There is nothing more angering to an average Joe like me than when professional athletes who make millions of dollars hold out for a bigger contract. That anger probably isn’t righteous though; I suspect it comes out of envy. One of the conditions we have in our fallenness is that of selfishness. When we read the New Testament we are challenged with the witness of the early church that demonstrates that one of the marks of redeemed humanity (Holy Spirit filled living) is that of selflessness and generosity.
In Acts 4:32 we read that: “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.” As a result “There were no needy people among them”(v.34). That picture is a far cry from our Western church experience. Why is this? What prevents this from happening today? I would suggest it is because we have trouble crucifying the flesh ( “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Gal.5:24-25) and denying ourselves (“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” Mt.16:24). How many of us have truly embraced the call to self-denial? I read this in a commentary and it hit home: “In our culture, denying ourselves tends to be the farthest thing from our minds. Our culture trains us to indulge ourselves. Our culture trains us to believe that we NEED the latest iPhone, a bigger TV, a cooler car, a bigger house, newer clothes, a faster computer, a new gym membership, expensive manicures, lavish vacations, and the list goes on.”
Our cultural value of “progress/evolution” hinders us from being fully used by God to carry about his purposes and expand His kingdom. Last week in our sermon text we saw Luke illustrate that real struggle with contrasting the actions of Barnabas and the actions of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 4:36-5:11).
But money isn’t the only thing we hold back. There is a striking contrast that emerges in our passage between the actions of the apostles and the actions of Ananias and Sapphira when we read the ESV (a more literal translation). Verse 33 says that the apostles were giving witness. Instead of being the usual word for giving, the Greek used is a word referring to paying what you owe; Something has been done for you, and now you are “giving back”. The apostles were fulfilling their duty to Jesus by sharing the gospel. They were “giving back” to Jesus by being His witnesses. In contrast Ananias and Sapphira did not give back but instead they “kept back” money for themselves! Their focus was on their own desires, not on serving Jesus. An Old Testament parallel is the story of Achan in Joshua 7. The same word is used in the Greek translation of Joshua 7:1 to describe Achan “keeping back” some of the loot from Jericho, which was all supposed to be devoted to God. Ananais and Sapphira’s keeping back resulted in death, just like Achan. Just as God was showing the Israelites who had just entered in a covenant relationship with Him that they dare not take Him lightly, so He showed the newborn church the same thing.
Are you holding back something from God? Time, talent, or treasure? God is showing us through Acts that He wants all of us, and that as we give him our all (witness and possessions) His Kingdom will come in our midst.