Acts: For the Cause of Christ #10
Title: The Right Spirit
Last week we saw how the church reacted after the Jewish Leadership had threatened them and forbade them to teach in Jesus’ name any longer, the church prayed for boldness to keep witnessing in the face of the opposition by God’s power. They were going to do what they knew the Lord wanted them to do. The Lord responded by showing His power by shaking their meeting place, filling them with the Holy Spirit again, which gave them the boldness they requested.
This week we take a brief look at the life of the early church. How they functioned. How they gave of themselves, and we’ll look at a couple of individuals more closely.
Common Goods and Divine Grace – 4:32-35
We see in this section a similar passage to chapter 2 verses 42 through 47, however there are different purposes for these passages.
2:42-47 concluded the account of Pentecost and showed what life in the infant church community was like.
4:32-35 introduces the contrasting accounts of Barnabas with Ananias and Sapphira, by once again showing us how the community lived.
The selling of property and giving to the community was a voluntary action taken by the believers. The believers viewed the private property for the use by or at the disposal of the community. We see that they were unified on this point. “One heart and mind”. We’ll see in a little bit how some of this was done, but remember that this was all voluntary, no one pressured to sell off anything or donate anything.
We see in verses 34 and 35 that the wealthier members were selling property to help provide for the poorer members as they had a need. The community was imitating Christ’s sacrificial love. Christ’s love is seen in His dying for our sins on the the cross. These believers were acting out of Christian love, sacrificial love, by selling and giving of their livelihoods for each other. In a few years when a famine comes through this church will rely on other churches outside the area chapter 11:28-29 This shows that God was providing for the church, and the church was receiving great grace from God.
We see the leadership of the Apostles in the community. The proceeds or offerings that were brought in were laid at the feet of the Apostles. This doesn’t mean that the Apostles were distributing, or taking a portion for their own livelihood, but they were the leaders of the community so the offerings were brought to them. The Apostles likely delegated to others to distribute the funds or goods that were needed. I say this because we see in verse 33 that the Apostles continued to do their primary calling of preaching and evangelizing. We also see that God was validating the Apostles preaching with great power.
Though this model isn’t prescribed for us to adopt into our church life, what is implied is that the church helps her members as they can. We see Acts 11:28-29 and 1 Tim 5:3 and 16 giving direction and further examples of how churches can care financially for their members.
Contrasting Characters – 4:36-5:11
Luke introduces – Barnabas – 4:36-37
Barnabas is referred to in Acts twenty-three times, the first being here. (Chapters 4; 9; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15). We see his given name is Joseph. Joseph was a very common name, so Apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which as we see means, “Son of Encouragement”. This was a common Jewish custom of using “son of” fill-in-the-blank to describe someone’s characteristics. For Barnabas to receive such nickname, he must have shown himself as an encourager. Certainly we see this in a number of ways during the remaining accounts of him in Acts.
Barnabas was Jew from the island of Cyprus and was a Levite (this piece of information may be given to show that not everyone connected to the Temple was opposing the disciples of Jesus), we also know he had relatives in Jerusalem and was wealthy enough to own some land, probably a field, as well. Relatives (John Mark) – Acts 12:12; 15:36-39; 2 Tim 4:11; Col 4:10. The land size, nature, and location are not given is Scripture. But the idea is that the land was probably a field as a different word was used here as was used in verse 34. It is possible this field may have been of Cyprus which would have made it very desirable to own, so he may have gotten a large sum for the sale. The implication is that he gave the entire amount to the community. The idea of discussing Barnabas is to show that he was fully involved and invested in the community.
Luke introduces – Ananias and Sapphira – 5:1-6
Luke now introduces us to a couple in the community and their account is given in contrast to Barnabas’. The husband’s name is Ananias, this is probably the Greek form of either Hananiah (Jehovah has favored/been gracious too) or Ananiah (Jehovah has protected). We are told that this couple also sold a piece of property as others in the community did. However, this couple decided not give the whole profit to the community. They had every right to do this, as we’ll see in minute. Ananias goes by himself to wherever the community was meeting, and goes before Peter to give over the money. Peter, probably being led by the Spirit, sees through Ananias’ lie and confronts him. The idea of Satan filling his heart refers to the control Satan has to influence such a decision. This filling is opposite to what we’ve seen earlier with being filled by the Holy Spirit. Here we are seeing that spiritual forces are at play along with the human element.
Ananias should have been honest before and to God, but he had compromised his integrity. His lie was dangerous to the infant church and dishonored God. Peter points out that Ananias didn’t have to lie. Ananias controlled the land before he sold it, and controlled the profits after he sold the land. Ananias could have given as much or as little of the profits as he wanted too.
“…The dreadful act was completely premeditated, apparently motivated by the desire of Ananias and Sapphira to appear more generous than they truly are. The desire for human praise is more important to them than being faithful to God” (Bock, Darrell L., BECNT:Acts © 2007, p223). This was an act of defiance and disobedience. As Peter was speaking to him, Ananias’ sin caught up to him and he died. There is no record he was ill, Peter did not strike him or call on God to strike Ananias. Ananias’ death was instant and was clearly divine discipline.
After he died, we see that younger men in the church carried Ananias out to bury him. Embalming was not customary in the region and burial was often done the same day as the death. These men were not professional buriers, but fellow members in the community. While they were preparing the body and burying it, they must have been discussing it amongst themselves or had a need to describe what happened to Ananias, for news of his death must have started to spread as fear was on everybody who heard what happened. But apparently nobody was able to get a hold of Sapphira. There isn’t even evidence that Peter and the others tried to inform her.
Sapphira – 5:7-11
Apparently on her own, Sapphira arrived at the meeting house 3 hours after Ananias had died, and Peter begins to question her as well.
Peter asks her to confirm the amount that was received from the sale of their land. The language makes it clear that he is referring to the same amount that Ananias had presented three hours before.
Peter is giving her an opportunity to tell the truth. She could answer no and say that there was more and maybe that would have been enough, she could have been restored to fellowship. But she perpetuated the lie, confirmed the conspiracy, and will pay for it. Peter then confronts her as well in verse 9. He asks her why she agreed to test the Holy Spirit. The point is that the Spirit know everything that happens in the community. The wording for testing the Spirit is similar to Exodus 17:2 and Deuteronomy 6:16. Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the Holy Spirit and were met with immediate accountability for their sin. They committed a sin of arrogance.
Peter tells her that the men that just finished burying her husband were returning and would go bury her. Verse 10 echoes verse 5 and 6 with Sapphira’s immediate death which was also clearly divine judgment. As Peter had announced, the men entered the meeting place found Sapphira in the same condition as Ananias and immediately went to bury her next to her husband.
Verses 5 and 11 show that even those not in the church heard of these events and feared. Verse 11 makes it clear that those in the church feared as well. These events seemed to serve as a reminder that God was present and would act in judgment if needed. Verse 11 is the first of twenty-three uses of the word ekklesia in Acts. The word actually means assembly, not church. And not every use in Acts is a reference to the church. Some are general civil assemblies of people.
This word is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew word for assembly, the other word is synagoge and only refers to the Jewish Synagogues when used in the NT. Ekklesia here refers to the local community of Christ followers in a gathering. The word will later become a technical and theological term and would be used for distinct local communities of Christians around the world.
The first thing we can gather from Ananias and Sapphira is that they seemed to be more concerned how good they looked before the rest of the community and with their own wealth over others and especially over God. I came across this story in my preparation this week.
“An old, rich man with a cranky, miserable attitude visited a rabbi who lived a simple life. They weren’t together very long before the rabbi got a wonderful idea on how to illustrate to the man that his cranky attitude was wrong. He took him by the hand and led him over to his window and he said, ‘Now look out the window and tell me what you see.’ As the man stood there, he said, ‘Well, I see some men and some women and I see a few children.’ ‘Fine.’ the rabbi then took him by the hand and led him across the room to a mirror. ‘Now, look and tell me what you see.’ the man frowned and said, ‘Well, obviously I see myself.’ ‘Interesting,’ the rabbi replied. ‘In the window there is glass, in the mirror there is glass, but the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silber added than you cease to see others, only yourself.’”
It has been suggested that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers. However, I think they were believers. Partly because they were obviously included in the community, partly because lying to the Holy Spirit is more easily understood of Christians that have a special relationship with the Holy Spirit vs unbelievers who have not relationship with God. And that physical death is a discipline applied to some believers (1 Cor 11:30-32).
The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira revealed God’s attitude toward sin to the infant church and maintained the church’s purity. Physical death is referenced elsewhere in the NT as discipline on believers (1 Cor 11:30-32; 1 Jn 5:16) it apparently did and does not always happen in so immediately and dramatically as here. This passage is also compared to Leviticus 10:1-3 where Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered burnt incense that was not prescribed by the Lord at the Tabernacle and they were immediately killed in judgement by fire from Heaven. Leviticus 10:3 says, ‘Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has spoken: I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.” And Aaron remained silent. ‘
We see here that the church is to care for its members. We can do that in many ways. But clearly there is a financial element to that as well. The church is supposed to help her members when they can as best they can.
God demands personal holiness from believers and holiness from the church. We each need to take a long look at ourselves and see if there is some sin we have become complacent with, or something we are letting rule our lives.