Open your Bible to Acts chapter 4. And we’re going to begin to look, and we’ll see how far we go, at a section of the Book of Acts that includes the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 that I’ve entitled, “The Sins of the Saints.” This section actually records the wonderful, beautiful, loving, caring sacrificial unity of the church. That’s in the first part. And then when we come to chapter 5, it introduces to us the first recorded sin in the church. We know, because we have gone through this journey of the new church born on the Day of Pentecost. We know that the early day of the church’s history were bright days. They were happy days. They were joyful days. They were blessed days. They were days of fellowship. They were days of teaching sound doctrine. They were days of prayer. They were days of breaking bread around the Lord’s Table, and eating meals from house to house with fellow believers. The joy was really overwhelming. The love was all-inclusive. The fellowship was deep and rich. The testimony of converted souls was loud and clear. The result, of course, in the early weeks of the church, had been an explosion of believers, to the point that perhaps as many as 20,000 people have now come to faith in Christ, and gone through the waters of baptism. Virtually every pool in the city of Jerusalem must’ve been being used for baptisms, starting on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 people were baptized, all across the city of Jerusalem.
Everything at this point in the church is joyful, and upbeat, and glorious. In fact, when persecution broke out, as we saw last time in chapter 4, the church met it head on. And the church was triumphant, even in the face of that persecution. We remember the triumph of the church in the face of persecution because in the fourth chapter, the preaching of the gospel that brought about the persecution also brought about 5,000 more conversions among men, plus women, to be added to that as well. So, persecution came, but persecution didn’t have a negative effect on the church. The church prayed harder, preached harder, was granted more boldness by the Holy Spirit, and more and more and more people came to believe.
God was real. Christ was alive. The Spirit’s power surged through them. They literally overwhelmed their persecutors with courage and boldness. Never had the world seen days like these. Never. Not since the fall of Adam, ever, had there been anything like this, because never before had the Messiah come. Never before had the atonement for sin been offered. Never before had the resurrection of the redeemer taken place, and thus secured resurrection for all who put their trust in Him. Never before had the provision for the forgiveness of sins been offered. Never before had God been fully satisfied. Never before had the Holy Spirit taken up full residence in people. Never before had there been new natures implanted in redeemed souls. This was all new in redemptive history. This was the new age, the era of the new covenant. It was glorious, and the people were literally on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sheer force of the truth of the gospel.
But Satan was active. His first acts against the church were returning him exactly what he didn’t want. He fired out at the church with persecution, and persecution failed to quelch the fire. Eternal purposes were being unfolded. Eternal power was being unleashed. An external pressure was like pouring gas on that fire. Satan then knew that if he was going to do damage to the church, it wasn’t going to happen from the outside. He was going to have to get on the inside.
And so, as we come here to this section before us, we see Satan’s assault on the inside of the church. It’s in this section that Satan goes to church. We come face to face here with the first open incident of sin in the church. This is the beginning. And sin has had a foothold in the church ever since, ever since. This is the heartbreaking beginning of what all generations of believers throughout all history in all places in all churches have had to face: the reality that Satan goes to church. Jesus warned about this. He said Satan would sow tares among the wheat. The first instruction that our Lord ever gave to the church was that, if someone’s in sin, go to that person. If they don’t repent, take two or three witnesses. If they don’t repent, tell the whole church, and that’s essentially the first duty given to the church: confront sin and expel the sinner who will not repent.
Sin has plagued the church. Moral sin. Doctrinal sin. It has plagued the church ever since. It plagues the church now. This is where Satan does his greatest damage. History would tell us that to persecute the church externally only causes the church to become purer and more powerful and more effective. So, Satan works inside the church.
So we’re going to look at the inauguration, if you will, of the sins of the saints in the history of the church. And I really pray to the Lord that as you hear this unfolded, it will find a place in your heart that makes you perhaps more alert, more wary, more thoughtful about the seriousness of sin in the church.
This passage also is to be viewed another way. This passage demonstrates the almost stubborn honesty of the Bible. It would seem that the ugliness of this sin might well have been left out. I mean, after all, it was no demand that it be placed in Scripture. God could’ve painted the picture perfectly and left out such a gross flaw. But God is not about to paint an untrue picture of anything, and certainly not His church. The church is not perfect. It wasn’t perfect in its pristine form, and it’s not perfect now. It is not a place for perfect people. It is a hospital for people who know they are sick and also know what the cure is. “A hospital is not a nice, clean, refrigerator designed to keep a few select souls from spoiling,” one writer said. The church is imperfect because people are imperfect. There’s sin in the church because there are sinners in the church.
Once, I remember reading some of my historical reading about Cromwell. Cromwell, the great English leader, had hired a painter to paint his portrait. Cromwell actually was disfigured in his face by many warts. The painter who was hired to paint his face, hoping to please Cromwell, left all the warts off the portrait. When Cromwell saw the painting, it is recorded he said, “Take it away and paint me, warts and all.” Well, the Bible always does that. It always paints its heroes and its antiheroes and its history, warts and all.
There is a reality in this, there’s a truthfulness in this, and there’s also an encouragement in this. Because, warts and all, God took that early church with its sin, its sinners, and transformed the entire world. We need to know that, don’t we? The fact that the Lord, from the very beginning, had to work with sinful people, gives us hope. When the apostle Paul talked about his ministry and the struggles of ministry in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 24 to 28, he talked about all the beatings, and whippings, and shipwrecks, and all of that. But really, the hardest part of ministry for the apostle Paul, he says, was the care of all the churches. He says this: “Apart from external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” This is the burden that every pastor bears, every church leader, if not every church member bears. Sinners are in the church. We’re all sinners. None of us is perfect.
You hear people say very often, “I don’t want to go to church because there are a bunch of hypocrites there.” My answer to that person is, “That’s right, and there’s plenty of room for another one.” In fact, Paul is so concerned about sin in the church that he has forever identified the sinners by name. You know how he does that. He speaks of sinners in the Corinthian church. He speaks specifically about those sinners that bothered him in his other churches, the Philippian church. He speaks of people who are disruptive and heretical by name in writing to Timothy. John even mentions a man who loved to have the preeminence, Diotrephes, for all time. He is memorialized as a sinner having an evil influence on the church. Just ministry in general, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “Brethren, we request of you that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
So, there’s a sort of categories for members. There are the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak. This is who we are. We are unruly in the sense that we break the rules that God has ordained. We are weak in the sense that we fail. Those are characterizations that are accurate. So, the Bible never backs off of that, as I said. The Bible is almost embarrassingly blunt about the reality of the people of God. Certainly, we would say that’s true of Israel, and the church, even true believers, are characterized legitimately as an assembly of redeemed sinners, redeemed sinners.
Here in the Book of Acts, that becomes very apparent, very public in chapter 5. Peter has to deal with this. I’m not surprised that Peter got the first assignment to deal with sinners in the church because Peter wouldn’t have any problem accepting the fact that that was a reality since he was a well-known sinning apostle.
But before we get to the fifth chapter and the sins of the saints, there’s an interesting preliminary section that sets that sin into perspective starting in verse 32. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
This is an amazing element of church life. We were saying it was all beautiful and joyful and sacrificial, and loving, and unified. Here is the great illustration of that. Their unity and their love was genuinely sacrificial. I mean, how far would you got to meet somebody’s need? Are you prepared, if you own a piece of land, to sell your land, that is an appreciating commodity, to sell your land and take the money, and hand it over to the church and say, “Do whatever you want with this money to meet the needs of people?” Are you prepared to do that?
The early church, these have been believers for weeks, just weeks, they are so unified, verse 32 says, that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” I mean, this should be true of every congregation.
Philippians 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in the manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” We all know Philippians chapter 2. “Look not on your own things but the things of others.” Loving unity should always mark the church.
Well, in verses 32 to 37, we have the sharing of the saints before we have the sins of the saints. Those who believed, please notice, indicates again that this is a true church. They are all genuine believers. They are all in Christ. They are all the real thing. This is a congregation. This is the purest, truest church of real believers. They have one heart and one soul. What does that mean? Literally, the heart and soul of those who had become believers is one. They’re unified so that it is such a unity, not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
This is not communism; this is simply saying no one held onto anything. They all understood that it all belonged to the Lord, and it all was to be used for His honor and His glory and His people. That is a perspective that should be true of every believer and how you view whatever it is that you possess. They loved each other. They rejoiced in each other. They were humble before each other. They were selfless. They were sacrificial. They were preoccupied with the needs of others. This is so new and so fresh and so dynamic and so powerful and so awesome, this experience of the church, that they have no thought of preserving anything that they own or possess. They hold it lightly in their hands, as a stewardship from the Lord Himself to be used for whoever has a need.
Not only is there strong unity, but there’s strong preaching. Verse 33. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” They’re going out and they’re preaching the glory of the resurrection. They’re too busy caring for each other and too busy preaching the gospel to the world to waste time over selfish bickering, personal pursuits, idle talk, gossip, backbiting, criticism, divisiveness, self-will, self-gratification, self-aggrandizement. They had no time and no energy to spend on themselves.
And out of that zeal and out of the sheer exhilaration of having been regenerated and constituted as the body of Christ, the church, they roar, as it were, through the city of Jerusalem with the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostles lead the parade, giving testimony to the resurrection, all the time, and everywhere. And if you took the time, you would start in chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost when Peter first preaches the resurrection. Then chapter 3 when he preaches the resurrection again. Here, in chapter 4, the resurrection is again noted as the theme of their preaching. When you come to chapter 5, verse 30, Peter again says, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death,” preaching the resurrection in chapter 5, and it keeps going like this through all those early chapters.
I told you last time we talked about how to face persecution, that when persecution comes, you don’t suppress the message. You don’t alter the message. You don’t suppress it because it offends people. Of course it offends people. It has to offend them. They need to be offended. Back in chapter 4 verse 20, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And I told you last time that their problem was: they couldn’t stop them from speaking. The problem in the church today is we can’t get people started speaking.
They also experienced special favor, spiritual favor, end of verse 33, “abundant grace was upon them all.” When you’re that obedient, that humble, that sacrificial, that loving, that united, that zealous, that passionate to pour out the message of the gospel and be bold and courageous, even in the face of persecution, believe me, great grace will come from heaven.
Some people think that means favor from the people. Well, there was that. They did have favor from the people. People were stunned by them. We read that at the end of chapter 2, that they did have favor with the people. But I think far more importantly, because of their obedience, because of their priorities, because they were doing exactly what God wanted them to do, heaven unleashed grace, favor on the church, a church that has one soul, one heart, loving, joyfully, sacrificial, giving up everything, holding all possessions lightly, for whatever use some other person might have, yielding them up readily, happily, a church that is passionate and zealous to proclaim the message of the gospel, the resurrection of Jesus Christ will be flooded with divine favor. Blessing, results, joy. That’s a promise of God.
Now, this became very practical. Start back in verse 32. And no one “claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” They treated what they owned, and people owned things. They owned land like Barnabas. They owned things. But people treated them as if they belonged to anybody who might need what they could provide. Down to verse 34. “For there was not a needy person among them.” Not a needy person among them. Wonderful. Amazing. How could that be? “For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales.” Can you imagine that? I mean, what would it take for you to sell your house to meet someone’s need? This is the spiritual grace that has literally engulfed these people.
Their perspective is so heavenly that it’s hard for us to even relate to. Certainly, in our society, more than any society perhaps in history, we’re in the business of acquiring, and acquiring, and acquiring. I think of that every time I drive past one of those storage places. What? If you can’t even reach it, why do you have it? If you can’t use it, why do you need it? And then there are the wacky hoarders. I don’t comprehend that. There is no way I can even understand that. That is the bizarre, over the edge, all the way down to the bottom psychological reality of people who just spend their whole life attaching way to much importance to stuff.
They didn’t even mind selling a house they lived in. They didn’t mind selling a piece of land they lived on, or raised their animals on, or their crops. And they didn’t need to control where it went. So, verse 34, they would, if needed, sell their land, sell their houses, bring the proceeds of the sales, “and lay them at the apostles’ feet.” Why did they do that? Because they trusted the apostles to distribute them. They didn’t want to make that decision. That’s what you do, you know, when in a small sense, when you give to the church every Sunday, you lay that money at the feet of the elders and pastors and shepherds who make a decision as to how best that is to be used. But just try to put yourself in a position where you know there are a whole lot of people who have need, and so you go and sell your land and sell your house, bring all the money, hand it to the apostles and say, “Do whatever you want.” Give it to whoever needs it.
That’s a pretty staggering level of trust. That’s a pretty amazing level of confidence. By the way, it was all voluntary. Some people say well no, this is communism. Everybody sold everything, it all went into a pot, and they doled it out equal.
No. Go down to chapter 5 verse 4. Peter confronts Ananias about a piece of land. “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? Even after it was sold, was it not under your control?” They did not immediately, all of them sell everything and then dole it out in equal portions. People continued to own things. But whenever they recognized the need, their sacrifice was great. Now remember, you’ve got thousands of people who came for the feast of Pentecost, and that’s when the church was born. They don’t want to leave. Why don’t they want to leave? Because there’s no church in their town. There’s only one church in the world. This is it. They don’t want to go. What are they going to go back to? Paganism? Judaism? So they stay. So you have a massive crowd of thousands of people who are there with no homes, no jobs, they’re not going to get a job in this society very likely. Why? They have abandoned Judaism. They’re viewed as apostates. They’re kicked out of the synagogue. They’re basically social pariahs and outcasts. They have to be cared for, even the apostle Paul later, after this, travels throughout Asia Minor raising money to take back to give to the poor Jerusalem saints, many of whom never left. Some of whom gave everything they had away, and therefore had needs that had to be met.
What an amazing, amazing level of love, sacrifice. Just amazing. All voluntary, all joyful, all expressive of their love for the Lord. The apostles then, according to verse 35, have the responsibility to do the distribution as, in chapter 6, they chose deacons to do the distribution of the food to the widows who weren’t getting a fair share of food. Amazing attitude. I just would stop here and say this: this is the Christian view of money, okay? This is the Christian view of money. This is the believer’s view of money.
None of it really is yours. None of it. Okay? It’s not 90 percent is yours and a tenth is God’s. None of it is yours. It is God who gives you the power to get wealth. All of it is a stewardship of resources that, in the end, belong to God. You belong to God. Your children belong to God. Your money belongs to God. Your house belongs to God. Your land belongs to God. Your abilities, your talents, your resources, they all belong to God, and they are all there to be used for His honor and for His glory. And when love was so compelling, so driving, people gave it up easily. I will admit to you this didn’t last, because John writes much later in that first century, chapter 3 verse 17, “Whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.” So, already when you get to the end of the century, Christians are being selfish. They’re hanging on. They’re clinging to what they think belongs to them.
James 2 verse 14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” In other words, faith alone without works isn’t a saving faith, ‘cause if it’s a saving faith, it produces works. If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Brother or sister, believer, go in peace. Be warmed and be filled.” And you don’t give him what is necessary for his body, what use is that? That’s useless. It’s absolutely useless.
And who is the model for the Corinthians who are being selfish and possessive and stingy, to use an old word? The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, and he’s very firm with them about the way they are selfish in holding onto their money. And he reminds them of the Macedonians, the churches in Macedonia. Second Corinthians 8:2, “that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” Poor people with nothing giving up whatever they had to meet needs.
Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Why can’t you be like them?” So, admittedly, while this existed in the beginning in the church, it didn’t take long for believers to settle into the natural inclinations of living in the world, holding onto everything you have. So it is that James has to talk about it, Paul has to talk about it, John has to talk about it. There are many warnings in Scripture about loving money. The apostle Paul, right? The love of money is what? The root of all kinds of evil.
So we have to confess, again, that the church didn’t maintain this, but this was the pristine, pure church in its early life, in the euphoria of this incredible transformation. There was a unity there that was just absolutely precious, precious. And it began to die slowly through the years of that first century. And of course, has long died in the centuries since then. The warnings of Scripture instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.
Why? Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Laying up treasure where? In heaven. So, as we look at the end of chapter 4, we see this really unparalleled unity. First of all, the very existence of the church is unparalleled in all redemptive history. And their life together has never seen anything that parallels it. There’s nothing in all Scripture prior to this like this. There’s no group of people like this. This is stunning and staggering reality. And the proof of their passion and joy and love is in the fact that they would, in a second, sell their long-cherished, necessary assets and give all the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to anybody who had a need.
Then Luke, in writing this history, gives us an illustration, verse 36. “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth,” means he was born on the island of Cyprus, “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement).” You probably didn’t know, if you didn’t remember that verse, that Barnabas’ real name was Joseph. Barnabas was a nickname. It means Son of Comfort, or Son of Consolation, or Son of Encouragement, or Son of Exhortation. He no doubt had the gift of encouraging others, the gift of coming alongside and strengthening them. He was from that island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. His name was actually Joseph. There is a lot more about him.
Look at the 11th chapter. We won’t go into all this ‘cause we’ll catch it when we get there, but in chapter 11, the hand of the Lord was with them when they were in Cyprus and Cyrene, and came to Antioch. “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.” Here’s what I want you to see: “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”
He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of faith. He actually became a co-pastor of the church in Antioch, over to chapter 13 verse 1. At Antioch in the church that was there, “Prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” He was one of the group of co-pastors. We’ll learn more about him in the 14th chapter of the Book of Acts, and we’ll look at this in detail. Verse 14. Interesting. “When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,” just to note, he actually there is called an apostle. Now, he’s not an apostle with a capital A because he didn’t see Christ and he wasn’t personally appointed by Christ as Paul was. But the word “apostle” is also the word for “missionary.” Apostellō is the Greek verb, to send. He was sent as a missionary. In this sense, both he and Paul were missionaries. Paul was an Apostle, capital A, a chosen, called one by Christ , and an apostle, small A, in the sense that his responsibility was to be sent as a missionary.
Barnabas comes up again in chapter 15 in an argument about whether they’re going to keep John Mark who has been a disappointment to Paul, so Barnabas becomes a very, very important figure in this Book of Acts.
Now back to chapter 4. It says about him that he owned a tract of land, and he is a living illustration of what’s going on, and sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This is exactly what the previous verses said, verse 35. They would lay the money at the feet of the apostles, who would then distribute it. Barnabas does that. We’re talking about a piece of land, significant amount of money to meet significant need. Amazing generosity. Barnabas is just one out of many, and we don’t know anything about him at this point. He was a Levite, which means he was attached to the service of the temple. So he was Jewish, and he was significant. He gave out of the love of a pure heart, and he was sacrificial, and is really a model of what many others did.
So that sets the stage for chapter 5, and let’s look at it, at least to begin. We come to chapter 5. The first word is “but.” “But a man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.” Well, that’s exactly what Barnabas did. And now we meet two other people who did this. The generous, selfless love of the saints is going on all the time in the church. They’re meeting, remember, where did they meet? Where did I tell you they meet? In the temple. They don’t have a building, so they met in the temple courtyard, maybe the porch of Solomon. They’re there in the thousands meeting. The apostles are teaching and preaching both to them and to the crowds concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The people are bringing their money, selling their land, selling their houses, giving they money to the apostles. The people are being justifiably honored and thanked. People who are making sacrifices like this are sensing the love of those who are the beneficiaries of that sacrifice. Everybody understands the nobility of this kind of sacrifice.
So, a man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira, decide that they need to get in on this. The story of Ananias in the Book of Acts is kind of like the story of Achan in the Book of Joshua. In both narratives, an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God. The act of Achan interrupted it, and the act of Ananias interrupts it here.
Let’s meet him. Ananias means, good name, but I never met anybody named Ananias for obvious reasons. His name is, “The Lord is gracious.” Nice name. The Lord is gracious. His wife, maybe not too significant. Sapphira, take a guess. Sapphire. Sapphire. Sapphire actually can mean beautiful, understandably. So, she was kind of set in a bad course when she was a kid. You don’t really name your daughter beautiful. It’s a little hard to handle. At least it’s hard to be humble. You don’t want to name them ugly or homely either, but there’s some kind of middle ground that would work.
But she was a sapphire. They had watched all of this going on and they wanted to get in on some of the accolades. They wanted to get on some of the honor, so they sold a piece of property and kept back some of the price. It says that Ananias did this for himself with his wife’s full knowledge. And bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Their names, gracious and beautiful; their deed, anything but. They are professed believers. We could even assume they are real believers. They are actually in conversation with the Holy Spirit, as well as being strongly influenced by Satan. I don’t want to be dogmatic about whether they were only professing believers or genuine believers, but at this particular point, I lean on the side that they were real believers because of verse 32, “the congregation of those who believed.”
So I see this not so much as the sin of a professor, but the sin of a possessor. I mean, isn’t that the point of the whole thing? It isn’t just the unbelievers in the church that sin; it’s the believers in the church that sin. So they want to get in on this, and yet they want to do it by pretense, because they’re not really willing to sacrifice everything they have. So they sell their property. Obviously, they publically stated that they brought the full price of the sale, but they kept back some of it, actually, commiserating with each other, bringing only a portion, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. The pretense was: we’ve sold it all, we bring it all, it’s all here. Just as everybody else had done, they get in line to draw attention to themselves. The sin is not that they didn’t give. The sin is not that they didn’t give enough. In the New Testament, there’s no amount, there’s no percent. The sin is in lying, lying. God hates lying. They lied.
How do I know that? Verse 3. They lied to the Holy Spirit. Yeah, of course they lied to Peter. They lied to John. They lied to the apostles. But they also lied to the Holy Spirit. It’s like a Psalmist said, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this iniquity.” It’s the sin of lying. They had vowed, obviously, to the Holy Spirit, and to the apostles, and to the church that they were giving the full price of the sale, and they weren’t. They were lying.
And secret sin on earth, by the way, is an open scandal in heaven. The sin is lying that takes the form of hypocrisy. It is a lie that is intended to make them look spiritual. They sought to gain prestige, high praise for their low sin. They thought that they would be applauded for their sacrifice. And at the same time, they could free up a little cash and stash it away. The lie was simply the vehicle or the method by which they attempted to carry out their covetous scheme for status, for self-elevation. Really then, it becomes hypocrisy, doesn’t it? That dirty sin, creating a deceptive impression of one’s spiritual character; that’s hypocrisy, creating a deceptive perception of one’s spiritual character.
This sin, God hates above others. God hates, first of all, liars. First in the list in the Old Testament. Hypocrisy is not just a lie; it is a lying life. It is living a lie. Yes, one should give sacrificially. It’s wrong not to give sacrificially. But that’s not the point here. The point is: they lied. But it runs deeper than that. They not only lied, they lied to create a false perception of their spiritual condition. I will tell you, from God’s standpoint, no one is so ugly in God’s eyes as those who paint spiritual beauty on faces where there is none.
They are the ones who want to be elevated in the church, and they’ve been around a long time. Long time. They want people to think highly of them. They put on a façade. They put on a front. They’re hypocrites. Is the church full of hypocrites? Absolutely. None of us, truthfully, none of us lives as we ought to live. None of us lives perfectly. None of us lives the Christ-like life. But neither should we pretend that we do. Nor should we be in some kind of hurry to act as if the realities of our sin don’t even exist.
That’s exactly what was going on here. Yes, churches have hypocrites. Yes, people pretend to be spiritual when they’re not. That needs to be exposed. What sin would you have picked to be the first sin that the Lord disciplined in the church? Maybe you would’ve picked immorality. Maybe you would’ve picked stealing. Maybe you would’ve picked some form of blasphemy. Maybe you would’ve picked some breached relationship characterized by anger, hostility, lack of forgiveness. Those are all part of life in the church. But the sin that the Holy Spirit places here to inaugurate our understanding of sin in the church is the sin of hypocrisy, pretending to be something you’re not.
Well, they couldn’t get away with it. Not at all. Peter said, verse 3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” The first sin identified in the life of church is lying to God. Well, lying to men, sure. But who thinks they can get away with a lie to God? You can’t deceive Him. He knows your heart. He knows your mind. He knows your thoughts.
This is hitting the church at its most deep point. This is why Peter says judgment must begin at the house of God, 1 Peter 4. And that judgment begins with the spiritual integrity of the church. If the church is to be exposed, let it first and foremost be exposed for its hypocrisy. That deadly, hypocritical reality in a church is a kind of leaven that leavens the whole thing.
Well, we’ll say more about that next time. Our time is gone for now. And then we’ll see the consequences of all this. Suffice it to say at this point that you now understand the scene and the setting and the sin. Next time, we’ll look at the results and the impact. Let’s pray.
Again, Lord, what a wonderful evening we’ve had, hearing testimony, singing Your praise, fellowshipping together. And yet it’s been a very sobering evening. When we go through things like this, we again come face to face with the fact that even the best of churches, even in our beloved church which we all love, and to which we all turn for fellowship and teaching and ministry, there’s the reality of sin. We cannot overcome it in this life. That’s why we wait for the redemption of our bodies, our glorification.
But Lord, there is one sin that You have elevated and brought to our attention in bold relief, seemingly above the rest, and that is hypocrisy. Lord, don’t let us think we can lie to each other about who we are. Don’t let us think that we can lie to You. You hate a lying tongue. You hate a lying heart. Lord, give us spiritual integrity. Help us to be real believers. Not perfect, but genuine, honest, seekers for truth and pursuers of holiness. Strip out spiritual deception, fraud, hypocrisy. May we be a church that is pure and true. Deal with that in our church. Expose it where it is. Wherever that exists, Lord, expose that as You did in that first church and brought swift judgment for the sake of the purity of the testimony of the church, as well as the purity of the worship of the church. We want to be everything that You want a church to be. We want to be that ordinary church that we’ve talked about. Ordinary, in the sense that we are what the Scripture says we are to be. Purify Your church. Deliver us from deception and lies and hypocrisy. Make us real, true lovers of Christ and lovers of one another so that Your testimony may shine forth clearly. What a privilege. Give us the joy that comes out of that genuineness. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.