This study examines the final verses of Acts chapter 4, and the opening verses of Acts chapter 5 as part of the same theme. In the original text there would have been no chapter/verse split, the theme across these two parts of scripture is Commitment.
by Peter Jones
These verses in Acts 4:32 to 5:11 deal with the embryo church, seeking to get established under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They showed their commitment to the cause by their love for one another, even to the point of living as if in community. They shared possessions, sold property to help the less well off, and generally lived for the Faith!
Believing in Jesus death and resurrection was the most important thing in their lives, to the exclusion of all else! They were one in heart and mind (v32). Imagine 5,000 believers (Acts 4:4) unified in mind and purpose! No wonder the church grew rapidly as people shared their faith with others.
But is this an example of how we should live today? This was how the Holy Spirit was working in the first century church. We must bear in mind that many of these people had seen Jesus, heard him teach, witnessed his miracles, seen the crucifixion, and his glorious resurrection. This model of “communal living” may have worked for them, but almost 2000 years later, what can this passage tell us? I believe we can learn a valuable lesson about being committed; to Jesus, to each other in love, and to the work of the church on earth in 2020!
Let us to consider 2 examples of “commitment” contained in these passages.
BARNABAS, Acts 4:34—37.
Joseph, a Levite, was from Cyprus. His name among the believers was Barnabas. He was a foreigner, possibly visiting Jerusalem for Passover or some celebration. He had come to faith in Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, now he shows his dedication to the church by selling his field and laying the entire sale price at the apostle’s feet as he had seen others do. This confirmed he no longer held money in highest regard, he had a new “Lord” in his life! (Matt 6:24).
Barnabas became a mighty man in the early church, full of The Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11:22—30). He joined Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 13), and was a valuable player in the hands of God. His life was a picture of commitment to Jesus. He no longer lived for the things this world had to offer. He had done with them! He had turned his back on “riches” and “possessions” when he lay his money at the apostle’s feet. He had taken up his cross (Matt 16:24—26), and though he had to endure hardship and persecution, he never turned back.
Here is a good example of true commitment. Barnabas was just one of a whole group of people from all walks of life, who lived as a unified community with one heart and mind. Apostle Paul had some valuable words for the early believers as he planted churches around the known world (Rom15:5—6, Phil 2:1—2), and these are words for us as the church today. They still hold good!
However, amongst the good wheat there will always be found the weeds (Matt 13:24—30)!
ANANIAS and SAPPHIRA, Acts 5:1-11
This couple had joined the early church and had seen the commitment of others. They saw how people like Barnabas were held in high esteem, giving up lands and possessions for the use of the apostles. They were ambitious for some of the limelight! They were eager to be seen as “first division” disciples but without the whole-hearted commitment. They colluded together to imitate what they saw by selling a field and laying the money at the apostle’s feet, but secretly keeping back a part of the sale price. It was a private sale; nobody would know the true sale price; a little white lie here and there would do no harm!
They were under no compulsion to sell. The field was theirs to sell, and the money they got for selling it was theirs, but their motives were all wrong. Ananias made a vow of “giving all to God” by laying the money at the apostle’s feet, a public act of solemn dedication, knowing full well it was not “all”.
Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sees the falsehood and who is behind this attempt to corrupt the church; Satan (v3)! Judas was inspired by Satan, (John 13:27). Satan is God’s enemy, hating God and plaguing man from the very beginning (Gen3:1—5). Deceiving, lying, distorting the truth are Satan’s trademarks and here Ananias was clearly attempting to deceive the apostles. God takes vows very seriously (Num 30:2, Eccl 5:4). This was a crime against God, not simply the apostles (Deut 23:21). Peter accuses Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit, a serious crime (Matt 12:31, Mark 3:28—29), so serious as to require instant and grave punishment. Notice in Peter’s statement that he refers to the Holy Spirit as God(v4), and as a person, not a power or influence as some mistakenly think. You cannot lie to a power(v3), nor can you grieve an influence (Eph 4:30). The Holy Spirit is a person and is able to search the heart (1 Chron 28:9, Jer 17:10), and reveals secret things to man (1 Cor 2:9—10). It was futile of Ananias to think he could pull the wool over the eyes of the Living God (Ps 139:1—4). He was guilty as charged and is struck down dead in an instant! (Rev 2:23). Sapphira comes in later and also lies to Peter about the price received. Peter declares her as guilty as Ananias by her conspiracy in the plan and she also falls down dead. “Great fear seized the whole church”, I bet it did!
So why this seemingly harsh judgement?.
This is how the first century church began. It grew rapidly in spite of Satan’s attempts to snuff it out by his persecutions. Only those believers fully committed dared to be associated with Jesus name; It was risky, even dangerous. So here we are in 2020. We find a church that is worldwide; persecuted and growing rapidly in some countries, stagnant and diluted in others. We as church members need to keep our eye on the ball. Not everything embraced by the “official” church leaders is in line with Gods plan for His church.
Too many church leaders are in it for the glamour, a bit like the very ones Jesus criticised in Matthew 23. They take on board the world’s values and teachings, forgetting what is written in (James 4:4), even when it goes against Bible teaching; compromising and going with the flow rather than resisting it. We as individual Christians need to remember whose church we belong to and obey God, living to please him, not adopting the latest popular trends. It will bring us into conflict with “the world”, but we should expect that (1 John 5:19).
We serve a risen Lord and a Holy God; we are citizens of Jesus kingdom first and foremost. (John 18:36).
Let this be our uniting thought and purpose in life!