Summary: Some things are so surprising they simply shock us. The early church has many such surprises and shocks, one of the biggest of which concerned the generosity of two of her members.
“Treasuring God’s Holiness”
Some things are so surprising they just simply shock us. The team with the huge lead falls apart in the closing moments and loses. The golfer with only an easy, short birdie putt between himself and the championship, winds up with a double bogie and loses. The team that sweeps the Yankees gets swept. The upstanding citizen whom we so deeply admire is arrested and charged with a major crime. A minister murders a young mother.. You can, no doubt, add many things to the list. The early church also had many such surprises and shocks, one of the biggest of which concerned the generosity of two of her members. To get a feel for that incident let’s join Luke as he records it for us.
We begin in chapter 4, verse 32, with THE SIN THAT ROCKED THE CHURCH. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 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 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 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.” For every good sheep there’s a black sheep; for every stalk of wheat there is a tare; wherever there is light, there is a shadow; wherever God builds a church, Satan puts up a chapel. Ananias and Sapphira, following the example of Barnabas, gave a generous gift to the church. It wasn’t the entire profit from their sale, but then they weren’t required to give at all, so even this partial gift should have been celebrated.
But Luke tells us THEY LIED TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. Verses 3-4: “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? 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." They offered their gift with a false piety by giving the impression that they, like Barnabas, had given the total proceeds. There were dishonest, deceptive. The appearance was not reality. They were trying to be simulated saints. They were masking what they were really doing, trying to portray themselves as something they were not. They envied the accolades Barnabas received and wanted some praise for themselves. They wanted prestige and privilege without paying the price. It’s already a sin to try to deceive other people; but to try to deceive God is one of the grossest of sins. Some of Jesus’ harshest words and most severe judgments were pronounced upon the religious leaders called the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:3 Jesus said, “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” He then goes on to point out many ways in which they put on a mask to appear far better then they really were. In Matthew 15:8 Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The issue again is the overt lie. We think about Ananias and Sapphira and haughtily wonder, “How dare they?” We look at the Pharisees, shake our heads and scornfully wonder, How dare they?”
But WE ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM LYING. We, too, often put on a false face, don a beautiful mask of piety, in an attempt to make ourselves appear as “Great Joe and Judy Christian,” to make others see us as someone different than we really are. So we sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” while praying only a few minutes a day; we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” but seldom volunteer when the call is issued; we sing “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues” but do not witness with the one we have; we sing “There Shall be Showers of Blessing” but complain about all that we do not have; we sing “Come We that Love the Lord” but criticize all that His body, the church, is doing; we sing “We’re Marching to Zion” but refuse to go to worship when the weather is poor or we don’t feel like it; we sing “I Surrender All” but give only 2-3% of our money and even less of our time.