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Sermons

One In Heart and Mind

March 25, 2018 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: The Acts of Jesus - The Book of Acts

Topic: Community Passage: Acts 4:32–5:11

Deep in the heart of every person is a longing for a sense of family, a sense of oneness.  Young or old, you have a longing to belong; I have a longing to belong. There is a longing to be in a band of brothers (and sisters), where others have your back and you have their back; where others would lay down their life for you and you would lay down your life for them.  You would defend them to the death and they would defend you to the death. You would share anything you have to meet any pressing need in their life and you know they would do the same for you.

This is not merely a fantasy, it is a reality produced by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is significant that the Spirit came upon a small group of people who were of one mind, or of one accord.  And there is an important lesson from that. The Holy Spirit doesn’t show up among divided people. Nothing quenches his work and presence and  fullness among us like friction, and conflict and disunity. But also when the Spirit is poured out our love for one another and our sense of oneness with one another reaches a new level.  

When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the believers in Christ came into a closeness that had never been seen before.  The Baptism of the Spirit broke down walls between people like never before. Immediately after this outpouring of the Spirit it says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”.  “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes (from house to house), they ate (their meals) together with glad and sincere hearts...”.  Acts 4:32 says, “All the believers were one in heart and soul”.

The Holy Spirit had made them a community of new people.  They saw each other in a totally new way, than they did before. They were WITH each other and FOR each other and enjoying each other without competition and rivalry.  There was a spirit of of belonging to each another. They were brought so close to one another it was like they were one person with one heart and one soul.

When the Spirit inundates our heart, we become deeply connected to one another. Instead of being an isolated person with merely your own concerns and interests and dreams, the Spirit connects you to others.  Being filled with the Spirit produces this deep sense of communion and community with other believers. It is an inward compulsion to be with God’s people, to participate with God’s people, to share what you have with God’s people, to open your heart to God’s people.  

I know of someone who said, when they were first filled with the Spirit, for about 3 weeks they were overwhelmed with love for everybody!  The child of God loves others who are born of God.

In a book called achieving apostolic community, David Alley said, “Without the people of God being of one heart and one mind, we are no different than any other association of people….It is our brotherly love which differentiates us from all other things”.

This oneness of heart and soul, so deeply affected the early church that “nobody called any of his possessions his own.  Instead they shared everything they owned”. Acts 4:32

David Guzik said, “Because God had touched their lives so deeply (by His Spirit) they found it easy to share all things in common”.  

I do not think the point of Luke sharing this story was for Christians to start a commune.  Almost every time that has been tried throughout church history it has ended in calamity. But I believe his point in sharing this story was to show how deep and real this sense of family is among believers and to show the degree to which it should affect our lives.  

It should affect us to the point of releasing our things for the blessing and benefit of others - not just to family members but to members of our spiritual family.  Our understanding and our commitment to one heart and one soul relationships should open our lives and our homes and, at times, our bank accounts to each other.

One of the very first word that any child learns to say is “mine”.  They learn to say mommy and daddy and then “mine”. And it is probably the first word they say with real feeling.  It is not just “mine”, it is “mine!!!”. They say it with tenacity and anger. That attitude can be subdued by good parenting.   But until the Spirit of God invades our lives and changes our heart, a lot of that same selfish possessiveness remains.

There is a sense in which ownership is a healthy, and it is a Biblical concept, but because it is infected with sin, it often becomes a means of shutting others out and isolating ourselves by the boundary of our possessions.

But the outpouring of the Spirit brought such a sense of family and community that the sharing of possessions became normal, people were willing to sell a piece of land or a house so they could meet the needs of other saints.  They probably did not all sell all they owned all at once but over time as needs arose they gladly sold their things in order to meet those needs.

Verse 33 “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was on them all, since none of them needed anything, because everyone who had land or houses would sell them and bring the money received for the things sold and lay it at the apostles’ feet.  Then it was distributed to anyone who needed it”.

The apostles preached the good news about Jesus, and while they did that, all the people experienced “great grace” or “mega grace”.  David Guzik said, “Grace is God’s favor, (It is) His smile from heaven, and it was upon them all”. In other words, God was pleased with this oneness, this sharing and this readiness to meet needs in people’s lives.  The AMP says, “God’s remarkable lovingkindness and favor and goodwill richly rested on them all”.  

It seems that these great financial needs may have arisen from the great numbers of people from far off places, who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost, then responded to the message about Christ, and were now in Jerusalem without permanent housing and jobs. In a sense this was a kind of 1st Century refugee crisis.  But, while that was a unique situation, the principle of placing people’s needs above clinging to our things, never changes.

Verse 36 gives us a specific example of one man who sold some property.  “There was a man whose name was Joseph, but he was called “Barnabas” or “son of encouragement” by the Apostles, who sold a field that belonged to him”. Why is he mentioned?  He was a noteable example of this kind of generosity that Luke was writing about. So he was known for his generosity, AND for being an encourager! (What great things to be known for!)  He is also mentioned because he later became a partner with Paul in his missionary journeys.

But the OUTWARD act of selling a house or a piece of land was not the main thing that mattered.  The main thing that mattered was the love, and the oneness of heart and soul, inspired by the Holy Spirit”, out of which this radical generosity sprang.  But one man and woman focused on the outward act of selling property, while their own hearts were not in tune with the Holy Spirit at all.

So we come to the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  There is a reason Luke puts this story right here.  At a time when the Holy Spirit created such oneness of heart and soul that people were selling their possessions, they came up with a plan to LOOK like they also were sharing in this sacrificial generosity, when they were not.  They saw the respect that others, like Barnabas, received for their sacrificial giving and they wanted to be looked up to like that. They wanted to appear that they were a part of this great move of the Spirit without it costing them personally.

Chapter 5:1 “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 and put it at the apostles feet”.  

Ananias came up with a plan; he talked it over with his wife, she agreed to it, and they put it into action.  Here was the plan: we will sell a piece of property we own (maybe some land, maybe a rental property), we will act as if we are giving the entire amount of the proceeds to the apostles, (like others have done) but we will keep a major part of the proceeds for ourselves.  

We will do this by telling the apostles that we sold the land for less than we actually sell it for.  IE we sell this lot for $60,000. We tell the apostles we sold it for $30,000. We give them $30,000. We keep $30,000.  So then...We will look like super spiritual people. We will look like we are filled with love for others. The Apostles will think we are wonderful. We will look like we are part of this great move of the Spirit.  But without it really costing us that much.

Peter knew immediately he was being lied to by Ananias. “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.

How was this great deception uncovered?  I think this may have been communicated to him by the Spirit through what could be called “a word of knowledge”. (Which is a manifestation of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12)   On a flight back to Minneapolis recently, a man sitting beside me mentioned that he noticed I was reading about the Moravians. He said he had been a Presbyterian minister but was now teaching at a Protestant Seminary in MN.  Almost immediately I knew about a sin in this man’s life, and that he had abandoned a Biblical faith. The rest of our conversation confirmed both things.

Peter goes on to make it clear to Ananias that their land was their own, and they did not have to sell it.  “As long as (your land) remained unsold, wasn’t it your own?” (IE it was in your control to do with as you freely chose.)  And after it was sold wasn’t the money under your control?” Ananias and Sapphrira were free to do what he chose to do with their land and with their money.

God smiles at our generosity and he loves a cheerful giver, but he also wants our giving to be a free response under grace.  God said, “Let everyone give as he has purposed in his heart and not under compulsion”. Ananias and Sapphira did not have to sell their property because other people were doing that.  If it wasn’t in their heart to give all the proceeds they should have just felt free to give what they chose to give. Their problem was NOT that they didn’t give all their proceeds, it was the LIE!

Verse 4 continues, “How could you have thought of doing such a thing?  You did not lie only to men, but also to God”. Verse 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died.  And great fear seized everyone who heard about it. The young men got up, wrapped him us, carried him outside, and buried him.

Of course Peter knows that the sale price Ananias gave him is false, so when Sapphira shows up, he specifically questions her, “Did you sell the land for this amount?”  She said, “Yes”. Peter knows that is a lie and that she has conspired with her husband.

It seems somewhat shocking that she had the nerve to go ahead and tell Peter this bold faced lie!  But she carries out their scheme to the end. At that moment, she could have told Peter the truth. She had the opportunity, right there, to obey the Holy Spirit rather than stick with her husband’s plan.   

But she did not know that Peter had discerned her husband’s lie.  She did not know that her husband was already dead. She didn’t know their plan had already blown up.   She thought their plan was still working. So she stayed with the plan, She stuck with the lie.

In a classic old movie from 1944 called Double Indemnity, there is a man and woman who conspire together to murder her husband.  Of course they are caught. Then at the end of them movie there is this ominous sad statement, “They've committed a murder, and it's not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops. They're stuck with each other, and they've got to ride all the way to the end of the line, and it's a one-way trip, and the last stop is the cemetery.”  That’s what Ananias and Sapphira did, they conspired to lie to the Holy Spirit, they stuck with each other all the way to the end of the line and the last stop was the cemetery – quite literally, for both of them.

Verse 9 “How could you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Peter asked her.  “Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and these men will carry you outside as well”.  She instantly fell down at Peter’s feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead. So they carried her out and buried her next to her husband.”

Peter did not pronounce a death sentence on Ananias.  It was a judgment of God. But having seen him fall dead, Peter knows the same will happen to Sapphira.  So he announces her death to her ahead of time.

Many people have big problems with this.  Why did this happen?

One: Their lie, was an ugly cancer on this beautiful oneness of heart and soul the Spirit of God was producing among the believers.  And had to be removed. They were doing something that would destroy this love and oneness that the Holy Spirit had created within the church.  

Their death shows how highly God values oneness of heart and soul among believers.  This was a precious thing in the sight of God and he acted dramatically to protect it from people taking advantage of it for their own pride and glory.   A lesson from that might be when believers are dwelling together in the beauty of love and unity, it is a dangerous thing to go in and mess that up. God doesn’t like people to do that.

Second: Their lie was a great offense to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit had so recently been poured out upon the followers of Jesus and was working such wonders!  God wanted his church to know right up front that the Holy Spirit was to be respected, feared, and held in awe.  The death of Ananias and Sapphira shows the wonder and awe in which we should hold the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is REAL, he is powerful, he is God, he is not to be trifled with.  You can’t lie to the Holy Spirit! You can’t trick the Holy Spirit. You can’t pull something over on the Holy Spirit.  You are dealing with God! “Peter said, Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit”.  Then later he said, “You have not lied to men, but to God”. He died because he lied to the Holy Spirit who is God.

This raises a question for us all.  How do you treat the Holy Spirit? He is a great and real person dwelling in you and with you.  It is not a small thing to ignore him, or quench his work, or to try to deceive him.

Verse 11 “And great fear seized the whole church and everyone else who heard about it”.  This qualify of reverential fear is badly needed in our lives. Fear is NOT the main attitude of our heart toward God but it is a component of a healthy spiritual life!!!  

What do we take away from this:

*The Holy Spirit can change our hearts so that we “see” each other in a completely new way.  He can make us see that we belong to each other. He can help us come to a place where we simply are a part of each other, one in heart and mind with each other.  The Holy Spirit can enable us to see that we are the body of Christ and members of one another.

I believe the Holy Spirit wants to produce an environment right here, where you walk into church and you immediately sense that you are with family. You are with family who love you and whom you love.  You can relax. You are welcome. You are among brothers and sisters who would lay down their lives for you.

Open your heart to this work of the Spirit.  Open your heart to this one heart and soul relationship with other believers.  Turn away from the tendencies to isolate, to separate, to be a loner. Stop believing the lies that you are not wanted, loved or that you are different than everybody else and don’t fit in.  Stop believing the lie that you don’t really need to be in this close community relationship with other believers.

As a part of that, see your possessions as a way to express your love and oneness with other saints.

*Never use giving, or sacrificial actions as a way to create an appearance of love, or spirituality.  There is nothing wrong with other people seeing you do good. But that is not why you do it. What matters is that your heart is full of love for your brothers and sisters and sacrificial actions will flow out of that and God will be pleased.

*Honor the Holy Spirit!  Hold him in the highest regard, hold him in reverence and awe. Not that we live in terror of the Holy Spirit, but we never trifle with him or lie to him!  Follow the guidance of the Spirit, love him, obey him, never underestimate him, never devalue him! Never attempt to deceive him, or think you can get away with some plan to do evil.  He is God. He is the Spirit of the Lord.

He is with you and in you now.  But that intimacy does not mean you can dismiss him as unimportant.  Respect him, honor him, give yourself completely to him. Be filled with him.

More in The Acts of Jesus - The Book of Acts

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June 9, 2019

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June 2, 2019

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