LIFE IN THE SPIRIT: Acts—Week 7 (Problem People)

Acts 6:1-7; 8:9-25; 15:1-41

We are in a study of the book of Acts, focusing on the Person of the Holy Spirit—a co-equal Member of the Godhead with the Father and the Son—and how He empowered, inspired, led, and molded ordinary men and women into a movement that turned the world upside down, and how He continues to do so today.  Any time you get a large number of people together with varying backgrounds, preferences, motivations, and opinions, conflict is sure to follow.  It is just a part of the fallen human condition.  This week, we will examine the issue of problem people, and how the Holy Spirit works in us amid conflict, and how the Holy Spirit can empower us to bring peace to others in the midst of conflict.  We will do so by examining four examples of problem people in Acts and how the Holy Spirit guided the believers to resolve conflicts in ways that furthered the gospel and the growth of the Church.

In Acts 6:1-7, we see one of the first major conflicts faced by the early church.  Greek speaking Jewish believers (likely those believers from other parts of the Roman world who were converted at Pentecost), felt they were being neglected.  Rather than responding to the criticism with defensiveness or rebuke, the apostles accepted the criticism with humility and genuine concern for the hurt that spawned the criticism.  We would do well to follow their Spirit-filled example.  When we face criticism, whether we believe it to be warranted or not, Philippians 2:1-4 instructs us that the Holy Spirit directed response is look to the critic with affection and sympathy, putting the needs of others ahead of our desire to defend our rights or reputation. 

In Acts 8:9-25, we see another conflict with a much different nature and resolution.  As we discussed in Week 2, Simon the Magician was a Samaritan who had used his alleged powers of sorcery to beguile the people and convince them that he was someone great.  After Philip preached in the area, a great number of Samaritans became believers and were baptized, including Simon.  Unfortunately, Simon struggled to leave his old ways behind, and he thought the power of the Holy Spirit was something that could be bought and sold. He had his own agenda and was seeking to use the Church for personal gain.  Thus, Peter’s Spirit-guided response was much different than our first example.  He rebuked Simon and called on him to repent (which Simon never did).  While Peter’s response may seem a bit harsh, the integrity of the gospel was on the line.  Simon’s impudence had to be addressed promptly and decisively, for both his sake and for the sake of the new church in Samaria. Peter’s command to repent was as much a plea of concern for Simon’s soul as it was an admonishment of his heretical view of the Holy Spirit.  When we face similar dilemmas, we must look to the Holy Spirit to grant us discernment as well as we seek to rebuke with compassion.

In Acts 15, we see two more conflicts that are resolved in a Spirit-empowered way.  In verses 1-35 we see the first recorded Church Council, known as the Council of Jerusalem.  At stake was whether Christianity would be a new faith founded on the roots of Judaism, or whether Christianity would merely be a sect of Judaism.  Though the matter was hotly debated, the apostles and leaders of the Church determined that non-Jewish believers would not have to observe Jewish law and traditions as a part of their new faith.  We know this decision was Spirit led because of the response of the believers in verse 31: they were filled with joy and encouraged.  As James 3:13-18 tells us, Godly wisdom sows peace, joy, and unity wherever it is employed. Yet, as we see in the latter verses of Chapter 15, sometimes unity and conflict resolution are achieved through separation.  Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement over John Mark that they could not continue to work together in unity.  The best way for them to maintain their peace and effectiveness was to separate.  While such separation might be seen as evidence of disunity, such need not be the case when the Holy Spirit is involved.  He can even take situations involving hurt and conflict and turn them for our good and His glory.  In this situation, he used the conflict between Paul and Barnabus to double the number of areas impacted by Paul and Barnabus’ missionary efforts.  Additionally, the separation allowed for the healing of Paul and Mark’s relationship such that by the time Paul is writing 2 Timothy, he is calling for Mark to join him because of his usefulness in ministry.  This same principle holds true in the broader sense in the Church as the Holy Spirit has used denominations, which some perceive as a sign of disunity, to promote unity within the Church.  Denominations allow believers to maintain their doctrinal convictions while still promoting the overall mission of the Church of reaching the world with the life-giving message of the gospel.  Just as money comes in different denominations yet still serves the same purpose, so too, the Church.  It is only when we wander into denominationalism (believing that your denomination is the only true expression of the Christian faith) that disunity is created.


  1. Review Acts 6:1-7 and Phil. 2:1-5.  How did the apostles illustrate the instructions of Paul in Philippians in their resolution of the conflict they faced?  What principles can we glean from this example?
  2. In Acts 8:9-25, Peter faces a much different kind of problem person.  Why was Peter so stern in his response?  Would you be comfortable being so direct and confrontational?  What is the key to being direct with a problem person so that the confrontation is fruitful and God-honoring?
  3. Review Jas. 3:13-18.  How do we know when a solution to conflict is from the Holy Spirit?  What is the fruit of wisdom from God?
  4. How can separation promote unity?