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The Christadelphian | January 2013

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial There is no new thing
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Thoughts for a New Year | Ken Clark
  • 100 Years Ago Extracts from The Christadelphian, January 1913
  • The Prophecy of Nahum 01 – “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind” | Mark Allfree
  • My conversion | H. D. Bartholomew
  • Questions Jesus asks “Could ye not watch with me?” | Paul Aston
  • Archaeology 01 – God’s Land | Nathan Kitchen
  • For better, for worse … 01 – Ananias & Sapphira | Mark Vincent
  • Conscience in the world of medicine The views of a practising doctor | Deb Lawrence
  • Faith Alive! The importance of Bible reading | Mike Movassaghi
  • Faith Alive! Why I was baptized | Luke Thompson
  • A childhood memory | Barry Lambsdown
  • Signs of the times Russia and Israel | John Morris
  • Israel and their land West Bank settlements
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

For better, for worse …

Introduction to this series …

What is it about other people’s relationships that draws our curiosity? At the lowest level there might be an element of voyeurism, perhaps pandered to by publications like Hello or OK magazine, which is in danger of turning us into a nation of Peeping Toms. But if morbid curiosity is the lowest common denominator, there are other more noble reasons why we find other people’s relationships so fascinating. We are naturally interested in other people’s lives because we are people ourselves; we are drawn to speculation about their relationships because most of us have a great deal of ourselves invested in a relationship and we know only too well their ups and downs, the pleasure – and sometimes the pain – of striving to make it work.

In this series we won’t be peering into the marriages of either the rich and famous or our friends and acquaintances; instead what we will be doing is taking a look at the lives of some of the married couples described in the Bible. We’ll be combining close attention to the Bible text with an eye on what the implications might be for marriage in the present day. Each month’s piece will look at a different couple, each article standing on its own feet with no regard to chronological order – there is no need to read one month’s article to make sense of the next. What we hope to discover are all kinds of fascinating details and insights, both positive and negative, from the Biblical characters we’ll consider, helping us to re-examine – perhaps even re-appreciate or re-configure – aspects of our own lives so that they can better conform to the pattern of Christ.

01 Ananias & Sapphira

This month we kick off with a look at Ananias and Sapphira, a couple whose relationship definitely can be put in the category of ‘for worse’ rather than ‘for better’, but this doesn’t mean that there’s any less to be learned from them. Let’s take a look.

The passage that tells of their deed and its consequence is a short eleven verses, but one which, for all its brevity, is devastating in its impact. The account opens like this:

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 5:1-2*)

It is a deed agreed to and done together (‘with his wife Sapphira ... with his wife’s knowledge’) but one which seems to have been hatched initially by Ananias. This becomes clear when Peter addresses him in the next two verses:

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? ... Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart?” (verses 3,4)

But if it is Ananias’ idea, Sapphira is not let off the hook:

“How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (verse 9)

Three times, then, in the few verses we’ve examined so far, the text highlights their complicity. Togetherness can be a wonderful thing – normally something that we would think of as a virtue to be striven for in marriage – but not if it is togetherness in sin.

A second conscience

One of the great potentials that marriage opens up is the presence of a second conscience, a second chance to catch ourselves from falling into wrongdoing. The conscience is a very powerful, God-given, sin-prevention device, but it needs training by His word so that it conforms to His standards rather than our own (the alternative is some vague notion of what ‘feels right to me’; hardly satisfactory). Sometimes our conscience is not as well trained as it should be, and even when it suggests the right choice, the power of the mind to wheedle around its voice, heeding instead some selfish inclination, is considerable.

But suppose our partner, being perhaps a little more detached from the particular situation, is able to bring to bear their conscience also, suggesting that we may be letting God down by the choice we are making, pointing out that there may be a better way in which to proceed. If this happens, and if it is done in the right spirit, we can potentially spare ourselves from sin and the pain and consequences that go with it. Any such intervention has to be carried out in the right way, of course: it can be all too easy to put our partner’s back up or to talk down to them as if they were a child; but assuming we are smart enough to manage this aspect of communication, there is a lot of positive potential to be unleashed. My wife’s conscience may be more finely and more spiritually honed in some areas than my own, and vice versa. There is a real opportunity for preventative intervention and for discussion and advice-seeking about the most Christ-centred way to tackle a particular issue. So for example in my own case, it would probably be true to say that every email that I have ever sent which I regret is one that my wife didn’t check. When our combined conscience is operating we can avoid at least some mistakes that would otherwise have been made.

Unfortunately it can work the other way also, as it did in Ananias and Sapphira’s case. Ananias had the idea, and she knew about the idea, but instead of questioning what he was doing, she agreed and they did it together! She became complicit in sin, her acquiescence perhaps even comforting him, spurring him on to silence any voices of conscience that were still playing in his mind. If our partner thinks it’s okay it can lead us on, allowing us to persuade ourselves that a course of action is not so bad even when we know deep down that it is. We shouldn’t agree with something just because our partner says so; Sapphira is not excused here on the basis that her husband is the head and that she is only going along with him. Both partners have a responsibility to uphold what is right and to save one another from sin.

Agreeing together

The text notes that Ananias and Sapphira ‘agreed together’ in their sin. The concept expressed by this little phrase is one which is worth discussing and exploring between a husband and wife in marriage today. What are the marital sins that we commit as a couple? What do we stand for as a couple? What are the decisions that we make together which set a direction for our families? What are the patterns of behaviour and the structures that we have put into our family lives that we have signed up for as a couple? Are they what they should be? Are they the best we can do, or should we discuss them again, listening more carefully when the conscience of one or the other of us may suggest a better way?

United in death

Ananias and Sapphire can certainly be commended for togetherness – they had a unity, no doubt – but it was a unity in sin rather than a unity in righteousness. Fittingly, then, they share the same fate – in their deaths as also in their sin they are not divided. They had stood together side by side, presumably, when they were first married. For their sin they would now be together again; lying down this time, side by side, united in their deaths:

“When the young men came in they found Sapphira dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (verses 10,11)

This is how high the stakes are. In our marriages we must find a better way.

(to be continued …)

*quotes in this article are from ESV

Mark Vincent

 

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