SS Lesson for 11/22/2020
Devotional Scripture: 2 Cor 8:1-15
Discouragement thrives among us today, but we are not unusual. The history of the Wild West, where the cowboys sang, was full of reasons for discouragement, not the least of which was the violence against the native peoples. The early church also had its share of discouragement. Then, like now, encouragers were needed to be examples.
Luke and Acts comprise a two-volume work written by a single author, assumed to be Luke, the physician and companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14). The first volume, the Gospel of Luke, tells the story of Jesus: his birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. The second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the first-century church, beginning in Jerusalem and ending with Paul’s arrival in the imperial capital city, Rome. We look to the book of Acts to understand the nature of the church in its infancy. By so doing, we hope to understand better Christ’s intention for his church, as enacted through his trusted apostles, and thereby understand what the church should be today. From Acts we realize the church’s primary mission: to share the gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We learn that this imperative to preach the good news about Jesus must withstand ridicule (example: 2:13), doubters (example: 3:11-12), and even coordinated persecution (example: 4:1-3). Yet the first-century church in Jerusalem had its share of problems. It faced leadership succession issues (Acts 1:15-26). It had organizational challenges (6:1-6). The beloved fellowship even suffered from dishonesty concerning financial disclosure (Acts 5:1-11).
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
Luke had two reasons for including this passage here. For one thing he used it to introduce Barnabas to his readers. A common technique of Luke was to introduce a character quickly in a minor role and then later bring him on stage in a major role. This he did with Barnabas. Luke’s second purpose in these verses was to show how Barnabas and the rest of the church contrasted with Ananias and Sapphira (chap. 5). The generosity of the church and especially Barnabas differed markedly from the selfishness of that husband-wife team.
4:32-35. The believers were unified not only spiritually (one in heart and mind) but also materially (cf. 2:44-45 and comments there). Their selling of their goods was voluntary and the distribution was according to need. The Lord answered their prayer for boldness (4:29) for the apostles kept on testifying of Christ’s resurrection. Grace (v. 33) is one of numerous times that word occurs in Acts (e.g., 6:8; 11:23; 13:43; 14:3, 26; 15:11, 40; 18:27; 20:24, 32; etc.).
4:36-37. Joseph was nicknamed Barnabas which means Son of Encouragement, evidently because of his character and ability to encourage those who were downhearted. How could a Levite own property as Barnabas did? Were not Levites prohibited from owning property? (Num. 18:20, 24) The answer may be that whereas the Levites were not to hold land in Israel, they could own land elsewhere. Apparently Barnabas, being from the island of Cyprus, owned land there. It is also possible that his wife owned land in Israel and that they together sold it. Most probably the restriction in Numbers 18:20, 24 was no longer observed, as seen in the case of Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 1:1; 32:6-15). This story is reminiscent of Achan in Joshua 7 (cf. Num. 15:32-36; 16:1-35).
5:1-2. The sin of Ananias and his wife Sapphira is explained in verses 3-4, 9. They could have retained the proceeds from their sale of property, of course, but in collusion with each other they had lied, saying they had given all the money when actually they had given only a part of the money. The phrase the apostles’ feet is the same as in 4:35, 37 and throws Ananias’ action into bold contrast with Barnabas’ action.
5:3. In response Peter accused Ananias by saying, Satan has... filled your heart. The verb translated “filled” is eplērōsen, from plēroō, which here has the idea of control or influence. The same verb is used in the command, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Ananias, a believer, was influenced by Satan, not the Spirit! The fact that Peter asked, How is it. . .? implies that Satan had gained control because Ananias had not dealt with some previous sin in his life.
5:4. Peter referred to Ananias’ lying “to the Holy Spirit” (v. 3); now Peter referred to his lying to God. This is an affirmation of the Holy Spirit’s deity. The fact that believers had the right to keep their money shows that this was not Christian socialism. It was a free-will arrangement for the support of the church, used only temporarily because evidently the early church expected Christ to come in their generation.
5:5-6. When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. As Peter wrote later, judgment begins “with the family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). This is a case of “sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16). This discipline was severe because it was an example, as Achan was an example to Israel (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6).
5:7-10. Then Sapphira, not aware of her husband’s sudden death, also lied about the amount they got for the land.
Peter accused Sapphira of agreeing with Ananias to test the Spirit of the Lord. “To test the Holy Spirit” is to see how much one can get away with before He judges; it means to presume on Him, to see if He will perform His Word, or to stretch Him to the limits of judgment (cf. Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:7).
5:11. As a result of the discipline of this couple, all the believers and unbelievers who heard about it felt great fear, a consequence already stated in verse 5 and repeated here for emphasis (cf. 19:17). The purpose of this account in the narrative is manifold: (1) It revealed God’s displeasure with sin, particularly dishonesty, in His body, the church. (2) It marked the church off as distinct from Israel, for such discipline was not seen in Israel. The word church (used here for the first time in Acts) refers to the universal church here and in 9:31 and 20:28, and to local congregations in 11:26 and 13:1. (3) It indicated God was at work in this new group.
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,
35 and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus,
37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
15 He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil — 16 this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
41 Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. 2 The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. 3 The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
14 "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."
9 Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."
10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
14 His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy." This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.
2 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.
14 who plots evil with deceit in his heart — he always stirs up dissension.
7 No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
21 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.
21 If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.
2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, 4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
25 It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.
Acts 4:32-5:11 is brimming with implications and applications for Christians today. We will conclude by calling attention to some areas of application.
First, our text contains much instruction regarding giving:
Giving is a by-product and outgrowth of Christian unity. Our text begins with Luke’s description of the church at Jerusalem as being of “one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). Sharing flows from unity, and it also enhances unity (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Corinthians 9:11-15; Philippians 1:3-5). I have pointed out elsewhere that the term “fellowship” is frequently used in reference to sharing financially with others. Our text helps us to understand why “fellowship” is often financial. Fellowship is partnership. Our union in Christ makes us all partners, so we should naturally (rather, supernaturally) desire to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Giving need not be restricted to cash on hand. Our text makes it very clear that we should consider all our possessions as potential resources for giving to those in need. All too often we tend to think of our giving only in terms of what is left at the end of the month. Our text in Acts should correct this kind of thinking. All our possessions are potential resources to meet the needs of others. We may have an extra car, for instance, which we can give, loan, or sell to help a brother or sister in need. Sharing should not be limited to material possessions. We should also be liberal in giving our time, our energies, and our spiritual gifts to those whose needs we can meet.
Giving is a form of encouragement. Barnabas sold his property and gave the proceeds to the apostles to meet the needs of others. Luke is careful to inform us that Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement.” How often a gift to one in need can be an encouragement to them. I have personally been encouraged by the gifts of others, and I have seen others who have been greatly encouraged in an hour of need by a timely gift, given in Jesus’ name. It says, “God cares about you, and so do we.”
Christians can give for the wrong reasons. Jesus warns us about giving for the wrong reasons in Matthew 6:1-4:
Organizations, individuals, and even churches can solicit funds by appealing to wrong motivations. It is sad to say that there are all too many who appeal for funds or donations by appealing to motives which are unbiblical. Sometimes giving becomes a kind of competition to see who can give the most (and receive praise from men for doing so). Sometimes people are prompted to give by the promise of getting something in return (which might even be a plaque, displayed in a prominent place – hardly preventing your left hand from knowing what the right is doing). The unscrupulous may solicit contributions from people (including the very poor) by promising that God will reward them many fold with riches. We should be very careful not to cause a brother to stumble by tempting him with improper motivations for giving.
Giving should be with singleness of purpose. Our text helps me to better understand Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:6-8. Translations differ significantly in Romans 12:8. The term rendered “with sincerity” by the NET Bible is rendered “with liberality” in the NKJV. The ESV renders it “in generosity”; the NIV “generously.” The King James Version renders it, “with simplicity,” and this is the translation I prefer. When I looked up the Greek term haplotes in my Greek Lexicon, I found this definition: “Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas.’” I believe that “simplicity” or “singleness and sincerity of motive” leads to generosity. It seems clear to me that Ananias and Sapphira had dual (and even opposing) motives for their gift, which led to their hypocrisy. They were seeking to meet the needs of others while at the same time seeking their own carnal need for recognition.
Second, our text challenges the “prosperity gospel,” so popular today. The “Good Life Gospeleers” promise health, wealth, and prosperity to those who are spiritual, and especially those who are “spiritual” (generous) in their giving (to the one making this promise). Our text teaches otherwise. Think of it; this was the early, pristine New Testament church. The church in Jerusalem is made up of Spirit-filled Christians who are bold in proclaiming their faith and generous in their giving. But the fact is that the church has many members who are poor.16 They are Spirit-filled people, and yet they are poor. The whole church is not rich, as the “prosperity gospel” preachers promise us. God does not make everyone in the church rich; He provides for the essential needs of His people through the sacrificial giving of other saints. The saints who give money lay it at the feet of the apostles, to give to the poor. Thus Peter can honestly say to the beggar in chapter 3, “I have no silver or gold” (Acts 3:6). Piety does not keep us from poverty, nor does it guarantee that we will be rich in this world’s goods. God does care for the poor, and so should His saints. The prosperity He grants us enables us to minister to others, knowing that at some point in time the shoe may be on the other foot (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
Third, our text underscores the necessity and importance of maintaining purity in the local church. The church at Corinth had a member who was living in immorality with his father’s wife. Instead of being grieved and ashamed, and taking disciplinary action, the church was proud of its liberality and did nothing (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Paul was shocked and horrified by the report of this situation in the Corinthian church. They should have responded by removing this sinner from their midst. Even from a distance, Paul personally exercised church discipline, and urged the church to follow his example. Sin that is tolerated in the church corrupts the church. It must be removed, for the sake of holiness, for the sake of the sinner, for the sake of the gospel, and for the good of the church. I believe that our text in Acts is the first instance of discipline in the early church, and it is meant to teach us the necessity of maintaining purity in the church. If we take the sin of Ananias and Sapphira lightly and are shocked (as some “scholars” are) at the severity of God’s response to their hypocrisy, then it says more about us than about Peter and the church in Jerusalem.
Fourth, we are to learn that purity in the church actually promotes growth. Some (not all, hopefully) “seeker-friendly” churches avoid taking any disciplinary action because they fear that it will dampen the “feel-good” mood they are trying to create. They fear that the church will not grow if it takes a hard line on sin. They are wrong. True growth – growth by evangelism – takes place in the soil of purity, not in the soil of indulgence and indifference (Acts 5:12-15). There are three “greats” in our text: “great power” and “great grace” (Acts 4:33); and “great fear” (Acts 5:5, 11). While the term “great” is not found in verse 14 (above), I think it would be safe to say: Great power, plus great grace, plus great fear, facilitates great growth. Purity does not hinder growth; it promotes it.
Fifth, our text reminds us how much God hates hypocrisy. In the final analysis, our text is not primarily about generosity, but about hypocrisy. God is not trying to scare us into giving. Ananias and Sapphira did not have to sell their property, nor did they need to give any of the proceeds of the sale to the church. They are not disciplined for “holding back” on God; they are disciplined for their hypocrisy – for lying to the church and to the Holy Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira sinned by trying to appear more pious than they were by lying about the amount of their gift. The Gospels of the New Testament contain our Lord’s strong words of rebuke for hypocrites.17 Somehow, hypocrisy is not taken as seriously by Christians today as it was by our Lord. Perhaps one reason is because all of us are guilty of this sin, and we’d rather focus on the sins of others. But why was hypocrisy the first sin to be dealt with in the early church, and why were the consequences so severe for Ananias and Sapphira? I believe it is because hypocrisy is lying, and lying is contrary to the truth. Our Lord Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). The Spirit of God is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 16:13). It is He who “guides us into all the truth” (John 16:13). It is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). We are sanctified by the truth (John 17:17). The church is the “support and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Satan, on the other hand, is a liar, and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). The truth is foundational to everything that relates to the Christian faith. To tolerate lying (hypocrisy) is to undermine the church. It is relatively easy to condemn the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, but let us recognize that we are all hypocrites, and hypocrisy takes many forms. In our text, hypocrisy is seeking to appear more spiritual to others than you really are. One of the most popular excuses unbelievers employ to justify their rejection of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith is: “the church is full of hypocrites.” In truth, it is. The marvel is that God saves hypocrites, just as He saves liars, murderers, and the very worst of mankind (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We would do well to give serious thought to the ways in which we mask our sins and seek to look more pious than we really are. Let Ananias and Sapphira be a warning to us that God hates hypocrisy.
Sixth, while the Spirit of God indwells the church, Satan is also at work in the church. We should not be surprised to find the Spirit of God deeply involved in the church (Ephesians 2:21-22). The Spirit is so much a part of the church that lying to the church is equivalent to lying to the Spirit. What is a bit more surprising is to find Satan actively involved in opposing the truth. He who is the father of lies seeks to promote falsehood in the church (compare 1 Timothy 4:1). While Satan is actively involved in promoting Ananias’ deception (Acts 5:3), it is likewise clear that this sin originated in his own heart (Acts 5:4; James 1:14-15). We must guard our hearts, lest Satan catch us in his evil schemes (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).
Seventh, our text gives us some additional insight into the subject of the submission of the wife to her husband. It seems clear in our text that a wife’s submission to her husband does not include participation in his sin. Sapphira should have dealt with her husband’s sin as Matthew 18:15-20 instructs. She was in no way obliged to become her husband’s accomplice in this sin. Peter gave Sapphira the opportunity to confess her role in this deception and to tell the truth. When she chose to stand by her husband in his sin, she died (Acts 5:8-9). This expression, “agreed together,” is the translation of a Greek word from which the English word “symphony” is derived. It means to “be of one mind.” Isn’t that ironic? The “unity” of Acts 4:32 resulted in sacrificial giving to the needy. The “unity” of Acts 5:9 is a unity of a very different kind, resulting in sin and death. Here is an illegitimate unity. A wife is not obligated to support her husband in sin. Sapphira dies because she did support her husband’s sin. Satan always has his counterfeits. I was reminded of counterfeit unity (Proverbs 1:11-16). How different this “unity” is from the unity we find in Acts. May God grant us the kind of unity which glorifies Him, and which prompts us to have fellowship with our brothers and sisters by responding sacrificially to their needs.
(Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/subtraction-leads-multiplication-8211-first-instance-church-discipline-acts-432%E2%80%94511)
While we may not understand exactly how the Spirit works in the church or what he is up to all the time, church business is serious business. Faith and fraud cannot coexist. For this reason, when we allow the Spirit to lead us, we will be genuine givers like Barnabas, not sly and deceitful like Ananias and Sapphira. Dishonesty within the church can destroy it entirely and must be dealt with severely. The very thought of doing a good deed to receive kudos and honors violates the spirit of charity. As Jesus taught, when we give for relief of the poor, it should be so private that our left hand doesn’t know about the money our right hand put in the offering basket (Matthew 6:3). This requires a delicate balance of being a witness at the same time (5:16). But when we yield our hearts to the Spirit, we know that he sees our deeds and blesses them (6:4).
The First Church - The first church in Jerusalem had a beautiful, Spirit-filled attitude. Everyone looked out for one another. They saw their possessions as belonging to the Lord and shared them. No one went without what they needed. People sold their personal property and gave the income to the apostles to distribute to those in need.
Dishonesty in the Church - Luke held up one person as an example of notable giving: Joseph, also called Barnabas. Ananias and his wife Sapphira saw the accolades given to Barnabas and wanted the same praise, but they were dishonest. They sold property, but held back part of the money while acting as they had sacrificially given it all. Peter, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, confronted Ananias. Instead of praise, Peter uncovered his dishonesty. Peter said Satan worked in this man's heart. Ananias wanted public praise; instead, he got rebuked in front of everyone for lying to the Holy Spirit. The couple did not have to give their money to the church; they were free to do as they pleased. However, they were proud people wanting the praise of other Christians to inflate their spiritual ego.
Refuse to Test God - After Peter's rebuke, Ananias suddenly died. God likely allowed this tragedy to keep such impurity, scandal, and satanic activity from infiltrating the first church. Sadly, Sapphira was in partnership with her husband and told Peter the same story, so she also died. This is a grim reminder— do not play games with God. We should ask Him to search our motives and make sure that what we do for Him is truly for Him and not just for the praise of others.