This morning in our journey through the book of Acts we come to the end of chapter 4 and then we will move on in to the beginning of chapter 5. Before we get into our text this morning just a quick word about why we’re crossing over 2 chapters. Now some of of you may not have realized, but the books of the Bible, in their original form did not have the chapter and verse divisions that we have today. They were originally written as letters, or as narratives telling the stories but they simply flowed, without these divisions that we see. But it didn’t take long for people to realize that reading large sections like this made it harder to remember things. So the first attempts at breaking the narratives down into smaller sections were seen in about the 3rd century. There would be many different attempts over the years until we arrived at the chapters and verses that we currently have sometime in the 16th or 17th century.
So now you may be wondering, “Why is he telling us this? Why do we care?” Well, for one thing, the history of how the Bible came down to us in its current form is important. By studying how we have received the Bible we can see the proofs that it is trustworthy, that we can believe what we read in it. And the other reason I’m talking about it, is that this is one of those spots in the Bible where I look at the chapter divisions and wonder, “What were they thinking?” There are a few spots like this where it seems like whoever created the division hadn’t had enough coffee yet that morning, because the division just doesn’t seem to happen in the natural placce. This is one of those spots. The end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 just seem to flow together and it seems that it would have been much more natural to the two sections together in the same chapter. But, this is what we have, so this is how we’ll deal with the passage.
So last week we ended with the believers praying for boldness in preaching the gospel in the face of opposition and persecution from the government and from the Jewish religious leaders. And the last thing we read saw God answering their prayer and them going out to preach the word of God boldly. So let’s pick up reading in verse 32 of chapter 4.
32 Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas (which is translated Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
In this passage we have the description of the ideal Christian community. Luke tells us that among the believers there was no one who was in need. And this isn’t because only the wealthy and the well to do were joining the church. It was because those who did have money and possessions were taking care of the needs of those who didn’t. Verse 34 and 345 tell us that all those who owned lands or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles and that money was distributed to any person who had a need. But even more important than just the meeting of needs, more important than the money is the unity of the believers. Verse 32 tells us that the entire group was “of one heart and mind.” So this community, this meeting of the needs of those within the community was not because of anything the apostles said or did. It wasn’t like the apostles told people, “OK Mark, I know you have this house out there in Gales Ferry, but Andrew is having trouble paying the electric bill this month so I need you to go sell your house and move into something smaller so we can help Andrew out.” No, that’s not how this went. It says they were all of one heart and mind and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own. When people saw the need they met it, not because the apostles told them to, but simply because it was the right thing to do. And that’s the way the church is supposed to work. When we see needs around us we are supposed to do what we can to meet those needs. Luke recounts a time when Jesus himself shared this very idea. In response to a sermon Jesus had just preached the crowds asked, “What then should we do?”
11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”
But notice too, from what Jesus says, we can infer that owning things, private ownership, is not bad in and of itself. Jesus doesn’t tell the person with two shirts to sell both of them. He says to share. So owning a house, or a car, or whatever, is not a problem. It’s not a sin to own things. The sin comes in when we see someone who has needs and we have more than we need, but we don’t share with them. And that’s what we’ll see as we move into the next part of our passage this morning in chapter 5. So let’s continue reading with
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God.” 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. 7 About three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the land for this price?” “Yes,” she said, “for that price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.
So what do we see here? Well it’s pretty straightforward. A man named Ananias decides to sell a piece of property. But instead of giving all the money to the church he holds part of it back. And that in and of itself is not a problem. Peter tells him, “Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal?” So the problem is not that Ananias held part of the money back. The problem comes in when he lies about it. Instead of telling Peter that he sold this piece of property and here is 90% or 75% or even 10% of the proceeds, Ananias kept back part of the money and told Peter that he was giving all of the sale price to the church. Ananias was perfectly within his rights to give a percentage of the proceeds to the church and keep back part of it to meet his own needs. But instead of being honest with Peter and telling him that was what he was doing, he tried to do it under the table to make himself look better.
So Peter confronts him. He says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” And we don’t even get a response from Ananias. the passage tells us that, “When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard.” Well I would expect so, wouldn’t you? I know I’d have been pretty scared if I heard about someone going in to see Peter and dropping dead on the spot after Peter told him he had lied. But the story doesn’t end there. The Bible tells us that about 3 hours later Ananias’ wife Sapphira came in. Now she hadn’t heard yet about what happened when Ananias brought the money to Peter. So Peter asks her, “Did you sell that piece of land for this price,” and he gives her the price that Ananias had quoted. And she sticks to the story. Just like Ananias she tells Peter that they sold the land for less than they had actually sold it for. And the same thing that happened to Ananias, happens to Sapphira. She drops dread.
Remember last week I kept saying over and over, “God is not surprised.” He knows everything that is going to happen. He knows the obstacles that Satan is going to throw in the paths of those trying to spread the gospel. But ultimately God’s plans will win out. Well a corollary to this idea that God is not surprised is that, God cannot be lied to. If God knows all, if He knows what will occur, then He knows when we try to pull the wool over His eyes. God knew exactly how much the piece of land sold for. And He knew that Ananias would tell Peter that it sold for less. God cannot be lied to. He couldn’t be lied to then, and He can’t be lied to now.
But how many people within the church today basically do the same thing that Ananias and Sapphira did. We look around and see people in need. We see people that are hungry, who don’t have adequate shelter, or whatever the need may be, we throw a little bit of money in the offering plate and call it good and then we go out and get into one of our multiple cars and go home to our huge houses and watch one of the multiple televisions and on and on. Now don’t get me wrong. Again I’m not saying owning any of that stuff is wrong. But are we meeting the needs of those around us? Are we looking out for the widows and the orphans? Are we sharing our second shirt with the person who doesn’t have one?
That’s what we should be doing as the church. Not just us, as Faith Harbor Fellowship, but the church as a whole, the Church universal, with a big C. But we do have opportunities to give as a local church here. One of the unique things about military chapels is that we don’t have to worry about meeting the budget requirements out of the offering funds. Things like the pastor’s salary, the electric bill, the rent or mortgage on the building, those are all taken care of through DOD budgets so our offering goes for fellowship, outreach, and charitable giving. And we’re coming up on one of our two benchmark times during the year when we have to have our Religious Offering Fund paid down below a certain level. To do that we send out charitable gifts to other organizations. So, since we’ve been talking this morning about the importance of meeting the needs of those around us I want to offer up a few suggestions for charitable offerings and get your approval or disapproval.
First of all, you may have seen the signs and boxes around base for the Feds Feed Families campaign for this year. This is a campaign to gather food and money to donate to local food banks. Last year the DOD collected over 3 million pounds of food that helped to feed thousands
Next is Safe Futures. This is a women’s shelter over in New London that gives women who are trying to escape abusive relationships a safe place to live while they get back on their feet.
Another organization that we’ve donated to in the past is Our Daily Bread. This is a ministry which distributes devotional material around the world. We get their devotionals and have them available for anyone to pick up to help in their study of the Bible
And finally, a few weeks ago Chaplain Rumery presented the need from the American Memorial Church in Chateau-Thierry, France.
So those are four organizations that I think we, as a community, could send our contributions to. If anyone has any objections to any of those, or if you have any other suggestions for contributions, please see me after the service today. Otherwise, we’ll send checks out to those organizations this week.
OK, so we’ve covered our passage, we’ve covered a little bit of family business here at the end, so now let’s move into our time for the Lord’s Supper and prepare our hearts to receive this memorial meal.
But first, would you join me in prayer?