In Acts 4, the Holy Spirit falls on the infant church once again. There are signs and wonders and, perhaps greatest of all, people share everything in common with “glad and generous hearts.” “Thus… Barnabas (which means son of encouragement) sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the Apostle’s feet” (Acts 4:37).
If he were to do that in your church, would it encourage you?
All the generosity in Acts 2 and 4 is a manifestation of the Spirit, like tongues, healings, or preaching the Gospel.
I still remember sitting in a car almost forty years ago, listening to a most encouraging man tell me about the previous High School Youth Director at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. He said, “Oh Peter, when Tim would preach, he had a silver tongue.” I remember that comment like a wound in my flesh.
Years later I would always compare the growth rate at my church to the growth rate at Tim’s church. When I heard that Tim committed suicide, something in me, or around me that I thought was me… thought, “Be happy, you won.” And then I felt strangely afraid and terribly alone.
So, if Barnabas did that in your church, would you be encouraged or discouraged? Would you try to do the same? And why?
Next verse, Acts 5:1: “But a man named Ananias and Saphira, 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? …While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold was it not at your disposal? Why have you contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last (ekpsucho: ‘out-souled’)” In three hours the same thing would happen to his wife, Sapphira.
Many people find this story to be rather discouraging. I suspect this is why: First, we assume that God hated Ananias and Saphira and is now torturing them endlessly in a place we call “Hell.” Scripture does not allow for endless torture. Yet it does appear that God killed them. Second, many are Marcionites or Antinomians. Marcion of Sinope taught that Yahweh, the mean God of the Old Testament, was a different god than God the Father of Jesus in the New. Antinomeans believe that Christ abolished the Old Testament law when, in fact, he fulfilled it. He fulfills it in us so that we no longer want to lie, for Truth has become our nature. But to lie (law #9) is still forbidden; The Truth, Himself, “violates” lies. Third, we’ve been told that God is “non-violent,” and this story seems rather violent.
God does not need to punish Jesus or anyone to feel better about you. He already loves you absolutely. But he will violate your will—we often call that “death.”
People find it troubling that God would kill Ananias and Sapphira. But isn’t it also troubling that he hadn’t killed Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod a few months before? Why hasn’t he killed all the evil people on this planet already? Why hasn’t he killed you and me?
Some people find this story to be incredibly discouraging, yet over the last twenty years or so, I’ve found it to be incredibly encouraging. I think this is why:
#1 God kills everybody, actually. Deuteronomy 32:29, “I kill, and I make alive.” Read Scripture closely and you’ll realize that he even does so with His Word, the God/Man—who looks so much like Jesus. Deuternonmy32:42, “My sword will devour flesh.” In Revelation 19, the Word of God on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth cuts the flesh from “all men,” NOT “some men.”
God kills everybody, but that may not be as horrid as you think, for you’re already dead. “I was once alive apart from the law (the knowledge of good and evil),” wrote Paul. The first death is imprisoning the breath of God in a psyche of self-centeredness and sin (the flesh). The second death is losing that psyche (ekpsucho); it’s the death of death; it’s the second death, which is eternal life. “I am the Life,” said Jesus.
God kills everyone . . . so did God kill Tim? Well, Tim tried to kill Tim and failed. As we said last time, suicide doesn’t work. It’s just more death, not the death of death. And yet God will kill Tim or has killed Tim, for Jesus is in Tim and will not leave or forsake Tim. Tim can’t kill Tim, but God kills Tim; Jesus dies and rises with Tim. The same is true for Ananias and Saphira.
#2 God saves everybody. “I kill, AND I make alive,” says God.
#3 God disciplines everybody. He violates your bad will with his Good Will in order to give you a free will.
#4 God hates pomposity. That’s my old religious “me,” my false “me,” in which my true “me” is most deeply imprisoned.
#5 God adores you. God hated that false self that Ananias and Saphira presented to the church because God adored Ananias and Saphira. We’re all Ananias and Sapphira—God’s children.
Did you know that God sees Himself in you? That’s why he hates it when you cover yourself in fig leaves—lies, and pomposity; He loves you, the naked you, the one in need of him.
In his suicide note to his church, Tim wrote, “It is my own wretched weakness of which I am most ashamed.” Paul wrote, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses that the power of Christ would rest on me.” The Power of Christ is Relentless Love; it’s Mercy.
I wish I had been there for Tim. I wouldn’t have encouraged him with compliments, but I might have encouraged him by sharing my weaknesses. I wish I would have been there for Tim, but maybe I am there for Tim, and Ananias, and Saphira, and Judas, and Peter, and they are there for me; I mean maybe heaven is everyone boasting in their weaknesses and sharing in God’s Strength. A body joined in weakness is strong.
#6 God is all about the Party. If you know anything about parties, you know that a bunch of people trying to exalt themselves isn’t heaven; it’s “hell.” But a bunch of people humbling themselves that others might be exalted isn’t hell; it’s “heaven.”
It’s discouraging to my flesh that I can’t make heaven happen, but that God has, and will, and will always make it happen—deep down in my spirit—that’s so very encouraging.