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About this series
God's Agenda for Planet Earth (including you)
Sometimes it's confusing to try and figure out God's agenda for a world in turmoil, much less make sense of your unique purpose in His bigger picture. Yet God has a specific calling for each of us, and learning to walk in that calling propels us to take steps both large and small that DO change the world. This series, drawn from Acts, examines the Biblical truth about God's agenda for planet earth, His perfect timing and what all of it has to do with you. You'll learn how to recognize how God's plan unfolds in your life and in the world around you, and how to avoid the "grace stoppers" that can destroy God's work in your life.More from this series
Well, as we get started, I want to ask you a question. Have you ever had one of those, like, “what happened” moments? You know what I mean? A number of years ago I visited where our family lived, about fifteen years earlier, and had not been there in ages and so I was near that town and, you know, I was by myself.
I thought, Well, I’ll just drive by the old neighborhood. Have you ever done this? Any of you? So I drove by the old neighborhood, it was, you know, ten, fifteen years later and I’m sure part of it was my perception.
But it seemed like a nice neighborhood when I lived there and I drove back and there were, like, weeds over here and a car like this and something else like this and a house that looked like it was…
I mean, the place was just like a dump. And I remember driving through and thinking, Ten years ago this was, kind of a, not fancy but it was a nice, clean little street. And I just, like, what happened? I mean, what happens in ten years that this thing just went completely south?
When I study with you Acts chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, there’s some things that I see.
Just a casual observer, what I learn is the Church in Acts is powerful. The Church in Acts is bold. The Church in Acts is ridiculously generous with one another. The Church in Acts is loving. The Church in Acts healed the brokenhearted, the outcasts, the poor, and the rejected.
The Church in Acts, they just grew, literally, not weekly, daily. The Church in Acts expected and saw the miraculous. And when I see the Church in Acts and I’ve traveled quite a bit and I’ve been to churches here and all over the world and I look at the anemic, selfish, inwardly focused, non-dynamic, basic Church today, I look at this Church and I look at the Church of Acts and I say, “What happened?”
Now, there’s wonderful exceptions, obviously. But the research is overwhelming. Most Christians “don’t live like Christians.” Most churches have very little impact, most churches are filled with very religious people but not people that make much of a difference in their communities. So what happened? How could that be?
And what I want to suggest is the answer is in Acts chapter 5. Here’s what I want you to see. The early Church was birthed. Let’s remember what happened. Acts 1 – He ascended. The call to all. Acts 2 – the Holy Spirit came. A movement was birthed. Acts chapter 3 they started taking baby steps toward what? The way God changes the world.
Acts chapter 4, after those baby steps, there’s some persecution and we’re going to find them praying and God does amazing things and Acts chapter 5, these normal, regular human beings, just like us, whom Jesus is now living inside of in the person of the Holy Spirit expressing His words and expressing His love and caring for people and now there’s thousands of people that are living the way Jesus lived, caring the way Jesus lived, sacrificing the way Jesus did. And, I mean, there’s a revolution occurring. Thousands and thousands of people.
Now the Church that Jesus gave birth to gets attacked. In the first sixteen verses it gets attacked from within. In verse 17 through the end of the chapter it gets attacked from without.
And what you’re going to see is there are two things. Two things that are grace-stoppers. There’s two things and they happen to good people like you and good people like me. Literally, two specific things that will destroy God’s work in your life.
These two things will sap the power out of you, your small group, this church, and every church. Are you ready? Let’s look at attack number one.
To pick up the story we need to back up just a little bit because you get a sense of what’s going on at the end of Acts chapter 4. Remember we had the persecution? They were warned and they were released and then they started back, gathered all the people together, and they had a prayer meeting.
And after they had prayed, look at chapter 4 up at verse 31. “After they prayed the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God boldly.”
So God is affirming what they are doing. And then it’s though there was like a lens of the camera and it backs off and it kind of gives you this general picture of, well, what’s it like to be in the early Church?
They met in big groups, they met in homes but what was the spirit like? What was it like? And so the Spirit of God gives us a snapshot of that. Verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own but they shared everything that they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much grace was upon them.
“There was no needy person among them for from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to anyone as he might have need.”
And then that big lens, kind of, zeros in, like, I wonder what that would look like in an individual’s life. Verse 36: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus who the apostles called Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, sold a field that he owned and he brought the money and he put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Now, in your Bibles there’s a chapter break but that probably would be nice to not have that there because the story begins where I read it and now we’ve heard of Barnabas and now we’re going to get another example. A negative example.
“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 of it and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said to him, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and you’ve kept back for yourself some of the money you received from 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.’
“When Ananias heard this he fell down and died and great fear seized all who heard it at what happened. Then the young men came forward and they wrapped his body, they carried him out, and they buried him.
“About three hours later his wife came in not knowing what had happened and Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price that you and Ananias got for the land?’ And she replied, ‘Oh, yes, brother Peter, yes, we did. It was a big sacrifice. But we saw the needs of all the people and Ananias, after hearing about Barnabas and his generosity, we just felt like that’s something God wanted us to do. We’re actually pretty wonderful, aren’t we?’”
I’m reading into the text just a bit. But I do that because that’s what behind all this. “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the men whose feet buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out as well.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and finding her dead carried her out, buried her beside her husband, and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” I guess so.
Now, I didn’t grow up as a Christian. I’d never opened the Bible until I was eighteen. In fact, my view of Christianity was very, very poor. But at eighteen I went away to school and there was a bricklayer there that was a Christian and helped me begin to grow spiritually.
And I soon learned that I really liked reading through the New Testament. And when I got to this part it was like spooky and scary.
Because I was thinking, Now, I mean, lying I know is bad but death? And it was like isn’t that kind of harsh? Or worse, I was thinking, “Okay, now, if I’m a Christian, if I lie and start pretending a little bit, I mean, am I going to get zapped?”
In other words, what’s going on in this passage? What’s really going on here? What’s the attack? What was the sin? Why did God judge it severely? And then maybe more importantly, what in the world does it got to say to you and to me today?
We’ve given you the story and I’ll make a few observations in a minute. And then we’re going to look at a temptation, we’re going to look at the judgment, verses 5 and 10. You have a man die and then three hours later a woman dies.
Then we’ll look at the reason and the result. It’s very interesting, the external attack follows exactly the same line and I want you to catch that.
So the story, a few observations is this is the first sin in the Church. This is the first time Satan is introduced. We never hear his name, first time we see his name. This is a, not, this wasn’t an, “Oops, I messed up.” They talked about it, they came up with a plan, it was willful deception.
This isn’t that I was seeking to live the life and I blew it today. This is two people that came together and decided: how do we get people to think that we’re way better and way more spiritual than we are?
Fourth observation, it’s a very interesting theological passage. You notice in verse 2 he says, “You lied to the Holy Spirit.” And you drop down to verse 4 and then he says, “You lied to God.” So this is a very important passage on the deity of the Holy Spirit. That God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit are co-equal, one essence, three persons.
And then you get this amazingly powerful, harsh judgment. So, what’s going on here?
Let me suggest that the temptation is to pose. It’s to pretend. Failure to reach our ideals is not hypocrisy. We all fall short. Hypocrisy is deliberate deception trying to make people think we are more spiritual, more loving, more kind.
It went something like this: they were in one of their home groups because they met in the big temples and in one of their home groups, I’m reading into the text just a little bit, and people, there was a buzz. “Hey, did you hear about Barnabas?” “Yeah, yeah.”
It’s like downtown Manhattan Island, that’s what Cyprus was like. I mean, this was a very choice piece of property. He said, “You know what? I’ve got a lot. These people don’t have much. You know, I’m not going to keep score and look at my gross or net worth. I’m going to take that and I’m going to sell it and I’m going to give it and help these people because all these slaves are coming to Christ and there’s all this need.”
And then pretty soon, people are talking. “Wow, man, that Barnabas is a generous guy. I mean, boy, he really loves people.” And I think Ananias and Sapphira were hearing that and what they wanted is they wanted the applause of people. They wanted the people to think really well of them.
And the sin here is they pretend. The sin is they pose. We’ve all done it, right? Right? We all pose. We all project. “Oh, I would have called you back. I just missed you so much.” When the fact of the matter is it was on your answering machine or you saw it on your phone and you went, “Oh, man, I’m so glad I didn’t pick up on that one.” Right?
“Oh, could you help us out?” “Oh I really wanted to come. I really, really did.” When you’re thinking, “I’m so glad I was out of town. I hate going to that stuff.”
Just the other day I was texting a friend and I learned, in the last twenty-four, thirty-six hours I’ve had to change my schedule and I meant to text him to let him know I had to change my schedule and I procrastinated and then last night, you know, I’m thinking, Oh, it’s tomorrow. I’m not giving him any notice.
And so just before the service I texted him and said, “Hey, you know, I really need to change our time we’re going to meet.” And then I added this line: “I just found out about it and I’m really sorry but…”
And now I’m preaching this passage, right? And I’m thinking, “Well, I just found out about it twenty-four hours ago, which I could have told you.” But I was posing. I didn’t want him to think that he was unimportant. I didn’t want him to think that I would just not give him more notice if I could. I wanted him to think better of me. Any of you all do that? We all do that.
And you say to yourself, Well, if we all do that, why does God judge it so harshly? Because at the core of posing is hypocrisy. At the core of posing is, I will tell you this, this story tells us that Ananias and Sapphira reveal how seriously God regards His Church as an authentic manifestation of His character.
This is a brand-new baby. And if He lets inauthenticity and hypocrisy and people begin to play games and use the Church as a political place and to get the applause of people and if it’s not for real, if the people aren’t for real, if they don’t live it out, then like cancer, the thing would have been gone in the first few years.
God emphatically is serious when He says the world should be able to look at the lives of His fellow servants who walk with Jesus and see something different, significant. Perfect? No. But progressively Christ-like and honest and real and when they blow it, they say things like, “I blew it. I’m sorry.” They own their stuff.
See, it’s the sin of pretending to be more devoted to God than we really are. It’s a sin of portraying outward actions that don’t correspond to inward reality.
The essence, it’s playing games with God in order to gain the applause and the approval of people. And at the core, according to this text and the Holy Spirit, it’s lying to God, it’s lying to others, and it’s lying to yourself.
And here’s the danger of posing. Once you start getting the applause of people for misrepresenting where you’re really at with God, I will tell you what, you’ll start believing your own stuff.
And you’ll start thinking you’re really kind and you’re really loving and pretty soon there’s this image, this almost spiritual hologram that you portray and the reality is back here. You know what Sapphira’s name means? Beautiful. This is, her name means beautiful and her behavior is ugly.
You know what Ananias’ name means? God is gracious. Or God is generous. And he’s one greedy dude in his heart. But he wanted to come off as gracious and generous.
And when I do this and when you do this and it starts, I mentioned the texting, it starts in little things. “Oh, I’ll really pray for you.” That’s bigger. And then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I really want to follow You, God, whatever You want me to do. But I’m not consulting Your word, I’m not talking to You, I’m not reading, I’m not doing anything. But I just expect You to bless me.”
And then the pretension and the posing and pretty soon who you are, and what you purport to be, tells two different stories. And when unbelievers get up close and they smell us and see us and you know what? They see that difference. They say, “You know what? I don’t believe in your message and I don’t believe in your Savior.” That’s why the judgment was so harsh. God was protecting His church.
I’ve done this passage once with a group of pastors and I said, “Guys, you do understand that if God was acting like this that most of us would have to change jobs and instead of being pastors, we’d have to be undertakers. And we’d just have to bury all these people in our church.”
And then I said, “No, no, not really. Probably there wouldn’t be any undertakers because pastors pose as much or more than anybody else.” So there wouldn’t anybody around to bury people.
But when God wanted to make the point, and He wanted to stop the attack, and this is satanic. Okay? This is serious.
And some sins once they get going, here’s the problem: since we know everybody else kind of poses, since we know that everyone else has levels of hypocrisy, we say stuff like, “Well, no one’s perfect.”
God’s not asking to be perfect. He’s asking and demanding that you be authentic. Listen carefully. Purity is a prerequisite for power. You want to know why the Church today, or the small groups today, aren’t like the small groups and the Church in Acts? It’s posing. It’s lack of purity.
I think it’s also interesting as you look at this passage that it has to do with finances. I mean, Jesus talked more about finances than heaven and hell combined. You say, “Well, why?” Because, see, Jesus said in Matthew, you might jot this down, Matthew 6 verses 19 to 22. According to Jesus wherever your treasure is there’s a chain connected to it and that chain is connected to your heart.
So wherever your treasure is that’s the revealer. That’s the MRI, the X-Ray machine of the Holy Spirit of God, if you ever want to know where you’re at spiritually just look at your money.
Wherever your money flows it tells you where your loyalty is. It says where your priorities are. It says what really matters.
According to Jesus, are you ready for this? According to Jesus, the two gods are not God and Satan. He said Satan is not a god, he’s a tempter. He’s a beautiful, powerful, created angel. You know what Jesus says? You read that passage in Matthew 6. Jesus says, “There’s me, God, or mammon.”
Those are the two things that are vying for your heart and my heart. It’s money. It’s materialism.
Now, interestingly, you got your Bibles open? Skip back up to verse 31 and after God is affirming them, right? Chapter 4 verse 31, it says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
And that word literally means “to be controlled by.” And notice in verse 31 there of chapter 4, they’re controlled or they’re filled. There’s one baptism, you trust Christ and you’re put in the body of Christ. There’s many fillings.
So, what happens to their behavior when Jesus is controlling their behavior? Look at verse 32, 33, 34. They have one heart, one mind, unity. Everyone says they don’t claim anything as their own. This isn’t socialism, they weren’t in a commune, they didn’t have to give anything.
But it was, since Jesus is living in them and controlling them and their values it’s like, look, all that I have comes from God. So if I have a lot and you have a little, of course I would share because that’s what the Holy Spirit would do.
And I know that He’ll meet my needs. So there’s generosity and then there’s boldness and there’s power when you’re filled with the Spirit.
Now, skip down to about verse 3 or 4 of chapter 5 and Peter says, “Ananias, how has Satan filled your heart?” You ready for this? Same word. Exact same word. He was being controlled by. He was being influenced by.
But where did it come from? It came from envy. It came from jealousy. It came from, “I want people to think of me the way they think of Barnabas, but I don’t trust God. I don’t believe if I sold a piece of property that God will meet my needs so I’m going to keep control.”
It’s not about money, it’s about control. And it’s about under the control, a lack of faith. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to pose and I’m going to sell this, keep this for me. His sin was he said he paid this for the land. Before, he didn’t have to sell the land. And after he sold the land he said, “Peter, tell you what. My wife and I really been praying. We’re convinced that 4.7 percent of this ought to go to the church.” And Peter would have said, “Thank you very much. Appreciate it.”
He could have said seventy-two percent of it. He could have said five percent of it. But what he said was, “We paid, this was what we got for the land and we’re giving it all because we’re so generous.” Hypocrite.
See, money is one of those things that it’s like real objective. You know what I mean? I can say, “Oh, I’ve got this really great feeling. Ooh. Man, when we worship, I get this great feeling.” Or, “I feel close to God when I did this or listened to this song or prayed or I…”
And all that’s kind of subjective and I’m all for all those subjective things. But let me tell you where there’s no power in the Church. The average believer in America gives 2.8 percent of their money to the Church of Jesus Christ.
In America, across the board, of all the millions of people who go to church, over half the people in any church give absolutely nothing.
See, there’s this lack of connection between, “Oh, my mouth.” This is what Isaiah said when he was bringing down the judgment of God upon people. He says, “Israel, you honor Me with your lips but your deeds and your ways are far from Me.”
And so when I say, “I love God, You’re the most important person in my life. I have these needs. I’m really praying. I really need Your help.” And my money says, “What I love is me.” And I have all this debt and I have all this stuff. See, it’s not about the money. It’s about who is controlling my heart.
Which desires are getting fed? And then at the end of the day it’s really about faith. “Well, I would like to be generous and help people but…” And then the “but” is you just list why is it that over half of all the marriages that fail are around financial issues?
Money is never a problem in marriage. Money just reveals values. And when there’s lots of debt, lots of stuff you can’t afford, lots of credit cards that you pay part-time on, what you’re saying is, “I don’t tremble at God’s Word.”
Basic biblical stewardship would just have certain things like God says give the very first off the top so you remember that I own it and so that My mission gets done. And then He says things like: don’t spend more than comes in. That’s a radical idea, you know?
And by the way, I own it all and so what I want you to do is it’s not just about giving. I actually want you to save, even if it’s just a little, I want you to actually invest, even if it’s just a little. And then what comes in each month I want you to keep the number that comes in bigger than the number that goes out.
You do that for three years and then five years and then seven years and twenty years and thirty years. I will tell you, you will end up with surplus and greatly blessed.
Now, do you understand why, see, it’s just a revealer. Now if you happen to be brand-new, by the way, or you’re brand-new in Christ, you know, this is a journey. You know, this isn’t some big message on finances.
You know why we’re talking about finances? Because we’re in chapter 5. Okay? Chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4. This is what happened. And it is the greatest, clearest revealer of where your heart is.