We’re in a series on the church asking, in light of the mass exodus from the church, are we missing something if we leave the church? Whether we leave or stay, is there something we’re missing?
I believe there is, so I hope you’re open to figuring out what that is in your life. I hope the series will bring back some people. We lose and you lose by your absence. So I hope you’ll consider the series an invitation back. For those still here, I hope you’ll love and understand the church more. When it’s over we’ll have a challenge for the whole congregation.
I believe it’s impossible to separate your life with God from the church. Every single week I want to build on making that case for you. If I get intense, it’s because the thrill of my life is studying God’s word.
I got an article this week about why middle-aged Americans aren’t going back to church. It conveyed a sentiment I think a lot of people have, even in this room. One of the folks in the Gen-X group said, “When you got faith, you got faith. Going to church doesn’t make you who you are.”
A lot of people think that their own faith is what matters. That’s the sentiment of a lot of people, even those who sit in church. In our individualistic culture, we’ve separated our faith from the church.
I wonder how that guy defines faith. How is the New Testament speaking of what faith is?
Someone once said, “The logical conclusion of the Protestant Reformation is that everyone is his own church.” This is where the reformation goes off the rails. It went too far there. That’s another statement that has to be radically critiqued, because you’re not going to find it in your NT.
This brings up two important points in this series: You are not your own church. Your faith is not just your faith.
The entire online experience thinks that your experience or your story is central to all reality. Your story may be real, but it may not deny other realities. Our stories tend to dominate everything. But we need a better anchor point. I don’t want you to take my word for it. We’re going through the New Testament to see what Scripture has to say.
I want you to see the whole thing sketched out quickly over the next few weeks and then we’ll drill down.
Acts gives us the sketch. When you look at Acts, you see our history. When Jesus left earth, the Holy Spirit came and established the church. Acts tells you how the church began and how it expanded. Then all the New Testament churches are written back to the churches.
We’re not defining the church yet. We’ll get there. Right now, we’re just describing it. A picture is definitely forming.
When you get to Acts 5, you just have the mother church that all the others will come out of. In chapters 5 and 6, you’ll see that the church is not perfect already. It’s already a mess.
You’ll see two different things. In chapter 5 you’ll see the heart issue, in chapter 6 you’ll see the process issue. Those are two big reasons that people leave the church, heart issues and process issues.
God does not give up on the church. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with that immediately.
This is a serious issue in the church. All these people are coming from distant lands and need places to stay and things to eat. So they’re all pulling together their resources. It’s not very clear how, but people were selling their land and possessions to help others. That’s what they committed to doing.
Then something happens.
Even this soon, is it saying Satan is already involved in the church experience? All the sudden, the archenemy is already involved in trying to tear this thing down.
You can be filled with the Holy Spirit or you can be filled by Satan.
They don’t have to lie here. Peter says that the land was theirs. They didn’t have to sell it. Nobody demanded it.
They’re lying to the Spirit and testing the Spirit. What you’ll find is how the church gets messed up when Satan fills people’s hearts and they start contriving and scheming. What they wanted here was credit and honor for being generous in the community, but they didn’t want to pay the cost for being generous.
When you come into community, you’ll see the value of being part of a church community. But you often won’t pay any price for it. It costs. There’s no way to be part of a community like this without it affecting us economically. You can’t be part of a community making a difference and it not affect you economically.
They didn’t really have a deep concern for God, the poor, or the church, only themselves. We just need to look good, they thought.
One commentator says, they lied against koinonia. It’s the word that describes being together, partnering, and sharing. They’re acting against it.
You should know, God hates this. You think that YOU hate hypocrisy, wait until we finish this text. No one hates it more than God. It’s a way for people to feel religious but never contribute anything or letting their lives be changed.
It’s a devastating sin. You use the church to prop yourself up, make yourself feel better––and God help us if those people rise to leadership. It misses the whole gospel of grace if you’re in here hoping you at least look good even if you’re not changing or transforming. You’ve missed the whole point of grace and Jesus’ death if you’re in here to earn a reputation by appearing something you’re not. Somehow it makes us feel better even if it’s not real.
These people in Acts die, and you see it’s the death of community for them. Their deaths demonstrate that. You consume but don’t contribute, it breaks fellowship. It’s an act against koinonia. It ruins the witness of the church and destroys relationship with God.
Satan is not just out to get you, he’s out to get the church, and he attempts it through you. He knows exactly how to make us think a certain way.
You look at all the levels of the church with the platform, leaders, pastors, elders, volunteers––what’s the lowest, or deepest level of the church? Your heart. And it’s the most hidden. It’s the least visible. Which means you can play a lot of games in there. What we see in this text is that God sees it and cares about it. He doesn’t just care about what’s going on with the platform, leadership meetings, etc. He cares about the individual hearts of people who aren’t really who they say they are. Most of the time, it’s a heart that’s causing the problem.
It’s the most pertinent issue in the church, either Satan getting his way in your heart or the Holy Spirit. Satan is a liar. He will put something in your head that makes you think a certain way.
When I talk about your heart, I mean the way you think about the hurt in your heart and what you should do with it. You’ll start to gossip. Or you won’t forgive it. Or you’ll hold onto it.
Not only do we learn that there is an enemy in the church, but we also learn the issue of materialism. This crisis in the church has to do with materialism. It’s the simplest way to get a hold of your heart.
You can see most sins very obviously. Adultery, murder––you know you did it. How do you detect a greedy heart all the time? It can be very deceitful. But God sees right through it. It’s all visible to him.
The church is a breeding ground for these two sins of pride and greed. Wanting to appear better than I am. Or being stingy. This church wouldn’t exist without generous people, but there are a lot of stingy people too. This is easy stuff for Satan. He can make you want to look good and keep stuff. Those two things are really hard to deal with.
We learn here from the negative example how close God is looking at the church. His eyes are penetrating all of our hearts. That’s where all the problems are going to surface. It must be important, because Satan wouldn’t try to destroy it otherwise.
Now Sapphira is “testing” God. How do you test God? You’re basically saying community is not really that important. You’re saying, I can handle my own reputation, I just need to look good to these folks.
She’s testing God. Then you get to verses 5 and 6 and get this picture of judgment.
We have two judgment miracles here. Have you ever heard the phrase, “If I’m lying I’m dying?”
Peter doesn’t call for the judgment. This is God’s doing. I have a feeling Peter may have been just as shocked as they were.
We’re still in the organic phase at this point in the story. They haven’t formalized at this point what to do with people trying to destroy the church––people who are sinful and won’t admit it.
Luke is the author and he’s using big words. In Greek, it means the air went out of his soul. It’s a rare word for dying that seems to apply to wicked people. You’re getting a picture of this early church. The young guys come up to wrap the body and it’s a unique kind of wrapping, and you get this immediate removal. This is foreshadowing church discipline. What do you do with sin in the church body? You get it out. There will be a very specific procedure for how to deal with this problem. But this is the organic phase. They did this fast.
In Jewish thinking, if you were buried without your family, you’re a wicked person. These are people who look good outwardly, but are wicked on the inside. The whole feel of it is very Tony Soprano. Dispose of that body. It’s mind blowing. Then the same process repeats for Sapphira. She gets a chance. She doesn’t have to lie. But she’s going to do the same thing. It’s a picture of grace that she gets a chance. Peter is dumbfounded. He couldn’t figure out how it was psychologically possible for them to contrive this scheme and carry it out together.
Both of them die and it’s a very exceptional form of this judgment. It’s grace. There’s hope for our greedy, pharisaical hearts.
One of the explanations for how this applies in the church is that God is showing how serious he is. A lot of things happen here early on that become pictures for what was coming later. God is letting everyone know how serious he is about these topics.
This is the first place you see the word church. You wonder, is this the best spot to define the church? People died there today!
What’s happening here is communicating something to all the churches coming after.
Can you really grow without this fear? If you leave the church and have no fear of getting kicked out, can you really grow? Does fear really play a role in your holiness. The New Testament would say you better believe it does. The intent of this story is to create fear in these folks so that their hearts are what they need to be.
What happens if you step out of the church? In the community, you have obligations and issues that demand something of you and stretch your heart. How many times are you wondering how you’re going to pull it off? All the time your heart is being stretched. You’ll ask all the time how you’re going to pull it off. I know you’re doing it too.
There’s a little Greek word that is a community word that describes life together. It means that it’s stretching you. What happens to your heart if you leave here and make the whole Christian life about your faith and not putting up with anyone’s hypocrisy but your own? That’s not the life God has called you to.
In verse 11 they’re call the church. It’s an identifiable religious community that’s forming. It’s the first time this community is called the church. These are people who care for each other and who they are at the deepest level matters. How are you being cared for and how is your heart being stretch unless you’re here? You’ll see, they’re referred to as the church from here on out. No more individuals. There’s nothing like the church and you risk your life to be in it because it forces you to ask yourselves every time we gather, Are we being who we need to be to one another? If you stop coming, where are you getting that?
The worst case scenario in the New Testament for a believer is to be outside the church. What do you think is happening to the people who aren’t coming in? “Don’t ask me to not be greedy or held accountable.”
We’ve got two groups here, the people who don’t want to join and those who were carried out. If you’re not in it, you’re dead.
But lots of people held the church in high esteem. You can see the church is both offensive and attractive.
Everything about this text is saying it’s safer to be inside.
Three ways God deals with hypocrisy in us:
For those who have left the church or who are on the verge of leaving it. If hypocrisy is the reason you left, be very careful. How are you going to deal with your own hypocrisy if you don’t have others to call it out in you? Don’t think that because you left you’re less hypocritical. How are you going to help yourself and others become more real? Who is going to throw you out or call you out if you’re not here. With the absence of that fear, how can you really grow? There’s not one of us who doesn’t want out every once in a while. But it’s a dangerous place to be on the outside.
For those who are still here, we’ve got to be better for those who need to come back. Are we consuming and not contributing. Are our greedy hearts dominating this place? This is where we deal with our hypocrisy and our sin. Every time we’re gathered I’m assessing my heart. I’ve had really painful moments with God over this text.
For those who are lost and trying to play the religious game to earn your own righteousness, that’s not how this works. That’s not what grace is. Ananias and Sapphira are given the opportunity to repent. You get to say, God I’m tired of playing that game and I want my life to match what you’ve called me to.