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Motives

Date: Nov. 10, 2013

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 4:32-5:11

Key Verse: Acts 4:33

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all”

One of the things that impresses me the most about the early Christian church is their love for God and for one another. They really lived their faith and put it into practice. In our passage today, we see a beautiful example of this. Let’s start with verse 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.” What I find amazing is that it says they were one in heart and mind. It is hard enough to get two people, a husband and wife to be one in heart and mind, let alone a whole community. That’s how I know this had to be the work of the Holy Spirit. It had to be because on our own it’s hard to be unified just look at our politicians these days. Differences of opinion are inevitable among people. And can actually be helpful if handled well. So it’s not the difference of opinions that determine if a group is unified or not. Unity is not where everyone is the same, that’s called uniformity. Unity and uniformity are not the same. Uniformity where everyone dresses alike, and thinks alike is creepy, but unity is not. Unity is when a group is united around a common goal. For example I think sports teams like the Chicago Bears have a lot of unity. They are working together for a common goal to win games. They may not all like each other but they all respect each other and protect each other’s back. And Dr Luke recorded for us here, that the early church had this beautiful unity that went beyond human nature, like sports teams. They had that, but more – they had spiritual unity because they were all filled with the same Holy Spirit. They were loyal and committed to one another but they also loved God and his word with all their heart. And this spiritual unity was essential if the church was going to survive. The early church was able to share possessions and property as a result of the unity brought by the Holy Spirit working in and through the believers’ lives.

But where there is spiritually unity there is material unity take a look at verses 33b-37. “And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” As the outside world saw the believers’ generosity with one another, their care for the needy, and their powerful witness, they were drawn to the Lord Jesus. So widespread was the generosity of the Jerusalem believers that there was no poverty among them. In our time most people are looking for what they can get - not what they can give. However one evidence that someone has met Jesus and received the Holy Spirit is that they become generous. In verse 31 we see that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then in verse 32 they begin to give generously. Sinful people are not naturally inclined to give, even at a young age toddlers will take whatever they can get their hands on and scream “mine.” So what we find is this generosity is not natural, it’s supernatural. It comes when we are filled with the Holy Spirit and have our hope set in heaven not on earth. Where there are many givers there is joy, because generally speaking generous people are joyful. And where you have generous people, you have unity. It’s when you have more takers than givers that a community starts to have problems. And in the early church we see how the Holy Spirit has moved believer’s hearts to be generous. They began to share what they had. Even though they owned it, they didn’t claim owner’s rights, they shared with those who were in need. Don’t confuse this with communism because here the sharing was voluntary and it didn’t involve all private property but only as much as was needed, and was not required to be a member of the church.

Jesus had told his disciples, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jn 13:35) An example of this was a man named Joseph. He was so moved by God that he took a field that he owned and he sold it and gave the money to the church. He wasn’t even from around there, he was from the island of Cyprus, off the coast of Syria, and yet he sold his field and gave all the money to the church. Maybe this field was a crop field and that was how he generated his income, who knows. But back in those days, and it’s still true I think today as well, people got their status and wealth from owning property. So to give it away is not a small matter. It’s a huge deal because this represents a person’s future. He wasn’t just giving away something valuable, he was giving away something that could help him generate income for his future. The only way a person can do this is if their hope is not here on earth but it’s in the kingdom of God. To do this, he had to trust in the Lord, not in his wealth, because if he was trusting in his wealth, giving it away was not a smart thing to do. When Joseph dropped the money bags at the apostles’ feet, they gave him a new nickname, calling him Barnabas, which means, “son of encouragement.”

As God filled them with the Holy Spirit, he gave them a sense of purpose, as he brought meaning to their lives. Take a look at verse 33a, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Ignoring the threats of the council (4:18), the apostles continue to give powerful witness about Jesus’ resurrection. They couldn’t stop talking about Jesus. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus is alive. Jesus is God, who left heaven and became a man that lived without sin. He died for our sin, but roses for our salvation. He ascended into heaven where he sends us the Holy Spirit to empower his people to continue his mission. It’s the best mission in the history of the world. It’s the only mission that has eternal consequences—and praise God we get to be a part of it. God used their generosity to carry out the mission of Jesus – which is to help people to love God and love each other.

At this point everything looks great. The church is growing, people are being saved, everyone has enough to survive, its wonderful community. However there is a problem, Satan is jealous and he begins to try and destroy the church. Take a look at 5:1-2. “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” On the surface this looks like another wonderful sacrificial act by some spirit filled believers. But don’t be fooled, Peter wasn’t. The Spirit gave him discernment. Verses 3 & 4 give us insight, “Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”” This was quite a different response than what Ananias was expecting. He was expecting that everyone would surround him and thank him and praise him for his generosity, and then they would give him a cool new nickname just like they gave Barnabas. That way everyone would remember his sacrificial act simply by calling his name. He was thinking, “They called Joseph, the son of encouragement, I wonder what they will call me?” To his surprise Peter called him something more like, “you son of a beeeeeeep.” Ananias was like, “What???? Dude what’s going on?”

Why was Peter’s response so harsh to Ananias? After all he just dropped a huge bag of money at his feet, what was the problem. Shouldn’t Peter be thankful for such a generous donation? Peter had spiritual insight given to him by the Holy Spirit. He knew Ananias’ motives were not pure. Ananias had coveted the praise that Barnabas received. He wanted that recognition, that acknowledgement, that honor. I’m not saying that getting those things are bad, after all Barnabas received them, but Ananias craved them so much that he went to great lengths to get them. He conspired with his wife to go and sell their property, which is not easy, and then come up with this story and lie to the apostles. It’s bad enough that he wanted Barnabas’ applause but what’s worse is that he wanted it cheaply. So they kept some of the money they got selling the property for themselves. We don’t know how much, it could have been a little, or a lot it really doesn’t matter. Maybe some of you are saying, “I don’t see a problem with it. They gave money didn’t they? Is the church so greedy that they want more?” Here we learn that the amount we give or don’t give is not the problem. In actually, all things belong to God so that is not the issue. The issue is the motive of our hearts. There was so much sin going on in Ananias’ heart that Peter says that his heart was filled. The only other time we hear of someone’s heart being filled by Satan like this is Judas on the night he betrayed Jesus. Ananias’ heart was filled with coveting Barnabas’ praise, greed for money, not trusting the Lord, deceitfulness, pride, lying and who knows what else. Maybe the biggest sin, is his sin of hypocrisy – where he was pretending to be something that he wasn’t. Why is the sin of hypocrisy so bad? Jesus once told his disciples, “ Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Mt 16) Hypocrisy is so deadly because it involves deceit, malice, lying, and basically pretending to be something that you’re not. The word hypocrite originally came from the theater and was used to describe the actors when they would portray another character. And in this case Ananias was portraying himself to be as generous as Barnabas. And the sad thing was, it really didn’t matter. And he sold his soul for a few dollars more. Peter said that he could have kept everything, he didn’t have to give a cent. But look what it cost him. The thing is eventually all our hypocrisy will be found out, we may be able to lie to people, but we can’t lie to God. Jesus told his disciple “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Lk 12) And that was the case here.

Ananias thought that he could get away with his lie, but he couldn’t. “When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” (v5-7) God will not be mocked. We may think that we are getting away with it, but God sees all and one day we will have to give an account of all our actions. From this we learn that we can do good things with the wrong motives. I have seen people do good things for the wrong reasons. I’ve even done this myself. The acts are good, but our hearts are not and only God, and Peter in this case, know our true motives.

“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (v7-11) It seems Peter gives a little more grace to Sapphira and gives her a chance to repent. Maybe she went to the church a little later than her husband because she wanted to look just right for the moment. And it just so happened to take three hours. But when she went in the mood wasn’t what she expected. There wasn’t any celebration going on, and where was Ananias? Instead of praise Peter was asking her questions? “Wait what’s going on?,” she must have thought. Instead of being honest she also lied. It says that she tested the Lord. What does it mean to test the Lord? To test the Lord means that you deliberately push the limits of his patience. How much can you get away with before he reacts. Sometimes I told my kids, when they were trying to get away with something, “Don’t test my patience.” So it appears in this case that this couple, oddly enough Ananias means “blessed by the Lord” and Sappahira is named after Sapphire, “beautiful,” this couple looked so promising on the outside and yet they tested the Lord and in the end they failed.

How tragic is this. From this we can see how seriously God takes this. He passed, judgment and sentenced them immediately. This should bring the fear of God to us and how seriously God takes the purity of our heart. Hypocrisy and falseness are all over the place in the world. But they shouldn’t be in the church. If we can’t be honest in the church, where can we be? Someone said when the read this passage, the God looks too harsh upon people who were trying to follow him. They made a small mistake and he punished too harshly. But I wonder if they were even believers, it doesn’t call them believers, maybe they were wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to buy their way into the fellowship? Maybe God was just protecting his children? The church must be different than the world. This sounds strange to say, but it would be better NOT to do a good thing, than to do it with the wrong motive. The ends do not justify the means in God’s house. Both the ends and the mean matter to God. Also we have to have a healthy dose of respect for God, for his is Almighty, all powerful and hold life and death in his hands. So I respectfully ask you today, to examine your heart before the Lord and repent of any unpure motives that you may have. Repent even if there is a hint of it for it is that serious. May God bless you.

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I Will Spare Them No Longer

Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

  “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
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