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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 6, 2005
Living Among Believers
Jesus told His disciples in John 13:34,35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” We will see again this morning that those that made up the early church took this to heart and did demonstrate their love for one another in very practical ways. Their example is a good challenge for us to follow in our own lives.
A corollary to this principle is that there is a legitimate reason to question whether a person is a follower of Christ when that love is absent. Sadly, we find in our own time that too many Christians are caught up in worldliness so that it seems to be more common to find a lack of love rather than an abundance of love among professing believers. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that God dealt so strongly with the first elements of worldliness that entered into the early church. We will see that this morning as well as the effect it had on both the early church and the larger Jewish community. Turn to Acts 4:32 as we begin our study of what it was like living among the believers of the early church.
Caring for One Another (4:32-37)
As we begin this section remember that this is only a very short time after the amazing events of the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and the church was born. Peter preached a powerful sermon and God graciously saved about 3,000. These early believers quickly established the priorities of church life in devoting themselves to the apostles doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of the bread (communion) and prayer. They were bold witnesses for Christ and God continued to add to their number daily.
Then a day came when as Peter and John were going to the temple to pray they healed a man who had been lame for over 40 years. The sight of this man walking and leaping about drew a large crowd and Peter preached another powerful sermon emphasizing Jesus’ resurrection. This greatly disturbed the priests, captain of the temple and the Sadducees who arrested them and put them in jail. Even with the start of persecution more people were saved and added to the church for a total of about 5,000 men.
The next day they questioned Peter and John about their healing of the lame man. Peter made it clear that the lame man was healed by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom they had crucified, but God had raised from the dead, and that salvation was only found in Jesus. The Sanhedrin did not like that answer, but because they were afraid of the people who were glorifying God because of the healing, they could only threaten Peter and John to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John made it equally clear that they would obey God rather than man and would continue telling people about Jesus Christ.
After they were released and returned to the other believers they prayed for God to take note of the threat, but to grant them boldness to speak for God and to continue the healings, signs and wonders that He was doing. God granted their request and they were speaking the word of God with boldness.
It is in this context we now come to Acts 4:32 and get a glimpse into their love for one another.
Sharing (32) “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one [of them] claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them.” This same point was made about them in Acts 2:44-46. Though this is a large group of 5,000 men plus women and children, they were unified “heart and soul” and continued the practice started immediately following the Day of Pentecost of meeting any needs of those in the congregation by openly and freely sharing with one another. Here in verse 32 we get the additional insight into their mindset that none of them claimed “that anything belonging to him was his own.” This is an expression of their unity and open handedness with each other. This was not something the apostles were requiring nor does it signify the abolishing of private property and pooling it as common property as in a commune. We shall see this more clearly in Chapter 5, but this is done voluntarily and generated out of their own loving concern for one another. (The verbs throughout this section are imperfect showing continued past action).
Proclaiming (33). In the midst of this environment the gospel is going forward in a powerful way. “And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The nature of the great power being used will be explained in more detail starting in Acts 5:12. Here the emphasis is the fulfillment of their prayer request in 4:29 to speak God’s word with boldness. Though they were threatened not to speak in Jesus’ name, that is exactly what they were doing and making emphasis on the fact that disturbed the religious leaders the most, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They were not doing this to be obnoxious, for there is never a reason for a believer to be obnoxious. Jesus was never obnoxious and we are followers of Him. They were doing this out of obedience to Jesus’ command to them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).
The result of their proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’ was having “abundant grace” upon them. Some have taken this to mean that God’s abundant grace was upon them. Certainly that is true in the sense that their powerful preaching was in answer to their prayer in 4:29. However, the text lacks a specific mention of God in this passage, and the verses before and after emphasize the giving nature of the people. There is no doubt that God is at work, but here the emphasis is upon abundant blessing coming through His people as they sacrifice of themselves in meeting one another’s needs. This is described in detail in verse 34, 35.
Distributing (34,35). “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.”
The Mosaic Law commanded that the poor in Israel be cared for, but it would seem by the many warnings of the prophets that it was more often that the wealthy exploited the poor instead of caring for them. (See Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:25f; Deut. 15:4f.; 24:12f. cf. Isa. 3:15; Jer. 5:28f; Ezek. 22:29f; Amos 4:1; Zech. 7:10f.). These new believers in Christ fulfilled the Mosaic commands in a way the Law could never fulfill. The love of God flowing through their hearts demonstrated itself in the very practical expression of meeting the needs of one another. Those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are to demonstrate their claim by their love for one another, as already pointed out from John 13:34,35. Both James 2:15,16 and 1 John 3:17 point out that a person who sees another in need and has the means to meet that need but withholds that practical demonstration of love is not only is useless, but as 1 John 3:17 bluntly puts it in its rhetorical question, “how does the love of God abide in him?”
These early Christians did have the love of God abiding in them and it was demonstrated by those who were owners of land or houses selling them as needs arose in order to meet those needs. This does not imply they were selling the homes they were living in. Notice it is “houses” – plural. I will point out again as I did a couple of weeks ago that this example cannot be used to support communism or a commune. The imperfect tense shows this was an action that kept occurring and not something that happened all at once as would be required under either communism or a commune situation.
Note as well here that the money raised in this way was brought to the apostles for distribution to the needy. I am sure that there was also a lot of individual giving to one another since they quickly knew each other well by meeting daily house to house and that is the nature of Christian love, but those who had a lot of resources did not set themselves up as independent charities. They trusted the apostles to be able to discern real needs from wants and to distribute what was needed accordingly. When we get to Acts 6 we will find that the church has grown to such a size that the Apostles cannot keep up with this task, so they appoint other Godly men selected by the congregation to carry our the distribution.
There is a principle here that is still important. It is easy to let your heart get ahead of your head so that you end up trying to meet someone’s claimed needs instead of their real needs, or to give to an organization that claims to be helping people, when the reality is that they are taking a large percentage of what is given before helping those with the legitimate needs. That is why it is important to take advantage of the wisdom God has given the church leaders and talk with them before you give. That is not to imply that you need permission of some type to carry out the common giving to each other that should be a part of normal Christian fellowship. However, it is to say that when the needs are beyond the common basic needs of daily life such as food, clothing and a place to sleep, you would be wise to check with the church leaders first. They may know more about the situation that you do. They also have the wisdom to discern between real need and personal wants. The person you want to help may need rebuke and correction for their irresponsibility more than physical help. The church leaders also have the ability to mobilize more people to help legitimate needs. And when it comes to helping with distant needs such as the disasters like the Hurricanes and earthquakes this year, they can direct you to organizations that are actually doing the relief work needed in a way that does glorify God. As Christians, our humanitarian efforts must also meet our primary goal of glorifying God. We give out our cups of water in Jesus’ name.
An Example (36,37). In verses 36, 37 Luke introduces us to Barnabas, who is an important figure later in Acts, as an example of one of those who sacrificially gave for the benefit of others. “And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
As the text explains, the name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” It was a common Hebrew practice to nick name someone “the son of” whatever attribute they believed characterized that individual. That is why the rashness of James and John, such as in wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans in Luke 9:53,54, were called the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). This man, Joseph, was characterized by being an encourager so he gained the moniker “Barnabas.” Luke also points out that he was Levite and from Cyprus. This shows that from the beginning of the church there were those who were of priestly line that believed in Jesus. Not all of them were like the priests at the beginning of Acts 4 that had Peter and John arrested for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. The fact that Barnabas was from Cyprus may explain why that was one of the first stops when Paul & Barnabas made the first missionary journey in Acts 13. It may also explain why he as a Levite owned land, perhaps in Cyprus. Levites could own houses (Lev. 25:32,33), but they were not supposed to own land in Israel since the Lord was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Deut. 10:9).
Whatever the reason for his owning land or where it was located, Barnabas followed the example of other believers and sold it and laid the money at the apostles feet for distribution for the needs of the other saints. It was not required. It was not forced. It was simply an expression of the heart of love for one another that existed in the early church. Those that had the ability and desire gave for the benefit of others in the body.
Dealing with Deception (5:1-11)
In Acts 5 we come to the first internal problem in the church and it was related to this practice of giving. Though Jesus had taught that giving was not to be done like the Pharisees who attracted attention to themselves when they gave alms, but rather to be done quietly (Matt. 6:1-4), there were those that did want the prestige without the sacrifice. We will also find that God’s judgement of this first hypocritical perversion is swift.
The Deception (1,2). “But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back [some] of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
First, take note that there are four people mentioned in Acts named Ananias, (which means “the Lord is gracious”), so do not confuse this man with the others that are mentioned later in Acts. Second, take note that Luke recounts this story immediately after telling about Barnabas, and by doing so he contrasts their actions with those of Barnabas.
This couple sees the reaction of the church to Barnabas actions, and probably also the actions of others that did the same. They conspire together to do the same except that they would keep some of the profit from the sale for themselves. As Peter points out later, there was nothing wrong with them keeping a part of the money. They could have kept it all. The problem was in the false impression they were trying to make before the rest of the church, the apostles, and ultimately even God. They purposed together to deceive. Ananias brought the money before the apostles in a manner similar to what Barnabas and others had done, and he laid it at the their feet
Confronting Ananias (3-6). Be aware that though you can often deceive men. You cannot deceive God, and in this case, you cannot deceive God’s representative, for Peter immediately confronts Ananias. “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back [some] of the price of the land? “While it remained [unsold,] did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.” The confrontation is direct. The judgement is swift.
Note carefully the rhetorical questions Peter asks in verse 4. The property belong to Ananias before it was sold and the money from its sale was also his after the sale. He could do with it whatever he wanted. By extension, there was no problem with Ananias keeping part of the money if he wanted to do so. There was no requirement for him to sell the property. There was no requirement for him to give all or any part of the money away to anyone. Again, this demonstrates the example of the early church cannot be used to support communes or communism both of which require you to give up your personal property to the commune or state.
If the problem was not keeping back part of the sale, then what was the problem? Though we are not told how Peter knew what Ananias had done, Peter did know and confronted him on the issue in verse 3. Satan had filled Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. The keeping back of some of the money was the evidence of the lie. Peter revealed the deception that Ananias was seeking to perpetrate which included lying to the Holy Spirit. As silly as it may sound to the godly mind, or even the rational mind, his deception included the idea that the Holy Spirit would also be deceived. At the end of verse 5 Peter makes it clear that this deception was conceived in Ananias’ heart and that it was lying to God.
A quick theological point here is that Peter equates a lie to the Holy Spirit as also a lie to God. In verse 9 Peter adds that this was putting “the Spirit of the Lord to the test.” This is a demonstration of the deity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, God and the Spirit of the Lord are all equal. In addition, the fact that the Holy Spirit can be lied to demonstrates that He is a person and not a thing or an entity without personhood. This is also shown by the fact that the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). A force cannot be grieved. Cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach serious heresy in claiming that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. You may be able to direct, harness, or overcome forces such as electricity, wind and gravity, but you cannot lie to them. You can lie to the Holy Spirit, though He will always know the truth so that your attempt at deception is futile. Let me add that “Christians” that treat the Holy Spirit as if He were a force to be manipulated are not much better than the heretical cults because their actions show their actual beliefs regardless of their doctrinal statements. They are deceiving themselves and showing great irreverence for the third person of the triune Godhead. That is a very dangerous practice with eternal consequences (Mt. 7:21-23).
God’s judgement on Ananias is swift. As he was hearing Peter’s words, he fell down and died. Note that Peter did not pronounce judgement upon him. He simply fell down and died as Peter is pointing out the sins he had committed. No wonder all those who heard about it became very fearful.
In keeping with Jewish practice they then buried Ananias quickly. Since it was a hot climate and they did not embalm, they had to bury the dead quickly because the body would rapidly decay. There is no indication of whether they sought to find his wife, Sapphira, or not. Being that Peter’s response to her when he does see her about three hours later is to ask about her knowledge of Ananias’ deception rather than telling her that Ananias had died, I lean toward the idea that they did not try to find her in order to take part in the burial. In addition, since burials were often done in a cave or a sepulcher with a removable entrance or cover so proper care could be given to the body, there would not have been a need to find her quickly.
Confronting Sapphira (7-10). Verses 7-10 record what happened to Sapphira. “Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter [said] to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out [as well].” And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
When Sapphira came in about three hours later ignorant of Ananias’ death, Peter’s first question is to establish whether she is co-conspirator to Ananias’ deception. She was, and so the very same consequence came upon her. Peter describes their sin in verse 9 as putting “the Spirit of the Lord to the test.” This is a serious sin for which Israel had been judged in the Wilderness (Num. 14:22,23; Ps. 95:8-11). This time Peter does say what will happen because of her sin, though the judgement comes from God, not Peter. She also falls down, dies, and is carried away and buried next to her husband.
There is quite a bit of speculation about whether Ananias and Sapphira were actual believers. Rather than espouse my own speculations let me just point out that generally those who say they were not Christians have an underlying motive of trying to distance themselves from any similar judgement by God upon themselves. Such judgement is a real possibility for believers regardless of the eternal destiny of Ananias and Sapphira. Believers may not be demon possessed, but they certainly can be influenced by Satan to evil otherwise there would not be need of the Spiritual Armor of Ephesians 6. Second, believers still confront their own sinful bent to be selfish and disobey God otherwise we would not have a problem with temptations (1 Cor. 10:13; James 1:14f). Remember that Paul even had to confront Peter for his sin (Gal. 2:11). Third, God chastises His children (Heb. 12:4-13), and that may even include sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:30). That God withholds such judgement is due more to His patience and longsuffering than any moral superiority on our part. Rejoice that God is forgiving, but always be mindful He judges.
The Result (11). The result, verse 11 says, “And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.” It affects both those within and without the church. Logically, we might assume that this would have a negative impact on the growth of the church. That certainly is the common wisdom that is given in much of the popular church growth literature. They advocate toleration of and catering to people’s felt needs while avoiding talking about sin, which is usually redefined anyway. Confronting sin is discouraged and practicing church discipline is eliminated. Such churches end up training their people in worldliness instead of holiness. In verses 12-16 we find that the opposite of conventional wisdom occurs.
Impacting Others (5:12-16)
Miracles & Unity (12). First, in verse 12, we find that Apostles are more bold than ever before. “And at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”
Solomon’s portico is the area in Court of the Gentiles in the Temple where Peter and John were speaking to the people after healing the lame man in Acts 3. Now we find that the other Apostles are also there and many signs and wonders among the people are taking place at their hands. They are also again unified.
Fear & Esteem (13). Verse 13 tells us the result of all of this, “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.” Though there is some difficulty in trying to clearly distinguish to whom “the rest” and “the people” refer, it is clear that there is a group of unbelievers that are afraid to associate themselves with those who believe in Jesus. They have taken the deaths of Ananias & Sapphira to heart. Even so, there is great respect for the believers among the general population, especially, as verse 12 would imply, due to the miracles the Apostles were doing. Verses 15 & 16 will expand on those miracles.
Multiplication (14). Verse 14 tells us the result of all of this. “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to [their number].” The church was multiplying. Luke can no longer make an estimate of how many people are part of the church and simply says that multitudes were constantly added. This is the opposite of the conventional wisdom about the effect of discipline for sin within the church. However, if we will remember that Jesus said that He would build His church (Matt. 16:18), then the true church can only built His way, and that includes the call to holiness. Jesus came to save people from their sin (Mt. 1:21) and sanctify them that they might be holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 5:26,27). Man’s wisdom can get a large group of religious people together, but that doesn’t make it the Church.
(Those believing in the Lord were being added – prosetivqento / prosetithento – Imperfect passive – an outside action was adding them to the church)
Healing (15,16). Verse 15 & 16 goes back to the actions taking place at Solomon’s Portico where these multitudes were meeting, but now the group was so large “to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.
The signs and wonders by the apostles continued, but the church had grown so large that there were more than could fit under Solomon’s portico. Those that desired to have their loved ones and friends healed brought them and laid them on cots and pallets in the streets where Peter might walk by and at least his shadow might fall on them. Note that the text does not say that Peter’s shadow healed anyone, but such was their belief as word continued to spread of the healings that were taking place. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ Galilean ministry where large multitudes came and Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick. And though Peter is the focus of the people’s quest for healing, verse 12 is clear that the other apostles were also performing these signs and wonders, which explains Luke additional comment in verse 16.
“And also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed.” The sick and those afflicted by demons were being brought in from around Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. This is the first indication of the church impacting any area beyond Jerusalem. But note that the text says that “they were all being healed.” There were not any exceptions. As I said a couple of weeks ago, there is a big difference between the apostolic gift of healing and the modern claims of it. At this time the purpose of these signs and wonders was being fulfilled in establishing the authority of the apostles. The apostles were healing all who came regardless of the particular disease, its cause or the faith of the individual.
Does God still heal? Certainly He does, but not as He did then through the apostles. Those claiming to do so are false. Next time you see a program by a modern faith healer, count how many are being brought in on gurneys or stretchers. Also try and count how many leave without being healed. In our age God heals according to His own mercy and grace toward an individual which is why we pray for them. All of us have seen God be merciful in this manner. He also heals according to James 5 in which a sick person calls for the Elders of the church, confesses their sins and then has the Elders anoint and pray for them. The context would indicate that the sickness would be related to the sin being confessed. I have seen Him mercifully heal this way too.
The signs and wonders of the apostles were fulfilling their purpose in establishing their authority to preach the gospel. We will see that next week as we see the effect of their actions and preaching on the Jewish religious leaders.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Wrte down each name mentioned and how many times it is said. Talk with your parents about how you can help others who have needs.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How are can people know if you are a disciple of Jesus or not? What are the major events that have occurred in Acts prior to Chapter 5? How did the early church demonstrate its love for one another? Can this passage be used to support either communism or communes? Why or why not? What was the central point of the apostles’ preaching? What “abundant grace” was upon them (vs. 33)? What prompted people to sell property? What did they do with the money? What principles from this can be applied in the church today? Why does Luke specifically point out that Joseph (Barnabas) did this? What is the significance of him being a Levite and from Cyprus? What is the contrast between Ananias and Barnabas? Was Ananias required to either sell the property or given the full price to the Apostles? Why or why not? What was Ananias’ sin? What is the significance of “lying to the Holy Spirit”? What does this passage prove about the nature of the Holy Spirit? How did Ananias die? What was Sapphira’s sin(s)? What was the effect of their deaths? What were the apostles doing in Solomon’s Portico? What was the result? How does that compare with common church growth advice today? Describe the nature of the healings performed by the apostles? Compare that with the claims / practices of modern faith healers. Does God heal today? If not, why not? If so, in what manner?
Sermon Notes – November 6, 2005
Living Among Believers – Acts 4:32-5:16
Caring for One Another (4:32-37)
An Example (36,37)
Dealing with Deception (5:1-11)
The Deception (1,2)
Confronting Ananias (3-6)
Confronting Sapphira (7-10)
The Result (11)
Impacting Others (5:12-16)
Miracles & Unity (12)
Fear & Esteem (13)
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