Charity, generosity, truth and unity VERSUS selfishness, greed, lying and hypocrisy
Here in this account we see the newly formed church at its best and worst. We have the great example of charity, generosity, truth and unity among all the believers and the personal example of Barnabas in particular. Then in contrast ("But" – v. 5:1) we see the very opposite qualities of selfishness, greed, lying and hypocrisy in Ananias and Sapphira (which leads to disunity) and thus God's (not Peter's) instant and severe judgment of these two by physical death. We see how highly God values truth and unity in and among His people. Satan does more damage inside the church (among believers) than he does outside the church through persecution from unbelievers. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) "We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." (Eph. 4:14-16)
First let's look at and learn from the positive example seen in 4:32-37. Although this was an unusual time in the church, both because of its infancy and because of the rapid growth (estimated 20,000 plus believers) with many believers being from other countries and thus guests of the believers who lived in Jerusalem, we see from the epistles the same call for generosity and sharing to be lived out among believers for all times. ["This is not "Christian communism." The sale of property was quite voluntary (v. 34). The right of possession was not abolished. The community did not control the money until it had voluntarily been given to the Apostles. The distribution was not made equally but according to need. This is Christian charity in its finest display."Ã¯Â»Â¿ (4:32-35) Ryrie, Acts, p. 36.]
First of all we see that all we have is a gift from God and not something we "own": "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (i.e., as a gift from God)?" (1 Cor. 4:7) 11"Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. 12 Wealth and honor come from you alone." (1 Chron. 29:11-12) So as we see ourselves as stewards of God's blessings we then see His principles for sharing His resources: give regularly and in proportion to our income so as our income increases, our percentage of giving increases; 2"On the first [day] of each week, let each one of you [personally] put aside something and save it up as he has prospered [in proportion to what he is given], so that no collections will need to be taken after I come." (1 Corinthians 16:2); give sacrificially which is defined as affecting your standard of living in some tangible way: 3"For, as I can bear witness, [they gave] according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability; and [they did it] voluntarily, (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-4); give joyfully and generously: 6 "Remember this-a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully; 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say, "They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you." (2 Corinthians 9:6-10). So we are to give regularly, proportionately, sacrificially, joyfully and generously. Money is first of all a responsibility and if stewarded per God's Word it becomes a blessing for others and for us: "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (Luke 12:48)
Now let's look at the bad example of Ananias and Sapphira in 5:1-11: It is possible that they heard of Barnabas' gift and were led to do likewise but in the process the pull of greed through Satan's lies tempted them to keep part of the money from the sale of their property. But they wanted to be thought of as generous in the eyes of man so they lied and said they gave the full amount from the sale (hypocrisy). So here we see selfishness, the love of money, lying and hypocrisy. Jesus seems to reserve His harshest words for religious hypocrites: "When you give to someone in need, don't do as the hypocrites do-blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get." (Matt. 6:2) He also says that money is the number one rival to His Lordship in our lives (a question of who do we trust and thus obey; God or the pull of money?) "You cannot serve both God and money." (Matt. 6:24) "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." (1 Tim. 6:10) He also hates lying as He is Truth personified: "Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal faithfully are His delight." (Prov. 12:22) "You are of your father the devil, Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44) " And He tells us to keep our word: "When you make a promise to God, don't delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. 5 It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. 6 Don't let your mouth make you sin. And don't defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved. 7 Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead." (Eccl. 5:4-7; Also see Psalm 15:4; Matt. 5:37)
["The severity of the punishment may seem extreme to some people, much like the story of Achan in Josh. 7:16-26. However, Prov. 6:16-19 tells us how God feels about deception and division. The early church was vulnerable to great spiritual danger. Yet Jesus had promised (Matt. 16:18) that the power of hell would not destroy this fledging church in its infant stage. God would move with great discipline to ensure its purity and survival." Radmacher, Earl D. ; Allen, Ronald Barclay ; House, H. Wayne: Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville : T. Nelson Pub.] Also we see similar acts of God's judgment of immediate physical death of His people in the OT (Nadab and Abihu – Lev.10:1-3 and Uzzah – 2 Sam. 6:6-7) and in the NT (1 Cor. 5:5; 11:29-30)
"Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed." (Acts 5:15) God protected the purity of His church through this awesome act of judgment and we must not miss the connection between the purity of the church and the power of God's church. Also note that the people (probably many unbelievers) were coming to "the church" for healing and deliverance and as we see many times in Scripture, healing can lead to salvation. Jesus was being lifted up through the purity and power of God's people and drawing many to Him. (John 12:32)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. "For there was not a needy person among them." (See Acts 4:34-35) Who has God given you to meet specific needs in your life recently and how have they met those needs? Have you ever experienced or heard of a Christian community like the one described in these verses? (See Acts 4:32-35)
3. So we are to give regularly, proportionately, sacrificially, joyfully and generously. Money is first of all a responsibility and if stewarded per God's Word it becomes a blessing for others and for us. Which of these principles of giving (including God owns it all – we are simply stewards of His resources) do you find the most challenging and why?
4. We see how highly God values truth and unity in and among His people. God's immediate judgment of Ananias and Sapphira was to preserve the purity, unity, and power of His newly formed community of saints. In what ways can we lie to others in our communities of faith today? How can this cause spiritual and relational "death"? Do you think it blocks God's power of healing and deliverance and our attraction to unbelievers? If so, how can we each change so Jesus will be lifted up and draw men to Him through our Christian communities?