return to God pulls us together.

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1 SESSION 5 RETURN TO UNITY The Point Our return to God pulls us together. The Bible Meets Life We unite with others over the strangest things. Consider your favorite sports team. As you sit in the stands, the people surrounding you are strangers. However, rallied around your favorite team they become family. Your one common interest unites you. The church takes unity to a different level. The church is very diverse, but we come together because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. It s a unity grounded in who we are. In the Book of Acts, we see a group of believers who changed the world because they lived in unity. The Passage Acts 4: SESSION 5

2 WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY? Acts 4:31-37 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet. 31 The Setting Pentecost saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus followers, Peter boldly proclaim the gospel to an international crowd, and 3,000 people come to faith. At some point, supposedly shortly after that eventful day, Peter and John encountered a lame man in the temple courtyard. The man s healing and the disciples preaching resulted in the arrest of Peter and John. Upon their release, the two gathered with other believers and prayed for boldness to proclaim the gospel. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 125

3 ENGAGE (15 MINUTES) GET INTO THE STUDY ENGAGE: Begin the session with one or more of the Engage Options on the next page. (This is optional. If you d rather skip the Engage Options, just begin with the first discussion question.) DISCUSS: Ask students the question, What unites people? SAY: When two strangers meet and discover they share a common interest, a quick bond can develop. We crave those kinds of connections. When Christians individually experience a renewed love and unity with Christ, they can t help but experience a unity with each other. ITEM 13 Leader Pack: Use the What Unites People poster to help foster discussion with the lead-in question for the session. THE POINT GUIDE: Call attention to The Point. Explain that this is the key idea to keep in mind throughout the session. Our return to God pulls us together. READ: Read and summarize The Bible Meets Life for your group. We can become united over the strangest things. Consider your favorite sports team. As you sit in the stands, the majority of people surrounding you are strangers people you know nothing about and may or may not have much in common with. However, rallied around your favorite team they become family. You cheer together, win together, and lose together. Your one common interest unites you, despite your other differences. Being united around a shared need or experience is awesome, but it s not the same as being united to each other. The church takes unity to a different level. The church is very diverse, but we come together because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. It s far more than being united around our favorite team; it s a unity grounded in who we are. In the Book of Acts, Luke described a very young church that did more than talk about unity; they lived it. We see a group of believers who changed the world because they lived in unity. PRAY: Transition into the session by praying that students would see the importance of unity with other believers. THE POINT. 126 SESSION 5

4 Engage Options YY Lead with Action Play The Human Knot. Have students stand in a circle and reach out with their right hand to grab another person s hand. Then tell them to reach out with their left hand and grab a different person s hand. Give the group a set amount of time to work together to untangle. After time runs out, say: Working together through adversity almost always fosters unity. Scripture calls us as believers to live in true community by striving for unity, even in the face of obstacles. ITEM 13 OPTION: Call student s attention to the What Unites People poster. Use it to introduce the first discussion question. YY Lead with Atmosphere Post signs around the room that are focused on people s favorite things sports teams, foods, colors, etc. As students come in, have them go to the sign that represents one of their favorite things. Say, Did you feel unified with those who chose the same things you did? Having something in common with someone else creates unity. The truest and deepest unity we can experience on this earth is the unity in Christ we share with other believers. The early church in Acts was a great example of this unity. YY Lead with Media Search the Internet for Take a Seat Make a Friend? Show some or all of this video to the group. After the video say, Before each person got into the ball pit, they were strangers. But, after a short amount of time they were all able to connect over something they had in common. When we make an effort to recognize our commonalities, unity comes more easily. OPTION: If you have time, allow the students to pick multiple favorites. For example, have students gather around their favorite sports team, then switch to their favorite food, then to their favorite color, and so on. Talk about how different things bring different kinds of people together. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 127

5 IMPART (10 MINUTES) STUDY THE BIBLE The Point: Our return to God pulls us together. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 31 ACTS 4:31 ACTS 4:31 SAY: The religious authorities had arrested Peter and John for preaching about Jesus resurrection. They boldly spoke of Jesus as the only way to salvation (see Acts 4:1-12). The rulers demanded that John and Peter never speak of Jesus resurrection again, but they could not keep their mouths shut, We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (v. 20). GUIDE: Help students understand the power that comes from living in unity with other believers. Later Peter and John were released. They went back to the church and told of all that happened. The believers responded with an amazing cry, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness (v. 29). The early church faced countless persecution, yet they never ran. Instead, they came together. What united them? Their faith in Christ and their desire to spread the gospel to all who needed to hear it. As the believers expressed this unity in their prayer: 1. The place where they were meeting shook. 2. God s Holy Spirit came and filled these early Christians 3. They began to speak God s message with boldness. DISCUSS: Lead students to discuss the question, What things help people feel united? READ: Ask a volunteer to read the following: When God s people unite together, extraordinary things happen. Their unity around the cause of Christ inspires them to fulfill the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20). Unity may happen in a moment, but the results last for eternity. DO: Direct students to complete the Action Point, Extra Bold. Extra Bold Even the most outgoing, spunky person has moments when they lack boldness. Some fail to be bold when they are around a certain crowd. Others struggle because they are shy. As a believer, when and where do you find it difficult to be bold for Jesus? List your areas of weakness, and ask God to give you boldness to be like Christ in every situation. 128 SESSION 5

6 Commentary ACTS 4:31 The Book of Acts details the beginnings of the early church. Jesus had told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:49). The proclamation of the gospel would not depend on their own passion or ability to share it, but on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples obeyed and gathered in one place to await God s sending of the Holy Spirit. When the day of Pentecost arrived, the Holy Spirit came upon them as Jesus had promised, and 3,000 people came to faith in Christ through Peter s preaching. In Acts 4:4 we re told that an additional 5,000 men came to faith in Christ through Peter s preaching at the temple. As the apostles continued to preach and large numbers of people continued to be saved, those responsible for Jesus death among the Jewish authorities felt threatened. They arrested Peter and John and ordered them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus (see 4:18-20). Instead, the apostles prayed for boldness to continue preaching the gospel (see vv ). TIP: Have a discussion with your students about the boldest thing they ve ever done. [Verse 31] This verse is the direct answer to the apostles prayer for boldness in Acts 4:29-30, which is why it begins with the words when they had prayed. The first sign that God had heard their prayer was that the place where they were assembled was shaken. Shaking ground in the Old Testament indicated that God was uniquely present in a given situation. For example, in Exodus 19:18, the whole mountain shook violently when God appeared on Mount Sinai to speak to Moses. In Isaiah 6:4, the foundations of the doorways shook as the prophet encountered God in the temple in the year that King Uzziah died. By appearing to the apostles with the shaking of the earth, God gave them tangible evidence that He was present and that He would answer their prayers. A second evidence of God answering prayer was that everyone in the room was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was not a second Pentecost, which was the pouring out of the Spirit on the apostles in answer to Jesus command for them to wait for power from on high. However, this filling of the Spirit was a fresh empowerment of the disciples for their witness to the world. The direct result of the Spirit s filling in Acts 4:31 was that the disciples began to speak God s message with boldness. The word boldness in secular usage often indicated the idea of freedom of speech or being willing to say anything in candor. The disciples prayer for boldness was not merely a desire that they would not be afraid to speak God s message, but that they would have a freedom to publicly declare the gospel to those who needed to hear it. Their boldness was directly tied to their proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 129

7 IMPART (10 MINUTES) STUDY THE BIBLE The Point: Our return to God pulls us together. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 32 ACTS 4:32-33 ACTS 4:32-33 SAY: When individual believers are filled with God s Holy Spirit, they can t help uniting with one another. The early church was so impacted by what the Holy Spirit had done and was doing, that it affected everything they did from that point forward. Throughout the remaining verses of Acts 4, we see how the Spirit s unifying presence showed itself among these believers. SUMMARIZE: Help students understand the impact unity can have on a group. These Spirit-filled believers were of one heart and mind (v. 32) and this unity is seen in two things they did. 1. They were one in heart and had a mutual generosity. They shared everything. It s rare to see this kind of generosity today. What these early Christians did is comparable to finding out a family lost everything in a house fire and giving them everything you own. Someone needs a place to stay you give him or her your bed. 2. They were one in mind and purpose. They wanted boldness, and God gave them boldness. The apostles continued to preach boldly and with power about Jesus and the resurrection. This was their one mission. We can do a lot of good things, but we must have unity on the main thing preaching the gospel to every man, woman, boy, and girl around the world. DISCUSS: Lead students to discuss the question, What is the purpose of the church? 130 SESSION 5

8 Commentary ACTS 4:32-33 [Verse 32] This verse begins with a reference to the large group of those who believed. Luke widened the circle from the apostles and disciples of the upper room at Pentecost to all those who had believed in Jesus. As the circle of believers grew, the unity they shared in Christ remained strong. Luke described this unity as being of one heart and mind. Some scholars have described this as fulfilling the Greek ideal of common ownership of property and everything held in common, which reached back to the ideals of the Pythagoreans and Plato. In reality, these early believers were simply responding to the Holy Spirit s presence in their lives. How do we know the disciples were not creating a utopian society where everything was held in common? The phrasing of the verse helps make this clear. The attitude of the body of believers was that no one said that any of his possessions was his own. The key is that the possessions were still their own, even though they did not count them as so. In a communal or utopian society, private possessions become the property of all. Luke clearly indicated that the believers voluntarily gave up what were still their own possessions. The church did not nullify the right to own private property. Each person continued to own property until it was found to be necessary to sell it for the common good, and even then it was a voluntary decision. [Verse 33] The presence of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the believers, and the concern that they showed for one another enhanced the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles. While all the believers were giving evidence of their faith in Jesus, the apostles explained the gospel from the Old Testament Scriptures through preaching. The preaching of the apostles was described as their testimony. In legal terms, this referred to a person s testimony as a witness in a court of law. As witnesses to the ministry of Jesus, the apostles spoke with authority about His life, death, and resurrection. TIP: Unity is important for your group. The more time you spend together outside of church, the greater unity and trust you will have. Luke described the preaching of the apostles as occurring with great power. The Greek word for power comes from the root to be able. The English word dynamite comes from the same root. When used of the disciples, this power indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:48-49) and the miracles that the apostles did (see Acts 4:7). The specific content of the apostles preaching was the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They had witnessed the life of Jesus and they had also seen Him die. However, what set their message apart was their witness to the resurrected Jesus. Christ had come back to life. They saw Him alive after He had died. The result of the apostles witness was that great grace was on all of them. God blessed their witness and many new believers came to faith. As they came to faith, they grew in unity as a new community of believers. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 131

9 IMPART (10 MINUTES) STUDY THE BIBLE The Point: Our return to God pulls us together. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet. 34 ACTS 4:34-37 ACTS 4:34-37 DISCUSS: Lead students to discuss the question, What scares you about surrendering like the early church did? READ: Ask for a volunteer to read the following: The Holy Spirit leads us to surrender, and the believers in the early church joyfully gave up their possessions for each other. They didn t mourn over the loss of their stuff. In fact, there was no sense of loss at all because they joyfully let go of everything so that they could embrace Jesus and focus on His mission. GUIDE: Help students understand the importance of surrender to unity. Surrender is often hard, but it shouldn t be. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit, we gain far more than we give up. When we surrender to the Lord, we surrender in victory, not defeat! YY Every time He convicts us of sin, it s time to surrender that sin to God and experience His forgiveness, freedom, and grace (see 1 John 1:9). YY Every time He calls us to respond generously to a need, we can joyfully let go of what we know was never ours in the first place. YY Every time He speaks to us about the direction and purpose of our lives, we can surrender and join Him in the great adventure of His mission. Verses give us a specific example of one believer s generosity. Barnabas sold a field and brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution. YY Barnabas was of one heart with his fellow Christians because of his generosity. YY Barnabas was of one mind with his fellow Christians because of his encouragement and laser-like focus on the church s mission. Barnabas surrendered himself to the Lord. Choose to be a Barnabas in your church. DISCUSS: Lead students to discuss the question, How should these verses guide our actions and attitudes today? 132 SESSION 5

10 Commentary ACTS 4:34-37 [Verses 34-35] The phrase there was not a needy person among them clearly refers back to the ideal of Deuteronomy 15:4. The members of the church who had means voluntarily met the needs of poorer members by sacrificing their own ownership of property to help the poor. This provision started as the believers sold their land. The fact that they sold it voluntarily must be emphasized. The remarkable quality of the early believers was their generosity and their sacrifice, which created a strong sense of community and fostered unity among the group. TIP: Ask your students to share ideas for things your group can do to create the same feelings of unity and generosity the early church had. After selling their land, the people brought the proceeds and laid them at the apostles feet. Since this was voluntary, the emphasis was not on the apostles authority to receive the funds but their God-given responsibility to use it wisely in caring for the needs of the poor in the community. Specifically, the apostles distributed the proceeds for each person s basic needs. The tense of the verbs (imperfect tense) throughout this passage indicates a continual process, not a one-time occurrence. The church did not decide one day that everyone should sell all property and bring the proceeds to the apostles. As the poor had need, believers were selling, laying the proceeds at the apostles feet, and the disciples were distributing the proceeds. [Verses 36-37] Luke highlighted two types of people involved in the process. He positively spoke of Joseph, also known as Barnabas. Negatively, he told the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold their land but lied about the proceeds (see 5:1-11). Barnabas would later appear as a companion of Paul on the missionary journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor. Luke also referred to Barnabas as a Levite, which might confuse the reader at first because they were not able to own land in the early days of the Old Testament (see Deut. 10:9; Num. 18:20,24). However, that probably did not apply in the days of Acts because the priestly families of Jeremiah had owned land earlier (see Jer. 32:6-15). The sacrifice of Barnabas highlighted the meaning of his name, Son of Encouragement. Like others in the Christian community, Barnabas brought the money, and laid it at the apostles feet. Rather than helping others on his own, he did so through the ministry of the local body of believers in his community. He did not give his money to the church, but through the church. He trusted that the apostles would not keep the money for themselves, but that they would distribute the money as needs had arisen among them. As the early church experienced opposition, they prayed for boldness to continue preaching. With the common purpose of winning their world to Christ, the church grew stronger in unity and sacrificially helped one another as needs arose. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 133

11 IMPACT (10 MINUTES) APPLY IT TIP: Read 1 Peter 3:8 together and talk about what this passage says about unity. SAY: There is incredible power when God unites His people. How can we see the kind of radical movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and church community? READ: Ask for a volunteer to read aloud a few ways students can take what they have learned and Apply It. YY Yield. Surrender everyday to Jesus. Let Him fill you with His Holy Spirit. YY Pray. Pray for unity in your church. Ask God to remove all barriers to unity and make your church family one in heart and mind. YY Share. If your life is surrendered to Christ, everything in your life belongs to Him. If you see a need, do whatever you can to take care of it. GUIDE: Lead students to consider which of the three suggested responses to the Bible study most closely applies to them and their current circumstances. SAY: Which of these responses do you personally need to focus on most as you live this session out? Allow time for responses. WRAP UP PRAY: Close in prayer, asking God to help students draw close to Him in a renewed love and unity that will in turn result in a renewed unity with others. ASK: Ask students about last week s Live It Out options. Discuss any responses and encourage students as they choose to apply the Bible to their lives. GUIDE: Encourage students to complete one or both of the Live It Out activities for the week. Let them know you will discuss them the next time you meet. For free online training on how to lead a group visit MinistryGrid.com/web/BibleStudiesForLife 134 SESSION 5

12 LEADER LIVE IT OUT To find the One Conversation for all ages, visit Before the session, challenge yourself to grow with your students through this Live It Out. Unity Through Forgiveness Colossians 3:13-14 Notes: The greatest of all wedges between Christians is unforgiveness the complete opposite of unity. The grace and forgiveness of Jesus is the tie that unites us all. Christ has called us to be like Him in the way we forgive our neighbor. Harboring unforgiveness in your heart hurts the church. The Bible tells us that when one part of the church suffers, the entire church suffers. Who in your life do you need to extend forgiveness to? Make a commitment to find that person this week and forgive him or her for the pain caused to you. Also ask for this person s forgiveness because of your unwillingness to forgive. ONE CONVERSATION Scripture: Acts 4:31-37 Topic: Unity Use these discussion starters to help foster a spiritual conversation with your family. THE BIBLE MEETS LIFE: We unite with others over the strangest things. Consider your favorite sports team. As you sit in the stands, the people surrounding you are strangers. However, rallied around your favorite team they become family. Your one common interest unites you. The church takes unity to a different level. The church is very diverse, but we come together because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. It s a unity grounded in who we are. In the Book of Acts, we see a group of believers who changed the world because they lived in unity. STUDENTS THE POINT: Our return to God pulls us together. Who do you feel connected to? What makes you feel connected to those people or groups? Discuss the following quote: God s family, which comes into being by regeneration, is more central and more lasting than the human family that comes into being by procreation. 1 John Piper 1. John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 117. LIVE IT OUT: Your student has been encouraged to do one or both Live It Out activities in the Personal Study Guide. Here are some suggested ways to help your student: If he or she plans to complete Your Church: Pray with your student for your church family. Pray 1 Peter 3:8 specifically. Ask God to show you your part in bringing or maintaining unity. If he or she plans to complete Unity Through Forgiveness: Make yourself available to your student to talk as he or she learns to forgive people who have hurt him or her. Model forgiveness in your home this week by extending grace to your spouse, children, and friends. BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE 135

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