Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Chapter headings and verse demarcations are very helpful study tools. The ability to quickly and easily find a text in the Bible has proved to be a great time saver. Also, the neat little summary titles we find scattered throughout the pages of our Bibles can aid us too. But if we lean on them too much, they can make the text seem more divided than it should. In a novel or book of nonfiction, when we change chapters, we generally change scenes or subjects. Summary titles in nonfiction usually serve as a way to delineate points within a single topic. In my opinion, chapter and summary headings in the Bible sometimes train us to segregate material in an unhelpful way. Chapter breaks in places where there are not scene changes are sometimes necessary, or else John 13-16 would be one long chapter. And summary headings can be helpful, especially in epistles where an apostle deals with multiple application points in a single chapter. But, often, chapter headings are arbitrary. The most egregious example of this I can think of is Colossians 3:18-4:1. Why Colossians 4:2 is not Colossians 4:1 will forever be a mystery to me.
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Further Instructions (ESV Summary Title)
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Perhaps you do not have summary titles in your Bible. But above every new paragraph or two in mine, there is a summary of the next section to be read that might say, “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” or the “Woman at the Well.” What chapter and summary headings can do to us sometimes is to get us to think that a subject or a scene has changed when it hasn’t. If we are not careful, we can develop an inorganic view of an entire section of the Bible. For years I read the Sermon on the Mount as many loosely strung together proverbs with little organic connection. It was the summary titles that initially threw me off. Once I ceased to pay attention to them and started to look at the sermon as a connected whole, the flow of the text made much more sense to me.
I can think of no other passage of Scripture that demonstrates any better the negative aspects of chapter breaks and summary headings on our understanding of it than our text today, Acts 5:1-11. You will immediately recognize it as the story of Ananias and Sapphira. But I doubt whether you will have ever considered it as part of the passage that precedes it, but I think it should be. Let’s read Acts 5:1-11 now, and then we’ll widen our lens by erasing the chapter heading and summary.
Look for Part 2 of “Finding & Losing Our Lives For Jesus’ Sake” tomorrow.
Blessings and may God be with you!