Let's Get Real
Gathered to Go Let’s Get Real Acts 4:32-5:11 Pastor Pat Damiani January 28, 2018 A cowboy walked into a Texas bar, ordered three bottles of beer, and sat in the back room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finished them, he came back to the bar and ordered three more. The bartender told the cowboy, "You know, a bottle goes flat after I open it. It would taste better if you bought one at a time." The cowboy replied, "Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in Australia, the other is in Dublin, and I'm in Texas. When we all left home, we promised we'd drink this way to remember the days we drank together, so I drink one for each of my brothers and one for myself." The bartender admitted this was a nice custom and left it there. The cowboy became a regular in the bar and always drank the same way. But one day, he ordered only two bottles. All the regulars took notice and fell silent. When he came back to the bar for the second round, the bartender said, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your loss." The cowboy looked puzzled for a moment, then a light dawned and he laughed. "Oh, no, everybody's just fine," he explained. "It's just that my wife and I joined the Baptist Church, and I had to quit drinking. It hasn't affected my brothers though." All of us have undoubtedly witnessed that kind of hypocrisy in the church. And unfortunately it doesn’t go unnoticed by those outside the church either. How many times have you heard someone say that they don’t want anything to do with the church because it’s full of hypocrites? Whenever I hear someone say that, my usual response is, “There is always room for one more.” While it may not quite be true that the church is “full of hypocrites”, the fact is that hypocrisy is a pervasive problem within the church and one that threatens to undermine our ability to be effective witnesses for Jesus and to bring His kingdom near to others. My guess is that all of us in this room have been guilty of being a hypocrite at times in our lives. I certainly know that I have. There have been times when I’ve gotten up in front of you and encouraged you to read your Bibles or to pray and given you the impression that I had my act all together in those areas when I did not. There have been times when I’ve exhorted you to forgive others when I was unwilling to do that in my own life. So I know that I need this message this morning. And I’m pretty sure that many of you do as well. However, if you can honestly say that you have never been a hypocrite or are never tempted to do that in your life, you may be excused right now to head out to the lobby and grab a cup of coffee while I speak to the rest of us. Since I’ve already used the words “hypocrisy” and “hypocrite” a number of times, it would probably be a good idea to go ahead and define those terms before we proceed. Jesus used the word “hypocrite” quite often, especially when speaking to the Jewish religious leaders. The Greek word from which we get our English word hypocrite is a compound word that was used to describe actors in the Ancient Greek theater. You’re probably familiar with the two masks that the actors used – one when they read their comedy lines and the other when they read their tragedy lines. So a hypocrite is someone who “hides behind a mask” and who is therefore not who he or she appears to be. This week I read about a fancy restaurant that came up an ingenious way to increase their business. They had two different sets of menus which were identical except for the prices. So when a couple came in, they would give the man the menu with the actual prices and give the woman a menu with the identical menu items, but with prices that were substantially higher than the prices that would actually be charged. As you can imagine they were flooded with business from men who wanted to impress their dates with their willingness to pay such a high price for their meals. Isn’t that exactly how hypocrisy works. We put on one mask to impress one person or group and then we put on another mask when we want to impress someone else. And as we’ll see this morning, and as we’ve already talked about, the church is certainly not immune to hypocrisy. So we’re going to take a look at the account of the first two hypocrites in the church and see what we can learn from them that will help us to be real with God and with others so that we don’t become hypocrites ourselves. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles with me to Acts chapter 4. Once again you can find the book of Acts right after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at the beginning of the New Testament. [Read Acts 4:32-37] This is really consistent with what we saw last week. In the early church those who had financial resources were selling some of their possessions to provide for the physical needs of their fellow believers. Among those people was a man named Joseph, who was called Barnabas by the apostles because of the way he encouraged others. Barnabas will show up frequently later in the book of Acts. He serves as an advocate of the newly converted Paul when the other disciples were skeptical of him. He also shepherds Gentile converts in Antioch, is entrusted with the offering for the poor in Jerusalem, accompanies Paul on his first missionary journey and advocates for giving John Mark a second chance. So Barnabas is certainly no hypocrite here. The action of selling his land and bringing the proceeds to the apostles so they could use it to meet the needs of others was a result of his genuine concern for others, which is demonstrated time and time again throughout his life. But the word “but” at the beginning of chapter 5 immediately alerts us to the fact that we’re about to see a great contrast to the selfless actions of many of the disciples, including Barnabas. [Read Acts 5:1-11] We really don’t know for sure if this couple are both genuine disciples who have placed their faith in Jesus or if they are just church attenders who have some connection with the church. Perhaps that ambiguity is good because it makes this passage relevant to all of us, regardless of whether we have put our faith in Jesus and become His disciple or we are merely here this morning to find out more about Jesus and what it means to do that. Apparently Ananias and Sapphira watch all these other people who are selling their land and bringing the proceeds to the apostles and they sense that there is a great opportunity to get in on the action. But it’s pretty clear here that their motives are not genuine. They really aren’t interested in meeting the needs of others. Instead their purpose seems to be to be noticed by others in the congregation and receive their praise and adoration. Perhaps they even thought they could buy their way to a position of leadership within the church or use the church as a means to build their business or enhance their standing in the community. Of course no one would ever try to use the church like that today. So they sell a piece of land and keep part back of that money for themselves and bring the rest of the money to the apostles. As we clearly see from the words of Peter, the problem was not what they did, but how they represented what they did to the apostles and the rest of the church. They were under no obligation to sell the property in the first place. That was an action that had been completely voluntary for those who had done that previously. And even after they sold the property, they were under no obligation to give all the money to the church. The issue is that they were hypocrites. They were pretending to be something they were not by making it appear that they had given all the money from the sale of the land to the church when they had not done that. They wanted the people in the church to think they were spiritually mature when in fact they were not. So as soon as Ananias had been confronted by Peter, he immediately fell dead. His body was wrapped up and immediately buried. Sapphira showed up for church three hours late. I know that will make a few of you feel a lot better because you’re never that late. She entered the gathering completely unaware of what had happened to her husband earlier. I think she expected to enter to great adulation for the great contribution that she and Ananias had made to the church, so she was probably a bit perplexed about all the blank stares that greeted her arrival. Peter gave her a chance to tell the truth, but she refused to do that, so she, too, fell dead immediately and was carried out and buried next to her husband. And great fear came upon the church and those outside the church who heard about this encounter. It’s pretty easy to understand why that happened. When we looked at this passage on Monday morning, one of the questions we asked is “Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira?” After all, there are plenty of examples throughout the Bile where people committed horrible sins – sins that seem to be much worse and more far-reaching than this - but they were not immediately struck dead by God. But maybe the question we should ask instead is, “Why does God allow any of us to remain alive?” After all, the Bible is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23). So the truth is that we all deserve the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira. I just know that I’m glad that God doesn’t treat us the same way he treated Ananias and Sapphira. Can you imagine how quickly our worship service would empty out if He did? • What if every time we sang “I Surrender All” God looked down from heaven and immediately killed everyone who has not genuinely surrendered every area of their life to Him. • What if every time we told someone that we would pray for them, our words were merely as a platitude or we failed to follow through on our promise, we fell dead? • What if every time the offering plate was passed, God immediately struck down those who failed to give Him their firstfruits, the top portion of their income? I’m pretty sure that if any of those things happened just one Sunday, none of the few who survived that week would return here ever again. I don’t know for sure why God killed Ananias and Sapphira here since the text doesn’t tell us. Given the context it seems that it probably has something to do with the fact that at this early stage, this act could have derailed the development of the church. But what I do know is that there are some things we can learn from this passage that are relevant to us today. And here is the big idea I want us to take away from this passage today: I can’t fake it and make it with God. Earlier I gave you a definition of hypocrisy based on the meaning of the underlying Greek word. But in simple terms, we could say that hypocrisy is simply being a fake. That pretty much describes Ananias and Sapphira doesn’t it? They were fakes. They thought they could fake out the others in the church and they also seemed to think they could fake out God as well. Now I’m pretty sure that all of us know intellectually that it’s impossible to fake out God. Yet we still live as if we can do that sometimes don’t we? The greater temptation by far, however, is to live as a fake in front of other people. I think that as a culture we’ve been pretty good at doing that for a long time, but that temptation has been heightened by the advent of social media where, let’s face it, most people try to paint a rosy picture of their life that is often far from the reality. Unfortunately the church is not immune from this desire to make ourselves look better than we really are by living as fakes. So as I mentioned at the beginning of this message, most of us have been guilty of being a hypocrite at some time or other in our lives. And the obvious antidote to living the fake life of a hypocrite is to be real – with God and with others. So let’s look at five ways we can be real with God and with others. HOW TO BE REAL WITH GOD…AND WITH OTHERS 1. Remember the gospel The gospel is not just a message that we communicate to those who are not yet Christians. It is the very foundation for everything we do in life. So every single day, we need to remind ourselves that we are sinners who are 100% dependent on God’s grace, just like every other disciple of Jesus. We need to remember that for every single disciple, becoming more like Jesus is an ongoing day-by-day process and that none of us will ever “graduate” from that process while we are here on earth. Just like Ananias and Sapphira, we are often tempted to live fake lives in order to make ourselves look better than others, even within the church. But if we live with a gospel mindset in which we recognize that we bring nothing of value to our relationship with God, it certainly lessens the temptation to exalt ourselves by “playing church” and pretending to be someone I am not. I think it is this gospel mindset that led someone like Paul, who certainly did more to bring the kingdom of God near to others than any of us will ever do, to describe himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). If we live with that kind of mindset each day, it really reduces the chance we will resort to living as a fake. 2. Walk with God daily Notice that I didn’t say to have a daily quiet time or to read your Bible daily or to pray daily. While all of those are certainly crucial aspects of walking with God each day, we also need to apply the things we are learning to our everyday lives and live in obedience to God’s Word. We need to ask God to shine His Word into our lives to reveal any sin there, We need to confess that sin and repent. Our relationship with God is a lot like a marriage relationship. The commitment we make with our vows at the wedding is important, but if that is as far as we take the relationship, we’re not going to have a very good marriage. We have to work on that relationship every day if we want our marriage to be a success. When Mary and I first got married, it was much easier for both of us to put on a mask and to appear on the surface to have certain areas of our lives all together when we did not. But now, after over 40 years of marriage, it is nearly impossible for us to do that because we know each other so well. The same thing is true in our walk with God. If we take the time to walk with Him daily and get to know Him and be honest with Him about who we are - even though He obviously already knows us better than we know ourselves - then we are going to develop the kind of relationship where we know that we can’t fool God and that in the long run we can’t fool others either. 3. Seek to please God, not man I know some people that I consider to be genuine disciples who have become so dependent on the praise of other people that they will never say “no” because they find their sense of identity and worth in what they do. So they are involved in all kinds of ministries and activities and projects – often really good things - and they usually make sure that everyone knows how busy they are doing things for Jesus. While it is not true in every case, what I usually find in these situations is that all the activity is merely a mask that is there to cover up a relationship with God that really doesn’t have much depth at all. I know that because I was that person at one time in my life. The other way that the desire to please man rather than God rears its ugly head is when Christians act one way when they are around Christians and in a completely different way in the presence of non-Christians. In fact, that may very well be the most common form of hypocrisy for most Christians. Do you realize that even Peter fell into that trap? When he went to the city of Antioch, he regularly ate meals with the Gentiles. But when some Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem, he was afraid of offending them, so he started eating only with the Jews. And interestingly enough, Paul actually describes this as hypocrisy in his letter to the churches in Galatia: And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:13 ESV) This particular event leads directly to our next principle: 4. Develop relationships that reveal my “blind spots” When Peter acted in a hypocritical manner, we see in Galatians 2 that Paul publicly rebuked him for that. He cared for Peter and for the church enough to not let that hypocrisy continue. And because Peter loved Jesus and His church he accepted that rebuke and he and Paul continued to work together to bring the kingdom near to others. We all know that when we’re driving, our cars have certain “blind spots” where we can’t see another car that we might hit were we to change lanes or turn. So now many automobile manufacturers are install blind spot detectors in their cars to alert drivers to any objects in those blind spots. We all need at least one person in our lives who can serve as a spiritual “blind spot detector” in our lives. Every one of us have those blind spots where we are tempted to put on a mask that covers up what we’re really like on the inside. So we need someone who knows us well enough to spot those blind spots and who is willing to “speak the truth in love” and point those out to us. 5. Ask for help One of the most frustrating people I ever dealt with as a pastor was a person who always had an answer to every question. I often attended a Bible study with this person and not once did I ever hear him say “I don’t know” or “I’ve never thought about that” or ever hear him admit that he was struggling with some area of his walk with God. There are only two possibilities I can think of when it comes to someone like that – either this person was the smartest, most mature Christian I’ve ever seen and he had no struggles in his life, or that was all just a façade intended to cover up those areas in his life where he might have some weaknesses and shortcomings and could use some help. This passage from Ecclesiastes is one I often use in wedding ceremonies, but I think it is also very relevant when dealing with hypocrisy: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 ESV) One of the most common forms of hypocrisy in the church is pretending that we have our act together in some area of our life when we’re really struggling there. And the only way out of that is to quit pretending, admit we need some help and then ask for that help. We will never grow in our knowledge of the Bible if we pretend we already know everything. We will never walk in victory over our sins if we keep pretending that we don’t have a problem with lust, or gossip, or lying or whatever other sin we’re struggling with. We will never grow in boldness in sharing our faith with others if we pretend we are bold when we are not. We will never develop an intimate powerful prayer life with God merely by pretending that we do. If we want to be real and avoid becoming a hypocrite, we have to humble ourselves and admit that there is a problem and ask for some help instead of being a fake. I can’t fake it and make it with God. Fortunately, from what we can see in the Bible, the immediate death of Ananias and Sapphira for their hypocrisy seems to be a one-time occurrence and not the usual way God operates in the church. But that does not mean that God no longer views our hypocrisy as harmful or that hypocrisy doesn’t still inflict tremendous damage to the body of Christ. So that means that if we want to be effective as a church in bringing the gospel near to others, we all need to do everything in our power to apply the principles we’ve learned today so that we can root out the hypocrisy right here at TFC. So will you join me in doing that? When I think about all the people in our community that are lost and on their way to hell because they have not yet placed their faith in Jesus, I certainly don’t want to put on a mask and live as a fake if that is going to hinder our witness to those people. So let’s all make a commitment this morning to be real – with God and with each other. [Prayer] Hypocrisy always begins on the inside and then works its way out. So in just a moment the worship team is going to come back up and lead us as we sing “From the Inside Out”. That song is a prayer that asks God to shine His light into our lives and to transform us from the inside out. I know that many times when we sing, especially with songs that are familiar, it’s easy to just sing the words without really thinking about them. But this morning as we sing that song, will you sing it as a prayer to God? Will you give Him control of your life and ask him to help you love Him from the inside out? Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. How would you respond to someone who claims, “The church is full of hypocrites”? 2. Why do you think hypocrisy is so common? Why is it so damaging to the church? 3. What are some clues that might indicate that I am seeking to please man more than I’m seeking to please God? How do I avoid becoming a “people pleaser”? 4. How honest should we be with our personal struggles? What are some appropriate guidelines for sharing those struggles with others? With whom? When? How much?