As any parent knows, children love to play by pretending to be something they’re not. In fact, most toys are designed to help kids pretend in some way. My two girls had a toy kitchen and pots and pans so they could pretend to cook like their mother. We even had a huge plastic bin full of dress up stuff, hats, scarves, dresses, plastic jewelry, high-heeled shoes, so they could dress just like a grown up. By the time our son, Daniel, was about 5 he had accumulated a collection of costumes he would wear so he could pretend to be heroes like Robin Hood, or Wolverine, or Spiderman, or Batman. In fact, for a couple of years he wore one of my dad’s old Stetson hats wherever he went because he thought it made him look like Clark Kent.
Well, I’m sure you would agree it’s a good thing for children to play in this way. It’s a normal part of their development as individuals, it’s healthy for children to pretend, but the problem is, people tend to carry a form of this childlike behavior on into adulthood. In fact, ALL of us are guilty of this. We all continue to “play pretend” in various ways. For example: How many times have you laughed at a joke that you didn’t think was funny? You just pretended to enjoy the pun in order to be accepted by the person sharing it. How often have you pretended to be interested in what another person had to say because you wanted to appear to be a compassionate person, when you could really care less about that individual? How often have you posed a deep question to look intellectual or given money to seem generous, or exposed another person’s sins to appear holy? Anyone feeling a little childish? We all pretend don’t we? From time to time we all do things or say things to make us look like something we’re not.
And, make no mistake, when adults embrace this kind of deceitful behavior, God considers it to be sin. In fact, another word for PRETENDING is HYPOCRISY, a practice that Jesus repeatedly condemned as He did in Matthew 6:1-2 when He said,
“Be careful not to do your ‘ACTS of righteousness’, [your righteous PRETENDING], before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. And when you give to the needy do not announce it with trumpets,
as the HYPOCRITES do in the synagogues and on the streets.”
Later in Matthew’s gospel our Lord went so far as to warn that Hell would be populated by hypocrites. (Matthew 24:51) By the way, the word, “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning, “actor.” Originally, it referred to a Greek actor, who put on elaborate masks to play his roles. And the fact is, one of the ways that we all sin is by doing the same thing, we deceive others by donning “masks” of various kinds in order to PRETEND to be something we’re not.
Well, as you’ll see in this next chapter of Luke’s history of the early church, unfortunately this kind of sinful behavior popped up early on in the church in Jerusalem and I believe our study of this incident will help us to understand why PRETENDING like this is such a big deal to our Heavenly Father. So let’s get to it. Take your Bibles and turn to Acts 4:32, where we left off last week. We’ll be using The Visual Bible once again but this week it’s more of a narration than a dramatization of the text so after we listen we’ll go back and carefully study the text together to get a clear picture of what happened. Then I want to close by citing three reasons hypocritical pretending should be avoided by all Christians. Now, as I said, this segment of The Visual Bible uses a great deal of narration and I would remind you that, as he did at the beginning, Dean Jones plays the PART of the narrator, Luke.
32 – All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
33 – With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much grace was upon them all.
34 – There were no needy persons among them. For, from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales,
35 – and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 – Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement),
37 – sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
5:1 – Now a man names Ananias, together with his wife, Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
2 – With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 – Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
4 – Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 – When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
6 – Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 – About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 – Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 – Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 – At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11 – Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Okay, let’s go back now and look very closely at what has happened here. First, I want you to note that this “chapter” from the history of the first church starts out great! I mean, the first few verses of this portion of Luke’s history book record further proof of the health of this amazing church. They enjoyed powerful teaching through the apostles, which means Peter and John were doing what the Sanhedrin told them NOT to do, teach about the resurrection of Jesus. And they also had a wonderful fellowship, truly, there was a “sweet, sweet Spirit” in that place! As Luke says in verse 32, “All the believers were ONE in heart and mind!” These first Christians actually experienced the UNITY that Jesus had prayed for that night in the Garden. Plus, they readily ministered to each other’s needs. I mean, they weren’t like many believers I’ve known over the years who were so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good. No, these Christians enjoyed powerful Bible teaching and moving worship but they actually let it impact their daily lives! Their worship experiences issued forth into powerful ministry as they worked to meet practical needs, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, shelter, etc., ALL IN JESUS’ NAME. In fact, as verse 34 says, they were so faithful in this practice, that there “were no needy persons among them.”
And I’m glad to say that for the most part, Christians in churches STILL behave this way today. Christians still work to help meet the physical needs of their fellow man.
In fact, if all the good things being done in the name of Jesus today were to suddenly stop, the world would spin into chaos. Here in America, thousands would become homeless; hundreds of thousands would have no food to eat; millions of children wouldn’t have decent clothes to wear or would receive any gifts at Christmas. If all the good being done in the name of Jesus were to stop, it would be only weeks before tens of millions of people throughout the world starved to death. I mean, there are still mature Christians who, like those first believers, know that being a Christian, following Jesus Christ as Lord, means BEING A GIVER. They know that Christian worship is more than what we do in sanctuaries like this on Sundays, it is a lifestyle of sacrificially giving to meet physical needs.
And, this kind of ministry WAS needed in the church in Jerusalem for a couple reasons. First, as Luke told us in his second chapter, tens of thousands of pilgrims had come to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. And on that day, thousands of them became Christians and NEVER WENT HOME, deciding instead to remain in Jerusalem so they could sit under the apostles’ teaching.
Second, I’m sure that many of the believers who were residents of Jerusalem must have lost their jobs because of their newfound faith. So there was a great deal of physical need in this first church, and it’s members showed their love for God by GIVING to meet these needs.
In fact, Luke tells us that it became a common practice for someone to sell property and bring the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed to anyone who needed funds. Now, understand, this was a very costly, sacrificial thing to do back then. You see, it meant liquidating capital assets that could be irreplaceable. When someone did this they were reducing their personal security. They were giving up a potential source of future income. But these first believers seemed GLAD to do this, and I think they were for two reasons. First, they knew that Jesus had given His life for them, He had died for their sin. So there was nothing they wouldn’t do for Him. They gave as a response to His giving.
But the second reason they were so willing to give this generously was because they understood a very important principle of stewardship. They knew that when we give in Jesus’ name, as we do through our tithes and offerings, we turn something temporary into something eternal! As J. Wallace Hamilton once said,
“Stewardship is that divine alchemy by which money is transmuted into men and material possessions exchanged for the eternal riches of mind and spirit.”
You know, a common complaint when people hear that the pastor is going to preach on stewardship is, “Why doesn’t he preach the gospel and not preach on money?” I could think of a couple of answers to that question but the bottom line is this: there is no such thing as preaching the gospel without preaching money. You see, money and the spread of the gospel are closely linked. The sad fact is, one reason we have NOT spread the gospel in more parts of the world is because we have not had more money with which to do so. This is because churches cost money; ministries are expensive; proclaiming the eternal truth of the Gospel requires financial resources and that’s where this principle kicks in. You see, those temporary pieces of paper that we put in the offering plate are used to provide SS curriculum and pay mortgages and utilities and salaries so that this place can be a place where we teach people the eternal truth of the love of God. Money makes this temporary place possible. But here in this temporary place people become Christians. Eternal destinies are determined in churches like this one. Our money also goes to cover the cost of sending missionaries all over the world so they can also give people the opportunity to accept what God has done for them in sending Jesus.
So you see, giving money is a way of making temporary things eternal. That’s why it is so REWARDING to give, and I think this is something those Christians in Jerusalem discovered.
As someone once said, “Misers hang on to things forever and they become MISERable.” , but not givers. No, Christians who understand the eternal difference their gifts can make LOVE to give. It’s a source of JOY for them because they know by “investing” a temporary thing like money into the church, they are literally making an eternal difference. This is the kind of believer Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he said that, “God loves a cheerful giver.” God loves it when someone ENJOYS giving according to this principle!
Well, as an example of this practice of sacrificial giving Luke tells us about the actions of a man from Cyprus named Barnabas. His real name was John, but the apostles gave him the nick-name of Barnabas which means, “son of encouragement.” And I must say that I feel fortunate as your pastor because we have several “Barnabases” here at Redland, who are always ready to give of their time and talents, without being asked to do so! Their selfless actions are a source of ENCOURAGEMENT to me and to the rest of our church family. In fact, when I say this, I’m sure many of you are having names pop into your head! Well, like many others, the first “Barnabas” sold some land…and brought the entire proceeds to the apostles to use as they saw fit.
I’m not sure why Luke decided to mention his gift. Perhaps it was because of its size, or because it came in the nick of time, or because it was so typical of Barnabas who was always doing encouraging things like this. But the whole church was rejoicing about it, everyone was talking about Barnabas!
And at this point Luke introduces us to a married couple, named Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold land and brought money from the proceeds to the apostles. But their gift was different. Their actions illustrated not SELFLESS giving but SELFISH, HYPOCRITICAL giving. You see, they were using their gift to PRETEND to be something they weren’t. Barnabas. gave freely, with no strings attached, but they gave to be noticed. They gave, not to meet a need but to look good to others, wanting the kind of acclaim that Barnabas was getting. I imagine Sapphira said to her husband, “I wish people were praising us like that. Look at all the attention John is getting. Why, he’s even been given a nickname, Barnabas. Wouldn’t it be good for our friends to look at us that way!?” So they decided to sell their property, but unlike Barnabas they held back part of the proceeds.
Now, maybe they had intended to give it all at first. But the more they looked at the money, the more they loved it and so the evil of their hypocrisy was hatched. This is a good illustration of the fact that one way to break the grip that MONEY can have on us is to GIVE it away, to give it to meet the needs of others in Jesus’ name. But these two didn’t do that. They thought, “Nobody knows how much we got for the sale of this property, and we certainly have enough expenses these days. Why don’t we just keep part of it? Nobody will know. Let’s keep part and give the rest. Then people will say, ‘They are just like Barnabas!'” So, they decided to lie, to Peter, and to the Spirit of God as well. And, in this decision and its consequences we see the words of James come to life. I mean, “their evil desire gave birth to sin and their sin when full-grown, gave birth to death.” (James 1:14-15).
And, let me point out another difference between these two and Barnabas. He was led by the Holy Spirit but Acts 5:3 tells us that Ananias and Sapphira were following the lead of satan himself. I point this out so you will note that satan altered his tactic here. Now, remember, his purpose is to oppose the work of God, in fact, that’s what his name literally means, “adversary.”
So, where God is at work, satan will be active as well, opposing that work anyway he can. Well, as we saw last week, his initial opposition to God’s working through the first church was by persecuting the apostles through the Sanhedrin, and this tactic back-fired. In fact, not only did it fail to silence the apostles, it also gave them a platform to share their faith and God’s work took a great step forward as His church continued to explode in growth.
Well, since an attack from the OUTSIDE was not effective, satan tried an attack from the INSIDE, by working through the envy and hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira. Now, understand, satan is a limited being. He is not omniscient like God. He does not know everything. He is not omnipotent or omnipresent. But he IS powerful and he certainly gets around. In fact, in Job 1:7 satan himself says he, “roams around the earth.” So, although satan is not the equal of God, he is a very formidable enemy. And he displays the effects of his stealthy meddling here in Acts 5.
Perhaps this incident prompted Peter to write in his first epistle, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
This is an important warning for us to heed today. I mean, if we get serious about furthering God’s kingdom, personally or in our church, as these first Christians did we can expect satan or one of his demons to attack. Remember, Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6 to put on the full armor of God was written to Christians, not unbelievers. When God is working powerfully through His people, satan will attempt to oppose it! And, as we see here, often satan’s tactic is to use weak believers to attack the church from within. This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 16:17 when he said, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions…” those Christians who are so weak spiritually, that satan can use them to ruin the harmony and unity of a church family. And I want you to know that I have personally seen this over and over again as a pastor, I’ve seen numerous times in which the hypocritical, gossiping actions of immature believers showed that they were following the guidance of satan instead of yielding to the Lordship of Christ. And the time that this happens the most is when the church is moving forward! It always happens that way. I can set my watch by it.
Now, I want you to understand, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s sin was not in keeping part of the money. It was in lying by PRETENDING to give it all. In fact the Greek word for “kept back” here has the same meaning as our word “embezzlement.” And that’s what these two were doing. They were taking money that they SAID was God’s and they were embezzling it, using it for their own benefit. In fact, they were going for a double profit. Through their lie, they’d get the glory of the church and would make some money on the side to boot. This reminds me of something Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote,
“Sin has many tools but a lie is the handle which fits them all.”
These two thought no one would notice, but God always notices. And let me ask you, do YOU believe that? Do you believe God sees EVERYTHING, our thoughts as well as our actions?
Remember, 1 Samuel 6:7 says, “Man looks at the outward, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
God does hear our every thought, He knows our every intent. In fact, Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgement, INCLUDING EVERY HIDDEN THING.” And that’s what our Heavenly Father did here. Guided by the Holy Spirit, in verse 3 Peter first chastised Ananias not just for his actions but for his evil intent as well. Now, I’m sure Ananias was shocked. After all, he expected the accolades of Peter and the others, and instead he heard Peter’s bold words, “You have lied to the Holy Spirit of God and kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land.” (Acts 5:3)
Well, when Peter said this, when he pronounced the verdict, God carried out the sentence and struck him dead. He quickly removed this “spiritual cancer” before it could do further damage to His body the church. Luke says that after Ananias died, young men came quickly to cover and bury his body. They did this for two reasons. First the hot climate of Palestine made bodies begin to decompose quickly and second, in Deuteronomy 21 God commanded that this be done when people died due to His judgement.
Well Sapphira, no doubt wondered what is taking her husband so long to deliver the money to the apostles. She was impatient for word of their “generosity” to get out, so she decided to go to where the apostles had gathered. And, when she entered the room, Peter questioned her about the sale, giving her a chance to confess her sin, but PRETENDING in the same way her husband had, she repeated his lie. And she too was stricken dead, and quickly buried next to her husband.
God acted quickly indeed here to stop this kind of sin from spreading. These two believers were doing more harm than good so He brought them home to heaven. And as news spread as to what had happened I’m sure there was a lot of self-examination in the church in Jerusalem. In fact, verse 11 says that after the death of this couple, “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” To me this indicates that others might have been guilty of considering this same hypocritical action but because of God’s judgement they decided otherwise.
Now, at this point I want us to note something, NO CHURCH IS PERFECT. I mean, even this first church, as wonderful as it was…had members like Ananias and Sapphira. As has been often said, “Churches are not museums for saints. They are hospitals for sinners.” No church is perfect so it is foolish to look for one. This first church had powerful things done in and through it but it was still a “hospital” filled with flawed, imperfect believers just like churches today! This reminds me of an old poem:
A church whose members never stray, Beyond the straight and narrow way;
A church that has no empty pews; Whose pastor never sings the blues.
A church whose deacons always “deak,” and none are proud and all are meek;
Where gossips never peddle lies, Or make complaints or criticize;
Where all are always sweet and kind, and all to other’s faults are blind.
Such perfect churches there may be, but none of them are known to me.
But still I’ll work and pray and plan, to make our own the best we can.”
Well, to make our church here at Redland “the best we can,” let’s take a few minutes to remind ourselves WHY hypocrisy like this is something we must avoid. And, I would encourage everyone to listen, because as I said at the beginning of this message, all of us are guilty of this form of sin. All of us PRETEND to be something we are not. There was a wonderful woman in our church in Delaware, a very godly, compassionate person, but she wore too much make-up. It must have taken hours for her to get it all on. Well, when Daniel was about 4, he went up to her and said, “You look like a clown!” He wasn’t being critical, just honest. Her make up reminded him of a clown. Fortunately, she took no offense and thought the whole thing was funny but you know, the fact is all of us wear too much “make-up.” In a real sense, from time to time we all cover up our real selves. We all struggle with authenticity. So many times we are like the people Jesus mentioned in Matthew 15:8 in that, “we honor Him with our lips but our hearts are far from Him.”
Okay, to motivate us to steer clear of this kind of deceit, to prevent God from having to judge us as sternly as He did Ananias and Sapphira, let’s take our last few minutes to try and understand WHY “adult-pretending”, hypocrisy, is such a big deal.
1. First it hurts US.
I mean, every time we PRETEND to be something we’re not, the real us is damaged. In a very real sense the “real me” dies a little when I do this, as I become more predisposed to PRETEND in the future. It’s like making a scratch on a record, remember those things? Once you make the scratch, the record becomes marred and the song will always skip at that point. Well hypocrisy damages us like this, it ruins us a little every time. It changes us. Remember, it was PRETENDING to be something he wasn’t that changed Lucifer into satan. In Isaiah 14:14, he said, “I will MAKE myself LIKE the Most High.” And in that prideful hypocritical ACT He fell…and turned into the adversary of everything that is good or holy.
The fact is, when we PRETEND to be something we’re not, we BECOME something we weren’t, we change, we spoil the original person God created us to be. It’s just like the old saying, “Be what you is. Because if you be what you ain’t then you ain’t what you be!” In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes,
“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something different from what it was before…you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God….or else into one that is in a state of war with and hatred of God…
…to be this kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.”
As Lewis infers here, PRETENDING not only changes us. It hurts us, it robs us of the joy God intends us to have.
2. And then, hypocrisy also hurts our relationships with OTHERS.
You see, people are drawn to REAL people, AUTHENTIC people. But, no one likes a FAKE. The irony is we PRETEND in order to make people like us but they only like us when we stop pretending. In fact, there is no greater destroyer of true fellowship than HYPOCRISY because you simply cannot be fully loved until you are fully known. Bonhoeffer once said, “If a Christian is in the fellowship of honest confession with a brother, he will never be alone again anywhere.” And as Christians, authenticity is something we must master because otherwise we turn people away from not only us but from Christ as well. In fact, hypocrisy is the number one complaint that non-Christians have about us. Brennan Manning once said,
“The single most cause of atheism in our world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but walk out of the church doors and deny Him with their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
So, if you want to be a contagious Christian, an evangelist, it you want to help fulfill our Lord’s great commission, you have to be REAL. You can’t PRETEND one thing and do another. You have to walk the talk in order to get a platform to talk your walk.
So, hypocrisy hurts us. It hurts our relationships with others…but the worst effect of this “adult pretending”…
3. …is seen in the way it hurts our relationship with GOD.
You see, God is TRUTH and that’s what He wants from us. He wants us to be REAL with Him and the worst form of hypocrisy is PRETENDING that our sin is not sin. It’s pretending we have done nothing wrong. And God cannot and will not forgive someone who sees no need for His forgiveness. John MacArthur puts it this way, “None are so ugly in God’s sight than are those who flaunt a spiritual beauty that they do not possess.”
Now, all of us are sinners. As I said in the beginning of this message, all of us pretend. But there are two types of sinners in God’s eyes…those who ADMIT their sin, and those who PRETEND it’s not there, which is what Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of doing here. And, only the first kind of sinner can receive the grace of God because, as St. Augustine put it, “God only gives where He finds empty hands.” And he was right. A man with closed hands, a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.
We see these two types of sinners illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Remember? Jesus said,
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even lookup to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.'” (Luke 18:10-13)
The Pharisee PRETENDED to be something he wasn’t, perfectly righteous, so he saw no need of God’s forgiveness. His hands were closed. But the other man, the tax collector, was REAL with God. He knew He was a sinner desperately in need of God’s grace and his hands were open pleading to receive it.
Do you remember the account of creation and the fall in the book of Genesis? Before sin entered the world, there was no such thing as PRETENDING between Adam and Eve nor was there any pretending between these first two humans and God. There was no hiddenness, no concealing, no guilty secrets…but then the Fall happened. Adam and Eve sinned and afterwards, what did they do? They hid from God and then came God’s question, “Adam, where are you?” Now, have you ever wondered why God asked that question? I mean, God knows all things! Think of it!
The Maker of heaven and earth asked for the location of one human being who hadn’t even left the Garden. He knew where Adam was. He knew what they had done, but still He asked. Well, the reason He asked had nothing to do with location. No…it was an invitation, an invitation for Adam to quit pretending, come out of hiding, and be REAL, real enough to admit his sin. Sometimes I wonder if they would still be in the Garden of Eden if they had done that, confessed their sin and opened their hands to ask for God’s forgiveness. But they didn’t, they PRETENDED they had done nothing wrong, blaming their actions on others. And people like you and me have been sinning and PRETENDING like this ever since.
Let us pray…
Shine the light of Your holy love on each of us right now. Help us to see all the ways that we are guilty of hypocrisy…convict us of these sins. Help us to see the need that we all have for Your gracious forgiveness, made possible by Your Son, Jesus’ death on the cross. Scare us God, as You did the Christians in this church in Jerusalem so we will turn from this kind of childishness, and commit ourselves to be REAL with each other and with You. Then bless us with the kind of unity they had, a oneness that draws the lost to faith in Your Son. I ask all this in His name, even Jesus. AMEN
This morning, let’s all come out of hiding, let’s admit our sin to God and ask for His forgiveness…let’s commit to be REAL to each other and to God. Let’s come out of hiding and seek His guidance.
If you’ve never done so, I encourage you to ask Jesus to come into your heart and life as Lord and Savior. And, if you’re looking for a church home, and feel God is leading you to join this IMPERFECT one, then come…we’d love to welcome you into the Redland family. Won’t you come now as God leads?