Summary: This is the 3rd in a series based on Acts 2:42-47 looking at the core characteristics of the church. This sermone deals with community.
The Church as a Caring Community
Acts 4:32 – 5:11
(Third in the series “The Core Characteristics of the Church)
I have just read the most riveting story in the Book of Acts. The traumatic and sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira has caused both the casual reader of the Bible and the in-depth scholar reason to pause. What good does this story do for us?
For our Lenten season we are looking at the core characteristics of the church—the DNA, if you will. What are those essential elements of the church’s nature that define it as the Body of Christ? We are working at this from the summary statement in Acts 2:42-47.
So far we noticed that
The Church is a devoted Community, and
The Church is a filled Community.
Today, from verses 45-46, we consider
The Church as a caring community.
In Acts 2, Luke mentions that the believers willingly sold their possessions and goods, and distributed to those who had need. I think a key word here is “together.” They met together daily in the temple area, that ate together regularly in one another’s homes. The evidence that they were truly a “together” community is seen in the practical way they cared for each other’s needs.
You might say that the early church was a community truly in community with each other.
Now before I go on to unpack this for us today, I need to spend some time clearing up a few of the misunderstandings that surround this concept and passage. And that is why I read Acts 4:32 to 5:11.
CLEARING UP THE MISUNDERSTANDINGS.
Does Acts 2:45-46 and Acts 4:32-37 make you uncomfortable? It does me. Why? Well as a Christian living in an affluent and materialistic world, I have accumulated a lot of stuff—possessions—while many other brothers and sisters in the church, at least worldwide, have very little. What am I supposed to do?
Does this passage require us to sell all that we have until complete equity is experienced in the church?
Let’s consider what these passages actually say.
First, remember the context.
On the day of Pentecost tens of thousands of Jewish people from around the Roman Empire flocked to Jerusalem for the festive celebrations. On this particular Pentecost, many heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and 3000 believed.
Some of those 3000 were from outside of Jerusalem. Some were Hellenistic Jews, as we learn from Acts 6, representing a significantly different cultural orientation from that of the Hebraic Jerusalem Jews. Some of these Hellenistic Jews from outside Palestine who believed in Jesus decided to remain in Jerusalem with the other believers for teaching and edification. There was no Christian community to go back to. They had come with very little; after staying awhile they needed support.
Second, consider what the Bible actually says.
The selling of one’s possessions was entirely voluntary. It was never required. We know this from two particular statements:
“There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales.”
The words “time to time” suggest an action that was done on occasion and as need arose, not one that was a prescribed entry requirement for joining the church.
An example of this attitude is given in the person of Barnabas (4:36-37), who would later accompany Paul on his first missionary journey.
And, we see that selling your possessions was voluntary from the example in Acts 5.
Ananias and Sapphira were property owners. No doubt impacted by the example of Barnabas, they too sold a portion of their possessions. In this case, it was a piece of property. They sold it with the intention of giving a portion of the proceeds to the apostles for the support of the church. Their sin lay in the fact that they claimed to have given all the money to the church, while having kept back a portion. Their sin was not that they kept back part of the money, but that they pretended to give it all.
It is very important to listen carefully to what Peter says to Ananias in 5:3-4.
Peter says to 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? 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 to men but to God.”
Several phrases here are very important:
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?” shows us that Ananias was the rightful owner of the property and that the decision to sell it was within his power.