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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Acts part 9: A united people

Building the right foundation part 9

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

English Standard Version Anglicised

Text: verse 32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
We continue in our studies in Acts for our series “Building the right foundation.” We are now in our 9th study as we seek to re-establish ourselves as the church here in Callington it is good to remind ourselves that we must build on the right foundation. The early church were learning this experientially and thankfully Luke researched those early days thoroughly and has given to us this divinely inspired accurate account of the events as they unfolded. The wonderful thing about scripture is that it is blatantly honest therefore it records events both good and bad. The things that happened in the early church are as other history in the bible; they are recorded in order that we might learn from them as they serve as both encouragements and warnings. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul used an example from Israelite history in order to warn the church against idolatry, he said that “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” The experiences of the people of God serve as examples to us. The passage that we have read this morning is a grave warning to the church about false faith. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira brought great fear not only upon the church but also upon all who heard it.

Before we go any further there is an important issue at hand in this very point. The church of today often focusses upon the love of Jesus and forgets that our God is an awesome God who is holy and just in every way. We forget His hatred of sin and His judgement upon those who play games with him. Ananias and Sapphira had colluded to try to deceive God and the church into believing that they were more generous that they actually were. This might sound rather trifling to us today but God will not tolerate any who attempt to take glory to themselves. That was the sin of Satan in heaven and which caused him to be ejected. It was the original sin of both Adam and Eve; deception towards God is unacceptable and will be punished. This story serves as a dire warning to the church today. If you are here today making out to the church and to God that you are something that you are not beware, learn from Ananias and Sapphira that God will not tolerate your behaviour. You may fool the church but the Holy Spirit of God knows your every motive. In this if you are disingenuous then you are already under judgement and are in a perilous situation.
As always there is hope for you and so stay with us and hear not only of the judgement of God but also of His wonderful mercy to His people.
Now back to our text, we will consider 2 things from the text:
  1. Who are the full number?
  2. What does it mean to be of one heart and soul?

Who are the full number?
The answer is simple and obvious from the text; they are ALL those who believed! This in itself is a wonderful statement that tells us that there is firstly none missing from the church and secondly that belonging is by faith alone. The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead as God's provision for the forgiveness of sin for all who believe and call upon His name for salvation is effective. Consequently a great number have been added to the church and continue to dos so. On the day that Luke is recording they were then the full number which means that ALL whom God intended had been gathered by the Holy Spirit of God. These were the true believers of the day and what is true of their day is equally true of our day. The full number to this day are now ALL together, you see the promise of God is that none will be lost and so the church up to now is the full number which will continue in the days of grace that we have left. As we know from the events that are to follow in Acts there were still many more to be added to their number in the days to come. As we consider beyond the New Testament church and throughout church history until today then we see that God in a remarkable way has kept the church “topped up” to the full number at all times. Jesus told us that this would be true right up until the very end of the age when none that are called of God will be lost. This is the most wonderful truth that we can ever imagine. The full number were gathered at the time of the apostles, the full number is gathered today, it might be scattered across the entire globe but all are so far safely gathered in and the gatherer of souls is still reaping His harvest. This will continue until one day the final full number will be complete and then the promise is that the full number will be taken up with Christ into the eternal presence of God the Father when they will be glorified, perfected and presented as a perfect people in the same way as a beautiful bride is presented to her groom. What a wonderful day that will be.
Sadly some whom we know and love, some who belong to our earthly churches will not be among that number. On that day they will attempt to come to Jesus and call Him lord, lord as is their custom now but His answer to them will be “away from me for I never knew you.” These are the Ananias and Sapphira types who took glory to themselves and never gave completely to God. It was not about the money but the lie.
There is a parallel story in the Old Testament. It is during the time when the Old Testament people of God were taking the land as their inheritance. They had experienced the Passover and had gone through the Red Sea, they had wandered through the wilderness for 40 years and had gone through the Jordan and were in Canaan. Ai the first city in Canaan had been defeated and God had pronounced that the people should not benefit from the spoils of that war but that all should go to His glory. Enter Achan who wanted some of the treasure for himself. He took it and hid it under his bed the result of this was much suffering for the nation. When Achan was exposed he paid the penalty for his deception; both he and his entire family died as God's judgement.
What a pity that Ananias and Sapphira did not take his example to heart. Surely they would not have continued in their deception had they given it some thought. Just as at the new beginning of the nation of Israel God now set the example of the seriousness of deception by dealing with Ananias and Sapphira equally!
It is interesting that we never hear prayers for God to work in this way today. I am personally glad that He does not because I would never have reached the grand old age of 64 had He treated me as I deserve and in this matter neither would you be here today.
The example was set on that day, the lesson ought to be learned but have you learned it?
God will not be lied to.
The second point is this:

The believers had all things in common.
Luke uses Barnabas the son of encouragement as an example of what was true of the whole church. Where Ananias and Sapphira took glory for themselves, Barnabas took none for himself. The issue centred around Christians in need. To understand what the issue was we need to know that becoming a Christian at that time had started to make things difficult for many. The gospel of Jesus Christ was odious to the authorities and they were starting to have an effect. As representatives of the Old Testament faith they were supposed to care for the underprivileged amongst them but now they were set on making believers poor by taking their jobs away and thus their wherewithal to support themselves and their families. Where society failed the church stepped up to the plate. We cannot take from this passage (as some do) a theology of poverty and selling all and giving to the poor. We cannot say that this is prescriptive for the church but what is true is that the church was reacting to a situation of the day caringly towards those in need amongst them. Notice on this occasion this care was not for all people but for fellow believers. Loving as Jesus commands must first come to the people of faith because this is our witness to others.”See how they love one another!”
Belongings to the early church were seen as opportunities to support each other. They were united in their belongings by example but they were also united in heart. They truly loved each other, that is why Ananias and Sapphira stand out so starkly! They loved themselves and their reputation first. One of the marks of a true Christian is that we love the people of faith. We love the true church over and above the rest! Christians do we truly love each other, would we give whatever is necessary to a brother or sister in Christ? Are we seen and known as a loving community?
Do not forget that Peter had to confront first Ananias and then Sapphira with their sin. He had to pronounce judgement upon Sapphira and he watched her drop down dead upon his judgement. We must also judge who are true believers and then love them as we do ourselves. We are not to become sentimental when we speak of loving the saints because there is a different love for those outside of the family of faith. God will not tolerate sin amongst His people and neither must we. We do not ask for their immediate death but we do not let them have authority amongst us through their deceptions. We are united with the church but not with the disingenuous within our number. With Christians we have all things in common and we work together for the glory of Christ, whatever their church associations are but with those who are not true gospel people we are not united.
The final point of the text brings all of this together because unity in the church is all dependant upon unity of soul. It is the soul that is the heart of the matter. It is our soul which is our very being that has been saved. It is in our soul that we are truly united together because in this we are also united with God. We are his family and as such we are intrinsically bound together. We often say that blood is thicker than water meaning that family is a strong bond that binds us together. The blood of Jesus purifies His people and brings about forgiveness of our sins, our family ties are His blood which is sufficient to save the final full number of the church without any loss and to bring all as one family into eternal unity with God in heaven.

Will you be there?

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