lesson
15

Bible Class
Discussion Guide
by Edward Thomason

Persecution begins
Acts 8:1-4

warm up
1. Which of the following areas of persecution do you think most of us could probably relate to today, if any? Discuss why or why not.
[  ] Being put to death for one's faith
[  ] Being put into prison for one's faith
[  ] Being separated from family members because of one's faith
[  ] Being forced to leave home because of one's faith
wise up
  

The early church experienced the greatest excitement and most joyful fellowship in its early days, but it also experienced the heartbreak and pain of religious persecution. The death of Stephen seemed to have triggered a frenzy of persecution. The advice of Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34-39) to leave these men alone was not taken by one of his own young students. Saul of Tarsus had been educated by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) but he was zealous in the finding and arresting anyone (male or female) who claimed to be a disciple of Jesus. 

I. They scattered: Vs. 1.
   1. Read the following texts and discuss the ways that Saul "consented" to the murder of Stephen and others? Acts 7:58;  Acts 8:1,3  Acts 26:10-11.
Discuss some ways that we might give our consent or approval to some misdeed today knowingly and unknowingly.
   2. Why do you think the apostles stayed in Jerusalem while others fled?

II. They suffered: Vs. 2-3.
   1. When Stephen died, who came to his funeral?

   2. It has been said that, "Birds of a feather stick together." If this is true, what type of people would we expect to find at a funeral for the following people other than close relatives? (match)

___ Wino ___ Soldier a. Fellow soldiers d. Few people
___ Gangster ___ Hermit b. Faithful Christians e. Winos
___ Politician ___ Faithful Christian c. Criminals f. Political leaders

   3. When a faithful Christian dies today, why should we make every effort possible to attend their funeral? (See the principle stated in Matthew 7:12.) What would that say to the world about our respect and love for one another?
   4. Is grief natural, even when the one who dies is a Christian? "Great lamentation" (Acts 8:2) refers to which of the following?
          [  ] long prayers; [  ] much grief and sorrow; [  ] many words of praise. 
   5. Paul evidently had the legal authority to actually enter into people's homes and arrest them and then see to it that they were put into prison. It seems odd that the Jewish people were so intolerant of any other religions considering how they were often persecuted for their own faith. Yet, this is a practice often repeated by mankind. In America, our religious freedom is often taken for granted. We have the freedom to believe and practice our faith without being legally harassed or persecuted. While we are not put into prison or burned at the stake for our beliefs, we are often taunted and mocked. Discuss some of the subtle areas of persecution that still exist today when one stands up with conviction for what he or she believes. True religious freedom exists only when those who differ are willing to be respectful toward one another. One can refuse to compromise beliefs without being "disrespectful" to those who differ with them. Discuss some ways to help defuse prejudice and misunderstanding in a world where subtle persecution still exists.

III. They shared: Vs. 4. 
   1. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to scatter. Many who were from other countries no doubt returned home. Others abandoned their homes and fled to avoid being put into prison. However, there was a silver lining in this dark cloud. Those scattered went everywhere "preaching the word." How did persecution of the early church actually help fulfill what God had intended in Acts 1:8? (See Acts 8:4.) Read Romans 8:28, Phil. 1:12-13. If God could use opposition to advance the Kingdom in the first century, could he do the same today?
   2. Some have argued this verse implies that "women" were preaching. Yet, a closer study of the text indicates the word "they" is masculine gender and refers to males. This harmonizes with the biblical doctrines set forth later by the apostle Paul (I Timothy 2:11-12; 2 Timothy 2:2; I Corinthians 14:34) and the fact that we have no examples of women publicly preaching the word. Discuss ways other than "preaching" that women can share the faith with others.   

wrap up

1.  Religious persecution in some form will always exist. Let us remember that Christians must practice the golden rule by being respectful of those who differ. As we do so, we have a greater chance of living in peace and convincing the gainsayers of this world.

Assignment

  Please read Acts 8:5-25 for next week        copyright 2001