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Acts 4:32-5:11 A Gospel-Shaped Economy

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Acts
Acts 4:32–5:11 ESV
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him 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 with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and 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 for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Introduction

This is another pause from the narrative, where Luke provides a lens into the life of the church
Last time it was shortly after the coming of the Holy Spirit and the adding of 3000 after Peter’s sermon
The church shared everything in common
Sold their possessions
Nobody had unmet needs
This is very similar
Again, just after a major event
Lame man healed, sermon, 5000 men added, apostles arrested, then released
The church prays for God to give them boldness to remain faithful in the midst of persecution
Now at this point, when the church seems so perfect and such an example, Luke zooms in again
But this time he shows us the messy part
This is a “warts and all” view of the church
We are going to see a realistic picture of the early church, that shows us that Luke is giving us an authentic account
He is not exaggerating the goodness of the church, or only giving us the “pretty” view
He is showing us both the miraculous transformation AND the messyness that remains among God’s people due to sin
This
And he allows us to see the sinfulness that was found even among the professing church - and then shows us the judgment of sin....
....., so that we would recognize that God does not ignore or overlook sin among his covenant people
In fact, it shows God’s commitment to rooting out sin among his people.
It also serves as a warning to us about the serious threat of idolatry - particularly the idols of wealth and personal recognition
John Calvin described our hearts as idol factories, and he was spot on.
We easily scoff at the Israelites for making a golden calf, but we all manufacture idols ourselves - they are just not always tangible things.
The next significant issue that the church will have to work through is in chapter 6, and that also concerns wealth & possessions, as the complaining of widows forces the apostles to address the issue of unequal distribution of welfare among the congregation
Not everybody idolizes wealth and possessions. For some, money and possessions mean very little.
The point is, wherever wealth or worldly possessions are involved, temptation and sin are close by.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
For some, recognition, respect, status and reputation can be even bigger idols than money.
1 Timothy 6:9–11 ESV
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
And these idols are often much more dangerous because they are veiled or hidden, and we need the Holy Spirit to reveal them to us through God’s Word.
1 Tim 6:
This is what we see in Luke’s second pause to give us a lens into the life of the early church
This breakaway shows us two sides - two contrasts
We see a Gospel-Shaped economy of people giving selflessly for the sake of others,
and we see a Satanic counterfeit economy that looks the same on the outside, but is very different.

A Gospel-Shaped Economy

Acts 4:32 ESV
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
Acts 5:1
The first picture - unity
The gospel unites believers in Christ
Common theme in Acts -
Paul speaks of this special unity in his letter to Ephesians (4:1-3) “I... urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:1–3 ESV
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
And in Paul says “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Eph 4:
All Christians are grafted together into one and the same branch - into Christ.
Because we are all in Christ, we are so closely connected that its like we have the same DNA, and when one feels pain, everyone else in the branch feels the pain too
So it makes perfect sense that the picture we see of the first Christians here in Acts, even after a few weeks, is a picture of unity and sharing one another’s burdens and joys.
If anyone lacked anything, the rest would provide so that nobody lacked anything
We saw it already in in Luke’s first lens into the life of the church
1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
There we saw in they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Here, with a few thousand more added to the church, we still see that “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Its important that you recognize that the kind of generosity and open-handedness that we see in the Church is not people sharing what’s spare, or left over
Acts 4:34–35 ESV
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Acts 2:45 ESV
And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
They were actually selling their possessions
:
This is sacrificial giving
It cost them
Now was this imposed on them or demanded by the apostles, or made a rule or law for them to obey?
No - you don’t see the apostles anywhere here demanding this as a condition of joining the church
This was completely voluntary
This was like everything else in the Christian’s life
It was not the blind obeying of a religious law in order to earn a goodstanding in God’s sight or among His people...
It was the righteous and grateful response of the people to Jesus for having already put them in goodstanding with God by dying as their representative and substitute, taking away their guilt....
.... and being raised from the dead for their forgiveness and justification.
So they recognized by faith that Jesus had poured out His love and grace lavishly for them and given them eternal life...
… and their response is worship and loving Jesus and loving His people and not allowing that any of His people should have any needs while they themselves had plenty.
So we see in verse 33 that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
As the apostles continued to preach the gospel of Christ crucified and risen, so grace was poured out on people as they responded in faith and repentance,...
Acts 4:33 ESV
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
… and the openhandedness with their possessions that we see here is one of the effects of their grateful response to Jesus.

Barnabas

At this point we are introduced to Joseph
Who according to verse 36, “was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Now Joseph was such a beloved member of the Church community that the apostles gave him a nickname - Barnabas - which means “son of encouragement”
Acts 4:
Acts 4:36–37 ESV
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
You will see Barnabas mentioned quite a few times in Acts, and every mention of him is one of encouragement
In he is sent by the church in Jerusalem to the church in Antioch to encourage them as they witnessed to Jesus in the Gentile territories
We will also see that he accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey
And it is Barnabas who perseveres with a guy called John Mark even after Paul’s patience had run out with him.
He is a great encourager of God’s people and is much loved by them
Now Barnabas is used by Luke as an example here of someone living out this Gospel-Shaped Economy...
He was so moved and changed by the gospel, that he was compelled because of the gospel and his love for Jesus ...
....to sell property that belonged to him, and bring the cash to the apostles and say - there it is.
Distribute it accordingly as it is needed.
He wasn’t asked to do it, he wasn’t required to do it, but he gave voluntarily, selflessly and sacrificially to God’s Church in grateful response to Jesus...
…desiring to see the Church grow and for others’ most urgent needs to be met.
Is this an accurate description of your giving and tithing?
Is your giving to the church selfless? Sacrificial? Voluntary?
Is it a response to what God has done for you?
Do you give because you are grateful for the grace that has been given to you, and you want to equip the church to be able to reach more people with the message of Christ crucified and risen? - Even if it costs you other worldly comforts?
Do you give because of a conviction that you have been blessed by God with a certain level of personal wealth, and are in a unique position to in turn bless others
Or do you give out of a sense of tradition.... to obey a law.... to stay in goodstanding with God… or....
to remain in goodstanding with God’s people.... to be recognized as an upstanding, faithful, respectable member of the congregation who fulfills their religious duty?
In fact, don’t just think about your tithing, think about everything you do in or for the church
Whether it is serving as a Deacon, or leading a Bible study, attending one, or teaching at childrens church, or serving tea, or visiting people…
…whatever it is that you do as part of your involvement with this church - think about those activities, and ask yourself what your motivation is for doing those things
Are you doing those things as an act of worship and selfless love for God and his people?
Or is it something that gives you a sense of importance?
Or does it give you the satisfaction of being a contributing member in goodstanding with the other respectable and active members doing their part?
Or does doing it earn you recognition and respect?
Does it earn you the admiration of your peers?
Friends, there is a big difference between doing a good thing with a gospel-inspired motivation, and doing a good thing with a selfish motivation.
Your motivation for what you give or do, is more important in God’s eyes than just what you give and do
Doing good out of a righteous and grateful response to Jesus, and doing good for selfish gain are not parallels - they are in contrast with each other
One is an example of a Gospel-shaped economy, the other an example of a counterfeit and hypocritical economy.
And that is why Luke gives us the example of Barnabas here in chapter 4, before contrasting him with the example of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5.
This is made abundantly clear by one word - the first word of chapter 5: “But”
And that “but” introduces Satan’s Counterfeit Economy

Satan’s Counterfeit Economy

Luke has given us the example of Barnabas the encourager, and his voluntary gift to the Church
Then Luke contrasts the actions of Barnabas with those of Ananias by saying “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
So Ananias, with the full knowledge and agreement of his wife, does what appears to be the same thing as Barnabas.
He also sells a piece of property, and he also brings the proceeds of the sale to the apostles, just like Barnabas did...
Acts 5:
Acts 5:1–2 ESV
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
....with the exception that he kept back for himself some of the profits from the sale and gave only a portion of the money to the church.
Peter then responds to Ananias in verse 3: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
Barnabas sells his property and brings the proceeds to the apostles.
Acts 5:3–5 ESV
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
Acts 5:
Ananias also sells his property and brings the proceeds to the apostles, but he is reprimanded by Peter and God takes his life in judgment.
Why? What’s the difference?
Is it because Ananias didn’t give all the money to the church but kept back some of it?
No, I don’t believe so
Because Peter says “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”
Peter makes it clear to Ananias that he was not put under under any obligation by the apostles or the church to sell his property at all - It was his to do with as he saw fit
Peter also makes it clear that even after selling the property, the proceeds were still his and were at his disposal
He was under no obligation to give 100% or 50% or 10% of it to the church - how much he gave was entirely up to him and completely voluntary
So then why is Ananias reprimanded by Peter and struck down by God?
What did he do that was in contrast to what Barnabas did, and in contrast to what others in the church had been doing?
Look at what Peter says to Ananias’ wife Sapphira 3 hours later when she comes, not knowing what has happened to her husband:
And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.
You see the issue?
Acts 5:8–10 ESV
And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
Acts 5:
Peter says to Sapphira, “Your husband gave us R200,000 from the sale of your property. Is that how much you sold it for?”
And Sapphira says “Yes, R200,000”
Only they didn’t sell the property for R200,000
In verse 2, Luke says that they sold the property and kept some of the money for themselves.
So what they have in fact done is sell the property for, let’s say R300,000, but they have given only R200,000 and told the church that it was everything they received from the sale
They lied.
Peter asks Ananias “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit....?”
We didn’t ask for your money...
Nobody forced you to sell your property...
We didn’t even tell you to give us the full amount of the sale...
But you have lied to us by giving us only a portion of the profits while passing it off as the whole amount.
Now why would Ananias do that?
Why lie about this?
I mean, whatever he gave to the apostles must have been a significant amount of money already if it was being passed off as the whole proceeds of the sale...
Why did he feel the need to give them this large amount of money and tell them falsely that it was everything he had earned from the sale?
For sure, we can see in Ananias actions that he still had one foot in the world......
......wanting to be part of this new community of Jesus followers, but not yet ready to let go of worldly wealth & possessions.
That would explain keeping back part of the profits for himself - but then why lie about it and tell Peter he had given ALL the proceeds to the church?
Could it be...
....that having seen Barnabas sell his property and give all of the proceeds to the church,
.... and no doubt receive the appreciation and recognition for such a great act of selfless generosity...
that Ananias and Sapphira craved the same appreciation and recognition?
That Ananias also wanted to receive a nickname from the apostles?
That they also wanted to be held in high esteem by the rest of the church and earn a reputation?
That they desired and craved the praise and admiration of the church for giving so generously?
That they wanted to be seen as being more spiritual, or closer to God?
Ananias and Sapphira’s gift to the church was not a selfless gift to the Church out of gratitude to God and a desire to see His Church grow...
.... their gift did not have a gospel motivation
....their gift was given out of a selfish motivation...
… a motivation to receive honour and praise themselves rather than to give in praise and honour to God
Their gift was not a reflection of someone who had let go of the love of the world and was prepared to give all they had to follow Jesus -
- that is why they kept some of the proceeds of the sale - they wanted to live in both worlds - they wanted to hold on to worldly possessions while appearing to have given them up for the sake of Jesus

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, what is your motivation for giving what you give, and doing what you do?
Are you living in a Gospe
Is everything that you do and give to the Church out of a motivation to glorify and praise God and see his church grow?
Is it a Gospel-shaped economy of giving selflessly in response to His gracious outpouring of love and mercy and forgiveness on the cross?
Would you continue to give even more of your resources and energy to the Church, even if nobody else knew what you were doing or what you were giving?
Or would you stop if the recognition stopped and all the plaques with your name on were taken off the wall, your name taken off the bulletin and nobody ever mentioned you?
Or if nobody took the time to thank you personally and publicly for your efforts and dedication?
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with thanking people for their contributions to the Church or
What is your motivation for doing what you do for the church?
Barnabas gave out of a desire to serve God, to honour Jesus and see the Church grow so that more people could be equipped to be witnesses for Jesus
Ananias and Sapphira gave out of a desire to receive honour and praise themselves.
Their sin was idolatry and lying about their motivations, and Peter makes it clear that by lying to God’s people, you are lying to God.
Don’t lie to God now by denying your true motivations or pretending to have pure intentions if you know that you crave the same attention and recognition that Ananias and Sapphira did.
Search your heart honestly and if you find any shred of the same dishonesty and idolatry there, confess it to the Lord
Please don’t fall for the lie of the modern idea of a god who overlooks sin in the church
That God took Ananias and Sapphira’s life is a warning to us that God desires to purge his Church of sin
and that the Church is not free to be careless about sin in our midst because we believe in grace.
We cannot be faithful witnesses for Jesus and the salvation he offers, while continuing to live in unrepentant sin ourselves.
We must be untainted by sin and take every possible action to remove it from among us
The Church is in the world to bear witness to Jesus, and to be a reflection of the Kingdom of God.
We show the world that there is a better way.
And there is.
Be encouraged today that Barnabas and the early Church had such a clear vision of the Kingdom of God and the riches of our inheritance in Jesus Christ....
.... that all the riches of this world were like nothing in comparison
That they could give worldly possessions away freely, knowing that their eternal inheritance in Jesus can never be lost
We give and we do and we witness because Jesus gave His life for our sins to be washed away, and was raised to justify us and make us right with God.
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