Summary: Sin kills the soul, the community, momentum and our witness in the world.
Most people don’t really “like” sermons on sin. They don’t like hearing them, and (at least in my case) they don’t really like preaching them. I think that is because judgmental-ism and “holier than thou” attitudes have typically characterized our discussions of sin, and often the end result has been twisted into helpless guilt, spiritual manipulation, or some other presentation that leaves us feeling like “bad little boys and girls” who have just been chastised and had better “try harder to be good” or else the big bad god in the sky will get us.
Ugh. No wonder we preachers today approach the topic with some trepidation, and often out and out avoidance. I think we in general, and I know myself in particular, struggle to know how exactly to preach on sin in an atmosphere of love – to deliver a message that is straight and true to Scripture and yet not come across as judgmental or “holier that thou” or make you as listener feel like “bad little girls and boys”. It is tough to get the message across that truly says (in both word and tone), “because I love you, I’m going to preach about sin, because sin destroys us, and I don’t want any of us to face that kind of pain.”
One of the main reasons I like to preach straight through Scripture is that it forces me to talk about what the Bible talks about, and today, in our journey through Acts, it talks about sin. So let’s read Scripture, and then dive into what it says together.
Acts 4:31-5:11 (NLT):
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. 36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.
1 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” 5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.” 9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.” 10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.
Before diving into the meaning of the passage, and how God wants us to respond to it, I need to back us up. Remember we are reading of a time and place and culture 2000 years removed from us, who didn’t think like we do today and who didn’t act like we do today. Understandings of death were very different, as were burial practices. So when we come to a story like this, we must be open to understanding it in its original context, to the best of our ability, and then ask God to help us understand what it means for us, in our context today.
I choose to begin the reading in chapter 4, the passage we studied last week, because it truly is all one section. The key introduction is the attitude reported in 4:32: “they felt that what they owned was not their own”, which we explored together last Sunday. This heart attitude is then contrasted – first the positive example of Barnabas, who “sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.” (4:37). “But”… is the next word, which starts chapter 5. In contrast to Barnabas, we have a second example, this one not positive.