The early church is marked by radical and sacrificial generosity in which no member had any needs. This idealism is undermined by the sin of one couple who hypocritically lied to the apostles and the Spirit of God experiencing immediate judgment.
So far it's been a great ride in the book of Acts. These new Spirit filled Christians are so grateful for being forgiven. There is bold preaching in the face of opposition.
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. ~Acts 4:33 (NIV)
The church keeps growing from 12-120 from 3,000-5000. How encouraging?!
Sometimes in life everything falls into place, there are moments in life where everything is just right. It's true in Church where everything is humming:
In Acts 4 we have a second picture of a beautifully transformed community
1. Radical unity
All the believers were one in heart and mind. ~Acts 4:32 (NIV)
When there is a deep unity to Christ there is a deep unity to each other. As John Piper said “When you become united to Jesus by faith, you become united to people by love.”
2. Radical view to their own possessions
Faith in Christ creates a love for people.
No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. ~Acts 4:32b (NIV)
A love for God cuts us loose from a love for things. They still had private ownership, they meet in their homes but no one claimed their possession as their own:
God has been so generous to us it is only right that we are generous to each other. If you sit tight with Jesus you will sit loose with your possessions.
3. Sacrificial generosity
It wasn’t just you can borrow my car and sleep in the spare room.
For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ~Acts 4:34b-35 (NIV)
Remember this is on top of their normal giving, that is what makes it sacrificial. Some sold property and gave the money to the apostles to distribute it to the poor. It was sporadic, from time to time. It didn’t happen every day and not everyone owns land to sell. The land I am standing on is the result of one Mr. Lamb who gave it to the parish of Rooty Hill 130 years ago, its the gift that keeps giving.
The land on which Oakhurst Anglican and Richard Johnson is built on was given by a former member of this church. In fact, people leaving properties in wills has resulted in lots of churches being built.
As a rule, everything we have belongs to God and is to be used to bless others. Whatever your source of income we are called to give our first portion to God purposes, if you earn a wage or if you make a profit from a land sale or gain an inheritance. Don’t just keep it all for yourself and family, give the first portion for God`s work and the needs of others, there is no greater need than to be saved from sins. At present 40% has been pledged to cover our next budget. I call on you play your part and partner with us, fill out a pledge card and drop it in today.
4. Grace driven Generosity
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ~Acts 4:33-34a (NIV)
Inspired not by the law of God but the grace of God, it was not forced but joyfully given from the heart. It was willing not under compulsion. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
5. Distributed according to need
There were checks and balances in Old Testament law-making, sure, widows and orphans were taken care of. The goal was for there to be no poor person.
However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, ~Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV)
Now that dream is realised in this Spirit-filled community.
In 1987 the then prime minister Bob Hawke said "By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty," He did admit to regret that promise.
And yet we have much to be thankful for in Australia, we may not appreciate the early church but we have an economy that is a delicate blend of free enterprise and a welfare state. We got here because of Christian introduced biblical principles into parliament. We have a free-market economy with a welfare net, free Education, and Medicare, Pensions and Benefits for pensioners, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. We have Financial assistance for those in need. Most recently the job keeper and job starter allowance represents 36% of government expenditure. Not perfect but a lot to be thankful for.
Unlike the Australian welfare system, the early church did not feed its poor by taxes imposed by apostles. Unlike Communism
there was no bloody revolution in Jerusalem to make it happen.
Unlike legalistic religion, there were no guilt trips. Just the grace of God moving in the hearts of thankful, forgiven sinners.
The Spirit loosens our relationship to things and tightens our
relationship to people.
One case study was the man Barnabas.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. ~Acts 4:36-37 (NIV)
Barnabas is mentioned because he will play a big role in the book of Acts, he is the full package, generous with his money, he preaches Jesus, he loves God`s people, he is reaching the lost and he is a man to imitate.
We know him by his nickname, Barnabas means son of encouragement. What is your nickname? Growing up mine was Pitt Galea, I was a bottomless pit and I could eat anything and everything.
Barnabas, son of Encouragement was not attached to things which freed him to love people.
After 30 years I have so many stories to tell of acts of generosity, I remember one family giving me an envelope to pass on to a single parent who was doing it tough, it had a thousand dollars in it.
When you’re free from the love of things you will be free to love people. When I read this I`m both inspired to be more generous and I`m convicted by how much more I need to grow. One thing I know! Barnabas is not regretting selling that property. For all eternity he is enjoying the glory he gave God in this single act of generosity
In chapter 5 we read of a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, doing exactly what Barnabas did, they sold their property and they both gave the sale of the property to the Apostles.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” ~Acts 5:1-4 (NIV)
The problem was not that Barnabas gave all of the money and Ananias and Saphira gave part of it. Peter is so clear, the land and the money was theirs to do with what they liked, no one had a gun to their head making them sell it. The problem was the lie and the hypocrisy, they claimed to have given it all when in fact they only gave part of it.
At that point it became a form of theft, they wanted the applause from the leaders not from God, they wanted to feed the ego not the poor and they wanted a reputation for being sacrificial without the cost.
Why is this recorded?
Notice how the sin is understood by Peter.
Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit ~Acts 5:3 (NIV)
Not just lies and hypocrisy. A spirit was at work in Ananias but it was not the holy Spirit. It is viewed as an assault by Satan, lying to the church was nothing less than a lie to the Holy Spirit. It is a form of testing God.
Notice that the Spirit of God is not just a power but a person “He” not “it.” You can't lie to a power but you can lie to a person. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Godhead, the long-awaited blessing of the new covenant.
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. ~Ezekiel 36:27 (NIV)
To lie to church is to lie to the Spirit who dwells among and within each of us. I thank God for how people not only pledge but keep their pledges. We don’t bind people`s consciences, if circumstances change, we understand that giving is impacted.
The problem here is that they claimed to give all when they didn’t.
As you read this story you’re not expecting what happens next
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. ~Acts 5:5-6 (NIV)
Judgment was both swift and severe. It's not as if there was no time to repent, when Sapphira comes to the house 3 hrs later Peter gives her the chance to tell the truth. She maintains the lie and falls down dead. We all long to see more miracles of healing and not miracles of judgment. We want to see the power to heal, and to amaze but not the power of judgment to create fear. Twice we are told:
And great fear seized all who heard what had happened… Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. ~Acts 5:5,11 (NIV)
Fear took place inside the church of God and fear took place outside the church of God.
Friends: God will not be mocked! It is a warning to all! How is your conscience friends?
How is your conscience?
I knew a man who paid back years of giving. He knew he benefitted from a ministry at MBM that he never supported. I said “I didn’t think he needed to”- start fresh but his conscience would not let it go.
How is your conscience?
What do we make of this judgment? It served as a warning to every generation of Christians, it was the ultimate form of church discipline. It’s rare but it’s also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11, where some have fallen sick and died due to unrepentant sin but this is not the norm. We see godly Christians dying and ungodly believers living long.
But I did hear of one young pastor who served in the outback. The church was riddled with sin from the top down and there was no point of church discipline because you would have had to expel everyone. After 18 months of opposition in the church
He said “God I can`t do it. You have to do it.” In the next 12 months, 18 people in that church died for various unconnected reasons and then 1 year later 200 people were baptised, the Lord cleaned out that church.
At MBM we do believe in church discipline, after a lengthy process we say to those who carry the name Christian, and want fellowship but who justify their sin ‘One of those will have to go, either stop calling yourself a Christian, stop attending our growth group or stop justifying your sin.’ We do it for the sake of the person's salvation and the holiness of the church.
But I`m also reminded of the grace shown to the rest of us, no conscience is perfectly clean, we each have uttered some lie and we say one thing and do another.
I`m aware of the grace shown to us and I wonder what will you do with this grace? Trample over his mercy and patience?
Remember Friends: God is no fool, God has shot a warning blow, so don’t presume on God`s kindness calling for us to take heed.