MESSAGE DELIVERED: OCTOBER 30, 2016
This morning I want to suggest to you that one of the biggest problems in the church today is contained in the story that I just read to you. And having said that, and with the title I chose for this message, you’re probably thinking that I’m going to talk about your giving to God, since this certainly is a story involving appropriate giving.
Well, that is a part of the problem, but not the whole problem. But we had better look at that aspect of the story first, and to do that we have to go all the way back to verse 34. That’s where the actual ‘giving’ begins. And we have been together for quite a while now, and you guys know a lot of my tricks, but maybe I can still surprise you now and then. And here, I need to do some ‘reading between the lines’.
We have the story of two people, apparently in good health, falling over dead for no obvious reason. But all we are given here is a bare-bones account: verse 34 says “neither was there any among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostle’s feet; and distribution was made unto every man according to his need.”
But listen, that was never the purpose of the disciples. I can’t prove this from Scripture, but I believe it: I don’t think this passage means that everyone went out and sold his home, put his own family on the street, and brought that money to the apostles, for distribution to the needy. Because that would then put the giver among the needy. I don’t think you can help homeless people by making yourself a homeless person.
I believe what was happening here was, those that had extra land or house, sold them and brought the proceeds in. I don’t believe that God wants you to put yourself in need, in order to help someone who is in need. But if you possess excess, and can do so gladly and not grudgingly, then yes, give that!
Remember when Jesus sat by the treasury and watched as people came and made their offerings, He only praised the widow who threw in two tiny ‘mites’, leptons, the smallest and most insignificant of all coins. But they were the only coins she had! Jesus praised her, because she had given all that she had. Which she had done, but…she didn’t put in the deed to her home, or her furnishings, or her clothing, none of her ‘possessions’, no matter how little she had.
What she had put into the treasury, as a gift to God, was her total disposable income! I think we can all relate to that term. She didn’t give up all the necessities of life, which she would have then had to go back to God and ask Him to return them.to her.
I think the same thing is true of these early believers we are here reading about. Those that had other, extra properties, sold those, and brought the money to the apostles to help support the needy among them.
And then we’re told about one certain man, named Joses, or Joseph, in verse 36, who was given the name, “Barnabas”, by the disciples. That name means “son of” (B.A.R. means ‘son of’) “consolation”, or “encouragement”. But we’re not told why they did that, but maybe we can guess. It says that he sold some land and brought the purchase price to the apostles. So maybe he sold an especially large and valuable piece of property, or maybe he had made that donation at a very timely point, where the need was great, and he showed up at just the right time.
Or even maybe he was the first one to do this. There could be a number of reasons, but for whatever, he was given this name, and there may have then been a bit of ‘competition’ among the believers, to try to out-do each other in giving. That would be human nature.
Do you remember the story about Jackie Gleason out on the golf course? He had just finished a round of golf and was paying his caddy. He asked the young man, in that spirit of competition, “What was the biggest tip you ever got”? Well, the guy didn’t even have to think about it, that kind of thing makes an impression on you. He said “fifty dollars, sir”. So Jackie peels off a one-hundred dollar bill and hands it to the caddy, then says “Ok, I think I’ve earned the right, who was the cheapskate who gave you a measly fifty dollar tip”? And the caddy answered “You were, Mr. Gleason”!
That kind of spirit may have existed in that early church, too. Or maybe there was some kind of special recognition for those who brought large sums, because otherwise I don’t think these two, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, would have attempted the thing they did, They conspired together to make a donation that would make them ‘look good’ to the apostles, but were not willing to actually bring the whole amount. They just wanted to look like they did. We don’t even know what it was that they sold. The passage is dealing with the sales of houses and lands, but all we’re told was they sold a ‘possession’, and then brought a portion of the proceeds, and claimed it was the whole amount. Actually pretty petty when you look at it that way.
There are two things at work here: pride, and greed. Pride, because they desired the respect and admiration of their peers for the gift…and greed, because they can’t bring themselves to part with the whole amount. So they hold some back. Now, that in itself would have been alright, but then they LIED about it.
So now we have THREE sins working against them. You could say that these two thought more of MONEY, than they did of GOD. So now you can add COVETOUSNESS, which is really IDOLATRY! So maybe you can see that what at first glance may have seemed like a simple matter, on the surface…actually had far-reaching tentacles of sin wrapped all around it. Because, as Peter pointed out in verse 4, they weren’t lying to MEN, they were lying to GOD!…just to try to make themselves look good to others.
And trying to impress people with how spiritual you are, was the practice of the Pharisees. And Jesus had already told all His followers not to do the things those hypocritical Pharisees did. But here they are, bringing, or trying to bring, those same practices into the early church.
In a way, that should make us feel better, all these 2000 years later. Because we can look at the problems we face, and see that even here, in the most successful period the church has ever had, they suffered the same problems that we do. But for them, the consequences were a lot more drastic.
Can you imagine what would happen here, in the ‘friendliest church in Tucson’, if someone dropped their tithe check in the offering plate, and then immediately dropped over dead because it wasn’t really 10%? I think we might have a difficult time recruiting new members, after a story like that got around.
I’ve told you before about some of the churches down south that had what they called ‘make-up Sundays’ a couple times a year. They would hold a special offering to let folks that were a little behind on their giving to ‘make-up’ the difference. They’d place an empty offering plate on the Altar table, and allow anyone who was a little behind to come forward and place the balance in that plate.
That practice probably started out perfectly innocently, but by the time I heard about it, people were deliberately withholding part of their tithe from their regular offering, just so they could be seen on ‘make-up Sunday’, coming forward and putting a large amount of cash in that plate.
It had even gotten to the point where some churches were struggling the rest of the time to make ends meet. I suspect there was a little of the Pharisee in that, and they finally got a preacher who put an end to it.
In his first letter, Peter told us that ‘our adversary the devil is walking about like a roaring lion, seeking who he might devour’. And that is just as true today as it was when he said it; maybe more so, as the time gets shorter. But the devil is far more cunning than any other created being.
If you were to see a roaring lion come charging at you, you’d do anything you could to get out of his way. But, what appeared to EVE was not a snarling, vicious beast. It was a beautiful, persuasive creature,
called a ‘serpent’ but not like what we know as serpents. It had legs, and it came with subtle lies, not frightening roars.
And that was the creature that came to Ananias and Sapphira and convinced them to hold back part of the sale, and then lie about it. And it’s that same devil that’s causing so much trouble, even in our conservative churches today. He was also present back then, in the early church, and causing problems then, too.
In verse 3, where Peter asked Ananias “why has Satan filled your heart to do this”? The best translation of that might be “why did you ALLOW Satan to do this”? Comedian Flip Wilson made a name for himself by saying “the DEVIL made me do it”! But the truth is, the devil can’t MAKE you do ANYthing!
Jesus showed you that, after He had fasted 40 days in the wilderness and Satan came and tempted Him. But Satan couldn’t force Jesus to do anything…and then God told us in His Word “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (that’s James 4:7)
Satan can tempt you to sin, but he can’t MAKE you sin, unless you will allow it. And that is what Ananias and Sapphira did. And in verse 4, Peter asked Ananias “wasn’t this your own land? Nobody forced you to sell it”! He could have done anything he wanted with that land. The communists don’t
like to hear this, but he was under no compulsion to sell. And then, having sold, he was under no compulsion to bring the proceeds to the church. He did that because he wanted to!
But he wanted to be KNOWN as one who “gave up all for the sake of the Gospel”. But he didn’t want to actually GIVE it all UP! He just wanted the reputation for having done so. He wanted to be called ‘Barnabas’ too! So he and his wife, with the help of the devil, dreamed up this scheme.
They’d take part of the proceeds from the sale, and give it to the church, but keep part of the proceeds for themselves, and NO one would be any the wiser.
Old Satan thought he could out-smart God too. And every once in a while he can convince somebody else of the same thing. But in the words of a former president…”not gonna happen”!
For us to try to out-smart God, is like a little kid who thinks if he closes his eyes, you can’t see him. But it’s just not going to work. So not only was Ananias not able to lie to God, he couldn’t even lie to Peter. And God exacted immediate vengeance for what he tried. No matter what we may think, or no matter how smart we think we are…we can never deceive God. And there is no such thing as a secret sin. That’s what we looked at last week. God knows. And you better know that, sooner or later, your sin will be found out.
And I want you to also see that this was all done in the presence of other witnesses. And as soon as Ananias hit the floor, several young men stepped up and took the body away to be buried. (Jewish custom was that a burial should be completed on the same day the person died.)
And it’s while that is going on, that Sapphira, the wife, walks in, not knowing what had happened. (Let’s pretend they sold a piece of land for $10,000, and claimed they only got $7500 for it) So Sapphira walks in and Peter says “did you sell some land for $7500 and bring the money to the church”?
And Sapphira, thinking she’s about to get a big pat on the back, says “Yes! That’s what we did alright”! But instead of praising her as she expected, Peter pronounces her guilty of the same sins her husband committed. And he doesn’t sentence her to death, but he’s no fool either. He knows if God punished her husband that way, He would do the same thing for the wife.
And that’s exactly what happens. Instead of the ‘kudos’ she wanted from the crowd, she also is struck dead because she thought she could lie to God and get away with it. And about the time she falls to the floor, the same group that buried her husband comes back and sees “whoops, there’s another one, better get her too, fellas”.
So these two conspirators, who wanted recognition for their actions in the church, sure got it, because here we are still talking about them 2000 years later! But they became known as people who thought they could fool God. So they got their reputation, and matching headstones too.
But their actions ALSO had a POSITIVE effect, too, because verse 11 says “great fear came upon the church and as many as heard these things”. But, I’m not so sure that’s the kind of reputation I’d want our church to have. “Tell a lie in there, and you’ll be struck dead right on the spot.” We don’t want that reputation, but we probably should have it! Because God is just as Righteous and Holy today, as He was when He struck down these two for lying to Him.
But I think we’re often guilty of offering a ‘watered down’ version of The Almighty. We tend to present Him as a ‘kindly old grandfather’…a ‘buddy’…even ‘the man upstairs’, instead of as the Sovereign and Awesome Creator-King that He really is! And I think we deceive ourselves when we do.
But I told you way back at the start of this, the real problem I see here is not one of ‘wrong giving’. The problem that I see affecting the churches today is found in the first verse we read earlier, in chapter 4 verse 31. When the believers gathered together in one place, and joined with one another in prayer, the place where they were gathered was shaken by the power of the Holy Spirit, as HE empowered them for the work He had for them.
But I don’t think Ananias and Sapphira were present then. Because IF they had actually prayed about the decision they were making, they never would have made it! And old Satan would never had been able to get near them. But they didn’t do that. Instead they deceived themselves, and it cost them their lives. And in the end they gained the opposite of the reputation they wanted.
They got, not what they WANTED, but what they DESERVED. And we will too, if we neglect to PRAY together! Now, every Wednesday evening we gather together in this Sanctuary, to join together in prayer before Almighty God.
And while I am always refreshed and renewed by doing that, I am also always disappointed too. Disappointed by the number of believers that don’t take advantage of the greatest POWER-SOURCE the church has! That the world has!
Let me state this very plainly so you won’t mistake what I’m telling you…THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM IN THE CHURCHES TODAY IS THE LACK OF PRAYER SUPPORT!
Nobody said ‘amen’ to that, but I suspect some of you might have said “OUCH”!
When Jesus made a whip out of some cords and chased the money-changers and the animal-sellers out of the temple, he didn’t say “My House shall be called a house of WORSHIP”! And He didn’t say “My House shall be called a place where offerings are brought”. Although it should be both of them too.
I know that many of you…probably most of you, are God-fearing, Christ-following believers. And you’re probably squirming and wishing that I’d just get to the invitation and shut up, because you know that next
Wednesday evening when the church gathers to pray together, YOU are going to find something ELSE to do instead.
Jesus said “My House shall be called a House of PRAYER”! And we here have everything we need, to see the WALLS SHAKE! All we NEED, is for God’s people to commit themselves to doing what Jesus said we SHOULD do.
Jesus said “My House shall be called a House of PRAYER”! And it is up to US to see that it happens.
So here’s your invitation: Hymn #435. ”What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” And as always I have to ask you first if there might be someone here who has never committed their life to Jesus…or maybe not sure if you have. I once had the privilege of spending some time preaching in an area that was notoriously indifferent to the Gospel message. But at the same time they had a hunger for it that only needed to be acknowledged to bring it out. So I would go to people and ask them “are you Saved”? And so many of them would tell me “I think I am” or “I hope I am”…and I could then tell them about what John said as he brought his Gospel account to a close. “All these things Jesus did and more. If all the things He did were to be written down, the world wouldn’t be able to contain all the books that would have to be written. But these things (what he wrote) have been written down that you can read them and believe. And if you believe, you will be Saved!”
So the only thing that can prevent you from obtaining that precious Salvation, is not believing Who and What Jesus is. And if you are willing we can change that today, so come to Him now.
But if you already are saved and you know it…and maybe you’ve been lying to God about what you’ve been giving Him, please understand that is a very dangerous thing to do.
And then for the rest of you…next Wednesday evening the church is going to gather together to pray…for you, for the church, for the nation. And the Holy Spirit living within you just told you that YOU need to be here when we do.
So what kind of excuse did you make Him? HE wants you here. HE wants you to join your prayers with the rest of the church so He can SHAKE the WALLS, and CHANGE this CITY! But you are already saying to yourself “well, you’re gonna have to do it without me”.
Just let me remind you that what you are doing, is LYING to GOD! And I just gave you Scriptural evidence of the dangers of doing that. So now you have been invited, and you have been warned.