- Sermon Notes
Read: Acts 4:32-5:11
Christian author George MacDonald once wrote, “Half of the misery in the world is caused by people trying to look rather than trying to be.” While trying to look rather than trying to be is something that can cause great misery, it is not a phrase that the Lord desires to have applied to those who have given their lives to Him personally.
The picture of one who would rather look than be, is focused not on reality, or authenticity, but rather in keeping up appearances, or how things are looking. Ultimately, it falls under the category of hypocrisy, which is a pretense of having a virtuous character, morals, beliefs, or principles, that the person does not actually possess.
This morning we will study Acts 4:32-5:11, where two different postures, or “pictures” are given. There is a contrast shown from the end of Acts 4 and the beginning of Acts 5, those functioning authentically, and others hypocritically, those with no filter and the filter fakers.
In its recording of what happened historically, the Bible is centered on the truth and honesty. Throughout the Scriptures we see the strengths of God’s people, as well as their weaknesses. People that have great faith and victory, and those same people who falter and fail, often continually. The Bible does not disregard or refrain from recording the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly and painful truth.
So far in Acts things have been positive, we have seen the strengths of the early church, their commitment to Christ’s call, the empowerment to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ, their persistence through external pressures and the explosive growth of the church which started with 120, and in a very short time had grown to over 5,000.
We have seen pressure and persecution applied from the outside, and the church was strengthened, they remained together, they did not depart or divide. But here we seen pressure from within, the first recorded situation of sin in the early church.
What we find is a situation with many difficult details to apply, and though lessons are challenging to understand or apply, the text is not simply a situation that happened historically. Rather, like all of Scripture, which is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), there are lessons here, for me and for you.
Read: Acts 4:32-5:11
I. When the Scriptures Shares Pictures, Search them for Insight
• In these verses, there are three distinct pictures put forth, and so we will look at all three in order to process what is being shared here:
• The pictures being presented here come on the heels of Peter and John being threatened and released for preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
• They had come back to the church, they prayed together, asked the Lord to take note of the threats they received, and to allow them to proceed in speaking God’s word with confidence while the Lord extended His hand to heal and signs and wonders take place through His name.
• The place was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and the filling led them to speak the word of God with boldness.
• All who were possessors of lands or houses, sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet. And they distributed to each as anyone had need.
• The specific picture of communal living is not a picture that became common practice in other cities as the gospel was spreading throughout the world, but there is an aspect of that we can apply in our relationship to God and things in and of this life we are living.
• While in Acts 2 a few weeks back, we saw a similar scene.
Acts 2:44, All the believers were together and had all things in common; and they would sell their property and possessions and share them with all, to the extent that anyone had need.
• Some have taken texts like this to say that the early church was the first, and purest form of communism, but that is not what we are seeing! The early church was not a church of communists, but a church of commonists. communism says, “what is yours is mine,” commonism says “what’s mine is yours.”
• Their generosity toward their community was not commanded, but a picture of what was taking place.
• In verse 32 we see the people were of one heart and soul together and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
• The people in the early church did not consider anything their own, and as the Scriptures share this picture, we gain insights into our relationship to things and people.
Romans 11:36, For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
• The church understood this, and because they knew all they had was from, through, and to God, they did not just have all things in common with one another, they had all things in common with God. Their attitude (for the most part we will see) was, “it’s all His.”
• I read a quote recently that is attributed to a man named Fulton J. Sheen, “You must remember to love people and use things, rather than to love things and use people.”
John 13:35, By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.
• A right relationship with God will bring about a right relationship with what He gives. But a wrong relationship with what He gives, will bring about a misappropriated relationship with Him.
Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
• In a right relationship to God we say, “I’m just a steward of what God has entrusted to me. God is the owner, I’m just a steward. I want to honor Him with how I live my life.”
Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
• After we see the picture of the early church with all things in common, their commitment to giving testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the abundant grace upon them, their great generosity and commitment to community, we are then introduced to a man mentioned specifically.
• He is an example of one from among them who was donating property.
Acts 4:36-37, Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), owned a tract of land. So he sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
• Joseph, who would best be known by the name of Barnabas, will become a prominent figure in the book of Acts. But this is our first introduction to him.
• We are given some background about him, he was a Levite, which was a member of the priestly tribe. He was of Cyprian birth.
• And while his birth name was Joseph, he was called Barnabas, which means son of encouragement. Luke describes him in Acts 11:24 as “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
• Barnabas was an encourager and the first recorded encouragement to people we see from Barnabas is through his finances.
• Barnabas was a steward of what God had given, he had all things in common with God, and is a specific example of what seemed to be happening frequently in the early church.
• While he did not give the gift to be seen, or to call attention to himself, what we understand is that the gift he gave was noted and was seen.
• And this is where chapter 5 begins, and Scriptures share a different picture, a picture that requires us to search for insight as we live our lives for Christ, but one that can be difficult to divide, but we will do our best with some of the insights that Scripture provides.
• From Acts 4:37 to 5:1, what chapter number changes, however, the pictures shared by Scripture are to be compared and contrasted.
Acts 5:1, But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property…
• As we are introduced to this couple, it is clear that there is a contrast, from the way things had been, to the first recorded situation of sin.
II. Choose Adherence Over Appearance
• Looking at this at first glance, it seems that Ananias and Saphira were doing the same things Barnabas did. Barnabas sold land and laid it at the apostles’ feet. So, they sold a piece of property they had, and the similarities end there.
• After selling the property, Ananias decided to keep back some of the proceed for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, he then laid the lesser portion at the apostles’ feet. As the story goes on, we understand that he led others to believe he was giving everything, but he was lying, pretending, and the first recorded sin here that we see, is the sin of hypocrisy.
Illus. Donald Gray Barnhouse.
• It is important to note and understand that for Ananias and Sapphira, the issue was not that they held back money, the problem was that they did this to impress people; to make themselves appear as though they were giving all when in reality, they were only giving a portion.
• There was no obligation placed upon them to do this at all. The Lord did not deal with them so severely because they did not give enough, but rather that they misrepresented the reality of what they were giving for the purpose of being celebrated and seen, for the appearance of surrendering all, for the public approval and praise of people.
Illus. Say we did?
• Jesus spoke pointedly throughout His ministry about those who were satisfied and set on outward appearing righteousness. It was the sin of hypocrisy, that was based on a desire for spiritual status, appearance, and approval of people.
• The definition of the word “hypocrite,” is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, or principles that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions show those beliefs to be a lie.”
• While we have this definition today, in Jesus day, the word hypocrite came with a word picture. The word “hypocrite” finds it origin from the Greek word hypokrites (who-pah-cree-tase), which means an actor, stage-player, or pretender.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18, Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven…
• Peter makes it clear, that the issue was not the money, but the motives.
Acts 5:4, While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.”
• It did not have to go that way, they could have come, said “we sold some land, we sold it for so much, and we are excited to give this other amount.” That would be honest.
• But they decided on appearance to man, over adherence to God. They thought it was a harmless half-truth, but in lying to the people Ananias lied to God the Holy Spirit (vs. 3-4).
• Peter said, Ananias, you have not just lied to men, you have lied to the Holy Spirit, you lied to God.
• They chose appearance over adherence. And about this first instance of sin in the church, the Lord has something for us to see, there is something He has to say. It is tied to the way He desires His church to be, and who He desires us to be today.
III. Look at Life Through the Lens of Heaven
Acts 5:5-6, And as he heard these words, Ananias collapsed and died; and great fear came over all who heard about it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Acts 5:7-11, Now an interval of about three hours elapsed, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for this price?” And she said, “Yes, for that price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she collapsed at his feet and died; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard about these things.
• The death penalty for this? I can only imagine what the offering time was like at the next service. This text is surprising, it is in the New Testament, there are two lives taken by the God who the Scriptures make clear is the God who saves by grace, not by works.
• Yet, in this story, if we are able to take off for a moment the lens of this earthly life, and look through the lens of heaven, I believe there are some important lessons being given.
• First, any assertion as to the eternal resting place of Ananias and Saphira would be an assumption. In fact, the strongest indication given is that Ananias and Sapphira were believers in Christ, and those who believe in Christ are headed to heaven, and eternal life.
• Salvation is by grace through faith, they seem to be counted amongst the “congregation of those who believed” (4:32).
• Though they would go, their story would stand as a lesson for all to see. It is a harsh lesson to see for you and me.
• There is something God uses in His word, it is a principle that helps us interpret Scripture, a principle that I believe applies here. It is the principle of precedence, others call it the doctrine of introduction, when the Lord introduces a new era or time.
• It applies to times in Scripture when God sends a message, sets a precedent for His people.
Illus. In Joshua Chapters 6 and 7, to Lord set a precedent for Israel and in the life of Achan who kept back some of the spoils of Jericho when all the people were told to do the opposite.
• Interestingly, in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the same word for “kept back” that is used to identify what Achan did, it carries a translation of embezzling fraudulently to one’s own use, it is the word for when Ananias “kept back” some of the proceeds, and that word is only found one other time in all of Scripture, it is found in Titus 2:10 and is translated, “stealing.”
• The stories are connected both in word and deed, yet still it can be difficult to see.
Psalm 73:1, God is certainly good…
• The last reality is that the God we are living for is Holy.
Isaiah 57:15, The high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy…
• God being holy means there is no trace of evil in His character, it carries the reality of His perfection, sinless purity, His majesty, awesomeness, and “other-ness.”
• The wages of sin is death, and He takes sin seriously. So seriously that His Son was sent personally and was the only sacrifice that could satisfy or atone for the sins of the world.
• The Lord knows how serious an issue sin is, but do we? And I believe this lesson is given so that we might see.
1 Samuel 16:7, God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Luke 16:15, [Jesus] said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of people, but God knows your hearts; because that which is highly esteemed among people is detestable in the sight of God.”
Jeremiah 17:10, I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.
Psalm 139:23-24, Search me, God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.