Joy to the world

Hillsong Worship

Acts 4:32 – 5:11.  The church was young, it was thriving, numbers are growing, lives are being changed.  Outside forces (religious and civic) weren’t having much luck slowing this movement, so Satan begins to attack from within.  Hypocrisy and praise seeking, it’s a cancer, that grows and spreads from within.  Destructive both in our marriages, families, and in the church … as we’ll see in the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

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We’re in week-5 of our study in the Book of Acts.  We’ll continue through chapter 8.  Then over the next 3-years, come back to Acts right after Easter, until we finish book as part of our commitment to DEEP STUDY.

Acts 1:8

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Ben talked last week about God selecting ordinary men to accomplish His mission.  Great message.  Go online.

The Greek word translated for ordinary is the word idiotas.  The bible translators are polite (ordinary), because the most literal translation of that word is IDIOTS.

If you’re the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest, God can use you.  It’s just that he specializes in using idiots.  Case in point.  (here on your stage)

We like this idea right?  It’s why so many here recognize with the “group of misfits” concept.

We read stories of boldness and fearlessness, the power of God’s Spirit, using ordinary idiot misfits like us, and we leave this place motivated … as we should.

Then we get to this story.  ANNANIAS AND SAPHIRA. Ben filled in for me the last 2-weeks, and all week I’ve been kicking myself for not figuring out a way to slide this text over to him.

BUT that’s the beauty and the reason we work chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse through the Bible at Refuge … 

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

ALL scripture … even the difficult stories that make us squirm and want to run out the back door … are inspired and useful to teach, convict, and equip us for mission.

So we pick up tonight in Acts 4:32 

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind.

That’s an incredible statement.  Remember there’s maybe some 15-20k believers at this point, and they’re all of one heart and mind? They didn’t just come to a 1-hour worship services, then go their separate ways.  They were unified.  Not uniformity.  Unity.

This goes to show the power of the Holy Spirit in the believers at this time.  I’ve never seen a church, no matter how small, completely united in one heart and mind.  Not even a church of 1.

… 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.

This is a remarkable community.  No one claimed any possessions were their own.  Doesn’t mean there wasn’t private ownership.  But no possession was so dear to them, that they wouldn’t give it up to better the community.

The early Church is unified.  Why?  Because they were givers, not takers.  Plenty of churches have met their demise because of there being too many takers.  But I’ve never heard of a Church falling apart because everyone was too generous.

I’ll give.  No it’s my turn to give.  No it’s my turn. I’ll take care of you.  No, I want to take care of you.

Pastor runs it … break it up.  Next thing we’ll be hugging around here or something.    

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.

This guy Barnabas (who we’ll see re-appear later in Acts) … he voluntarily sells a field and brings it to the apostles to help the cause.

In this day, your land was your savings.  It’s your 401k.  Your nest egg.  The inheritance and legacy you would leave behind.  And Barnabas liquidates it for the good of the community.

Most people weren’t wealthy.  They subsisted. There’s no thriving middle class.  These aren’t 2nd homes in the Hamptons.  This is sacrificial giving.

And notice he’s not only giving out of his income, like most of us do today, he’s giving out of his savings.  His security.  This was just as radical then, as it would be considered today.

And he did it … Not because of religion; Not because it was demanded; Not because Peter gave a 4-week sermon series that lead to a capital campaign to buy a bigger ______.

Barnabas sacrificed because he was filled with the Spirit …  and those in his community, his church, had needs … and he had the means to meet those needs.

And the community was unified.


Chapter 5   

1 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.

Alright, more jumping on the wagon.  More giving.  More generosity.  Ananias (God is gracias).  Sapphira (beautiful/pleasant).  Maybe they saw what Barnabas did, and said … yeah, sounds like a great idea.  We’ve got some property … let’s join the cause.

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.

 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. 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.

Maybe Ananias dying was just a horrible coincidence.  He’s busted, heart racing, had heart disease, hadn’t taken his Lipitor … falls over dead.

But it’s not a coincidence because we see the same result with Sapphira.

When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

OUCH.  Where is the God of love?

This sounds very much like a OT story, and I can deal with those, because that was before grace, that was before Jesus and the cross.  That was then, but this is now.

We hold to verses like …

My grace is sufficient for you.  My power is made perfect in your weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whomever believes in him shall not perish by have eternal life. (John 3:16)

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Rom. 8:1)

Nothing can separate us from God …  neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:38-39)

… well, apparently nothing, except selling a piece of property, bringing some (but not all) of the money, to the church.  Because apparently if you do that, you immediately fall over dead.

I don’t think I’m alone in not liking this story.

  • We don’t like this story because we see the judgment and wrath of a Holy and Sovereign God on display.
  • We don’t like this story because it’s hard to find God’s grace.
  • And I think most of all … we don’t like this story, because we see ourselves in the story, and yet somehow we’re not dead.

On the surface, it’s very easy to make this a story about generosity and giving.  I’ve never heard a preacher say, bring all your tithes to our church or else (cut throat).  But I’ve certainly heard that implied.

And with the Barnabas story, immediately proceeding, there is an element to giving and generosity in this story.

But the reality is, they sold a property, through their own free will, and gave a portion of the proceeds to their church family.  That’s a good thing right?  We’d applaud someone who did this today right?

You call you investment advisor:  hey, we’ve got some people in need in our congregation … I know it’s going to impact my retirement, I may have to work longer, but can I take 1/2 of my IRA now, so that I can give to the needy in my church family? 

Heck, we don’t even know how much they gave.  Maybe they gave 90% of the sell, and only kept back 10% for themselves.  Reverse tithers.  We’d really applaud that right?  Make them elders of the church.  Put them on the covers of magazines.

Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was not in failing to give, or even failing to give the entire sum from the sale.  We’re told multiple times; the giving is optional.

So what was their sin?

Peter answers that for us (verse 3) …

3“Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  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!”

Well there you go.  He broke one of the commandments.  He lied.  He lied to God.   And so everyone who lies to God must be struck dead right???

Back to our struggle with this story.  We’ve all lied.  And most likely we’ve all lied to God.

God if you answer this prayer, I’ll never ____ again. 

God I surrender all to you.  God I trust you completely

Yet here we are … not dead.

While flying to Hawaii a couple weeks ago, I was trying to look smart by reading National Geographic.  I read an article entitled “Why We Lie.”

The basic premise was that honesty may be the best policy, but deception and dishonesty is part of being human.

Psychologist have learned that lying is actually a part of the development process, like walking and talking.

Guess what age group lies most?  Teenagers.

Guess what age group are the worst liars?  Seniors.

(turns out it takes a lot of brain power and energy to lie, and we eventually start to run out of both)

Article says we all lie, but not all lies are the same.  People lie to achieve certain goals.

  • To Protect Ourselves
    • 22% Personal Transgression // cover up a mistake
    • 14% Avoidance // Escape of evade people
  • To Promote Ourselves
    • 16% Economic Advantage // Gain financial benefit
    • 15% Personal Advantage // Beyond money
    • 8% Self-Impression // Create a positive image
    • 5% Humor // Make people laugh
  • To Impact Others
    • 5% Altruistic // Help people
    • 4% Malicious // Hurt people
    • 2% Social or polite // Avoid rudeness
  • Unclear
    • 7% Unknown // Motives aren’t clear
    • 2% Pathological liars // Ignore reality

So we know the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was lying.  Peter tells us that.

If we take it a step further then, and use this list … What was their motivation for lying?

Promote Themselves.  Personal advantage.  Self-Impression. Shape their image.

Wow, look at Ananias and Sapphira … aren’t they so wonderful.  They sold their property just like Barnabas, and gave it to the church.  Maybe we should make Ananias one of our leaders.  I wish I had that kind of boldness in my faith walk, to just give it all away.  What model Christians. 

They wanted credit and honor for being givers.  They gave for their own honor, not God’s.  Not to care for the needs of others, but to benefit themselves.

Reputation.  Approval.  Prominence.

They were more interested in appearances than in reality.  The definition of hypocrisy. 

Perhaps this is an important lesson for all of us tonight, in a day and age where a positive image, and the approval of others has been amplified to the max.

We’re on Social Media, and we put out the polished version of ourselves.  My friend Aaron calls it, our highlight reel.  We put out what we want people to see and believe about us.  It’s like building and marketing ourselves as a brand.


  • Maui // Rented Jeep
  • Road to Hana // One of the most beautiful roads
  • Up early // The Cinnamon Roll Place
  • Curvy, twisty, windy road (180 degree turns)
  • No guard rails, up and down the mountain
  • Over the next 3+ hours …
  • Beauty unsurpassed (beaches, waterfalls, hiking)
  • Surfing // body surfing // no towels (poor planning)
  • Lunch at roadside stand (chicken/pasta salad)
  • Head back … tired … hurry
  • Emery (I’m sick, I have to puke)
  • Stop 2 times … nothing … developmental lying?
  • Then it happens. Projectile vomit.
  • Sitting in middle of backseat. All of big sisters/herself/car.
  • Didn’t plan well. No towels/napkins.
  • Side of road picking leaves and sticks to scrape cinnamon roll and pasta salad vomit out of our rental jeep and off of our children.

Later than evening, I wanted to post some of the pics to FB.  But I was thinking of what my friend Aaron saying (FB being a highlight reel).  So I posted our highlights (some amazing photos) but didn’t leave out the lowlights (projectile vomit).

We are a generation of praise seekers.  Whether it’s how many LIKES we can get on a FB post.  Acknowledgement of how generous we are … because we went on a mission trip to help the needy, or served in in our local community.  We now do very little in private.

And if we’re truly trying to glorify God; Amen.

But we need to be mindful. It’s very easy to turn acts of generosity, into praise seeking.  Many well meaning pastors and church leaders have fallen into this trap.  What starts out as a ministry to glorify God, quickly turns into seeking praise to glorify the performer.

Theologian John Stott writes of Ananias and Sapphira:

“They wanted the credit and the prestige for sacrificial generosity, without the inconvenience of it.  So, in order to gain a reputation to which they had no right, they told a brazen lie.  Their motive in giving was not to relieve the poor, but to fatten their own ego.”

Jesus taught that giving and generosity is something to be done in private.  Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira should have just given online, and not made a big spectacle out of selling their property and claiming to give it all.

But they were seeking recognition.  Trying to improve their stature.  Rank higher than others.  Instead of relying on the Spirit of God, they gave into the evil spirit of pride that pushed them to be hypocritical praise seekers.

Have you ever wondered what Ananias and Sapphira’s home life was like?  I mean, they at least where together enough to try to pull of this scheme … but their hypocrisy had to affect their marriage.

When appearances are more important than reality, those closest to us are often the ones who are hurt.  We hide our true colors in front of others, but we let it all hang out at home.  All the anger, pride, selfish demands.

Yet when a concerned friend asks how things are going, we continue to keep up appearances …

Oh really good.  Couldn’t be better.  Marriage is rock solid.  We probably should be teaching a marriage seminar. 

Hypocrisy and praise seeking is a destructive force in our marriages, families … and in the church.  It’s a cancer, that grows and spreads from within.

The church was young, it was thriving, numbers are growing, lives are being transformed, changed.  The outside forces (religious and civic leaders) weren’t having much luck slowing this movement down, so Satan begins to attack from within.

But really.  I’m back to the dilemma I always come back to with this story.  Did Ananias and Sapphira have to die?

Don’t we all try to impress others, lie, seek to glorify ourselves at times?  Aren’t we all hypocrites?  So why aren’t we all struck dead?

The short answer is God’s grace.

 Yeah, yeah.  Very churchy answer Brian.  But why didn’t this couple have that same grace extended to them?

We’re not told.

Ultimately, only God can answer that question.  Very tricky territory in trying to comprehend the mind of an infinite God.  We’re not told if they die and go to heaven or hell.  Could make a case for both.

Here’s what we do know …

We know that this is a serious situation.  So much so that Luke decided to include it in his history of the church.  I mean if you’re trying to win converts, this isn’t the shiny happy story that I’d be including.   In fact, we’re told at the end of this story in verse 11 …

11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

We know that Peter doesn’t cause the death.  Peter didn’t call down hell fire from above, he only predicts the deaths.

We know that Peter points out that Ananias had allowed Satan to fill his heart … suggesting that his lying to the Holy Spirit was not an isolated act. It seems that, despite the fact that they had joined the community of believers, they had been pushing God away for some time.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike some Old Testament passages, this text doesn’t say that God struck them dead.

It’s also apparent that their death is because of their lying to the Holy Spirit.

But we’re a modern, educated society.  We want answers.  Why?  This seems so primitive.  Regressive.

Doesn’t Jesus teach us to be forgiving?  Loving?

How does a God of love, the God of amazing grace … not give this couple an opportunity to repent?  To be restored?

You’re only going to get this illustration at Refuge, I can promise you that.  Any fans of The Walking Dead here tonight?

Karen and I just finished binge watching the entire series.  All 7-seasons in about a month.  I didn’t think I’d ever get into a zombie show … but what sucked me in, is the way they’re able to show the depravity of humanity when pushed to it’s limits of survival.

If you’ve never seen the show, let me give you the 30-second synopsis.

  • A terrible disease has infected our planet.
  • When you get this disease, you die … sort of.
  • These are the walking dead. And they don’t die completely, unless you stab them in the brain.
  • Most of humanity has succumbed to this zombie apocalypse. Zombies are everywhere, and if you get bitten by one, you become a zombie too.

The few survivors, who don’t have the disease … they’ve lost everything.  Everything they’ve ever built.  Everyone they’ve loved.  And so those who are left form these little communities.  They become each others families.

They’re in survival mode.  The things that used to be important, are no longer a priority.  All they have is each other, and so protecting one-another becomes the only priority.

Sometimes, they have to make hard decisions.  Decisions for the greater good of the community they love.  Decisions, that ensure the survival of their community, maybe even human civilization.

In several of the episodes (over 7-seasons) a character isn’t able to make that hard decision.  They’ll allow an “evil person” to go free.  Eventually, this evil person, ends up back in the story, killing many of the members, nearly destroying the community.

This might be a simplistic analogy, but it’s helped me grapple with this text.

I still don’t completely understand why God poured out his judgment on this couple; Why they weren’t given a chance to repent and be restored.

And I’m committed to not being like I’ve heard taught in many camps … well if you believe it 51%, preach it like you believe it 100%.  Not going to do that.

But via something as silly as TWD, I have begun to see the love of God in this story.

How far would you go to protect someone you love?  Think of the person you love most in the whole world.  What would you do to protect them?

For many of you, the person you’re thinking of is your spouse.  Some of you your kids.

The Church is the Bride of Christ. How far would Jesus go to protect his bride?  We’re the children of God, how far would God go to protect for his children?

I don’t know what kind of evil or damage Ananias and Sapphira might have done to in this young church.

Maybe they so impress everyone by their false giving, that they become early church leaders.  We’ve had many corrupt leaders within the church, but with the church in it’s infancy God couldn’t allow this cancer to spread.

If you love someone and someone is ruining their lives (manipulating, deceiving) … if it didn’t make you angry, and if that anger didn’t cause you to take action, it would be difficult to say you actually loved them.

Becky Pippert (theologian)

We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry.  How can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry?  We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God’s problem?  

But love detests what destroys the beloved.

Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys. Anger isn’t the opposite of love.  Hate is … and the final form of hate is indifference.

How can a good God forgive bad people without compromising himself?  Does he just play fast and loose with the facts? ‘Oh, never mind…boys will be boys’. Try telling that to a survivor of the Cambodian ‘killing fields’ or to someone who lost an entire family in the Holocaust.  

No. To be truly good, one has to be outraged by evil and implacably hostile to injustice.

So let me leave you tonight with two questions … that I want you to walk away from here with, ponder, maybe even discuss with others …

Was the death of Ananias and Sapphira an act of God’s anger, and wrath and judgment?  Or an act of love?

Let me answer ask another question.

Was the death of Jesus on the Cross and act of God’s wrath, and anger and judgment.  Or an outpouring of love?

I’ll leave it at that tonight.


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