AUDIO Should We Call Out False Teachers or Ignore Them?

Interview with John Piper Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Hey, everyone. A production note before we begin: Just when you cannot imagine John Piper’s voice diving any lower, here we are. It’s bronchial stuff, plunging Pastor John into new realms of sub-bass that only a Hollywood movie trailer voice-over guy could normally reach. That’s true here for about a week or so. Here’s today’s episode.

Pastor John, here’s a question from Caden in Boca Raton, Florida. “Hello, Pastor John! After seeing the documentary American Gospel, I was conflicted because I’m not sure if I am supposed to call out false teachers. Second Peter 2:1–3 makes it obvious that there will be false teachers, but the text also does not say we should point them out. I have heard both sides to this argument, but I’m still not sure. I want to be careful to not ‘pronounce judgment before the time’ (1 Corinthians 4:5). Does this passage apply here in this situation? Are we taking a judgment that isn’t ours? Or should we rest in God’s ultimate knowledge? And if a prominent false teacher is to be called out, who does this — where and how?”

Maybe it would be helpful to step back first and get the bigger picture of the New Testament response to those who live and teach in ways that lead others into error and ruin, and then zero in on 1 Corinthians 4:5 for some guidelines for how we should speak and write about such people.

Beware the Wolves

So let’s begin with Jesus. Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” And the word beware means all of us should be alert, but especially shepherds, to identify not just false teaching, but false teachers, whose ways are subtle. They’re clothing themselves with lamb’s wool while they’re wolves.

And Paul used the same Greek word for beware in Acts 20:28–29 when he said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. . . . I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the.”

“In order to protect the flock, we should expose false teachers and minimize the spread of the gangrene.”

Jesus used the same word again in Matthew 16:6, but he got more specific: “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Paul had the same kind of group in mind and the same kind of error in mind in Philippians 3:2 and 3:18: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” And then verse 18: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Then in Romans 16:17, he warned, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

Avoid, Rebuke, Call Out

To avoid them, you have to know who they are. You can’t avoid somebody if you don’t know who they are. This idea of identifying and avoiding shows up in 1 Corinthians 5:112 Thessalonians 3:6142 Timothy 3:52 John 10. In other words, Christians, and shepherds in particular, should be discerning and alert to behavior and teaching that dishonors Christ and destroys people — and not treat it in a casual or harmless way.

And then in 1 Timothy 5:19–20, Paul went beyond just “avoid them” to “rebuke them publicly.” So, speaking of elders who persist in error, he said, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin” — and that can be sin of false doctrine or sin of evil behavior, anyone who does not accept correction — “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear..”

And then Paul went on and actually named destructive false teachers:

  • “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10).
  • “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15).
  • “By rejecting this [faith and a good conscience], some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Timothy 1:19–20).
  • “Their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2 Timothy 2:17).

Paul names at least six false teachers that the church should watch out for.

So, I infer from Jesus and Paul and Luke and John that false teaching and destructive behavior are present dangers in this fallen world for the church. And all of us — especially shepherds, pastors — should be alert and discerning to identify, and in appropriate ways, expose. In order to protect the flock, we should expose them and minimize the spread of the gangrene (as Paul calls it).

Expose Evil

Now, in 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul is talking about how the Corinthians should assess Paul and Cephas and Apollos, because the people are choosing sides and boasting in their favorite teacher. He says,

I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one [Paul, Cephas, Apollos] will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:4–5)

“The best protection against the darkness of error is the light of truth.”

So Caden is asking whether the words “do not pronounce judgment before the time” should keep us from identifying false teachers or from naming them. I don’t think so. “Don’t pronounce judgment before the time” means “Don’t do what only Christ can do at that last day — on the day of judgment.” Don’t presume to know the heart like Jesus will know the heart on that day. Only Christ “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”

But for now, our job is indeed to do mouth judgment, writing judgment, behavior judgment — not a heart judgment, but mouth and writing and behavior judgment. When a mouth speaks unbiblical, destructive teaching, when a blog or an article or a book publishes unbiblical and destructive teaching, when a body — a human body, a physical body — behaves with unbiblical and destructive behavior, in all these cases, we are to be discerning. And according to Ephesians 5:11, we are to expose the error. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” “Censure them; show them to be wrong” is what the word elegchō means.

Five Factors for Calling Out False Teachers

So the question is how and when — not if. And here I think the Bible calls for wisdom, rather than telling us who and when and how. The question we ask is this: How can we best — in our situation, with our gifts and our responsibilities — help the most people believe and live the most truth, and how can we protect the most people from destructive beliefs and behaviors?

And here are five factors perhaps to consider when deciding whether to name a false teacher publicly.

  1. The seriousness and deceitfulness of the error.
  2. The size of the audience. Is it growing?
  3. The duration of their ministry. Did they make one blunder or are they constantly doing it?
  4. The vulnerability of the people for whom you are responsible.
  5. The role you have in influencing shepherds who really need to be discerning for who the false teachers are.

When you do name a false teacher, it’s best to do it in a setting where you do more than name-drop. You explain the error, you give reasons for rejecting it, you communicate complexities, you set a tone of longing for truth and love — you’re not just slinging mud.

The last thing I would say is to let your teaching be so powerful in clarifying the greatness and the beauty and the worth of God’s truth that your people will smell error before it infects their lives. The shape of error is always changing. You can’t preach enough negative sermons to stay ahead of it. And you don’t have to. The best protection against the darkness of error is the light of truth.

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History Is Important in Times of Despair

God has already revealed himself in Christ, and Christ promises to be with us.

History Is Important in Times of Despair
CARRIE BOREN HEADINGTON

 

“I just don’t believe anymore.” These were the last words I would have thought would come out of my long-time prayer partner’s mouth. Yes, she has had some challenges recently, but nothing compared to past trials. This phone call was different. The exhaustion and unbelief was palpable.

If we are honest, we have all been there—moments or even seasons of doubt and utter disbelief in God. I felt a wave of doubt this summer when ministering to children at an inner-city summer camp. I listened to children share about their horrific abuse, hunger, and absence of safety in the home.

To see a young person break down in tears and say “I feel forgotten” is heartrending. Then to come home to the nightly news of mass shootings in multiple cities and hurricanes ripping through communities…even the person with the strongest of faith can cry out, “God, where are you?”

Most people would agree that our world is groaning. During these times, one can wonder Is God real? Or perhaps, If God is real, is God good? I often hear people say, “I wish God would reveal himself to me. I wish He would speak to me and show me the way.”

With confidence, followers of Jesus can answer, “He has and he will.”

The challenges of our world reaffirm that our one and only hope is Jesus.

In our pluralistic climate, Jesus is often relegated to one of the many options of gurus or religious leaders one can follow to get a sense of peace and fulfillment. The Christian faith at best is touted as one of the many paths to God – “if one is into God at all.”

Oftentimes, followers of Jesus are deemed wishful thinkers, delusional, and those in need of a crutch. “You follow Jesus, I do yoga. It is all the same.”

This is not to mention our consumeristic, materialistic secular world that is making its case for our attention on a moment-by-moment basis, bombarding us with advertisements ringing in our pockets and alerting our wrists.

According to Forbes, “Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000-10,000 ads each day.”[1]

In the midst of this swirl of confusion, Jesus says, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The New Testament understanding of faith was never a blind leap into the dark abyss of unknowing; quite the opposite. The New Testament Greek words for faith (pistis) and believe (pisteuo) means “to trust, to commit to, to put your weight down on.”

Since the resurrection of Jesus, notions of faith and belief are and always have been a step into the ultimate reality. The first apostles believed so much in the reality of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death, and resurrection that they staked their very lives on it—and we can too.

So How Do We Live in Hope?

We must, first and foremost, recall history. Renown church historian and current President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Sunquist, is known to say “history is very important.”

The Israelites were well versed at recalling their history. God commissioned Joshua to make remembrance stones and called Israelites to celebrate feasts which recall God’s action in human history.

Every Passover Seder reminds the Jewish people of the faithfulness of Jehovah God over the centuries. Many Psalms begin with lament but end with praise as the psalmist recalls God’s faithfulness throughout history.

Psalm 22 begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Then the psalmist begins to recall God’s goodness and deliverance, “In you, Lord, our ancestors trusted;and you delivered them.”

After remembering, the psalmist breaks into praise, “I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him;future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,saying that he has done it.”

Especially in our pluralistic, relativistic, and often despondent culture, Jesus followers need to take time to remember and recall God acting in human history. We must affirm our faith that:

1 – God is real.

And

2 – God revealed himself fully in the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, we see the full goodness, justice, power, and lavish love of God.

Here are some pointers to remind us:

  1. The fact of the world. As Gottfried Leibniz posed, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” The mere fact that the world exists points to a creator God. Renown Cambridge Mathematical Physicist John Polkinghorn argues that in order for the world as we know it to come into being, billions of constants had to be finely tuned. If any had been off a fraction, the world would not exist.
  2. The design of the world. It is difficult to observe the intricate design of the world and throw it all up to random chance. Think of the complex intricate focusing equipment of the human eye and the uniqueness of each human thumbprint. Picture the beauty of nature: a sunset and the intricacies of a leaf. It is highly unconvincing to say it has no designer and that it is all random.
  1. Personhood. What about human reason? Human creativity? Personality? Can the impersonal create the personal? Could our human intelligence have come from cold matter? Our ability to reason, imagine, create, and make decisions points to the existence of an ultimate intelligence.
  2. Values. Where do values we cherish such as truth, beauty, goodness, creativity, and love come from? If they just come from within ourselves, why do we all value them (granted in different ways in different cultures, but there does seem to be much common ground)?
  3. Conscience. Every human being has a sense of right and wrong. Most humans have this instinctive sense of the “ought.” But where does the “ought” within us come from?
  4. Religion. Wherever you go, in every culture, there is belief in God. Why is there this concept of God in the first place? Why is it that humans have this instinct to worship something beyond ourselves.
  5. History. Over and again, archeological findings corroborate the biblical narrative of a creator God who is faithful, compassionate, just, merciful, and actively involved in human history. This is not a made-up fairy tale. It is an account of events that occurred in real time and real space.
  6. Jesus Christ. The BEST evidence for the existence of God is the person of Jesus Christ who revealed God to the world. Jesus is God with skin—fully human and fully divine. (Philippians 2) The Gospels proclaim that God actually came to earth and walked among us.

What do we see in this Jesus? It is important to remember his miraculous birth,first and foremost.

Second, his unparalleled teachings turned concepts of power on its head and have been at the center of many social reform movements in human history, including our own civil rights movement. His call to love God, neighbor, and self. There has been no rival to the teaching of Jesus.

Third, his perfect life of LOVE is unmatchable. No human being has lived a perfect life of love like Jesus. John, his closest companion said about us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And later, he says of Jesus, “In him was no sin” (1 John 3:5). He loved so radically that although he was God, he washed his disciple’s feet. He treated all with dignity in a highly fractionalized culture. Even while being crucified, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Fourth, his miracles and power healed many. There is not one person Jesus turned away who asked for healing. We see the profound compassion of God in Jesus. He drove out demons, opened blind eyes, transformed lives, calmed storms, and fed thousands.

Fifth, he was the fulfillment of prophecy. Scholars highlight that over 322 prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Sixth,Jesus’ claims and actions were reserved for God alone.Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus forgave sins, received worship, and said he would be the final judge—all actions reserved for God.

Finally, he was raised from the dead. Jesus broke the death barrier. He died on the cross, suffering the most brutal death, and rose again so we could live. Jesus freed us from sin and death. It is the historical reality of the resurrection that affirms the divinity of Jesus. We have:

  • eye witness accounts of the resurrected Jesus;
  • apostles who were all martyred except one for proclaiming this truth;
  • the day of worship that had been the same for thousands of years changed from Saturday to Sunday;
  • a movement that sparked the greatest shift in human history when the exponential growth of the apostolic church came into being.

The best news of all is that this historical Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father and is still revealing himself to human hearts to this very day.

So when we have moments of doubt, let us remember: that (1) God is real; (2) God is good and we see him fully in the person of Jesus; and (3) God is alive. We can know him and his love and power every day of our lives into eternity.

History is important. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Let us REJOICE and spread the good news!

Carrie Boren Headington is the founder of The Good News Initiative, which provides resources in evangelism. She works with all Christian denominations and serves as Canon for Evangelism in the Episcopal Diocese of Diocese of Dallas and Consulting Evangelist for Revivals for The Episcopal Church engaging in evangelistic speaking, apologetics, and equipping congregations to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces for God in their communities.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/september/history-is-important-in-times-of-despair.html

VIDEO When Sin Entered the Church, part 2

Sept 28, 2014 by John MacArthur

Acts 5.  “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he 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 some of the price of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men, but to God.’  And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.  The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.  Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’  And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’  Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?  Behold, the feet of those who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’  And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard these things.  At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.  But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.  And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”

Frankly, that seems a bizarre approach to church growth; killing people at the offering, frightening the people in the church and terrifying the people outside the church.  But as it turns out, based upon that text, that kind of divine action bringing judgment on the church, God used as a means to add more believers.  This is the first sinful event in the life of the church, the first sinful event.  In fact, it is in this text that we have the word church used for the first time in the book of Acts.  Even though the church began on the Day of Pentecost, that word, which is so familiar to us, doesn’t actually appear until the passage that I read you. 

This is not the first sin.  There was always sin from the Day of Pentecost on because though they were redeemed, they were still sinful.  Believers sin, but this is the first sin recorded in Acts.  This is the first public discipline of sin, and it all started out so wonderfully.  Jesus rose from the dead.  He spent 40 days, as the Book of Acts begins, meeting with His disciples, speaking with them of things concerning His kingdom.  Then they select somebody to take the place of Judas, a man named Matthias so the apostles, it is back to 12.  Then the Day of Pentecost comes, and the Spirit arrives.  By the work of the Spirit, by Christ through the Spirit, He literally creates His body by the Holy Spirit placing all believers into one by sharing the common life of Christ.

The church is born on the Day of Pentecost.  There are miraculous evidences that God is at work and something remarkable is happening.  Then the gospel is preached and 3,000 people believe.  First, it’s 120.  Then it’s 3,000, and then Peter preaches again and another 5,000 men.  So it’s 3, 000 men, then 5,000 men.  Add the women, add the young people to that, and the church is 20,000 or so, and it’s all flourishing, and it’s all joyful.  Chapter 4, as you remember, verses 32 to 37 ends with a look at the unity of the church, amazing unity.  They were all, according to verse 32, “one heart, one soul.”  Nobody was holding on to property that they possessed.  Not only liquid assets that they possessed, but even those assets that weren’t like houses and property, they would be willing to sell in order to provide money for needy people, so that verse 34 says, “There was not a needy person among them.”

They weren’t trying to control their giving.  They laid it as the apostles’ feet, verse 35, and let the apostles distribute the money to anyone who had need.  Well, a man came along that becomes a very important part of the Book of Acts.  His name is Joseph.  He is a Levite from Cyprus.  We know him as Barnabas because he was nicknamed “son of encouragement.”  He owned a tract of land and sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet to be distributed to the folks who had need.

Remember, there were a lot of believers in Jerusalem who had come for the feast of Pentecost from other towns around the Mediterranean, other countries.  Since this was the only church, they stayed, and there was nothing to go back to.  So they’d become a burden for the church, and they need care.  So people are literally selling their assets in order to meet the needs of those who depend on them in this situation.  Even later in the Book of Acts, Paul is going around Asia on his missionary journeys collecting money from gentile churches to give to the Jews who were still in Jerusalem. Also, I have to add the fact that when these people identify with Christ, they would have been put out of the synagogue.  Not long from now, they’ll begin to feel some serious persecution, but they would have been cut off from social life.  So these folks wouldn’t have been offered economic opportunities and jobs.  Maybe the opposite would have happened.  Some of them would have lost their families, family support, inheritances as well as jobs.

So, everything looks absolutely wonderful.  We come to the end of chapter 4 on a high point.  The gospel is being preached.  People are being converted.  Unity exists in the church, and then we hit chapter 5.  Against the background of all this wondrous work of God is this really devastating Sunday in the early church.  This, by its nature is a sin that the church has to always recognize.  It is the sin of hypocrisy.  It is blatant in this case.  It is devastating.  It is exposed.  It is exposed because the Lord exposes it.  Normally, it’s not exposed.  It normally survives for a very long time, a very long time.

In fact, in some cases, we don’t ever find out about hypocrisy.  People die as hypocrites.  Some men’s sins, the Bible says, follow after them, but some don’t.  Time and truth go hand in hand, but sometimes hypocrisy is so well-managed that we never find out.  But just to let us know that this is of dire consequences in the life of the church, this is what Paul calls the leaven that leavens the whole lump.  The Lord exposes such a sin to make us aware of its presence, and shows us how He feels about it by executing in front of the whole church the two hypocrites.

By its nature, hypocrisy is hidden.  That’s what it is.  By its nature, it’s a disguise.  It’s a mask.  It’s a rouse.  It’s covered, but Scripture is very clear on the seriousness of religious hypocrisy, spiritual hypocrisy.  Our Lord’s most strong devastating malediction that ever came out of His lips, Matthew 23, was given against the hypocrisy of the leaders of Israel.  God hates hypocrisy, even in the early years of human history. 

Go way back to the patriarchal period and look at Job, for example, and his conversation with his friends because the issue of hypocrisy comes up a lot in the Book of Job.  Job is in the time of the Pentateuch, historically, very early in redemptive history.  In Job 8:13 we read, “The hope of the hypocrite shall perish.”  In Job 13:16 we read, “A hypocrite cannot stand before God.”  In Job 15:34 we read, “The company of hypocrites shall be barren.”  Job 20:5, “The joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment.”  So way back at the very beginning of redemptive history we find out that whatever hypocrites hope for, perishes.  They cannot stand before God.  Their lives are barren, and their joy is only for a moment. 

In the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul warns those who he says, “Boast in appearance, but not in heart.”  Hypocrisy is unmasked by our Lord again and again.  I’m not going to take the time to delve into all of the things that He said about hypocrisy, but obviously just knowing Matthew chapter 23, and being familiar with that gives you a full idea of how He viewed hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is a corrupter, and it should be exposed, and it should be judged, listen, for the sake of the hypocrite and for the sake of the church.  It needs to be addressed.  So-called churches, so-called churches today welcome piles and piles of people who make a pretense of interest in Jesus Christ and never warn them about hypocrisy.  To be called a hypocrite, to be warned about a being a hypocrite is very offensive, very offensive.  But we have to do that for the sake of the hypocrite who needs to be exposed for his own sake and the sake of the church.  It needs to have the hypocrite exposed for its own health sake. 

But again, churches that are that direct and that concerned about hypocrisy and that targeted at genuine conversion, genuine sanctification, genuine godliness are not the norm today.  They’re just not.  The idea today is to make everybody feel comfortable and to welcome people who have a nominal or superficial interest in Jesus, but that’s not God’s attitude towards hypocrisy. 

His church is a gathering of truly redeemed people, and He is not eager to have hypocrites hiding in it.  That, in fact, is a work of Satan.  Jesus said, “An enemy sows tares among the wheat,” and the enemy is Satan who sows the hypocrites among the genuine.  This literally sucks the power out of the church, corrupts the unity of the church, devastates the testimony of the church, confusing the world.  Having superficially committed people in the church is not helpful.  They may feel good about it, but it doesn’t help the church.  It doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t advance the gospel effectively because it confuses people as to what a Christian really is, at least those who know the truth about those hypocrites.

So against that beautiful backdrop is the reality that Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 13 that when the wheat begins to grow, the enemy will sow tares and those are the hypocrites.  Here, we have a perfect illustration of the fulfillment of Matthew 13, Matthew 13.  This sin is a sin that needs to be recognized.  There are sins that are easy to recognize.  They are overt.  They are manifest.  They are experiential.  But what you can see is not nearly as dangerous as what you can’t see.  And this is the kind of thing that literally sucks the very power and testimony out of the church because, by design, it intends to be invisible.

Now, as we look at this account of this sin, we’ll just give you four little titles.  First of all, sinful pretense, sinful pretense.  “But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property and kept back some of the price for himself with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.” 

The little word “but” is there.  We know something is up.  Against this beautiful backdrop of verses 32 to 37, and you could even go back to verse 31.  They had all been filled with the Holy Spirit.  They were speaking the Word of God with boldness.  There was all this wonderful unity, one heart, one soul, all this love, sacrifice, giving, all this trust in the apostles.  Against the beauty of this background is the word “but,” “but.”  A word of failure, a sad word.  This is the word that signals evil.  Two members of that church, two of those believers, and they are professed believers, and I think it’s fair to say they are very likely believers because there don’t appear to be in this congregation folks whose faith is called into question.  Why do I say that?  Because they were all, all continuing in the apostles’ doctrine, prayers, fellowship, breaking of bread.  They were all, verse 31 of chapter 4, “Filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

So these wouldn’t be false Christians at this early point, but these would be hypocritical believers, hypocritical believers.  Two believers caught up in pride are the first hypocrites who are identified in the church.  Ananias’ name means “the Lord is gracious” and Sapphira’s name means “sapphire, beautiful, jewel.”  The deed is anything but gracious and anything but beautiful.  They are believers.  You say, “Well, wait a minute.  This kind of severe discipline against believers?”  Absolutely.  According to 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 there were actual true believers that God was killing at the Lord’s Table.  “Some of you are weak and some of you are sick, and some of you – ” what? “ – sleep.”  You’re dead because of how you desecrate the My table.  Some of you, some of you. 

“Among believers – ” 1 John 5:16, “ – there is a sin unto death.”  So this is that kind of situation.  You have sinning believers, and their sin is this hypocritical pretense that begins to unfold in verse 2.  This piece of property that they sell brings a certain price, but they kept back some of the price, both of them agreeing, and they brought only a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 

Obviously, they had publicly declared they were going to give it all.  That was what others were doing.  That is what we see being illustrated.  For example, back in chapter 4, verse 34.  If there was someone who owned land or houses, they would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet.  Then there was Barnabas who did that, owned a tract of land, sold it, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  Now, obviously, there’s gratitude.  There’s affection.  There’s love.  There’s honor.  There’s praise being heaped on the people making the sacrifice, and Ananias and Sapphira want to get in on this.  So they decide they’re going to sell a piece of property, and they make a public declaration that they’re going to give all the proceeds, that it’s all going to go for God, but this is a complete pretense.  They are like Pharisees, Matthew 6, “Doing their alms before men,” to be seen.

But nonetheless, they sell a piece of property, as the others had done.  They show up and they lay an amount of money at the apostles’ feet minus what they had kept back for themselves.  The sin is not that they didn’t give everything.  That’s not the sin.  You don’t have to give everything.  In fact, they weren’t commanded to give anything.  God didn’t command them to sell their house, sell their land.  God never demanded that.  The selling was voluntary.  The sin was not that they kept back some of the price, that they could sell the land if they wanted and keep some of the price.  They could sell the house and keep some of the price.  It’s not a sin.  It’s not a sin to keep it, not a sin to sell it and keep some of the price.  It is a sin to lie about it.  That’s the hypocrisy.  They had vowed to the Holy Spirit to give everything, and this was a pretense before the congregation and before the apostles while they were secretly holding back some of it.

The sin is not in the selling.  The sin is not in the keeping.  The sin is in the lying.  They committed a secret sin and, of course, secret sin on earth in open scandal in heaven because you can’t hide it.  They wanted spiritual status.  They wanted to be elevated.  They wanted to be exalted.  They wanted to be honored and appreciated as others who had done this.  They sought prestige.  They wanted to be thought of as great and godly and generous and sacrificial, but they weren’t willing to give up everything.  They just wanted to appear to be giving up everything. 

So they made a pretense of giving it all.  The lie was simply the vehicle that their greed used to gain their ends.  The sin is the sin of hypocrisy.  It’s a dirty sin.  It’s trying to create the impression you’re something you’re not.  You’re doing something you’re not, you’re giving something you’re not.  Thus, did Satan move from the outside persecution to the inside?  What did I tell you about persecution?  What did persecution do to the church?  Empowered the church, expanded the church.  The old saying, “The blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the church is absolutely true.”  The more the church is persecuted, the more it flourishes.  We saw that.

So Satan was being counterproductive by persecuting the church.  He’ll do it again and he’s done it through history, but a persecuted church is a purified church, and a purified church is a powerful church and a growing church.  So Satan decides that his external work didn’t gain his end, so he goes inside the church to corrupt the church from the inside.  This sin, which God hates, is the sin of hypocrisy among believers, among believers. 

It’s not wrong not to give everything you have.  It’s not wrong to hang onto your property, to hang onto your house.  That’s a choice God allows you to make.  The Lord has given us richly all things to enjoy.  It’s just wrong to lie.  It’s wrong to create an imaginary image of yourself.  It’s wrong to be a hypocrite, and it also needs to be said that you’re lying to the Holy Spirit.  Verse 3, “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?’”  Did you think you could fool the Holy Spirit?  This is so ugly in God’s eyes, so ugly.  To paint spiritual beauty where it doesn’t exist, to paint virtue where it doesn’t exist, but it happens in the church all the time. 

People say there’s hypocrisy in the church.  Of course there is, of course there is.  There always has been.  That’s the first sin that is recorded in the life of the church.  But you need to know God’s attitude toward that hypocrisy.  That’s why the story is here.  Yes, it’s in the church.  Yes, it’s in this church.  Yes, we’re all subject to putting on a mask of spirituality that’s not legitimate.  You just need to know God’s attitude towards hypocrisy in the church by the people of the church.  Sinning saints feigning holiness, feigning virtue, pretending godliness.  Very dishonoring to God.

So we see the sinful pretense in the first two verses.  Then we see the spiritual perception.  Spiritual perception comes quickly in verses 3 and 4.  “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men, but to God.’” 

Peter immediately saw the deception.  How?  How did he know that?  I don’t think he took a look at the books, their private accounting.  I don’t think he necessarily knew whoever did the transaction or brought the property or knew the price.  I think the Holy Spirit is at work here, and he was given the ability to discern this.  This is pretty bold on Peter’s part because everything is going really well.  Peter might have said, “You know, things are going so well.  The church is booming, people are being converted.  This is a glorious time.  There’s so much love and so much unity, and we did get a lot of money from Ananias and Sapphira.  Maybe I ought to just cool my heels here a little bit.  Why do I want to make an issue out of this?  It’s better that they sold the land and we got what we got.  After all, Ananias and Sapphira are some of the wealthier people in our congregation.  We need his shackles coming in to keep the work going, and he was generous, and we want to be appreciative.”  Those are not his thoughts.  Those are the thoughts of a rationalizing compromiser. 

Ananias comes to church, and he’s ready to receive honor from the apostles for the money that he places at the apostles’ feet in verse 2, and instead after he’s deposited his money, and assuming he’s still standing there, Peter says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”  Whoa!  Immediate spiritual perception, immediate. 

The whole church back in 4:31 was filled with the Spirit, but here the same word filled is being used of Ananias being filled with Satan.  I don’t know all the dynamics of this.  Literally, this man opened himself up to satanic influence.  I don’t believe that Christians can be demon-possessed in the sense that demons take up a permanent residence in them, but I believe they can be demon-influenced, Satan-influenced.  The apostle Paul says, “Don’t let Satan take an advantage of us.”  The apostle Paul say, “Put on the whole armor or God because we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against – ” what? “ – principalities and powers and the rulers of spiritual darkness and wickedness in the heavenly places.”

We’re in a battle with demonic forces.  They don’t live in us because we’re the temple of the Holy Spirit, but they have influence over us.  Because of the lie and the hypocrisy, they had given place to the devil.  They had given place to the devil.  It isn’t so much that they were money lovers.  They were.  It isn’t so much that they were greedy.  It isn’t so much that they were liars.  All of that is true.  They were really glory-seekers, and that’s so ugly.  Glory-seekers pollutes the church.  Just be honest.  Just be real. 

Do you not think the Holy Spirit knows?  You open yourself up to Satan’s influence.  That would be the last thing any true believer would want, right?  I mean we don’t want to open ourselves up to the influence of Satan.  That’s what hypocrisy does.  So we see the sinful pretense and the spiritual perception of the apostle who nails it while a man is still standing there just having put the money on the altar.  Thirdly, come swift punishment, very swift.  God moves fast to perform surgery. Cut out the hypocritical cancer from this beautiful creation, the body of Christ.  The judgment is swift.  The judgment is terminal. 

Peter says, “Look, you didn’t have to give it.  While it remained unsold, it was yours.  You didn’t have to give all of it.  Even after it was sold, it was under your control.  You could do what you want.  Why have you conceived this deed of lying that you’re giving it all when you’re not?  You have not lied to men, but to God.”  This is so corrupting in the church.  Hypocrisy, spiritual hypocrisy is so corrupting in the church that God’s action is shockingly swift.  “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last.”  He died on the spot.  What an amazing moment in the church.

What killed him?  Well, you remember reading from the twelfth chapter of Acts how God struck another man, and he was eaten by worms and died who usurped undue glory to himself.  What killed Ananias?  We don’t have any clinical report.  We have no idea.  There’s an old record, kind of interesting in English history that says, “One day, Edward I,” the king who was a fierce guy, “blazed in such anger at the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London that the man dropped dead on the spot of fear, under the sheer power of the verbal barrage from Edward I.”  I don’t know how true that is, but it is true that there can be literally such an overwhelming terror that grips the heart. 

Just imagine Ananias comes.  He’s all decked out.  Sapphira’s not there.  She needs three more hours to do her hair.  She doesn’t show up for three hours.  He’s there.  He’s ready for his big moment.  He walks up, lays down his money.  Peter says, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?  You blatant Satan-influenced liar,” in front of the whole church.  His conscience went into immediate tremors.  His heart surely began to beat fiercely as he was trapped in the horrors of his hypocrisy.

You could say he died of a ruptured heart, or you could say God killed him, but whatever happened, no doubt he was so literally terrified of that moment that he must have been horror-stricken.  When that killed him or God added to that, I don’t know.  He came up for glory and he was stunned at what faced him.  Burial, as you know from Lazarus, was immediate in Israel.  So the young men got up and covered him up.  They went up and put some kind of cloth on the dead man lying in the front of wherever they were meeting there, and carried him out and buried him.

Burial was immediate in Palestine, immediate.  No embalming.  We saw that, right?  Just to review that.  Burial was immediate.  The body begins to decay and rigor mortis sets in.  You know the whole process.  So the burial is right then.  That’s the perfect illustration of how the Jews dealt with dead bodies.  The young men take him out to wherever the appropriate place was, and they bury him.  This takes three hours.  There elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in not knowing what had happened.

As I’ve often said, this proves that church services should be at least three hours long and maybe even longer.  They should be at least long enough for people to fall out of the window, break their neck and die, be raised from the dead, come back, and hear the rest of the sermon as we’ll find out later in the Book of Acts with Eutychus.   

She comes to church, puffing up her hair.  All excited to get a little of the glory because by now it’s rippled through the crowd.  Everybody knows they’ve given the gift.  She’s coming in.  It’s all theater for her.  She walks in.  Peter responded to her.  “’Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’  She said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’  Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?  Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they’ll carry you out as well.’  And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”

Why would it take three hours to do that?  Because burials always had to take place outside the city because grave sites, caves, places of burial were never inside the city.  Notice the question in verse 9.  Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?  Are you trying to see if the Holy Spirit can spot hypocrisy?  Is that the test?  Is that what you’re doing?  Do you think you can deceive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God?”

What folly.  What stupidity.  It wasn’t as if there was any question about the Holy Spirit being present.  This isn’t now where we don’t see manifestations of the Holy Spirit that are visual; but from the very beginning on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came, there were visible manifestations of the Spirit’s power.  Languages were being spoken people didn’t know.  There was a loud noise like a mighty rushing wind.  There were tremors.  There were all kinds of phenomenon going on, and then there were miraculous signs and wonders being done at the hands of the apostles.  Miracles were flourishing in the early church, and it was very clear that the Holy Spirit was present and powerful.

The question says, “How ridiculous are you?  How stupid are you?  Do you not know that the Holy Spirit is present?  Do you think you need to give Him a test to see if He can spot a hypocrite?”  So she fell at his feet, Peter’s feet, just like her husband had fallen at Peter’s feet.  It all happens in the same spot.  Ananias comes, puts the money down, falls over dead.  Haul him out.  She comes to Peters, falls over dead.  They haul her out.  Right where the money was laid.  Ah, it’s just a stunning Sunday in an otherwise glorious beginning in the life of the church.

Somebody might look at this and say, “Well, this is the end.  I mean this is the end.  There’s no hope for that church.  People are going to run like mad.  They’re going to flee.”  I remember when I first came to Grace Church, I’d never heard of a church, never through all my years as a student, through all of the times that I grew up in my dad’s church and knew lots of churches and pastors.  Through all of my seminary days, I’d never heard of any church that did discipline like Matthew 18.

If a brother sins, go to him, confront him.  If he repents, you’ve gained your brother.  If he doesn’t, take two or three witnesses, confront him again.  If he repents, you’ve gained your brother.  If he doesn’t repent, tell the church, tell the whole church to go confront him.  If he still doesn’t repent, put him out and treat him like an outcast, a tax collector because you treat him like an unbeliever because he’s acting like an unbeliever.  Get him out because as 1 Corinthians 5 says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”  That’s the first instruction in the entire New Testament given to the church. 

It’s in Matthew chapter 18.  The church is first time mentioned in 16.  The first instruction to the church is to confront sin in the church.  I had never ever heard of a church that did that, never, no church.  Nobody suggested that in any course I had in seminary.  So I came here, and I’m looking at the Bible, and I’m saying, “Why don’t people do this because it’s clear?”  So I asked some older, wiser pastors.  I said, “Why don’t you do this?”  “Well, people will leave.  It will drive them out.  You can’t do that.  You can’t confront sin.  People will run.  You’ll frighten them away, and who are we to sit in judgment.” 

I would answer by saying, “But what do you do with the passage?  What do you do with this?  You just ignore it?”  So I was warned that if you do that, you’ll destroy your ministry and you’ll be out of there.  But really I was hoping to get better advice than that, so I did what the Bible said and guess what?  People didn’t run away.  They ran toward us, and they’re still running toward us because the Lord wants a pure church, and the Lord blesses a pure church.  True believers want a pure church, and the Lord adds to a pure church. 

This is the most critical lesson of church disciple in the Book of Acts because this is before anything is actually implemented and God does the whole thing.  This is 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.”  This is where judgment begins.  The Lord was saying, “I am dead serious about my church.  I’m not playing church.”  I’m dead serious about my church. 

That leaves the fourth principle, the sinful pretense followed by the spiritual perception of Peter led to swift punishment and that produced a solemn purging, a solemn purging.  The end of verse 5, “Great fear came over all who heard of it.”  Great fear.  Fear of whom?  Guess.  Fear of God, fear of God, great fear.  Verse 11, “Great fear came over the whole church and over all who heard these things.”  Twice, same thing.  Verse 5, second half, verse 11.  This is a holy terror, holy fear. 

The Lord is serious about the church.  What do we draw out of this?  God hates the sins of the saints.  They corrupt His church.  God hates hypocrisy.  God hates lying.  God punishes sin.  People died in the early church and people died at the Communion table.  There was a sin unto death.  Purity is critical to the church, and critical to the power of the church and the testimony of the church.  Now, we’re not perfect people, but we don’t want to hide hypocrites, and we don’t want to be hypocrites. 

I don’t know.  If you come up to me and you tell me, “Here’s who I am spiritually,” I’m going to have to take you at face value, but I don’t have any apostolic revelation.  I don’t have any insight.  I promise you I’m not going to judge you.  I don’t have any secret knowledge.  I have no more access to the mind of God than you do.  All I know about God is revealed to me in His Word.  Okay, I don’t have any secret knowledge, so I don’t want you to worry when you come up to me that I’ve got some kind of spiritual radar that’s seeing the real you.  I don’t have that.  I’d like to have it, but that would really be devastating.

I will take you at face value, but I will do this.  I will pray that God will reveal hypocrites.  I will pray that God will reveal hypocrites for their sake and for His church’s sake, and for the sake of the world that is watching us. 

Solemn purging, the Lord will do some of that.  The Lord will reveal some hypocrisy.  The Lord will uncover sin, and we have to be involved in that.  If your brother sins – what?  Go to him, take two or three witnesses, tell the church, pursue purity in the church.  Did it destroy the church?  No.  Verse 12, “At the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.”  Then parenthetically, we read this: “And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”  There they are back in that place that we saw Peter with them in chapter 3 and back in the very place in John 10. They’re all back in one accord.   

Somebody said this is where Hondas are first mentioned in the Bible, but that is not accurate.  If you don’t know what I mean by that, you’ll figure it out.  They were all in one accord.  It is a moan.  It’s worthy of a moan.  I understand, yeah. 

But I just want you to know that they all went back to the same unity that they had back in verse 32.  After the sin was dealt with, the corruption was removed, the hypocrites were dead; they were back to where they were before.  The signs and wonders take place.  They’re all unified again.  Verse 13, “But none of the rest dated to associate with them.”  Is that good?  That’s kind of contrary to church growth strategy isn’t it? 

The whole idea was that the Lord was designing a church that non-believers would not want to belong to.  I don’t know how to say that more clearly.  The Lord had designed a church that non-believers would not want to belong to because it’s so pursuing purity.  It’s a place of judgment on sin.  It’s a place of confrontation of sin that we all desire because we have holy affections and divine aspirations, and we want to honor the Christ we love and glorify Him.  But it can’t be a place where non-believers are comfortable.  None of the rest dared to associate with them.  They didn’t have a church growth strategy.  They didn’t have any model to follow.  The pastoral epistles hadn’t been written yet. 

God was designing the church His way and His way was to frighten non-believers as well as to frighten believers.  However, the people held them in high esteem.  Ah, now that does matter.  The people held them in high esteem.  They had immense respect for their purity and their morality and their virtue.  That’s what we want.  We want the world to see our unity.  We want the world to see our purity.  We want the world to see that we are a group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who confess Him as Lord and Master, and we are His loving, devoted slaves.  He calls us to holiness, and we pursue that holiness.  We want heaven to come down in the church, and heaven is a place of holiness and purity.

So we want to confront sin and judge sin and remove sin and corruption and hypocrisy.  But at the same time, when the world looks at that, they don’t want to be a part of that because they don’t want the exposure.  Jesus clarified that in John 3 when He said, “Men don’t want to be exposed by the light.”  Okay?  So we understand that, but at the same time, they will respect our unity and our purity.  That’s the Lord’s design for a church, and it worked.  Verse 14, “All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.”  Who adds to the church?  Who does that?  The Lord.

So what do we think?  We’re going to do it by developing our own strategy.  Confronting sin, purifying the church will drive away and frighten those who love their sin.  It will make them uncomfortable, but it will attract those who hate sin, and that’s necessary to become a believer. 

This is so far away from the interest of the contemporary church of our day.  Uncalled, unfaithful pastors who try to build their churches on tolerance.  Tolerance for sin, making unbelievers feel welcome.  This is totally contrary to the very action of God Himself in the Book of Acts. 

Look at 2 Corinthians 12 for a minute.  I’ll wrap this up.  Verse 20, 2 Corinthians 12:20 Paul says, “I’m afraid that perhaps when I come – ” come back to Corinth, “ – I may find you to be not what I wish.  I may find you to be not what I wish.  Perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances.  I’m actually afraid – ” verse 21 “ – that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality, sensuality.” 

He says, “I’m afraid to come back to the church and find strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, slander, gossip, arrogance, disturbances, impurity, immorality, sensuality.”  That’s what I’m afraid of.  Verse 1 of chapter 13, “This is the third time I’m coming to you – ” and I’ll tell you this, “ – every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  What does that mean?  When I get there, if I find this, I’m going to confront it, and I’m going to do what Matthew 18 says.  I’m going to speak, and if you don’t repent, I’m going to get two or three witnesses.  We’re going to do it by the book.  “I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well that if I come, I will not spare anyone.”

That’s a real pastor.  That’s a true shepherd.  I will not spare anyone.  I will do it by the book, by the plan that God has ordained.  So, verse 5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.  Examine yourselves or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test?”  You’d better take a look at your life.  You’d better examine whether you’re a true believer or not because when I come, it’s going to be a no-nonsense approach.  I’m going to be looking to see if any of those sins are there, and if they’re there, they’re going to be confronted, and I won’t spare anybody.  I don’t care who you are.

There’s an, “I don’t care who you are” in the Ananias story because they were wealthy, just the kind of people that leaders don’t want to offend.  This is the strategy for church growth and the church grew.  Back to the book of Acts.  “The Word of God – ” verse 7, chapter 6, “ – kept spreading; and the number of the disciples – ” chapter 6, verse 7, “ – continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem and even a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”  Chapter 8, “The crowds as one accord were given attention to what was said by Philip as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.  More crowds, more crowds.  This in the ministry of Philip. 

Chapter 9, verse 31, “The church throughout all Judea now and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up, going on in the fear of the Lord.”  There it is.  They were going on in the fear of the Lord, the kind of fear that gripped them on that very Sunday when Ananias and Sapphira were killed.  That fear of the Lord, “And as well in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.”  This is the biblical plan for church growth.  Chapter 11, “The hand of the Lord was with them – ” verse 21, “ – and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”  A large number.  The end of verse 24, “Considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” 

The church just exploding and exploding and exploding off this base of purity and unity, unity and purity.  The apostle gives us a summary I think that’s really helpful.  In 2 Corinthians 11, “I wish that you would bear with me – ” verse 1 “ – in a little foolishness.  Indeed, you are bearing with me for I am jealous for you with a godly jealously.  I betrothed you to one husband so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”  He sees this church like a pure virgin that he has sought and found to give to Christ.  “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”  This is a real pastor.  This is a sanctifying shepherd who is concerned about the purity of his people.

You can read Revelation 2 and 3 on your own and you can read the letters to the churches, and you will notice how the Lord Himself says that when a church is impure, He may come and fight against that church with the sword out of His mouth.  Where there is an impure church, judgment is hanging like Damocles sword over its head, and the Judge will come.

This is a great message for every church in every age to know and to learn, and the motivation from this is that we would be unified in our pursuit of holiness and purity and confronting sin.  At the same time, generously and graciously forgiving others as we have been forgiven by Christ.  It’s a place of the confrontation of sin, forgiveness, grace, and restoration.  That’s for another message. 

Lord, we are grateful that we are not lost in any confusion about what you desire, what you require.  You made it crystal clear how important your holiness, your character is to be upheld by the church.  You were doing this in your church through your Spirit.  This sets the standard for us.  May we never be so brash as to lower that standard.  Keep us faithful.  Keep us one.  Keep us pure.  Keep us joyful we pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/44-20

VIDEO When Sin Entered the Church, part 1

 

Sep 21, 2014 by John MacArthur

Open your Bible to Acts chapter 4.  And we’re going to begin to look, and we’ll see how far we go, at a section of the Book of Acts that includes the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 that I’ve entitled, “The Sins of the Saints.”  This section actually records the wonderful, beautiful, loving, caring sacrificial unity of the church.  That’s in the first part.  And then when we come to chapter 5, it introduces to us the first recorded sin in the church.  We know, because we have gone through this journey of the new church born on the Day of Pentecost.  We know that the early day of the church’s history were bright days.  They were happy days.  They were joyful days.  They were blessed days.  They were days of fellowship.  They were days of teaching sound doctrine.  They were days of prayer.  They were days of breaking bread around the Lord’s Table, and eating meals from house to house with fellow believers.  The joy was really overwhelming.  The love was all-inclusive.  The fellowship was deep and rich.  The testimony of converted souls was loud and clear.  The result, of course, in the early weeks of the church, had been an explosion of believers, to the point that perhaps as many as 20,000 people have now come to faith in Christ, and gone through the waters of baptism.  Virtually every pool in the city of Jerusalem must’ve been being used for baptisms, starting on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 people were baptized, all across the city of Jerusalem.

Everything at this point in the church is joyful, and upbeat, and glorious.  In fact, when persecution broke out, as we saw last time in chapter 4, the church met it head on.  And the church was triumphant, even in the face of that persecution.  We remember the triumph of the church in the face of persecution because in the fourth chapter, the preaching of the gospel that brought about the persecution also brought about 5,000 more conversions among men, plus women, to be added to that as well.  So, persecution came, but persecution didn’t have a negative effect on the church.  The church prayed harder, preached harder, was granted more boldness by the Holy Spirit, and more and more and more people came to believe.

God was real.  Christ was alive.  The Spirit’s power surged through them.  They literally overwhelmed their persecutors with courage and boldness.  Never had the world seen days like these.  Never.  Not since the fall of Adam, ever, had there been anything like this, because never before had the Messiah come.  Never before had the atonement for sin been offered.  Never before had the resurrection of the redeemer taken place, and thus secured resurrection for all who put their trust in Him.  Never before had the provision for the forgiveness of sins been offered.  Never before had God been fully satisfied.  Never before had the Holy Spirit taken up full residence in people.  Never before had there been new natures implanted in redeemed souls.  This was all new in redemptive history.  This was the new age, the era of the new covenant.  It was glorious, and the people were literally on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sheer force of the truth of the gospel. 

But Satan was active.  His first acts against the church were returning him exactly what he didn’t want.  He fired out at the church with persecution, and persecution failed to quelch the fire.  Eternal purposes were being unfolded.  Eternal power was being unleashed.  An external pressure was like pouring gas on that fire.  Satan then knew that if he was going to do damage to the church, it wasn’t going to happen from the outside.  He was going to have to get on the inside. 

And so, as we come here to this section before us, we see Satan’s assault on the inside of the church.  It’s in this section that Satan goes to church.  We come face to face here with the first open incident of sin in the church.  This is the beginning.  And sin has had a foothold in the church ever since, ever since.  This is the heartbreaking beginning of what all generations of believers throughout all history in all places in all churches have had to face: the reality that Satan goes to church.  Jesus warned about this.  He said Satan would sow tares among the wheat.  The first instruction that our Lord ever gave to the church was that, if someone’s in sin, go to that person.  If they don’t repent, take two or three witnesses.  If they don’t repent, tell the whole church, and that’s essentially the first duty given to the church: confront sin and expel the sinner who will not repent.

Sin has plagued the church.  Moral sin.  Doctrinal sin.  It has plagued the church ever since.  It plagues the church now.  This is where Satan does his greatest damage.  History would tell us that to persecute the church externally only causes the church to become purer and more powerful and more effective.  So, Satan works inside the church. 

So we’re going to look at the inauguration, if you will, of the sins of the saints in the history of the church.  And I really pray to the Lord that as you hear this unfolded, it will find a place in your heart that makes you perhaps more alert, more wary, more thoughtful about the seriousness of sin in the church. 

This passage also is to be viewed another way.  This passage demonstrates the almost stubborn honesty of the Bible.  It would seem that the ugliness of this sin might well have been left out.  I mean, after all, it was no demand that it be placed in Scripture.  God could’ve painted the picture perfectly and left out such a gross flaw.  But God is not about to paint an untrue picture of anything, and certainly not His church.  The church is not perfect.  It wasn’t perfect in its pristine form, and it’s not perfect now.  It is not a place for perfect people.  It is a hospital for people who know they are sick and also know what the cure is.  “A hospital is not a nice, clean, refrigerator designed to keep a few select souls from spoiling,” one writer said.  The church is imperfect because people are imperfect.  There’s sin in the church because there are sinners in the church. 

Once, I remember reading some of my historical reading about Cromwell.  Cromwell, the great English leader, had hired a painter to paint his portrait.  Cromwell actually was disfigured in his face by many warts.  The painter who was hired to paint his face, hoping to please Cromwell, left all the warts off the portrait.  When Cromwell saw the painting, it is recorded he said, “Take it away and paint me, warts and all.”  Well, the Bible always does that.  It always paints its heroes and its antiheroes and its history, warts and all.

There is a reality in this, there’s a truthfulness in this, and there’s also an encouragement in this.  Because, warts and all, God took that early church with its sin, its sinners, and transformed the entire world.  We need to know that, don’t we?  The fact that the Lord, from the very beginning, had to work with sinful people, gives us hope.  When the apostle Paul talked about his ministry and the struggles of ministry in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 24 to 28, he talked about all the beatings, and whippings, and shipwrecks, and all of that.  But really, the hardest part of ministry for the apostle Paul, he says, was the care of all the churches.  He says this: “Apart from external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.  Who is weak without my being weak?  Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”  This is the burden that every pastor bears, every church leader, if not every church member bears.  Sinners are in the church.  We’re all sinners.  None of us is perfect. 

You hear people say very often, “I don’t want to go to church because there are a bunch of hypocrites there.”  My answer to that person is, “That’s right, and there’s plenty of room for another one.”  In fact, Paul is so concerned about sin in the church that he has forever identified the sinners by name.  You know how he does that.  He speaks of sinners in the Corinthian church.  He speaks specifically about those sinners that bothered him in his other churches, the Philippian church.  He speaks of people who are disruptive and heretical by name in writing to Timothy.  John even mentions a man who loved to have the preeminence, Diotrephes, for all time.  He is memorialized as a sinner having an evil influence on the church.  Just ministry in general, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “Brethren, we request of you that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Live in peace with one another.  We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 

So, there’s a sort of categories for members.  There are the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak.  This is who we are.  We are unruly in the sense that we break the rules that God has ordained.  We are weak in the sense that we fail.  Those are characterizations that are accurate.  So, the Bible never backs off of that, as I said.  The Bible is almost embarrassingly blunt about the reality of the people of God.  Certainly, we would say that’s true of Israel, and the church, even true believers, are characterized legitimately as an assembly of redeemed sinners, redeemed sinners.

Here in the Book of Acts, that becomes very apparent, very public in chapter 5.  Peter has to deal with this.  I’m not surprised that Peter got the first assignment to deal with sinners in the church because Peter wouldn’t have any problem accepting the fact that that was a reality since he was a well-known sinning apostle. 

But before we get to the fifth chapter and the sins of the saints, there’s an interesting preliminary section that sets that sin into perspective starting in verse 32.  “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.  And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

This is an amazing element of church life.  We were saying it was all beautiful and joyful and sacrificial, and loving, and unified.  Here is the great illustration of that.  Their unity and their love was genuinely sacrificial.  I mean, how far would you got to meet somebody’s need?  Are you prepared, if you own a piece of land, to sell your land, that is an appreciating commodity, to sell your land and take the money, and hand it over to the church and say, “Do whatever you want with this money to meet the needs of people?”  Are you prepared to do that? 

The early church, these have been believers for weeks, just weeks, they are so unified, verse 32 says, that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  I mean, this should be true of every congregation. 

Philippians 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in the manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  We all know Philippians chapter 2.  “Look not on your own things but the things of others.”  Loving unity should always mark the church. 

Well, in verses 32 to 37, we have the sharing of the saints before we have the sins of the saints.  Those who believed, please notice, indicates again that this is a true church.  They are all genuine believers.  They are all in Christ.  They are all the real thing.  This is a congregation.  This is the purest, truest church of real believers.  They have one heart and one soul.  What does that mean?  Literally, the heart and soul of those who had become believers is one.  They’re unified so that it is such a unity, not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 

This is not communism; this is simply saying no one held onto anything.  They all understood that it all belonged to the Lord, and it all was to be used for His honor and His glory and His people.  That is a perspective that should be true of every believer and how you view whatever it is that you possess.  They loved each other.  They rejoiced in each other.  They were humble before each other.  They were selfless.  They were sacrificial.  They were preoccupied with the needs of others.  This is so new and so fresh and so dynamic and so powerful and so awesome, this experience of the church, that they have no thought of preserving anything that they own or possess.  They hold it lightly in their hands, as a stewardship from the Lord Himself to be used for whoever has a need. 

Not only is there strong unity, but there’s strong preaching.  Verse 33.  “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”  They’re going out and they’re preaching the glory of the resurrection.  They’re too busy caring for each other and too busy preaching the gospel to the world to waste time over selfish bickering, personal pursuits, idle talk, gossip, backbiting, criticism, divisiveness, self-will, self-gratification, self-aggrandizement.  They had no time and no energy to spend on themselves. 

And out of that zeal and out of the sheer exhilaration of having been regenerated and constituted as the body of Christ, the church, they roar, as it were, through the city of Jerusalem with the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The apostles lead the parade, giving testimony to the resurrection, all the time, and everywhere.  And if you took the time, you would start in chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost when Peter first preaches the resurrection.  Then chapter 3 when he preaches the resurrection again.  Here, in chapter 4, the resurrection is again noted as the theme of their preaching.  When you come to chapter 5, verse 30, Peter again says, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death,” preaching the resurrection in chapter 5, and it keeps going like this through all those early chapters.

I told you last time we talked about how to face persecution, that when persecution comes, you don’t suppress the message.  You don’t alter the message.  You don’t suppress it because it offends people.  Of course it offends people.  It has to offend them.  They need to be offended.  Back in chapter 4 verse 20, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  And I told you last time that their problem was: they couldn’t stop them from speaking.  The problem in the church today is we can’t get people started speaking. 

They also experienced special favor, spiritual favor, end of verse 33, “abundant grace was upon them all.”  When you’re that obedient, that humble, that sacrificial, that loving, that united, that zealous, that passionate to pour out the message of the gospel and be bold and courageous, even in the face of persecution, believe me, great grace will come from heaven. 

Some people think that means favor from the people.  Well, there was that.  They did have favor from the people.  People were stunned by them.  We read that at the end of chapter 2, that they did have favor with the people.  But I think far more importantly, because of their obedience, because of their priorities, because they were doing exactly what God wanted them to do, heaven unleashed grace, favor on the church, a church that has one soul, one heart, loving, joyfully, sacrificial, giving up everything, holding all possessions lightly, for whatever use some other person might have, yielding them up readily, happily, a church that is passionate and zealous to proclaim the message of the gospel, the resurrection of Jesus Christ will be flooded with divine favor.  Blessing, results, joy.  That’s a promise of God.

Now, this became very practical.  Start back in verse 32.  And no one “claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”  They treated what they owned, and people owned things.  They owned land like Barnabas.  They owned things.  But people treated them as if they belonged to anybody who might need what they could provide.  Down to verse 34.  “For there was not a needy person among them.”  Not a needy person among them.  Wonderful.  Amazing.  How could that be?  “For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales.”  Can you imagine that?  I mean, what would it take for you to sell your house to meet someone’s need?  This is the spiritual grace that has literally engulfed these people. 

Their perspective is so heavenly that it’s hard for us to even relate to.  Certainly, in our society, more than any society perhaps in history, we’re in the business of acquiring, and acquiring, and acquiring.  I think of that every time I drive past one of those storage places.  What?  If you can’t even reach it, why do you have it?  If you can’t use it, why do you need it?  And then there are the wacky hoarders.  I don’t comprehend that.  There is no way I can even understand that.  That is the bizarre, over the edge, all the way down to the bottom psychological reality of people who just spend their whole life attaching way to much importance to stuff. 

They didn’t even mind selling a house they lived in.  They didn’t mind selling a piece of land they lived on, or raised their animals on, or their crops.  And they didn’t need to control where it went.  So, verse 34, they would, if needed, sell their land, sell their houses, bring the proceeds of the sales, “and lay them at the apostles’ feet.”  Why did they do that?  Because they trusted the apostles to distribute them.  They didn’t want to make that decision.  That’s what you do, you know, when in a small sense, when you give to the church every Sunday, you lay that money at the feet of the elders and pastors and shepherds who make a decision as to how best that is to be used.  But just try to put yourself in a position where you know there are a whole lot of people who have need, and so you go and sell your land and sell your house, bring all the money, hand it to the apostles and say, “Do whatever you want.”  Give it to whoever needs it.

That’s a pretty staggering level of trust.  That’s a pretty amazing level of confidence.  By the way, it was all voluntary.  Some people say well no, this is communism.  Everybody sold everything, it all went into a pot, and they doled it out equal.

No.  Go down to chapter 5 verse 4.  Peter confronts Ananias about a piece of land.  “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  Even after it was sold, was it not under your control?”  They did not immediately, all of them sell everything and then dole it out in equal portions.  People continued to own things.  But whenever they recognized the need, their sacrifice was great.  Now remember, you’ve got thousands of people who came for the feast of Pentecost, and that’s when the church was born.  They don’t want to leave.  Why don’t they want to leave?  Because there’s no church in their town.  There’s only one church in the world.  This is it.  They don’t want to go.  What are they going to go back to?  Paganism?  Judaism?  So they stay.  So you have a massive crowd of thousands of people who are there with no homes, no jobs, they’re not going to get a job in this society very likely.  Why?  They have abandoned Judaism.  They’re viewed as apostates.  They’re kicked out of the synagogue.  They’re basically social pariahs and outcasts.  They have to be cared for, even the apostle Paul later, after this, travels throughout Asia Minor raising money to take back to give to the poor Jerusalem saints, many of whom never left.  Some of whom gave everything they had away, and therefore had needs that had to be met. 

What an amazing, amazing level of love, sacrifice.  Just amazing.  All voluntary, all joyful, all expressive of their love for the Lord.  The apostles then, according to verse 35, have the responsibility to do the distribution as, in chapter 6, they chose deacons to do the distribution of the food to the widows who weren’t getting a fair share of food.  Amazing attitude.  I just would stop here and say this: this is the Christian view of money, okay?  This is the Christian view of money.  This is the believer’s view of money. 

None of it really is yours.  None of it.  Okay?  It’s not 90 percent is yours and a tenth is God’s.  None of it is yours.  It is God who gives you the power to get wealth.  All of it is a stewardship of resources that, in the end, belong to God.  You belong to God.  Your children belong to God.  Your money belongs to God.  Your house belongs to God.  Your land belongs to God.  Your abilities, your talents, your resources, they all belong to God, and they are all there to be used for His honor and for His glory.  And when love was so compelling, so driving, people gave it up easily.  I will admit to you this didn’t last, because John writes much later in that first century, chapter 3 verse 17, “Whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.”  So, already when you get to the end of the century, Christians are being selfish.  They’re hanging on.  They’re clinging to what they think belongs to them. 

James 2 verse 14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works?  Can that faith save him?”  In other words, faith alone without works isn’t a saving faith, ‘cause if it’s a saving faith, it produces works.  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Brother or sister, believer, go in peace.  Be warmed and be filled.”  And you don’t give him what is necessary for his body, what use is that?  That’s useless.  It’s absolutely useless. 

And who is the model for the Corinthians who are being selfish and possessive and stingy, to use an old word?  The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, and he’s very firm with them about the way they are selfish in holding onto their money.  And he reminds them of the Macedonians, the churches in Macedonia.  Second Corinthians 8:2, “that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.”  Poor people with nothing giving up whatever they had to meet needs. 

Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Why can’t you be like them?”  So, admittedly, while this existed in the beginning in the church, it didn’t take long for believers to settle into the natural inclinations of living in the world, holding onto everything you have.  So it is that James has to talk about it, Paul has to talk about it, John has to talk about it.  There are many warnings in Scripture about loving money.  The apostle Paul, right?  The love of money is what?  The root of all kinds of evil. 

So we have to confess, again, that the church didn’t maintain this, but this was the pristine, pure church in its early life, in the euphoria of this incredible transformation.  There was a unity there that was just absolutely precious, precious.  And it began to die slowly through the years of that first century.  And of course, has long died in the centuries since then.  The warnings of Scripture instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. 

Why?  Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.  Laying up treasure where?  In heaven.  So, as we look at the end of chapter 4, we see this really unparalleled unity.  First of all, the very existence of the church is unparalleled in all redemptive history.  And their life together has never seen anything that parallels it.  There’s nothing in all Scripture prior to this like this.  There’s no group of people like this.  This is stunning and staggering reality.  And the proof of their passion and joy and love is in the fact that they would, in a second, sell their long-cherished, necessary assets and give all the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to anybody who had a need. 

Then Luke, in writing this history, gives us an illustration, verse 36.  “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth,” means he was born on the island of Cyprus, “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement).”  You probably didn’t know, if you didn’t remember that verse, that Barnabas’ real name was Joseph.  Barnabas was a nickname.  It means Son of Comfort, or Son of Consolation, or Son of Encouragement, or Son of Exhortation.  He no doubt had the gift of encouraging others, the gift of coming alongside and strengthening them.  He was from that island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean.  His name was actually Joseph.  There is a lot more about him. 

Look at the 11th chapter.  We won’t go into all this ‘cause we’ll catch it when we get there, but in chapter 11, the hand of the Lord was with them when they were in Cyprus and Cyrene, and came to Antioch.  “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.  The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”  Here’s what I want you to see: “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”

He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of faith.  He actually became a co-pastor of the church in Antioch, over to chapter 13 verse 1.  At Antioch in the church that was there, “Prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”  He was one of the group of co-pastors.  We’ll learn more about him in the 14th chapter of the Book of Acts, and we’ll look at this in detail.  Verse 14.  Interesting.  “When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,” just to note, he actually there is called an apostle.  Now, he’s not an apostle with a capital A because he didn’t see Christ and he wasn’t personally appointed by Christ as Paul was.  But the word “apostle” is also the word for “missionary.”  Apostell is the Greek verb, to send.  He was sent as a missionary.  In this sense, both he and Paul were missionaries.  Paul was an Apostle, capital A, a chosen, called one by Christ , and an apostle, small A, in the sense that his responsibility was to be sent as a missionary. 

Barnabas comes up again in chapter 15 in an argument about whether they’re going to keep John Mark who has been a disappointment to Paul, so Barnabas becomes a very, very important figure in this Book of Acts.

Now back to chapter 4.  It says about him that he owned a tract of land, and he is a living illustration of what’s going on, and sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  This is exactly what the previous verses said, verse 35.  They would lay the money at the feet of the apostles, who would then distribute it.  Barnabas does that.  We’re talking about a piece of land, significant amount of money to meet significant need.  Amazing generosity.  Barnabas is just one out of many, and we don’t know anything about him at this point.  He was a Levite, which means he was attached to the service of the temple.  So he was Jewish, and he was significant.  He gave out of the love of a pure heart, and he was sacrificial, and is really a model of what many others did. 

So that sets the stage for chapter 5, and let’s look at it, at least to begin.  We come to chapter 5.  The first word is “but.”  “But a man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.”  Well, that’s exactly what Barnabas did.  And now we meet two other people who did this.  The generous, selfless love of the saints is going on all the time in the church.  They’re meeting, remember, where did they meet?  Where did I tell you they meet?  In the temple.  They don’t have a building, so they met in the temple courtyard, maybe the porch of Solomon.  They’re there in the thousands meeting.  The apostles are teaching and preaching both to them and to the crowds concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The people are bringing their money, selling their land, selling their houses, giving they money to the apostles.  The people are being justifiably honored and thanked.  People who are making sacrifices like this are sensing the love of those who are the beneficiaries of that sacrifice.  Everybody understands the nobility of this kind of sacrifice. 

So, a man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira, decide that they need to get in on this.  The story of Ananias in the Book of Acts is kind of like the story of Achan in the Book of Joshua.  In both narratives, an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God.  The act of Achan interrupted it, and the act of Ananias interrupts it here.

Let’s meet him.  Ananias means, good name, but I never met anybody named Ananias for obvious reasons.  His name is, “The Lord is gracious.”  Nice name.  The Lord is gracious.  His wife, maybe not too significant.  Sapphira, take a guess.  Sapphire.  Sapphire.  Sapphire actually can mean beautiful, understandably.  So, she was kind of set in a bad course when she was a kid.  You don’t really name your daughter beautiful.  It’s a little hard to handle.  At least it’s hard to be humble.  You don’t want to name them ugly or homely either, but there’s some kind of middle ground that would work.

But she was a sapphire.  They had watched all of this going on and they wanted to get in on some of the accolades.  They wanted to get on some of the honor, so they sold a piece of property and kept back some of the price.  It says that Ananias did this for himself with his wife’s full knowledge.  And bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 

Their names, gracious and beautiful; their deed, anything but.  They are professed believers.  We could even assume they are real believers.  They are actually in conversation with the Holy Spirit, as well as being strongly influenced by Satan.  I don’t want to be dogmatic about whether they were only professing believers or genuine believers, but at this particular point, I lean on the side that they were real believers because of verse 32, “the congregation of those who believed.” 

So I see this not so much as the sin of a professor, but the sin of a possessor.  I mean, isn’t that the point of the whole thing?  It isn’t just the unbelievers in the church that sin; it’s the believers in the church that sin.  So they want to get in on this, and yet they want to do it by pretense, because they’re not really willing to sacrifice everything they have.  So they sell their property.  Obviously, they publically stated that they brought the full price of the sale, but they kept back some of it, actually, commiserating with each other, bringing only a portion, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  The pretense was: we’ve sold it all, we bring it all, it’s all here.  Just as everybody else had done, they get in line to draw attention to themselves.  The sin is not that they didn’t give.  The sin is not that they didn’t give enough.  In the New Testament, there’s no amount, there’s no percent.  The sin is in lying, lying.  God hates lying.  They lied. 

How do I know that?  Verse 3.  They lied to the Holy Spirit.  Yeah, of course they lied to Peter.  They lied to John.  They lied to the apostles.  But they also lied to the Holy Spirit.  It’s like a Psalmist said, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this iniquity.”  It’s the sin of lying.  They had vowed, obviously, to the Holy Spirit, and to the apostles, and to the church that they were giving the full price of the sale, and they weren’t.  They were lying. 

And secret sin on earth, by the way, is an open scandal in heaven.  The sin is lying that takes the form of hypocrisy.  It is a lie that is intended to make them look spiritual.  They sought to gain prestige, high praise for their low sin.  They thought that they would be applauded for their sacrifice.  And at the same time, they could free up a little cash and stash it away.  The lie was simply the vehicle or the method by which they attempted to carry out their covetous scheme for status, for self-elevation.  Really then, it becomes hypocrisy, doesn’t it?  That dirty sin, creating a deceptive impression of one’s spiritual character; that’s hypocrisy, creating a deceptive perception of one’s spiritual character. 

This sin, God hates above others.  God hates, first of all, liars.  First in the list in the Old Testament.  Hypocrisy is not just a lie; it is a lying life.  It is living a lie.  Yes, one should give sacrificially.  It’s wrong not to give sacrificially.  But that’s not the point here.  The point is: they lied.  But it runs deeper than that.  They not only lied, they lied to create a false perception of their spiritual condition.  I will tell you, from God’s standpoint, no one is so ugly in God’s eyes as those who paint spiritual beauty on faces where there is none. 

They are the ones who want to be elevated in the church, and they’ve been around a long time.  Long time.  They want people to think highly of them.  They put on a façade.  They put on a front.  They’re hypocrites.  Is the church full of hypocrites?  Absolutely.  None of us, truthfully, none of us lives as we ought to live.  None of us lives perfectly.  None of us lives the Christ-like life.  But neither should we pretend that we do.  Nor should we be in some kind of hurry to act as if the realities of our sin don’t even exist. 

That’s exactly what was going on here.  Yes, churches have hypocrites.  Yes, people pretend to be spiritual when they’re not.  That needs to be exposed.  What sin would you have picked to be the first sin that the Lord disciplined in the church?  Maybe you would’ve picked immorality.  Maybe you would’ve picked stealing.  Maybe you would’ve picked some form of blasphemy.  Maybe you would’ve picked some breached relationship characterized by anger, hostility, lack of forgiveness.  Those are all part of life in the church.  But the sin that the Holy Spirit places here to inaugurate our understanding of sin in the church is the sin of hypocrisy, pretending to be something you’re not. 

Well, they couldn’t get away with it.  Not at all.  Peter said, verse 3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”  The first sin identified in the life of church is lying to God.  Well, lying to men, sure.  But who thinks they can get away with a lie to God?  You can’t deceive Him.  He knows your heart.  He knows your mind.  He knows your thoughts.

This is hitting the church at its most deep point.  This is why Peter says judgment must begin at the house of God, 1 Peter 4.  And that judgment begins with the spiritual integrity of the church.  If the church is to be exposed, let it first and foremost be exposed for its hypocrisy.  That deadly, hypocritical reality in a church is a kind of leaven that leavens the whole thing.

Well, we’ll say more about that next time.  Our time is gone for now.  And then we’ll see the consequences of all this.  Suffice it to say at this point that you now understand the scene and the setting and the sin.  Next time, we’ll look at the results and the impact.  Let’s pray.

Again, Lord, what a wonderful evening we’ve had, hearing testimony, singing Your praise, fellowshipping together.  And yet it’s been a very sobering evening.  When we go through things like this, we again come face to face with the fact that even the best of churches, even in our beloved church which we all love, and to which we all turn for fellowship and teaching and ministry, there’s the reality of sin.  We cannot overcome it in this life.  That’s why we wait for the redemption of our bodies, our glorification. 

But Lord, there is one sin that You have elevated and brought to our attention in bold relief, seemingly above the rest, and that is hypocrisy.  Lord, don’t let us think we can lie to each other about who we are.  Don’t let us think that we can lie to You.  You hate a lying tongue.  You hate a lying heart.  Lord, give us spiritual integrity.  Help us to be real believers.  Not perfect, but genuine, honest, seekers for truth and pursuers of holiness.  Strip out spiritual deception, fraud, hypocrisy.  May we be a church that is pure and true.  Deal with that in our church.  Expose it where it is.  Wherever that exists, Lord, expose that as You did in that first church and brought swift judgment for the sake of the purity of the testimony of the church, as well as the purity of the worship of the church.  We want to be everything that You want a church to be.  We want to be that ordinary church that we’ve talked about.  Ordinary, in the sense that we are what the Scripture says we are to be.  Purify Your church.  Deliver us from deception and lies and hypocrisy.  Make us real, true lovers of Christ and lovers of one another so that Your testimony may shine forth clearly.  What a privilege.  Give us the joy that comes out of that genuineness.  We pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/44-19

VIDEO 5 Things Pastors Need to Stop Doing Immediately

Shane Idleman
Contributor to ChristianHeadlines.com Sept 10, 2019

5 Things Pastors Need to Stop Doing Immediately

Pastors, we are not just cheerleaders, we are game-changers. We are called to stir and to convict so that change takes place. Granted, there are many wonderful pastors and churches—I appreciate their ministry, but, as a whole, the church has drifted off course. They have lost the compass of truth – many are more concerned about wine tasting and craft beers than truly seeking the heart of God.  

The pulpit regulates the spiritual condition of God’s people which affects the nation. A lukewarm, sex-saturated culture (and church) simply reflects the lack of conviction in the pulpit as well as the pew.

Pastors and Christian leaders alike must take responsibility for the spiritual health of today’s church, and the nation. We don’t need more marketing plans, demographic studies, or giving campaigns; we need men filled with the Spirit of God.

This is not a letter of rebuke (I’m in no position to do that) – it’s a tear-stained plea that we once again seek the heart of God. Here are five issues we need to overcome:

1. Stop watering down the gospel. The truth is often watered-down in the hope of not offending members and building a large audience. Judgment is never mentioned and repentance is rarely sought. We want to build a church rather than break a heart; be politically correct rather than biblically correct; coddle and comfort rather than stir and convict. The power of the gospel is found in the truth about the gospel – the edited version does not change lives.

2. Stop focusing only on encouragement. We all need encouragement, that’s a given, but most people feel beaten down because they’re not hearing more about repentance – “repent and experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (cf. Acts 3:19). To truly help people, we must preach the difficult truths as well as the joyful ones; preach the cross and the new life; preach hell and preach heaven; preach damnation and preach salvation; preach sin and preach grace; preach wrath and preach love; preach judgment and preach mercy; preach obedience and preach forgiveness; preach that God “is love,” but don’t forget that God is just. It is the love of God that compels us to share all of His truth.

3. Stop getting your message from pop-psychology or the latest fad. All of us must return to the prayer closet where brokenness, humility, and full surrender take place. God prepares the messenger before we prepare the message. Without prayer, “the church becomes a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching encourage sin, not holiness…preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer, the preacher creates death, and not life” (E.M. Bounds). “Without the heartbeat of prayer, the body of Christ will resemble a corpse. The church is dying on her feet because she is not living on her knees” (Al Whittinghill).

4. Stop trying to be like the world. If a pastor fills his mind with the world all week and expects the Spirit of God to speak boldly through him from the pulpit, he will be gravely mistaken. “The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher” (E.M. Bounds). Who he is all week is who he will be when he steps to the pulpit. We are called to the separated life guided by the Holy Spirit not Hollywood.

When God brings change, separation and prayer have been the catalyst. The dry, dead lethargic condition of the church simply reflects our lack of being filled with the Spirit. While 5-minute devotionals and prayers are good, they aren’t going to cut it in these dire times. We need powerful times of prayer, devotion, and worship. Again, God prepares the messenger before we prepare the message. It takes broken men to break men. Unplug the tv, turn off Facebook, and get back into the Word, prayer, and worship.

5. Stop asking, “Will this topic offend my audience?” and start asking, “Will my silence offend God?”A paraphrase that is often attributed to Alexis De Tocqueville—a Frenchman who authored Democracy in America in the early 1800s, helps to better understand this point: “I looked throughout America to find where her greatness originated. I looked for it in her harbors and on her shorelines, in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and in her gold mines and vast world commerce, but it was not there…It was not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her success. America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Is your pulpit aflame with righteousness – it all begins here.

More at www.ShaneIdleman.com.

Watch, I Remember When the Church Prayed

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/4 Maksym

Video courtesy: Shane Idleman

https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/things-pastors-need-to-stop-doing-immediately.html

EFCA Now Considers Premillennialism a Non-Essential

The denomination drops end times doctrine from its statement of faith in a move to “major on the majors” and “minor on the minors.”

EFCA Now Considers Premillennialism a Non-Essential
DANIEL SILLIMAN AUGUST 23, 2019

 

The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) changed its position on end times theology, voting this summer to drop the word “premillennial” from the denomination’s statement of faith.

Many of the 350,000 people who belong to EFCA churches still believe Jesus will return to earth to reign as king for 1,000 years, but the denomination no longer considers that doctrine essential to the gospel.

An internal document explaining the rationale for the change says premillennialism “is clearly a minority position among evangelical believers.” Premillennialism has been a “denominational distinctive” for the EFCA, according to the document, but shouldn’t be overemphasized.

“The thought was, we must either stop saying we are a denomination that majors on the majors … and minors on the minors, or we must stop requiring premillennialism as the one and only eschatological position,” said Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology, in an interview with Ed Stetzer.

The revised statement says, “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whether or not Jesus will set up a literal kingdom on earth for a millennium is left to individual discretion.

The EFCA has been considering the change for more than a decade. John Woodbridge, a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), the ECFA-affiliated seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, spoke in favor of the shift back in 2008.

“People really saw high stakes in the move. One person of great stature told me that if you give up premillennialism, you will give up biblical inerrancy,” Woodbridge told CT. “For me, I never made that connection. John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others, certainly in the Reformed tradition, had a high view of Scripture, but they were never premillennial.”

The US church didn’t accept that argument in 2008, but the Canadian branch of the denomination did.

“It just happened to be easier for us,” said Bill Taylor, executive director of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada. “There’s a stronger dispensationalist history in the US than we have in Canada.”

Taylor said, looking back, the change was good for the Canadian evangelicals—and the darker predictions didn’t come true. “We’ve had no slippery slope to an allegorical approach to the Word,” he said. “There’s no pull toward liberalism, so there’s no negative impact in that way.”

When issue came up again in the EFCA leadership conference this year, a majority of US delegates were ready to vote to drop the word premillennial. The revision passed 79 percent to 21 percent.

Matthew Avery Sutton, a US historian at Washington State University and the author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism, was surprised by the timing.

“Emphasis on premillennialism waxes and wanes,” Sutton said. “There are moments of tremendous global chaos in which the church returns to premillennialism, and there are moments of more peace and stability, during which premillennialism takes a back seat. I am surprised that this is one of those moments in which the Evangelical Free Church of America is backing away from it. Things seem pretty chaotic to me, and the future looks pretty dark.”

The change was met with nonchalance at TEDS, where the faculty signed the revised EFCA statement of faith before the start of the school year.

“It’s not a huge topic,” said Graham Cole, the academic dean. “I’m not aware, of all my years here, of any big controversy over the issue.”

Dropping “premillennial” from the faith statement will mean one big change for Trinity, though.

“We’ll have a much larger pool from which to hire,” Cole said. “Our faculty have to hold to an inerrant Bible and the gospel of grace, but that eschatological barrier is removed.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/august/efca-drops-premillennialism-evangelical-free-church-teds.html

Christian Missions Change Course: Reconverting the West

Aug 9, 2019 By John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

In his book, “The Reason for God,” Tim Keller argues that Christianity is the only truly global religion. Indeed, within a few generations of Christ, the Christian faith had spread across much of the known world—from India to North Africa to furthest reaches of the Roman Empire and into the barbarian lands of Northern Europe. Yet up until a hundred years or so ago, for all kinds of historical and sociological reasons, Christianity became a predominantly Western religion.

The missionary efforts of the last hundred years began to change that, and now Pew Research predicts that Africa will be the most Christian continent within about 40 years.

The story behind this geographical relocation is overwhelmingly a story of missions. For centuries, the West sent evangelists to Africa, Asia, and South America to preach the Gospel, plant churches, and create Christian communities where none existed. Whereas the heroes of the faith in the ancient church were theologians and bishops, and those during the Reformation were, well, reformers, most of the names we recognize since the Reformation are the missionaries: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward, Eric Liddell, Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael.

This move of the Gospel from the West to the South and the East could be one of the largest scale fulfillments of the Great Commission since Jesus first gave it.

Yet, as a fascinating piece in The Economist explains, the direction of the flow of Christian missions has now largely reversed. As it did, the geographic center of the faith also shifted. A century ago, as Pew reports, over ninety percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and the Americas, and less than six percent in Africa and Asia. Today, over a third of all Christians hail from those continents.

As this Christian population shift has taken place, something else interesting has also happened. Poor, developing countries that once benefited from Western missionaries coming into their cultures have started sending missionaries of their own back to the rich and increasingly irreligious West.

While the U.S. still leads the world in sending missionaries—something that has been true for a long time—our market share is dropping. The largest growth seen in global missions output is in non-Western countries. And it’s happening fast.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of African missionaries jumped 32 percent to over 27,000. Korean missionaries jumped 50 percent to 30,000 in the same period. And the countries receiving the lion’s share of these missionaries are Brazil, Russia, and—wait for it—the United States.

As one whose church has been largely shaped by the missionary efforts of African Christians, I thank God for this new trend. At the same time, anyone trying to convert Westerners has their work cut out for them. As The Economist piece observed, “Saving the rich is difficult,” though Jesus said it wasn’t impossible. Among the compelling stories of Christian history we may read about one day will be whether missionaries from the Global South coaxed Western camels through the needle’s eye.

Those bringing the good news back to our shores—and even more so to Europe’s shores—often remark how jaded and difficult it can be to convert Westerners. Having once had the faith but having (at least partially) lost it, we’re like the bird-infested path or the thorny ground in Jesus’ parable.

Even so, to whatever scale the effort to reconvert the West succeeds or not, it ought to leave us in awe of God’s wisdom. Within just the span of a few centuries the Church went global, and it was precisely at the time the West began to lose its faith.

Both the work of the missionaries who planted those seeds abroad and the return of that fruit to our own shores are testaments to providence. We ought be reminded through them that God is no respecter of persons, nations, or even continents. I only wish those early global missionaries could see all of this unfold. Of course, as those who’ve now joined the great cloud of witnesses, they have a perspective on the whole story that’s better than our own. They obeyed Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. I wonder if they had any idea that those nations would one day return the favor.

John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.

G. Shane Morris is a senior writer at BreakPoint, a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s also written for Summit Ministries and The Christian Post, and blogs regularly at Patheos. Shane lives with his wife and three children.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.

https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/john-stonestreet/christian-missions-change-course-reconverting-west