Summary: The deaths of two early church members may seem to "about the money," but that isn’t the whole story. See modern church problems in a new light.
There is a bit of folk wisdom that goes something like this: “Whenever you hear someone say that ‘It’s not about the money,” it usually is.” But this morning, I want to share from a passage that is almost always focused on the money and probably should not be. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit inspired and preserved this passage to teach us about stewardship. Yet, it almost always seems to be on Stewardship Sunday that we hear sermons on this text. But I believe this passage is about contrasting spiritual life with spiritual death, spiritual power with spiritual emptiness. (Read the text)
It’s probably too bad, at times, that we have chapter breaks where we have them. I’m one of those guys who particularly dislikes paragraphs or even sentences that begin with the conjunction “but,” much less entire chapters. Yet, that’s what we have in Chapter 5 of Acts. The story of Ananias (the root of the name is “God favored” or “God showed grace”) and Sapphira (“beautiful” from the Aramaic) is definitely told in contrast to what has gone before. So, let’s look at what went before in order to determine what’s really at issue in the passage.
Verse 32 emphasizes that the believers were of one heart and one soul (“life”). “One heart” means that their volition, their “decider” as the current President Bush called himself, and their “want to” were aligned to the same objective. “One soul (“life”)” means that they were in agreement about what was most important in their common life and the purpose of their partnership. Action went along with commitment and dedication.
Yet, it goes even further. No one grasped onto personal privilege or held to his/her own agenda versus the needs/expectations of the partnership—the partnership of faith (that’s what “koinonia” means). They held everything common. The community was more important than the individual.
Verse 33 underscores two great things. First, we are told that the apostles had GREAT POWER in their testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (or in some Greek translations and texts, resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Lord, or our Lord, Jesus Christ). The purpose of banding together in the special partnership of the church was to witness to the life-changing power of Jesus’ resurrection and the attitudes and actions of the early church were such that the “preaching” had GREAT POWER. And folks, no church can have GREAT POWER in its preaching where the assembly of believers is not unified in purpose and resources.
Second, there was GREAT GRACE. Think of grace as being about GIVING. God GAVE us His Son. We didn’t deserve it, but God met our need of salvation. In the same way, the “haves” in the early church took care of the needs of the “have-nots.” Nowhere does it say that the “have-nots” deserved it. We merely read in this verse that there was great, tremendous, grace, giving. In the next verse, we see that those who owned property were even willing to liquidate their real estate to meet the needs of those who had nothing.
Now, I know—you’re thinking that Pastor Johnny wants you to liquidate your assets and bring the proceeds into Northwest Baptist. No, I want you to read these verses like this: “Because, wherever there was a need, those who had the means to meet the need, met it for the glory of God.” Even in the early church, where the idea of a welfare state or someone else owing someone a living wasn’t routine, there were those who took advantage of the generosity of God’s people. We can see this in Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:28 where the one who used to get material needs met by stealing was no longer to steal but to get a job. This covenant or contract provision of holding everything in common worked both ways. No one had it soft. No one had permission to quit working. It was merely that by pooling the resources, all needs were met.
What would happen if we were to do that, today. We know that a group called Koinonia Farm attempted this in Americus, GA. What happened to them? They were persecuted by people who called them, “communists,” and even kicked out of Rehoboth Baptist Church. After their leader, Clarence Jordan, died, things held on for a while but eventually, people charged off on their own agendas.
So, I’m not even going to attempt to suggest that we establish a commune here at Northwest. I’m not going to suggest that it is God’s will for you to sell everything you own and put it at the feet of pastor, deacons, and trustees. What I’m going to challenge you to do is to see that needs are met. Do we need a Sunday School class for children or a Children’s Church worker besides Wailam? Let’s see that the need is met. Do we need to continue refurbishing this building? Let’s see that the need is met. Do we need to reinstate the food pantry? I don’t know. I thought we were past that need, but if we need to do that, let’s see that the need is met.