It's Not About You ~ Acts 5: 1-11
Up until this point – the book of Acts is primarily victories and celebrations. Every event is filled with redemption/salvations, courage, prayer, healings, and a growing community. Yet – the church is not perfect, and God is still Holy. As the church grows – so does the threat of scandal.
In spite of all these wonderful events - the New covenant church is not without accountability and discipline before God. The enemies of God attempted to stop the church from the outside (chap. 3-4 - and failed), now Satan attacks from within. So do not forget, church; we have an enemy!
Chapter four ended with Barnabas (son of encouragement) selling his property and putting the money at the Apostle's feet. This is set up - to give a stark contrast to the actions of Ananias and Sapphira. Many of the Jews being saved were from faraway places and now needed shelter and provisions. Converting to this new 'religion' meant certain banishment from their Jewish communities and synagogues. (Not only that – but they expected Jesus to return at any moment). Therefore, many new wealthy Christians were voluntarily selling their properties to help sustain the growth.
People were excited to be caught up in the mission of the church and to be recipients of all God had poured out on them, which made them willing to part with anything they had in order to increase the kingdom. They sold their homes and lands and gave the proceeds to help the poor – anything to bear witness to Christ - but it wasn't required of any. (R.C. Sproul)
As we can expect – with the giving of these gifts – there would be an opening for pride (Satan – v.3) and selfish motives to sneak in. This was an opportunity to be celebrated by the Apostles of Jesus! Churches today advertise themselves as ‘A place where everyone is celebrated.’
We humans so quickly make even our best intentions into personal parades. What can I get out of this? How can I get my needs (for praise, affirmation, comfort) met? Jesus warned us of this temptation saying, "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing! (Matthew 6:3).
It appears that Ananias and Sapphira were more interested in personal praise/interest than willfully, excitingly supporting the church. They wanted praise and their money – their motivations were deceitful. But you cannot deceive God (2 Chronicles 16:9) – thinking you can is making yourself wiser and greater than Him.
There are echoes of Adam and Eve's temptation here – 'Did God really say? Will God really know? Does it REALLY matter?'
Although this couple claims that they have set the entire proceeds before the Apostles, they have kept back some of the money. The verb for "kept back" is the same used for Achan's act in holding the spoil in Jericho (Joshua 7:1).
Like Achan - Ananias, and Sapphira thought God would not know. They intentionally schemed for personal praise. They were lying to the Spirit and the Church. They were putting the whole mission in jeopardy by offending and violating a Holy God. In Joshua 7, it was just one man, Achan, who brought judgment on all Israel. Hear how God describes it:
Joshua 7: 10-13, "The Lord said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. "Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them."
It is a dangerous thing to interject ourselves into the place of a Holy God. Ananias and Sapphira claimed to be doing a noble thing – for God – but in their hearts, they wanted the praise and worship. They wanted the church to notice THEM. A similar thing happened to the Sons of Aaron (Israel's high priest and second in command to Moses).
Leviticus 10: 1-3, "Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So, fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: "'Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.' "Aaron remained silent."
In their 'noble intentions,' they added to the Holy incense…something out of their own wisdom. "Let's add a little eucalyptus to the incense… this stuff God commanded is getting old...I HAVE A BETTER IDEA!" The second we say "I have a better idea – let’s ADD to God’s word” to what God has commanded – we swap places with Him. We make it about US. We steal from God. We act deceitfully.
God has made His commands for our benefit. We cannot step into His Holiness without purification (done by the blood of Christ). We are unclean – and His Holiness will strike us dead. God has made provisions for us to interact with Him – He has shown us grace in His laws. This is demonstrated to the nth degree in 2 Samuel 6:7 when Uzzah tried to stop the Ark from following off the ox cart by catching it with his hand.
2 Samuel 6:7, "The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore, God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God."
From infancy, Jews are told NOT to touch the Ark – for it is Holy. Uzzah, in noble intentions, desires to keep the Ark from touching the 'unclean' ground. Yet, Uzzah forgot – the ground was not the only thing unclean. Uzzah had no right or ability to handle the Ark. His unholiness angered the Lord – because God is perfect justice.
Now, what makes us think that Ananias and Sapphira were going to be let off the hook for their blatant sacrilege? Church, I would be a fool and failing at my job if I did not warn you about such hypocrisy! "God will not be mocked. A person reaps what they sow" (Galatians 6:7).
We will not get away with such self-worship – making God's church, God's worship, God's people – about us. (This is why communion is so serious and important to evaluate yourself before taking it).
For Ananias and Sapphira, the judgment of God was instant. I think this was for a few reasons. First, to remind the early church of God's continual Holiness. Yahweh is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Second, to protect the church from further scandal at such a volatile stage. Sin begets more sin. (Like with Achan, God cannot be with an impure people – therefore, He quickly and gracious, removes the satanic presence/defilement).
God will protect His church – from prison (chapter 4) and the schemes of the Devil. This is why Paul and Peter, in their epistles, exhort the church to 'be on your guard!' – for Satan is looking for someone to devour (and influence against God's church). Yet God will overcome and thwart every insider attempt – in His time. God will separate the “wheat from the tares” – “sheep from the goats.”
And third, to show what authentic Church leadership looks like. Peter did not give in to the pressure of money or popularity. Ananias and Sapphira were likely high rollers – wealthy members/tithers. It would be easy for Peter to overlook their need for self-praise out of fear of making budget. But – that is not what Peter did – He called it out – He exposed the sin – and trusted God to provide. If only more Elders and Pastors had this kind of conviction and impartiality! (Some of you may think I am hard on our church in this area – can you see why?)
Let's not forget, God doesn't NEED our money or possessions – He asks us to give because of what it does to US. Tithing is designed to teach us self-denial, stewardship, and sacrifice. God uses our means to accomplish His ends because it keeps us dependent on Him – for HIS glory.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted the church to know, "Yeah, God is awesome – but so are we – in fact, you guys would not have that nice new building if not for us. Do you know the Ananias and Sapphira Library? Pretty sweet, isn't it? That was us!"
Beloved, if there is any lesson from Ananias and Sapphira, it is this: It's NOT about YOU! It's NOT about ME! It's about God alone! Anything that points to another (besides God) is idolatry (Exodus 20:3). That is the sin here. That is the sin at the root of everything. Pride – self memorialization – idol-making – self-worship! Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord. That is my name, and I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
John Calvin said, "We are ALL idol factories from our mother's womb!" We put our name on everything. We want to be remembered, revered, honored.
This is why I don't like being called "Reverend Johnston." Don't revere me! Revere God alone! This is why we must be so careful with any memorization in our church. Beloved, don't you know that when you give – your time, your money, your possessions, it is not yours? It never was! It is God's – to be used by God as He pleases. So, we need to stop putting memos and plaques on our offerings!
' Use this money, but only 'in memorial' or with my name on it or so and so's name.' Am I buggin' you? Good – because it's that serious! When we make things about us, we agree with the lie of the Devil who said to Adam and Eve – "Don't you know God is holding back on you? You deserve to know what He knows. You deserve to be remembered. Everyone loves you! You have worked so hard, given so much. You deserve this!"
These are lies! Lies we have ALL fallen for. Repent of this, church. Thank God for His mercy that He has not struck us all dead (He knows we deserve it). But God has shown us grace – do not test His patience. As Peter did, I am telling you now if you are doing church for YOU, YOUR needs, YOUR praise, YOUR memorial, YOUR legacy, etc.… Repent now. Come clean. Do not lie to the Holy Spirit. Submit all YOUR desires to the feet of the cross. Become a Barnabas, leave it to God, and trust His leadership.
Here is the reality, church, spoken by Moravian missionary Count Zinzendorf “Remember, you must never use your position to lord it over anyone. Instead, you must humble yourself and earn respect through your own quiet faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian must seek nothing for himself, no seat of honor or hope of fame. Like the cabhorse in London, each of you must wear blinkers that blind you to every danger and to every snare and conceit. You must be content to preach the gospel, die, and to be forgotten.”
Yet we know every work, praise, and dollar for Christ is never forgotten – never in vain. It simply flows in the great sea that is the eternal glory of God. We don’t remember Count Zinzendorf for his accomplishments, money, or fame - rather we remember people like him for their devotion and humility before God. Their desire to lose their lives, name, fame, memory - so that Christ may be exalted.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).