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Back to all sermons Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Date: July 22, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Scripture: Acts 4:32–5:42

We have been going through the book of Acts this summer. Acts, which was written by Luke, the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke, is the account of the beginning of the church after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Last week we looked at the boldness of the early disciples in how they proclaimed the gospel and prayed for people. This morning we will continue in Acts 4:32:


Acts 4:32 - 5:42 - 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.  33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  34 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  35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement),  37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. 


First of all, it’s amazing what comes up after the last verse on boldness: Acts 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

The first thing that is talked about is how boldly they give away their possessions. They are bold in their love for each other and their generosity towards those in need. This is similar to Acts 2. We see once again that the early church was not just about preaching the gospel but about love for neighbor. Sometimes churches can be on either extreme. But the church is meant to embody both.


We read in Acts 4:32 that they shared everything they had. This is not communism, where you don’t own anything, but stewardship – everything I own is not mine but the Lord’s. No one claimed his possessions as his own. They had private ownership but thought of their possessions as available to help needy sisters and brothers. There were no needy persons among them because of their sacrificial generosity. This is a value that goes back to the Mosaic law:


Deuteronomy 15:4 - However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,


A steward in the ancient world was a person who was given the responsibility and authority to rule over the affairs of the household. For example, the patriarch Joseph became a steward over Potiphar’s household in Genesis 39, managing everything in the household and given the authority to rule over the house.


Stewardship as a biblical concept goes all the way back to creation. God put Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Be productive. Rule over the animals and the earth. Work it and care for it. And that mandate is not a license to exploit or destroy the earth, but it is a call to responsibility, to keep it from falling apart, to maintain and preserve it and make it beautiful. That is stewardship.


So what does it mean for you to be a steward? First of all, it means to use the gifts and talents he has given us to care for His creation. You do that in whatever field you work in. View yourself as a steward, caring for God’s creation.


In the church family, it’s the same. Stewardship means using whatever God has given you to care for God’s people. Use your talents to serve. Use your time to bless others. And use your money and possessions to care for others. Give to the church. Tithe. Give to the Benevolent Fund.


What is the tithe? It’s an acknowledgement that our money is not ours but the Lord’s.


 Psalm 24:1 - The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord


Instead of looking at it as giving 10% of your money, look it as a wealthy man giving you 100% and asking you to keep 90% and give back 10%.


Malachi 3:8-10 - "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings.  9 You are under a curse-- the whole nation of you-- because you are robbing me.  10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.


Be a good steward with God’s money.


Matthew 25:21 - “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’ 


Secondly, it is a declaration that our trust is in Him, not our bank account.


Matthew 6:31-34 - So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


Thirdly, it’s believing God’s Word when he says it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)


2 Corinthians 9:6-8 - Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.


Most of us don’t give mainly because we’re materialistic, but because we’re afraid. Trust in the Lord.


On to Acts 5. Now that we have the proper context:


NIV Acts 5:1 - Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  2 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.  3 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?  4 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."  5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.  7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8 Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" "Yes," she said, "that is the price."  9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."  10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. 


Seems harsh at first. They gave a lot but kept some. What was their sin?


He uses the Greek word “nosphizomai” in v. 3 – “kept back” – to embezzle, misappropriate or steal. Probably had a contract and stole against it. They said that they would give, and then they held back, while claiming that they gave it all. They lied to God and to the disciples.


But more than that, it was hypocrisy. They lacked integrity. They wanted the credit without the inconvenience of generosity. Their motive in giving was not to relieve the poor but to fatten their ego. And God’s judgment fell upon them. Judgment is harsher when there is closeness of God’s presence – Achan, Uzzah, etc.


What do we learn from this?


Falsehood and hypocrisy ruin fellowship.


1 John 1:6-9 - If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.


Speak the truth in love and we grow up.


Ephesians 4:15 - Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.


Importance of church discipline. Sin and hypocrisy tarnishes the reputation of Jesus, and so we need to keep each other accountable to living for the Lord.


Moving on –


12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade.  13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.  15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.  17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.  20 "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."  21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin-- the full assembly of the elders of Israel-- and sent to the jail for the apostles.  22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported,  23 "We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside."  24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.  25 Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people."  26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.  27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."  29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!  30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."  33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  35 Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."  40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.


Another jailing, but they are released again. Look at them rejoicing in their suffering.


Matthew 5:10-12 - Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


What is that? How can they rejoice in suffering? Stewardship is not just about money. It is about my very life. I belong to God. I am His slave.


1 Corinthians 7:21-23 - Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you-- although if you can gain your freedom, do so.  22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave.  23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.


1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.


Salvation is utterly free but costs everything. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I exist to serve and glorify Him. It’s not about me. Whatever comes my way, I will live for Him.


The disciples suffer a lot in these chapters. But they never stop in their faithfulness. Suffering reveals the quality of your faith. Are you in it for yourself, or for Him? 


Job 1:8-11 - Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."  9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied.  10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."


Some of you recoil against stewardship. You are in this for what God can do for you. And when things aren’t going well, you question God, and wonder why you bother. You are a consumer, not a servant. You are in this because he gets great benefits at a low cost. But when the cost is too high, or the benefits too little, you bail. But He gave His all for you.


Most of us have a hard time rejoicing in our suffering. But we look at Jesus dying on the cross and we see that out of His suffering, God brought the greatest good. And so we know that no matter what happens, He will be glorified. If he allows us to suffer, then we know it’s not because he doesn’t love us. Praise God, we know it’s because he will use it for the salvation of others.