Missions Giving - To Show our Heart - Acts 4:32-5:11
Our second lesson in this series deals with giving towards missions. The Bible says in Matthew 6:21 that where your treasure is, there your heat will be also. If we live as if our treasure is something we can store up here on earth, we will not give as God commands. But, if we see our treasure as something we can put in the bank of eternity, then our giving will reflect that. Our giving shows where our heart is. Do we give anything? Do we give up to the 10% tithe? Do we give more, over our tithe as an offering? Today’s lesson will delve deeper into this and will show us why we should have a heart for giving to God.
Division #1: The church is unified in its faith and its heart.
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. 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 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.
As we study missions, central to our understanding is that that missions cannot be accomplished without the financial resources to accomplish such. Jesus himself gave the church His marching orders when He gave us our Great Commission:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19
The church and each believer within it are tasked with this directive, so we must agree that it is our job to go, but it is implied in the text that we must also give. The reality is that whenever we go, it costs us money. It costs money just to drive to the store, much less fly around the world. To take the good news to people groups who have never come into contact with the good news of Jesus’ Salvation is expensive. It is giving that we will study today, specifically giving towards missions, and how that is a reflection of our heart.
In our first division, we take a look at the early church, and how they viewed their possessions. It is plain to see in this text that they were not greedy, and they looked at everything they had as something else that could be used to further God’s kingdom. Their belongings were not things to hoard, but things to use to keep the church growing and to use to minister to others. The first verse shows the depth of the church’s spiritual conviction and understanding. Now, it needs to be stated that this was not an early form of “Communism” as some suggest. Each maintained their own houses, their own jobs, but they saw everything God had given them as a tool to further the work of His church, and they were obliged to minister to those they saw in need, from the conviction of the Holy Spirit to each individual. They did not do this as a requirement, but out of love. They loved with their hearts and acted on that with their wallets. The verb tense used here proves this. It does not imply that upon becoming a Christian, they sold everything in one lump sum, and then donated it to the church. They managed their assets, were truly one with the body of Christ, and if a need arose that they could help with, they would liquidate something and bring the money to the church, for the apostles to deliver as the Holy Spirit guided them. Greed was not a word that was used with these believers.
We can learn from this. They held on to their possessions with an open hand. When they saw a need, either on their own or identified by the apostles, they would spring into action. If we take this text in its entirety, we see a spiritual truth that we can trace most sin back to pride. Greed’s origin is pride. We in America have been so blessed. We have so much that it’s easy to forget God; instead, we take the credit for getting what we have. We take pride in what we have, what we can do, what we say, what we learn, the friends we have, the social circles we run in, and attribute it to our own superiority, our own accomplishments. This is what the Bible warns us against. This is exceptionally dangerous! Everything we have was given to us to steward for God. When He asks us to give back, that’s exactly what it is, giving back. He gave it all to us, we should be more than happy to just give back a portion.
Think about it this way. When you give your money to the bank, you expect it to gain interest, and 100% of it to be available to you anytime you want it. God gives us everything we have and only asks that we pass back a small percentage. The spiritual truth to this is that the more we give back to him, the more he gives to us to steward.
We see these early believers totally understanding this. Luke shows us that these church members were so wrapped up in being “On Mission” to their local area, that when they saw a sister or brother hurting or in need, they sprang to action. Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:12 that we are all part of the same body of believers. In Romans 12:4 we see the same thing. Just like if you have a cut on your arm, you dress the wound, care for it, put a Band-Aid on it, and rejoice when it heals; this church operated the same way. When one member was hurting, when a need arose to send assistance to other churches, or to spread the mission of the church, this church took action and met the need.
It is also important for us to understand the literary work of Luke, who is the author of Acts. He was a masterful writer and usually introduces us to a character in a minor way, to then expound on them later in his writings. He does this in verses 32-37. He not only introduces us to Barnabas, but he also sets the stage for the next chapter, which is meant to be a stark contrast to the lives and hearts of these believers.
1: Believers who entrust everything to God and who share everything with each other will never have to worry about provision. God’s design is for each of us to be a community project.
Application Question: Do I manage my possessions to be used for the furtherance of God’s kingdom? If not, what changes can I incorporate in my life to be able to “give like no one else”?
Division #2: Barnabas the Levite.
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.
To begin our second division, we will learn a little about who Barnabas was. We are told that he was a Levite, so he was of the priestly lineage. He would have been familiar with the internal operations of the temple, which may have been why he and Paul got along so famously. We also learn he was from the island of Cyprus, so he was from outside the borders of Israel, but had moved back to Jerusalem. He may have moved back to Jerusalem due to the political climate in Cyprus. A few years later Roman Emperor Claudius would even issue an edict to expel all the Jews from Rome. Historically, from the writings Suetonius in his “Life of Claudius” we know this edict happened in 49 AD, and was because the Jews were arguing and rioting concerning some person called “Chrestus”. (His writing could be referring to Christ) Rather than let the Jewish disagreement and rioting affect the country, Claudius required all the Jews to leave Italy. He may also have moved to Jerusalem during Jesus’ life, and just stayed because of his Christian conversion and stayed with the growing church.
We also see that his given name was Joseph, but we see that the apostles surnamed him, Barnabas. They must have known him already because giving him this surname implied that they knew him well enough to do so. There is non-biblical information (from the writings of Clement of Alexandria) that seems to speculate that Joseph (Barnabas) was among the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in Luke 10:1, but that cannot be confirmed within the words of Scripture. People even today change their names or give people nicknames, though not to the extent it was done in Biblical times where names were “officially” changed. We do however give people pet names or nicknames, because of something they do or are. In 1985, the Chicago Bears football team went to the Superbowl to play against the New England Patriots. This team, more than any, knew the power of the media. Before the internet, before Facebook and YouTube, they produced a song called “The Superbowl Shuffle” and it “went viral”. On that team was a guy who got an awesome nickname, much the way Barnabas got his. His name was William Anthony Perry. Born in Aiken, South Carolina, during his college years he played football on the
National Championship winning Clemson Tigers team in 1981, and was later drafted into the NFL in the first round in 1985. During his freshman year at Clemson, he and teammate Ray Brown were getting on an elevator. When Brown couldn’t fit in it with Perry he said: “Man, you're about as big as a refrigerator.” From then on, Anthony was dubbed “The Refrigerator”. You might know him as William “The Fridge” Perry.
In much the same way, Joseph, known for his encouraging spirit, was dubbed “Barnabas” by the apostles, and that name stuck. We also see God changing people’s names in the Bible as well. While the main persecutor of the church “Saul of Tarsus”, was on his way to Damascus to arrest some Christians, Jesus met him on the road and his name was later changed to Paul. In Genesis, God met with a foreigner from Ur, and changed his name from Abram to Abraham.
There is also a matter of the word that is translated encouragement in the NIV. This word in Greek is parakaleo (par-ak-al-eh'-o) which means imploration, hortation, solace, comfort, consolation, or exhortation. So it can be translated that he was a brother known for consolation or encouragement. It could also be possible that it is translated that he was a great speaker, recognizing his ability or giftedness as a preacher or missionary, as we see later in Acts 13:1-5 as he teaches at the church in Antioch and then again as he becomes a missionary to his home island of Cyprus.
We lastly learn that he sold land that was his property. This is of particular importance because we learned that he was a Levite, and Levites were not allowed to own land. Numbers 18:20 tells us: “Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.” And Numbers 18:24 says “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.” So how was a Levite allowed to own property? We can guess that either the restriction for a Levite to own property did not extend to property located outside of the Promised Land, or that by this time the Jews no longer observed that law, as evidenced in Jeremiah 32:6-15 where God tells Jeremiah (a Levite) to purchase land from his uncle.
It also says he laid the donation at the feet of the apostles. Elsewhere in Scripture, a person’s feet were the personification of their power and influence. If you fell at a person’s feet, it was a sign of respect and compliance. We see this in Esther 8:3 and 1 Samuel 25:24. In the same action, he laid the gift at their feet, which was acknowledging that he was entrusting them with all authority and power over the gift and that he was subservient to them as well. It is this picture of Barnabas that is so beautiful. What he had to donate, he did. He did not earmark it for a certain thing, he just gave and let the apostles under the direction of the Holy Spirit use it accordingly.
1: We should be known by our encouragement, not discouragement, of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Application Question: What changes in my attitude and speech could make others look at me as an encourager in Christ?
Division #3: Integrity in giving to God.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 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. 3 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? 4 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.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” 9 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.
Moving into our last division, it is important to understand that when the Bible was written, they did not write in chapter and verse, it was one long letter. As we see the beginning of Chapter five, it is really the next paragraph in this story that Luke is telling, and it seems that it was meant to be a warning and in contrast to the earlier story about the early church and Barnabas.
We start this chapter and we are introduced to a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira. It is implied that they too were active members of the church, and were known by both members of the church and the apostles. Specifically, Luke knew them and their names, and Peter also knew them and knew about them. They might have been well off since they did have a piece of property that they sold. Their wealth is not important, but their actions, which were in stark contrast to Barnabas’, tells us about their motives and desires, and is a caution to us about misrepresenting ourselves and letting ourselves be used as a tool by the evil one.
Because Luke records this, we learn about how we should give, and what our real motives should be. Up to this point in Luke’s writing, he has told us about the church is off to an awesome start, with everyone united in its mission; but now in one moment the church is attacked from within and without. Verse 2 tells us that Ananias and Sapphira had a valuable piece of land, they sold it and, and then with full knowledge of Sapphira, Ananias gave a portion of it to the church. He also, exactly like Barnabas, laid the gift at the feet of the apostles. If the story stopped right here, Luke may have written about Barnabas and this couple in the same sentence, but that is not what happened. Where Barnabas had laid the offering down as a picture of humbly returning gifts entrusted by God, theirs was a picture of prideful attention seeking, shouting, “look at me!” They sold it for a certain amount of money and then brought a portion of it to the church, but in a grand show of bringing this offering, he told everyone that they were bringing the entire amount of the sale. They lied.
Greed is a powerful motivator. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. There is a similar story about greed and judgment in the Old Testament in Joshua Chapter 7. Achan, in direct disobedience to God’s commands, kept some spoils of war. He found a robe, silver, and gold after the Battle of Jericho, and hid it in his tent. God’s anger burned against the entire nation of Israel, and when Joshua finally found out who the guilty party was, he, his family, and all his possessions along with the plunder were stoned and burned. God knows that greed is a trait that must be dealt with.
Verse 3 records Peter’s reply. We do not know how Peter knew all the details. The Holy Spirit could have given him this discernment, or he could have been privy to land exchange details, or maybe another church member was the purchaser, or he might have gone through the estate sale records the night before. Regardless of how Peter was informed of the details, I can only imagine the look on Ananias’ face when Peter challenged him with the truth. Peter’s word here are especially pointed and very clear, Ananias’ heart had been filled by Satan. WOW! Imagine the bystanders here looking at each other and saying, “Did Peter just say what I think he just said?” There are two points that should be detailed. The first is the verb Peter uses for filled (pleroo) is the same verb used in Ephesians 5:18 that says we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. The second point is that this is the first recorded appearance of Satan since the death and resurrection of Jesus, and here Satan is attacking the church. This attack came from within, from Ananias, and from without, by Satan. This shows how scared Satan was of the early church. He was using any of his schemes to derail what was going on there. Peter also said that by misrepresenting the gift, Ananias had lied to God. So, Ananias was filled with Satan and lied to God. In one grand move, he has gone from a grand giver with an inflated ego to being exposed as a greedy liar.
The following verse tells us that Peter then questioned the motives for the lie. “Wasn’t it yours to do with as you wanted?” he asks. Why come here and make a big show and lie about it? You could have just kept the money, you didn’t have to bring a portion here and lie about what you were giving! Since we cannot read the inflections of his voice, he could either be speaking very accusatory here, or he could be really speaking with a voice of heartbreak. This has disrupted the harmony within the church. Peter knew the implications here, he was no fool. He knew this was a big deal, and I think it broke his heart. Peter had spent so much time with these people, shepherding and pastoring them under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and it probably pained him deeply not only to be lied to his face, to be forced to call this guy out, in front of others, as a liar to not only the church and him but more importantly to the Holy Spirit and God. However, regardless of how much it pained him to do so, he acted in the best interests of the church by confronting the lie. It is easy for Christians to look the other way, to not treat sin as hurtful as it actually is. We should never forget that we are accountable to a holy and perfect God, and He takes sin VERY seriously. He took it so seriously that He sent His Son to die an agonizing death on a Roman cross for our sin.
Upon Peter finishing his sentence, Ananias fell down dead. Scripture does not tell us the details, only that upon hearing the words Peter spoke, his heart stopped and Ananias went on to eternal judgment, as defined in Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”. To look at the original language of this verse, we also see that the verb used here for Ananias’ death (ekpsucho) is not usually the verb used for a natural death or heart attack, but it is the verb seemingly reserved for death by a divine judgment. This is the same verb that is used in Acts 12:23 when Herod Agrippa I is dealt with by God, for not giving God the glory He is due.
Verse six gives us a picture of some young men who were standing nearby, possibly helping out with church business, when this event took place. Showing the church was bonded in unity, they were willing to assist in any way they could. Because Jewish custom was for bodies to be buried on the same day they died, these young men quickly took the body away and buried Ananias. While it is unusual for the spouse to know nothing of the death and burial, it can be assumed that the speed by which Ananias’ body was dealt with was because he had been dealt with by God. There is a scriptural precedent to this as shown in Leviticus 10:1-5 when Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered “profane fire” at the altar, were struck dead by God and were immediately taken outside of the camp with no time of mourning before their burial.
A period of 3 hours lapsed and Sapphira enters the scene. Why she is here we are not told, she might have been looking for Ananias or she may have been summoned to come before Peter. Maybe she thought she was coming to receive some honor for giving that monetary offering. I can imagine her strutting into where Peter was, anticipating the pats on the back and the praise that she had seen Barnabas receive earlier. Maybe she was a bit stunned to not see Ananias anywhere, but she might have thought he was with someone else important, receiving his own accolades of generosity. Peter asked her directly if the amount offered was the entire sum that they had sold the land for. I imagine that the moment that question left Peter’s mouth, her heart began to beat fast. This could go one of two ways, either they know Ananias and she were lying, or they wanted to make a spectacle of their generosity. In all honesty, the literal moment of truth was upon her, and she, like her husband, had an epic fail; she lied too. Again, this must have stung Peter harshly. Here was someone he knew, lying not only to his face but to God too. Imagine how deep this must have penetrated his heart. Imagine the pain in his voice. You see, Peter had lied too. All four Gospel accounts record in detail that when Jesus was on trial for his life, Peter lied three times, saying and swearing that he did not know Jesus. Peter might have seen Jesus’ eyes when he lied, seen the hurt of how his lies hurt Jesus. For sure in John 21 we see that in contrast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. When I play that scene in my mind, I see the breakfast that Jesus cooked there by the shore, I see Jesus and Peter sitting across each other by the fire, and each time Jesus asks Peter “do you love me?”, Peter recounts each lie he told, and in Jesus’ eyes, he sees not only Jesus’ pain but also Jesus’ forgiveness. Because this issue was so close to Peter’s history, I hear his words to Sapphira so filled with hurt. “How could you…” he said. Peter then told her that, like her husband, she has lied to God, only this time he says she has lied to the Holy Spirit.
This is an interesting choice of words Peter chose because this verse confirms that the Holy Spirit and God are both equal, both divine, both are God. In the same way, he uses “God” when he spoke to Ananias, he used “Holy Spirit” with Sapphira. Like her husband before her, as soon as Peter responds to her lie, she falls down dead from God’s judgment, and the same young men that carried out her husband, carry her out and bury her as well.
The main point is that their sin was not in their giving; it was the lying about their giving. They were grandstanding in front of everybody, making a grand donation and saying they had given all, but they really didn’t. Their heart was full of greed when it should have been full of the desire to help others. Like King Agrippa, they wanted the glory and were not content to give it to God who alone is due all glory. When we have been asked if we give our tithe, should we worry about how we have responded in the past? Do we need to ask forgiveness for those times we have acted like we tithe, knowing that we do not? What processes can we put in place so that when we are asked if we tithe, we can say with all honesty, with a clean conscious, and with the Holy Spirit as our witness and that, yes, we do tithe?
The application here is that they wanted the honor Barnabas received in the previous chapter, but they lied. They claimed they gave it all, but they didn’t. Pretending to hold to moral standards or beliefs without conforming behavior is the dictionary definition of “hypocrisy”, and it is hypocrisy that is the real danger.
3: If believer’s hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit, then hypocrisy and selfish motives have no room in their hearts to dwell.
Application Question: Am I honest when asked about my tithing or offerings to God and His church? If not, what can I do to make my giving congruent with how I want to answer the question about my tithing and offerings?