Intro: a simple lesson with application to every Christian
I. Two Effects of Believing in Jesus – what is the personal impact of becoming a Christian? There is a sense in which that is the question most addressed in the epistles of the N.T. Peter, Paul, John, and James all address how the redeemed person must think and live differently. Rom 6:11-13 – Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. …Rom 6:17-19– But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
A. Luke’s testimony in the first chapters of Acts depicts the impact of the gospel message on the hearts of the early Christians. Read Acts 4:32-5:11
B. Let me suggest two effects of becoming a Christian in the early church (evident here).
1. The heart is tightened in its relationship to people.
2. The heart is loosened in relationship to things.
3. Notice the description of v. 32 – “Now the company of those who believed”. The key to the action mentioned here is contained in this phrase. Because they believed, and trusted him as their Savior and Protector, they fearlessly changed. Faith is the environment for true change of character. This is at the root of what happens here.
4. “of one heart and soul” – their hearts were tightened in its relationship to people, especially other Christians. When one applies the teachings of Jesus, they become united to others through love.
5. “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” This is the second impact of faith that is evident here in the early church – the heart is loosened in its relationship to things. Faith in Christ creates a bond of love to people, and cuts the bond of love to things. This tandem dynamic of faith transforms the everyday life of God’s people.
C. These revolutionizing elements of faith are the story before us in Acts 4. This church is a community of people who have been changed. We see them as a people who love each other desperately, and care about others. This love (tightened relationship toward each other) is made manifest and validated in their willingness to sell their houses and distribute their resources to meet the needs of others.
1. Jesus had earlier described the nature of his kingdom in these terms: Luke 12:32-33 -32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.” This is exactly what they were doing here in Acts 4.
2. They were not acting out of compulsion or fear. They were simply following some church rules or attempting to earn the favor of God. They believed God. They heard the word of the Master and believed: “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Faith in the promises of God’s fatherly care produces freedom from fear, freedom from anxiety, and therefore freedom from things and freedom for people and freedom for love.
D. The Freedom of Faith- The counterpart to the picture of the generosity of the Christians in Acts 4 (and Barnabas in particular) is the appearance of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Ananias had sold a field and brought part of the proceeds to the apostles and said that he brought all of it. He lied. How Peter responds to this deception is insightful, and helps understand what was going on.
1. Acts 5:3-4– But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Peter may have thought that Ananias was motivated to be deceptive about his contribution because of some external constraint he was feeling. So he tells Ananias that there is no such constraint in the generosity he sees around him. These Christians are giving out of freedom, not fear. Their faith provided a freedom (loosening) that was far more powerful than any constraint or coercion.
2. Peter tells Ananias, “There were not church rules here that told you to sell your property, or that it is not yours anymore.” Ananias, if people around you are saying: “My possessions are not mine anymore,” this is not because they have to say this. It’s because they want to say this. They’ve been changed from the inside out by trusting in Jesus. They’re free.
3. Then he goes on (v. 4b): “And after [your property] was sold, was it not at your disposal?” In other words, nobody coerced you to bring any of your money in here. If your heart doesn’t tell you bring it, don’t bring it. This work is to be done willingly, and authentically.
II. Two Contrasting Examples – Luke provides a contrasting look at this freedom in action. Barnabas, a man who exemplifies the generosity and inward change of faith is contrasted with Ananias and Sapphira, a man and woman who are motivated by coercion and outward appearances.
A. Barnabas is mentioned briefly in Acts 4:36–37, “Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”Later we will meet him as the advocate of the new convert Saul (Paul; 9:27), and the teacher of the new Gentile converts in Antioch (11:22), and the one trusted with relief for the poor (11:30), and the first partner of Paul on his missionary journeys (13:2), and the advocate for giving John Mark a second chance (15:37).He shines as one of the most mature, reliable, loveable leaders of the early church. And right here in Acts 4:36–37 Luke shows us how Barnabas’ trusted ministry began—it began with a demonstrated freedom from the love of things, and a heart of love for the poor. He sold his field and gave all the proceeds to the apostles. In this story he stands for the way true faith in Christ creates a bond of love for people and cuts a bond of love for things.
B. Ananias and Sapphira – stand for the exact opposite. They fail to place their full trust in Christ, holding back something for themselves. They fail to be drawn closer to others, desiring only an outward association rather than an authentic union developed through giving fully.
1. God means for his people to fear hypocrisy. He means for us to be afraid of treating the Holy Spirit with contempt. Notice at the end of verse 5, after Ananias had died: “And great fear came upon all who heard of it.” Then again in verse 11 after Sapphira died, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” This is the lesson Luke wants us to get: faking faith in the presence of God is a fearful thing.
2. Acts 9:31 says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.” The fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit bring peace and growth to the church. Treating the Lord with contempt by religious fakery should remain a fearful prospect in the church. God is not mocked.
C. Four Things Wrong with Ananias and Sapphira: What was wrong with Ananias and Sapphira?
1. They loved their money. They made the sale, they looked at all that cash, and they couldn’t bear the thought of giving it all away. So they kept some back (v. 2). They would not loosen their hold.
2. They wanted to look more generous than they really were. They wanted the apostles to think that they were like Barnabas perhaps. They wanted external religious approval. They not only loved money, they loved the praise of men—the two almost always go together (Luke 16:14-15 – 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. )
3. They lied (vv. 3–4). To cover their covetousness, and to give the impression of generosity, they lied. If you love possessions and you love the praise of men, your love for truth will dissolve into deception and fraud. That’s the meaning of hypocrisy.
4. And this always comes with hypocrisy—they discredited the Holy Spirit. Verse 3 says they lied to the Holy Spirit. Verse 4 says they lied not to man but to God. Verse 9 says they tempted the Lord. How Is This a Discrediting of the Holy Spirit? They just didn’t think he knew the thoughts of their mind. He was there, maybe, but he wasn’t real, and they scoffed at what He was doing among the people of God. Or perhaps they thought he wouldn’t really punish them. Perhaps they had a view of grace that says, “No matter how devious and hypocritical you are, God always tolerates everything.”
a. Hebrews warns that it is possible to outrage the Spirit of grace – Hebrews 10:29– 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? This is the warning Luke puts before us so that we will fear bringing contempt on the Lord through hypocrisy.
D. How Was Barnabas Different? – He was different at every point. Although they were both Christians, the words of God did not produce the same result.
1. He did not love money and things. When he sold his field he did not dream about all the comforts and pleasures he was giving up. He reveled in the freedom of faith. He dreamed about the good that would be done with his gift and the glory it would bring to Jesus.
2. He did not want to appear more generous than he was. He did not need the praise of men. He had the approval of God. (“Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.) What you saw was what you got. He was real.
3. Therefore he did not lie. He loved the truth. He could be trusted. His integrity became legendary in the early church.
4. And finally, he brought no reproach on the Holy Spirit. He knew that the Spirit was alive and real in the church. He knew that his every thought was open and laid bare before the Spirit of truth. And he knew that the gift of grace in his life was not the permission of God to keep on loving things, but the power of God to start loving people. Let’s be like Barnabas and not Ananias.