“And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” – Acts 5:14
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I want us to take a look at the end of Acts chapter 4 and the beginning of Acts 5. The text says that the early Christians “had all things in common,” and “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.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35).
The disciples of Christ made sure to take care of each others’ needs. It is not likely that everyone sold all of their things or that it was a requirement placed upon them by the apostles or anyone else. They did it because they “were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).
Of the “one soul” that the disciples had, Albert Barnes states the following:
“No expression could denote it more strikingly than to say of friends they have one soul. Plutarch cites an ancient verse in his life of Cato of Utica with this very expression – “Two friends, one soul” (Grotius). Thus, Diogenes Laertius also (5, Acts 1:11) says respecting Aristotle, that “being asked what was a friend, answered that it was one soul dwelling in two bodies” (Kuinoel). The Hebrews spake of two friends as being “one man.” There can be no more striking demonstration of union and love than to say of more than five thousand suddenly drawn together that they had one soul! And this union they evinced in every way possible – in their conduct, in their prayers, and in their property. How different would have been the aspect of the church if the union had continued to the present time!”
And, we can have that aspect of the church in this present time. The Word says that we are to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
This is not to say that the Scripture supports a communist society, where everything is shared equally among the community of people. There’s nothing wrong with capitalism. The Bible says: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). And it goes on to say that “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). So, some work is worthy of more pay than others.
The point of the disciples in Acts 4 and 5 having everything in common and distributing all their goods among each other was that they loved each other, they were united for the cause of Christ, and they made sure none of them lacked anything.
One person who did it was singled out to be mentioned – Barnabas. He was a foreigner (from Cyprus), and he sold all his property and gave all the money to the apostles to distribute to those in need (Acts 4:36-37). Maybe that was the impetus that gave him the name Son of Encouragement, as he would later be a constant companion of the apostle Paul in his missionary journeys.
Since it wasn’t a requirement and many, like Barnabas, who sold everything they had and gave it away probably were held in respect and honor for what they did, there had to be the temptation to be looked upon that same way in giving.
And it was Ananias and his wife Sapphira who succumbed to that temptation. Note the text:
“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 man but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.” – Acts 5:1-5
Again it was not a requirement for the Christians to sell their belongings and give them away. Peter told Ananias that the property was his before he sold it, the money was his after he sold it, and he didn’t have to lie and act like he gave all of the proceeds away. That point is made more clear when the apostle Peter questioned Ananias’ wife Sapphira about how much they sold their land for.
“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.’” – Acts 5:7-9
They had agreed to lie and tell the apostles that they sold their possessions and gave away all of the money from it. They didn’t even have to sell their things in the first place. So they both died because of it. They were giving of their alms to be seen by men. Jesus warned against this (Matt. 6:1-2).
Ananias and Sapphira did not die because they lied to Peter or because they didn’t give all of the money they received from the sale of their land to the apostles to distribute to Christians in need. They died because they lied to God (Acts 5:3,4).
I think that’s a relevant lesson for us to learn and know today. When we sin, even if it is a direct sin against someone else, we are essentially sinning against God (Matt. 25:40). Joseph understood the idea (Gen. 39:9).
We can’t point the finger at Ananias and Sapphira because of their sin. They gave in to temptation. All of us have sinned (Rom.3:23), and the wages of sin are death (Rom. 6:23). Remember, the worker is worthy of the work that he does (Luke 10:7). And when the work of our lives is wholly sin, we will die that second death – eternal damnation in hell (Rev. 21:8).
But there’s hope. We can believe in Jesus as Lord. We can repent of our sins. We can confess that sweet name of Jesus. We can be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. And we can live faithful lives until we die. Then, and only then, will we receive the gift of eternal life that Christ offers.
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