Read Acts 4:32-5:11
Ask: What marks a genuine believer? Sometimes its hard to tell. I see you are at church but I don’t know your homes, your thoughts, your heart. Luke doesn’t record everything about the Jerusalem church for us, so what he does record is significant for us. Luke highlights the two things in the passage were looking at today, the generosity and the integrity of the Jerusalem church.
There is a generosity, arising from the gospel, freely offered, that marks the church
There is a generosity
Generosity may not even be the right word - this is a complete ambivalence toward grasping on to my possessions as my own, but seeing all that I have as a gift to the church to build up and benefit others. Let me ask you a question, a riddle if you please. Look at verse 32. How many believers made up the church in Jerusalem? The number of those who believed were “One”. This is brotherhood generosity. We are one heart and one mind. Thus to meet one another’s needs in the church is not the type of generosity that provides for others - it is a type of generosity that cares for brothers and sisters in the church as one cares for himself.
Arising from the Gospel
Notice how verse 33 intrudes into the text. You could just read verse 34 after verse 33 and it would make sense, but you’d miss something. Luke wants to direct our attention to the preaching of the apostles - reminding that this brotherhood generosity did not arise from a capital campaign or a sermon series on giving, but on the simple and straight forward preaching of the gospel of grace.
- The Gospel teaches us that God did not hold onto His Son, but gave Him to the World
- The Gospel teaches us that Jesus did not grasp on to His divine status, but gave himself for the World.
- The Gospel teaches us that we have received all things from God and thus are freed to give all things for others.
I hope you see freedom in this text. This is a joyful, cheerful generosity. There is no sword behind this giving, no tax code to be enforced, no tithe commanded. What we see here are brothers and sisters moved by the Holy Spirit, transformed by the gospel of grace, joyfully detaching themselves from their possessions to help others in need. This is not a communistic system described here. While no one considered their possessions to be their own, the fact remains that their possessions remained their own for them to freely give. Peter states this explicitly in verse 4: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”
That marks the church
If it is the case that Luke is establishing the Jerusalem church as a model for us to follow. The church acted as a collection and distribution system to help meet the needs of those in the body.
- a defined membership (“there was not a needy person among them”)
- a defined leadership (“and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”) At this time, the apostle’s still oversaw the church and the income and dispersion of the funds, but later in the book of Acts this ministry of the church is transferred to other leaders.
The example of this generosity is is Barnabas. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Barnabas personifies the generosity that characterized the church. It seems he gave more than money. Encouragement flowed out of Barnabas, so much so that the apostles named him son of encouragement. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, overflowing to be a blessing to those around them.
There is an unfortunate chapter break here, because Barnabas is introduced to set up a contrast with this other couple we are introduced to: Ananias and Sapphira. Whereas Barnabas is the example for us to follow, Ananias and Sapphire serve as examples for us to warn us not to follow in their footsteps. And the warning here is that:
There is an integrity, expected by the gospel, fearfully rendered, that marks the church
There is an integrity
The whole point of this story is that God commands that his church be a church of integrity. You read this story and it sounds really unbelievably harsh today, doesn’t it? I mean, Ananias and Sapphire gave to the church - so what if they held a little back for themselves. And they end up dead. God literally kills them. Why is this such a big deal?
Well it’s not about the money. Remember, the giving was not coerced but freely offered. remember Peter’s words: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” On the outside, to all observers present, Ananias and Sapphire looked like Barnabas’.
But God doesn’t look on the outside. He knows the heart. He sees secret sins. He sees the lies that we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves, and he knows them for the lies that they are.
It’s so easy to put on a mask of fake Christianity, but never forget that God sees and knows your heart. Integrity has been defined as “who you are when no one is looking” - but God sees. And He saw Ananias and Saphira, and just as so many other times in the book of Acts, what is happening here is setting a foundation for the church, for all time. And so God teaches the Jerusalem church a lesson that they will not forget, and through the Jerusalem church he teaches a lesson that echoes through history - God’s church must be a church of integrity, not hypocrisy.
Expected By the Gospel
Peter keeps on asking “why” , “why”, “how” - he expects a person being transformed by the gospel, to have a life marked by this integrity. The gospel calls us to Christ just as we are, but the gospel does not keep us where we are. Now its true that none of us this side of heaven are perfected, and therefore we all fall short of our confession, so we all will act hypocritically at times, but when we do, we are called to repent, to confess our sins and God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Ananias an especially Sapphire are given opportunity to repent, “Saphira is especially given opportunity to, and in their refusal to repent, God sets them as an example for the church, of the seriousness God takes our integrity in the church.
The result of the act of divine discipline against Ananias and Spahira is that a “11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Now some would argue that it is improper for a Christian to be fearful of God. They may argue that God is love and perfect love casts out fear. Or you may hear that when the Bible says fear, the word would be better translated awe, or respect. The problem is that while both those things are true to a point, they do not give the whole picture. I can’t read the story of Ananias and Sapphire and not get from it that there is a godly and proper fear of the Lord, that is, even for the Christian, there is a proper terror that would come from falling outside of God’s grace, or it violating his holiness.
Too often we in the church give consequentialist reasons for our ethical positions - I do this too. If I’m sharing with someone why they shouldn’t do a certain thing, I try to give them all the reasons why it would be bad for them to do so. … Yet God is not a consequentialist. He’s Holy. To sin against Him is to violate Him.
Fear of God would drive us to God’s grace and to the gospel. Large animal. To run away from in fear is death. To walk with in fear is life.
That marks the church
This integrity is not something we are able to produce, it is something that God produces in us who are true children of God. Ananias and Sapphire did not have it, but Barnabas did.
You will know them by their fruits.
Opportunity today to confess secret sins to God. Before the Lord’s supper
Opportunity today to bring an sacrifice of praise. May be the Spirit prompts you to meet a need