Faithlife Sermons

The Importance of Spiritual Sincerity

Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:06
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PRAY
INTRO: SINCERITY — freedom from hypocrisy; purity of motive.
How does our sincerity in service to the Lord impact our relationship to God, and how does it impact the people around us? The way you handle yourself in public, and the way you think in private, are a leaven that pervades every part of your life and spreads to the people around you. (If we entertain lofty thoughts of God, we shall become like him. But if we wallow in base thoughts from our sinful nature, we will be controlled by them.)
Our text for today, as Acts 4 transitions into chapter 5, focuses on the importance of spiritual sincerity in the Christian community, where sincere generosity unifies the believers in mutual care and common mission, but the impurity of hypocrisy threatens to tear it all down and is met with swift and serious discipline from the Lord.
Acts 4:34–37 ESV
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.
Luke gives Barnabas as a model for such generosity among the believers that contributed to their mutual care and unity in the mission of making Jesus known. But then what follows is another example that mars the unity and spirit of generosity among the believers. The problem is one of deceit and hypocrisy.
Acts 5:1–11 ESV
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. 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.
We’ll look first into the details of the positive example of Barnabas’s generosity, then do the necessary work of extending and applying that model to our own lives. After that we’ll tackle the negative example of Ananias and Sapphira’s deceit, and also applying the warning about duplicity and the need for discipline in the church.

A Positive Example: Barnabas’ Generosity

As an example of the kind of voluntary generosity and mutual care described in vv. 32-35, another of the heroes in Acts is now mentioned by name (to come up another 22 times in the book). Probably because his given name, Joseph, was so common, the Apostles call him another: Barnabas. Interestingly, Luke even tells us why they called him Barnabas, because it means son of encouragement (or comfort). This word paraklesis, encouragement, carries the idea of being called to someone’s side to aid them. The noun form, parakletos, means to be a helper, counselor, encourager, mediator.
It is a fitting description for Barnabas’s behavior and service to the church, and an apt description in this context for his submission to the work of the Holy Spirit (v. 31), who himself is called the divine parakletos (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7ff), the divine Comforter, Helper, Encourager, who indwells the followers of Jesus.
Here Barnabas models sacrificial generosity that encourages the church. Later, he is the one who introduces a recently converted Paul to the Apostles when most are suspicious of him, and rightly so, since Saul had been zealously persecuting the Christians (9:27). It’s Barnabas who then brings Paul in to participate in outreach to the Gentiles (11:25-26), and who travels alongside Paul on his first missionary journey as his companion, a trip which not coincidentally begins by sailing to Cyprus (13:4b-6). And of course it’s Barnabas who isn’t ready to give up on John Mark because of his previous failure, and ends up taking a separate ministry path from Paul, who doesn’t want to bring along John Mark (15:36-39).
We learn here too that Barnabas was a native of Cyprus, the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, and the one furthest east. [MAP - You’ll notice it is to the west of Syria, which is north of Judaea and Samaria.]
Something unique about Barnabas’s situation is that he is a Levite and a landowner. Under Old Testament law, the Levites did not own land because they were the tribe to serve before the Lord as priests and in service to the worship of God at the temple. They policed the area and watched over the gates, and they instructed in the Scriptures and copied the Scriptures. However, it appears that by this time, the law about them not owning land was not in force, not to mention the abuses where some of the Sadducees were in fact getting rich.
The land which Barnabas sold could have been in Cyprus or Judea; we don’t know. The point really is that this was one particular example among the Christian community of a well-educated man who came from a wealthy family, choosing to sell something of great value, and donating the proceeds to the common good. As we said last week, this kind of giving promoted the ongoing spread of the gospel and was particularly helpful in meeting the needs of those among them who had less.

Applying the Example: Give Sincerely

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also - Luke 12 (context) Lk 12:15, 21, 31, 33-34
The sacrificial giving of the poor widow in Lk 21:1-4 - Is it really the case that the Lord cares more about your heart than the amount? Yes, but clearly the amounts will differ based on the amount of God’s general provision for us.
Various ways to be generous, even beyond normal “tithe.” ...Other ways to give, particularly time and energy.
When we give grudgingly or merely out of obligation, and not joyfully out of grateful and generous hearts, we are walking in the flesh and not the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 9:6–8 ESV
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Finally (and connected to v. 8 here in 2 Cor. 9), we grow spiritually together in community when we set an example for one another in manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In sharp contrast to Barnabas stands the deceit of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira.

A Negative Example: Ananias’ Hypocrisy

I have two questions for us about this section of the text: What is the actual problem with the way Ananias and Sapphira give, and what do we make of the discipline they receive?
First, what seems to be the issue that unfolds here? They too sell land and donate some of the proceeds to the common purse that is for the support of those among them who have need. If that was all we knew, they would just be another positive example right alongside Joseph called Barnabas. But we find out more.
Verses 2 and 3 taken together help us to understand that (with his wife’s knowledge too) he gave only a part of the proceeds from the sale. It appears that this by itself would have been completely fine (v. 4), if they had been honest about it, but instead they had either promised the whole thing or at least pretended that they were donating the entirety of the proceeds.
The problem is not the amount of the gift, nor even the giving of only a part of the proceeds. The problem is the deceit and hypocrisy of desiring to appear more generous than they were. It is insincere. It is dishonest and self-exalting.
The seriousness of this hypocrisy is demonstrated in Peter’s words to Ananias about not lying to men but to God (v. 4), to the Holy Spirit (v. 3). Side note: see this as an example to support the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit in the Triune Godhead.
Peter dramatically emphasizes the seriousness of this deceit by explaining that Satan is the source of such deceitfulness. Is he not a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44)? Our sinful desires arise from a sin nature in us, which we are all born with because of Adam’s original sin, but it is also the case that all such fleshly desires are following in the footsteps and leadership and wicked devices of the chief adversary, Satan.
One more thing shows the seriousness of this hypocrisy: They both get dead. First Ananias drops dead at Peter’s feet, and then Sapphira doubles down on the deceit that “test[s] the Spirit of the Lord,” and she too breathes her last and is buried beside her husband.
Is the discipline too harsh? There are at least two reasons we must not view this discipline as too harsh.
First, it seems quite evident that it is God who punishes them by taking them from this life. Peter is not the one who causes Ananias’s death in v. 5. Peter may have been as surprised by it as anyone else at first. But then when Sapphira is given a chance to come clean and tell the truth, not knowing what had happened to her husband, she doubles down on the lie. So Peter is able to predict the same outcome for her, but not cause it. God is responsible for this swift and serious discipline.
Are you going to shake your fist at God and tell him what he should and should not do? It seems that God here is setting an example of the seriousness of hypocrisy, as he did in choosing to be severe in Joshua 7 when he was angry with Israel and sentenced Achan to death when he held back some of the spools from Ai, which were supposed to be preserved all together and dedicated to God. - If God killed us all for dishonesty, even our churches would be empty. But it remains in the prerogative of God to discipline as harshly as he deems, especially in an effort to protect the purity of his Church.
Just so, the second reason we must not accuse God of being too harsh here is that this swift and severe consequence has a positive purifying effect on the church. - Both v. 5 and v. 11 say that “great fear came upon all who heard” what had happened. Don’t waste your time trying to argue that this could be an unhealthy fear. While there undoubtedly is such a thing as people experiencing a fear that cripples them, that is not the way the Bible uses it in reference to people’s reverence and awe for God. This fear is foundational, this fear is captivating, this fear is motivating. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction [or discipline]” (Prov 1:7).
On that note, let’s continue with applying the principle here.

Applying the Example: Guard Against Duplicity

I have two implications here that are more personal, and then a third that is corporate.
1. Hypocrisy is serious.
Tinkering with God is a dangerous game. - Guard against duplicity by fearing God first. (Again, Luke 12:31 - Seek first God’s kingdom, and let him take care of provision.)
2. We are all susceptible to it.
Let’s admit that we do not know whether or not Ananias and Sapphira were true believers. You could probably find a couple of details in the text to support either view. Since that isn’t clear or emphasized, I think we must take that as God’s providence and realize the warning in here is both for those in the church (true believers) as well as for those who are onlookers. V. 11 says that “fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Here we have the first official use in Acts of the word ekklesia (an assembly, a gathering of people) as a reference to the corporate body of believers, which will be used again another 22 times. [Same # as Barnabas’s name. Surely that’s a coincidence. ;-)]
Guard against duplicity by assuming a fleshly tendency to be focused on what people think of you rather than what God thinks.
What else? Guard against duplicity (in giving) by aiming to keep giving private. - Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing (Mt. 6:3). - In other words, don’t do it for show. Don’t do it to receive recognition.
Guard against duplicity (in giving) by making much of your giving consistent (2 Cor. 9:5 as it relates to vv. 6-8). - If we plan and budget for most of our giving when we are focused and walking in the Spirit, then we don’t have to worry as much about the flesh causing us trouble, at least in our tithing.
3. The church must not tolerate hypocrisy and unrepentant sin. - The principle in Mt 18:15-17, is that such discipline is for the goal of both restoring the sinning brother as well as preserving purity and unity in the church. [See 1 Jn 5:16-18, 1 Cor 5:5ff]
Because the church’s unity and effective ministry is at stake, we must guard against hypocrisy and discipline unrepentant sin. Purity in the church won’t mean perfection. But it does mean progression in the right direction.

Conclusion: Motive Matters to God

Does it not seem evident, even primary, that God cares about why Barnabas gave and why Ananias gave?
Because motive matters to God…
Zealously pursue spiritual wealth instead of earthly riches.
What is of greater value? A fat bank account, a robust market portfolio, many possessions… or the sincerity and integrity of character that longs to love God more and be more like him?
Diligently pursue God to be godly.
You heart before God matters infinitely more than gaining earthly status, power, acclaim, property, or even positive influence. Relationship To God is Primary, Everything Else is secondary, even positive ministry for the Kingdom. Integrity (Character Before God) is primary; all else is secondary.
The sincerity of our generosity is a reflection of whether or not our hearts are treasuring God more than stuff, the Giver more than the gifts he has given.
PRAY
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