Last week, a new theme was introduced to the book of Acts that recurs throughout, and that was the theme of opposition.
That, nearly as soon as the NT Church is born, and as soon as the church begins to grow, it begins to face opposition.
Opposition is part of the story of the church from the very beginning; and all throughout it’s history and existence on earth until it’s heavenly rest and eternal victory, we are a church that is opposed by the flesh, the world, and the devil; we are a church opposed;
But though they are opposed, that opposition doesn’t stop the church from being the church; it doesn’t cause them to change course or deny their identity or turn from their calling, but as you see from this description of the church immediately after it’s first encounter with persecution; that this description after persecution is very similar to the description of the church before persecution.
First: Though they had been warned not to preach about Jesus’ resurrection by the powers that be; and preaching is in part what got them in trouble in the first place; look at v33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
They aren’t dissuaded from their mission of preaching and proclaiming Jesus as Lord, despite the threats of the religious bullies they simply continue to do what the church is called to do.
Second: they aren’t dissuaded from being what the church is called to be. If you remember back to the description of the church in chapter 2, Luke described them as a devoted church: they were committed to the community of God’s people.
And you see that idea of devotion, I think, repeated in this first verse: “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”
They had unity; they had single-mindedness and singleness of purpose – they were in it together.
And, I just want to take a minute to encourage us to think about what that might look like. Because it involves making the shift from coming to church with the attitude of consumer, to coming to church with the attitude of contributor.
The fact that all the believers were one in heart and mind means that they didn’t just go to church; but that they were the church.
They didn’t just go to church to only receive; they went to church to contribute. They didn’t just go to church to get something; they went to give something.
Church wasn’t a spectator sport but it was something they were all all-in for. They weren’t spectators expecting other people to be working for them & their benefit; but they were all – each of them – part of the vision and mission.
They were a body – where each part may do something unique to itself but all working together as an organic unity with the same purpose towards the same goal.
If a church has only consumers, it will never be what the church in Acts was and what God wants the church to be.
If people never make that shift in their attitude from consumer to contributor; if people never make that shift in their attitude from, “I go to Redeemer Church”; to “I am Redeemer Church. I am part of it; I have one heart and one mind with the spiritual family of the church such that I give of myself – my time, my talents, my treasure – so that the church can be the church; so that the needs in the body of Christ can be met; and the mission of the church can be accomplished.
If you’re just visiting, I’m not talking to you; you’re welcome to just check things out, no pressure, take your time. But if you’re a regular attender, if you’re a member, there has to come a point in time, when you are no longer just visiting, just checking things out; no longer just a consumer but a contributor.
Magic coffee table –
all he knew was he wasn’t doing it, and he thought the coffee table was magically cleaning/washing/putting away; but the reality was that it was someone else was doing it for him.
things don’t just magically get done; people do things; and, if you think things just get done then it means other people do things for you.
and some of us might think Redeemer Church is a little like that magic coffee table, where things just sort of happen, things just get done; but they don’t – other people do them.
And, you may come to Redeemer Church, and think that it’s a magical place where the sound equipment just gets set up on it’s own; or the nursery stuff just appears; or the children’s ministry just somehow magically has teachers and volunteers; but it’s not – everything that needs to happen for our church to be what it is, happens because people give and serve and sacrifice for that.
If you like Redeemer Church, if you benefit from being a part of Redeemer Church, if you want Redeemer Church to be able to be a benefit to others, well, you know, that doesn’t just happen.
People make sacrifices; people serve; and at some point you need to ask yourself if you’re content to let other people make those inconvenient sacrifices, or if you’re going to join in, take the step, give, serve, contribute.
And, so, maybe you can’t do much; but maybe you can do something.
Many things that need to be done in the church can be done by anybody, but simply need somebody who is willing to do it. The question is: will you be that somebody?
One of the specific ways that this early church were contributors, was in the area of meeting the needs of others through radical generosity.
2 contrasting examples we see here which show us:
- The beauty of seeking to become more generous than you are;
- The danger of seeking to appear more generous than you are.
Their devotion, their single-mindedness, their unity – one of the ways that it expressed itself is through generosity – through sacrificial generosity to meet the needs of one another in the body of Christ.
This passage is, in large part, about money and generosity. Apparently Luke thought important b/c in two descriptions of early church, radical generosity primary in both.
And, while I like to think that we aren’t a church that talks about money all the time – we will not pass a plate in front of you, we won’t badger you to give money, nevertheless we need to talk about those things as much as the Bible does, and the reality is that Jesus did talk a lot about money, and how Christians ought to view money, and how Christians ought to be generous with their money; And, in continuity with that, in the book of Acts, the early church was serious about viewing their money and possessions in light of eternity; and generosity was a central part of their life of Christian discipleship; and meeting the needs of one another was a central part of the life of the church.
And, certainly this early church lived differently than the world around them in this regard.
Because what was true of the church – (v34) that there was no needy among them – certainly wasn’t true of the world around them; rather it was a result of radical generosity that gave freely.
Much so-called “generosity” in the world around them – in Roman/Greek culture – was a system of reciprocity – “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” – where I do something for you or give something to you, but not freely, but with the expectation that I’ve put you in my debt and when you’re able you can pay me back, or when I need, I can call upon you for a favor; but that’s not at all what we see here.
This generosity is radically different – it’s given freely, without expectation or obligation or strings attached.
And, why do you think that that kind of radical and free generosity characterized the earliest Christians?
You know, we haven’t seen any examples of the apostles teaching these early Christians to be generous – all we’ve seen is the apostles proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ – and this radical free generosity seems to be a spontaneous response to the gospel – why is that?
It’s because they are overwhelmed with the radical and free grace of Jesus to them! Free grace that isn’t earned and can’t be payed back; radical grace that saved undeserving, morally spiritual poor sinners like us and made us spiritually rich – eternally beloved children of God.
That message, brought about this spontaneous generosity.
But, is the church today reflecting the gospel in the way we live radically generous lives as the church in Acts was?
All the statistics seem to suggest no; I’m generally skeptical of statistics, but every statistical survey I’ve seen suggests:
-the difference between the percentage of their income that Christians give compared to non-Christians give is a negligible difference – Christians are barely more generous than those who don’t know the grace of Jesus.
Now, those numbers improve when you narrow it to evangelical Christians; but they’re still not great;
-amount of Christians who tithe (tithe doesn’t just mean, “give a portion” or “give every week”; it means give “a tenth”; and in the OT that was the expected minimum amount they would give to God – in the OC when they hadn’t known the riches of the generosity of Christ.
In the OT, one of the few places that God asks people to test him, is in this area of giving him his portion – the tithe – and in fact, he calls it “robbing him” when his people don’t tithe; and when they do he promises to open the flood-gate of blessing to them – that doesn’t mean that money will magically appear in your checking account, but that you experience the blessing of living generously and taking that step of faith.
and can you imagine what good could be done if every Christian in every church tithed and gave sacrificially beyond that?
And so there’s three things that we see about how this early church became more generous than they were:
we see their attitude of generosity; their actions of generosity; and the result of their generosity.
Attitude seen in v 32 – “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
They were united. and their unity led to generosity – because they treated one another as family – as their own flesh and blood – because in fact they had a greater bond than blood, but their bond in Christ and though the Spirit of Christ – they recognized that they had been made into one spiritual family and so their unity manifested itself in generosity because they didn’t treat the needs of someone else as having nothing to do with themselves; but rather they considered the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ as if those were their own needs; and so that is why their attitude towards their own possessions was radically changed.
“No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” –
Doesn’t mean that their possessions weren’t their own. We talked about this at length a couple weeks ago; and besides Peter makes it clear in his words to Ananias – v 4 – that they didn’t have to give all the proceeds of the sale as though it were required or obligatory; and they didn’t have to sell the land at all.
The issue w/ Ananais & Sapphira wasn’t that they didn’t have a right to keep part of the proceeds of the sale of their land; the issue was that they lied about how much of those proceeds they had given. We’ll come back to that – but it’s simply necessary to note that Peter’s words there help us to understand this description of v32 – it wasn’t that their property wasn’t their own; it was that their attitudes towards that which was their own changed so radically that they didn’t consider what was their own, only their own. They didn’t act as if the blessings of God to them were only for themselves; or that it was only for their own good or their own need or for their own enjoyment; but that as long as their brother or sister in Christ was in need, then they didn’t consider what was theirs was only for them; but they shared it.
It’s not wrong to have, or gain, or enjoy material blessings from God; and I would never want to make anyone feel guilty for having material blessings from God or for enjoying them.
But what is your attitude towards them? Are they “mine!” Or has your attitude towards possessions been transformed by the gospel such that you willingly, generously share them with brothers and sisters in need?
because they didn’t just have a different perspective on money and possessions and the needs of others; they didn’t just think, “Yeah I should care and be generous”.
but they let that different perspective to lead them towards sacrificial action – to make the hard decision; to make the hard choice; the choice that nobody was forcing them or requiring them or perhaps even asking them to make – to take that step of making that sacrifice of radical generosity. In this instance, of selling a plot of land.
And that’s where Barnabas example came in. Land was one of the ways people carried wealth in that day; and so this is no small thing; he is willing to part with a significant chunk of wealth in order to help others.
Not every dollar given to Redeemer Church goes towards Mercy ministry – just as not every dollar in the early church went towards mercy ministry although that is the focus of the generosity here.
Every church needs to operate; needs to spend money internally and that’s probably more true today than it was then. And, I certainly hope the we aren’t a church that cares more about fancy buildings and facilities than real needs of people.
But, if we want to continue to be able to engage in works of mercy as a church; we need to exist as a church.
And, some of you may not know, that we are a church-plant (“mission church”). Which means, we don’t stand on our own feet financially. People outside the church, people who don’t even live in Chambersburg or go to this church of benefit personally from the ministry and fellowship of this church, send us money, so that we can exist.
And, that situation can’t exist forever. You can’t be a church-plant forever, because people won’t do that forever. And, we want to be a church that stands on it’s own feet, and can do more ministry, and give give more to needs.
And, if there are people who gain no benefit from, and have no connection to, the ministry of Redeemer Church yet give to the ministry of Redeemer Church; then, how much more should people who hopefully do gain benefit from and are connected to the ministry of Redeemer Church, ought to give to support the ministry.
You may not be able to give much; You may not have an extra plot of land laying around to sell; but everyone can start somewhere and give something; and that’s not insignificant, because it is the beginning of that path from being a consumer to a contributor – it puts your own personal investment into what’s happening here.
attitude; action; result: v34 – there was no needy among them
That’s an amazing result.
Wouldn’t it be great, if, among Christians, within churches, there would be no unmet needs? Wouldn’t it be great that everyone who was a member or regular attender at Redeemer had all their needs met?
That’s not an impossible result; but it’s a result that will only happen as a result of this kind of radical generosity.
It’s important to note, that this doesn’t say that no one had any wants; it says that there was no one had needs.
The rest of the NT insisted that Christians couldn’t just live off the generosity of others if they weren’t truly in need or if they just didn’t want to work; and in our day I think it’s important to say when we tend to be less clear on the difference between needs and wants. And so I think the church was careful about meeting real needs because it recognized that people were making real sacrifices with their generosity.
But, wouldn’t it be great, if, among Christians, within churches, there would be no unmet needs?
Great if true anywhere; but let’s start somewhere.
Maybe it looked like helping someone through a rough patch; or giving someone a financial leg-up to help them get ahead instead of just barely getting by; or helping someone get out of crippling debt or fix their car so they could get to work or afford child-care so they could get to work, or get some needed job training or education, or helped them with a down-payment on an apartment or helped them pay for that unexpected expense that they otherwise couldn’t pay for.
These are all things you’d do for family. And, the question is, does the church only give lip-service to the fact that they’re family? Or do they believe it?
- The beauty of seeking to become more generous than you are;
- The danger of seeking to appearing more generous than you are.
Have you ever had the fear: “What if I’m not who everybody thinks I am?”
“What if people see the real me?”
Have you ever felt pressure that: “I need to be someone I’m not.”
Many people feel that pressure the most in the place that they should feel it the least: church.
“Why Facebook Makes us Sad”
Lots of reasons; But, one of the reasons, is that on Facebook, for the most part everybody’s life looks great! Everybody’s life looks picture perfect. You post a picture of a loving happy care-free family for the world to see, even if behind the scenes of that loving happy care-free family, is strife, or stress, or conflict.
And while people might tell about some of the difficult things, or the sad things of life; nobody advertises the really deep-down ugly things of who we are.
But it’s not a social media problem – that we hide the ugly parts of ourselves try to convince people that we are something other than what we are.
It’s a human problem – a problem of the heart.
And, that’s what the story of Ananias & Sapphira is all about. Remember, the problem wasn’t that they kept money; they could have kept the land; they could have kept all the proceeds; but the problem was that they had the ability to be generous like Barnabas; and they saw Barnabas and others being more generous than they naturally were; and they were challenged by that; convicted, perhaps, of their own greed and selfishness; but Ananias & Sapphira didn’t want to become more generous than they were; but they also didn’t want to appear ungenerous, and so instead of seeking to become more generous than they were, they devise a plan to make themselves appear more generous than they were.
Stott: “They wanted the credit and the prestige of sacrificial generosity, without the inconvenience of it”.
And, God’s judgment comes upon their hypocrisy – in a very serious and final way. Immediately for Ananias. And even Sapphirra, though she gets a chance to repent and come clean she doesn’t – she was complicit in the sin (v2) and so receives the same judgment.
Story of Ananias & Sapphira shows us two things:
- That we aren’t what we try to get other people to think we are
- But God sees right through it.
We aren’t what we try to get other people to think we are.
We feel this need to put on a show; because we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see; we know we don’t hit the mark; measure up; and so we try to dress ourselves up in costumes that are antithetical to who we are underneath that.
We live without integrity, we live in hypocrisy, but we don’t want to face the fact that we don’t measure up; we don’t want others to see the ugliness of what’s inside us;
And, we might fool others; but Ananias & Sapphira, forgot the audience they were living before.
- That we aren’t what we try to get other people to think we are
- But God sees right through it.
Trying to be someone you’re not – before GOD – is a dangerous, and in their case deadly, thing.
Because although perhaps they may have been trying o look good in front of the church, Peter gets right down to it – v3 – they lied to the Holy Spirit; end of v4 – you have not lied just to human beings but to God.
They had lied to the church; the church leaders; and that was not nothing, but that wasn’t the worst thing they did.
Because, the audience before whom we live & give account, ultimately is not the people around us. It is the holy, eternal, infinitely pure all-knowing God – who even if we’ve fooled others about the “real us” we haven’t fooled him – he knows us all the way down to the core.
And, this example here is a reminder, of the holy presence of God in his church – and that he does not tolerate sin and hypocrisy.
I think we forget that as Christians and as the church we live in the presence of God – and that is not a trivial thing.
The church is not just a social gathering, it is a gathering in the presence of that holy God – and there ought to be a sense in which we tremble before him; and walk before him in humility, rather than hypocrisy.
And, if God is holy, and his Spirit is Holy, then his church must be holy; and it must take attacks on that holiness seriously.
Certainly the church isn’t perfect – far from it; we are all strugglers, sin still remains present in our lives all this life; but nevertheless we don’t make peace with sin, and we certainly don’t try to use sin to our advantage to improve our standing in God’s holy community
And while God may not normally respond with such immediate judgment – this reminds us that God does respond in judgment to unrepentant sinners;
and, I think it comes right at the beginning – in order to warn the church – then and now – how seriously God views anything that mars the holiness of the church.
Parallel to Achan’s sin in Joshua 7 – at the early days of the life of God’s people in the OC, there was an act of deceit against God; followed by a serious response of God’s wrath.
And we see a very similar thing in Acts 5 – where at the early days of the life of God’s people in the NC, there was an act of deceit against God; followed by a serious response of God’s wrath;
it serves as a warning, right from the beginning, of God’s holy presence with his people; and that God’s people ought to live holy and humbly before him.
It shows us how God hates sin; and how God hates hypocrisy in his church.
And, that’s why fear is mentioned as the response twice – vv 5,11; this doesn’t mean paralyzed terror; but a healthy respect for the holiness of God; and the response of humility before him.
But the joy and the freedom of the gospel is, not just that we can’t pretend before God; not just that we dare not pretend before God; but that we don’t have to pretend before God.
Gospel gets rid of pretense.
Who we are before God is who we are stripped of all pretense, the real you; naked of all the things we use to cover our ugliness or make ourselves appear better than we are
and that can be terrifying; but at the same time its comforting, wen we consider the gospel.
The gospel doesn’t tell us that we need to be a certain way or meet a certain standard so that we can be accepted; that wouldn’t be good news.
It accepts us just as we are.
But the gospel also doesn’t just tell us we’re fine the way we are; because most of us know that we aren’t ok – the very fact that Ananias & Sapphira had to put on a show is proof that they knew they weren’t ok; we aren’t ok the way we are;
The gospel accepts us just as we are – ugly parts and all; but it never leaves us just as we are – but changes us – ugly parts and all.
That, and nothing less, is the good news of the gospel.
We don’t have to live a certain way to earn God’s love and acceptance; But we are accepted first, and that being accepted by God enables us to live a new way because it gives us powerful resources to begin to experience the transformation that God calls us to.
But that all starts, when we come to God not trying to play a game; not trying to fool him; not trying to prove that we’re better than we are; but only when we come to him as we are – in humility, in our sinfulness; looking to him to save us.
I love the hymn, Rock of Ages: and it reminds us that there is no pretense in the gospel;
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
we don’t offer anything to God as though he would love and accept us on that basis; the only thing we offer, is the sin we need saving from. we don’t come dressed up in righteousness; but we come naked – God sees through whatever righteous clothes we would try to put on; but he dresses us in his Righteousness; and we come sinful – foul I to the fountain fly; wash me , Savior, or I die.