June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 4:32-5:14: Keeping Up Appearances

Keeping up Appearances. If you’ve never seen it, Keeping Up Appearances is a British comedy. It’s all about Hyacinth Bucket. Which she prefers to pronounce BOUQUET. And everything about her has got to do with KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. Looking GOOD. Hyacinth turns up to her church working bee. In her best clothes. But she’s not there to HELP. She’s there to BE NOTICED. And so she’s only interested in the BEST, MOST PROMINENT job. She ends up having to clean the toilets.

One of the reasons the show is so popular is because we all think we know someone like Hyacinth. Might be the mother-in-law. Or our husband. Or the next door neighbour. Or perhaps we recognise a little bit of her in OURSELVES. A BUCKET that wants to look like a BOUQUET.

But keeping up appearances can be a dangerous business. Because at the lowest level, it’s all about DECEPTION, isn’t it. Pretending to be something that you’re not. Especially dangerous when it involves LYING TO GOD.

Which is what you see in the passage we’re looking at today. An incredibly scary story, of two people who learned the hard way. Two people who stand as an example for all time. That HYPOCRISY is a stench in God’s nostrils.

You know, surveys say that one of the single biggest reasons people won’t come to church is that CHRISTIANS ARE HYPOCRITES. That Christians are people who say one thing, and do another. That Christians are people who are more interested in the APPEARANCE. Than the reality.

And the fact that people think that/ means we haven’t properly learned our lesson… from Ananias. And Sapphira.

We’re looking at a passage with a contrast. How things SHOULD be. How things SHOULDN’T BE. A passage with a GOOD EXAMPLE. And a BAD example. A picture of GENEROSITY. Set against a picture of HYPOCRISY. A bouquet. And a bucket.

The passage starts on a high note. A description of a church that’s BEING a church. Verse 32 in chapter 4; all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed any of his possessions was his own, but they SHARED EVERYTHING THEY HAD.

Out of their UNITY; out of the fact they were ONE IN HEART AND MIND; came a very practical concern for each other. And instead of the usual attitude of WHAT’S MINE IS MINE, there’s the opposite. What’s MINE is YOURS.

You’ll notice in verse 33, it’s a SIDE EFFECT of the fact that they’re Christians. It’s not that the apostles are preaching that they’ve got to SHARE EVERYTHING. Because the apostles are just going about the business of TESTIFYING TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. And his LORDSHIP.

But the consequence of that. When you have a whole bunch of people who are ALL Jesus-FOLLOWERS. Is that they’re absolutely united in heart and mind; and they shared. This is a church that’s working like a FAMILY.

And look at the radical ways that worked itself out. Verse 34; there’s not a needy person left among them. Because every now and then, it says in verse 34 someone who owns a block of land or a house, they’ll sell it; and they bring the money and they lay it at the feet of the apostles. And they say, “I didn’t really need this. Share it with someone who does. I give up all claim to it. You decide.”

Verse 36 and 37, here’s a concrete example. Joseph is a Christian. The apostles have a nickname for him; they call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Hebrew – Bar-nabas. The Aussie translation is “good bloke”.

And you’ll see why he’s got the nickname when you look at what he does. Barnabas sells a paddock he owns, and he brings the money and puts it at the apostles feet.

You’ll see there that he was from Cyprus. An island 400 km from Jerusalem. And it may have been that’s where the block of land was. And he didn’t need it. That’s a fair guess.

A bit like Robert discovering a long-lost uncle in Ireland who dies, and leaves him a castle or something. Doesn’t need it. So he sells it.

Same with Barnabas. He doesn’t NEED IT. But there are people in the church family WHO DO. And so he sells it. And brings in the money. And puts it at the apostles feet. “You know the needs better than me. Use it where it’s needed most.”

Did you notice the prominent place that FEET have in this story? This is just the first of three things we’re told ends up at the disciples feet; and if you keep watching you’ll see the next two.

Now you have to look carefully at what happens next. Because at first glance, it looks almost exactly the same. Ananias and Sapphira are a married . And they’re part of the church. And chapter 5 verse 1 tells us that THEY SELL A PIECE OF PROPERTY TOO. Just like Barnabas.

But notice the difference. Verse 2 says, with Sapphira’s full knowledge, Ananias keeps back some of the money for himself; and then brings the REST. And puts it at the apostles feet.

So here’s the second of the three things at the apostles’ feet. PART OF THE PROCEEDS.

We’re not told how much. I mean, it might have been a BETTER block than the one Barnabas sold. Might have been right in the CBD with development potential. Might be that the partial proceeds were even more than the full proceeds that Barnabas put in.

And it’s only Ananias and Sapphira who know the full price they got. And it’s only Ananias and Sapphira who know how much they’ve held back.

Or at least, that’s the plan.

Except somehow Peter sees through it. So here’s Ananias putting down this huge cheque to be shared among the needy. And Peter confronts him. He says (v3)

“Ananias, HOW IS IT THAT SATAN HAS SO FILLED YOUR HEART that you’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

Here we are in the first weeks of THE CHURCH, and there’s HYPOCRISY GOING ON. Saying one thing. Doing another.

Ananias and Sapphira, they’ve looked at what Barnabas did, they’ve said, LOOK HOW PEOPLE ADMIRE HIM. They call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Wouldn’t it be nice if PEOPLE SAID THAT ABOUT US. LOVE a nickname like THAT.

They’re trying to BUY ADMIRATION. Buckets trying to be bouquets.

But Peter says to Ananias, IT’S THE DEVIL AT WORK. The end of verse 4, he says to him, you haven’t lied to MEN. You’ve lied to GOD.

And verse 5, when Ananias hears this, he literally drops . On the spot.

And a bunch of young guys come forward and they take him away and bury him; and everyone is filled with awe.

Verse 7, Sapphira comes in three hours later, she hasn’t heard what happened.

And Peter asks HER the question. Testing her. Seeing how deep the deceit’s going to run. A chance to have a change of heart.

Verse 8, he asks her, he says, “Sapphira, tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” And she says, “Yes, that’s it. That’s the price.” Not true. But she’s keeping up appearances.

And Peter says almost the same words as before. How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? He says, look, here come the guys who buried your husband. THEIR feet are waiting at the door. And they’ll carry you out too.

And in verse 10, here’s the third thing we’re told ends up at the APOSTLES’ feet. Barnabas put his offering there. The full price of his land. Ananias and Sapphira put THEIR OFFERING there; part price. And now verse 10. At that moment, SHE FELL DOWN AT HIS FEET. And died. And the young men come and feel for a pulse. And take her out. And bury her beside her husband.

And we’re told in verse 11, great fear seized the whole church; a sense of awe; and not only the church, but everyone who heard about it as well.


Now let me put it to you, it sounds UNFAIR doesn’t it? I mean, here are a , they’ve sold their block of land, they give MOST OF IT TO HELP THE POOR. And they end up .

Here’s a who in dollar terms have probably given MORE THAN YOU’D GIVE IN A YEAR. And yet they’re struck down on the spot.

Generous AND genuine

There’s a simple lesson. And this is it. But it comes in two parts. As Christians, we’re called to be GENEROUS.

But that’s not enough. We’re also called to be GENUINE. And one without the other isn’t enough. In fact, if you want to make a list of which one’s most important, put GENUINE right at the top.

Take a look at the words Peter says in verse 4 of chapter 5. We skipped over them before. But look at them now. He highlights the problem. He says to Ananias, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO DO IT. He says to him, you didn’t have to sell your land. It was yours in the first place. He says “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?” You could DO WHAT YOU LIKED WITH IT. You didn’t HAVE TO GIVE IT.

And he says, AFTER IT WAS SOLD, wasn’t the money at your disposal. You could DO WHAT YOU LIKED WITH IT. You could give half. You could give a QUARTER. You didn’t have to give ANY OF IT!

What you DID HAVE TO DO… was BE HONEST ABOUT IT. And not use it as an excuse to BIG NOTE YOURSELF. And act as if you’re something that you’re not.

So what was the problem? Simple, isn’t it. It wasn’t so much what they gave or didn’t give. IT WAS THEIR MOTIVE.

But they weren’t alone, were though? I bet you read it, and thought, “I’m sure I’ve probably done something pretty similar to that! I hope God doesn’t ZAP me!”

And it doesn’t just happen with MONEY, does it? Everything we do can be tainted with wrong motives. Wanting to please MEN rather than please GOD.

Leading church, preaching, teaching Kids’ Church, having people over for lunch, taking your neighbour’s kids to school. Inquiring how a friend is doing.

None of them are bad things to DO. But they can be done from wrong motives. KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

Let me suggest a protection against falling into this trap. Not fool-proof by any means. But a start. Begin each day with a commitment to WALK with GOD through the day. Give the day to him. Everything you SAY, and DO, and THINK.

It’s a recognition that he’s THERE. And interested in the things you do. And LOVING it when you honour HIM in the things you do.

Walk out the door without giving God a thought, and that’s likely to be the way things CONTINUE. Your actions end up being springing from the wrong motives. Pleasing others, not the One who MADE you and SAVED you.

And that was Ananias and Sapphira through and through. The point is, Ananias and Sapphira are meant to stand as an EXAMPLE FOR ALL TIME.

And at least back then, it had the desired effect, didn’t it. It was very, very clear that the CHURCH wasn’t the place for POSTURING. It was the place for GENUINE CARING. Giving because you see a need. Instead of giving to make yourself LOOK GOOD.

So can I ask you, what are we like today?

Let’s think about GENEROSITY for a minute.

And I guess I’d want to say to you that sometimes I’m hugely encouraged by the things I see happening. It isn’t very public. And it shouldn’t be, should it. But every now and then I see people who SEE A NEED. And step in to meet it. Every now and then I see people who share their homes. And their money. And their possessions. As if they weren’t theirs at all. Which is exactly how it was back then. And exactly how it should be. And sometimes, we really ARE the family we should be.

But we tend to baulk at it, don’t we. When we read about people selling their blocks of land. Or houses. And using the money to help one another. Let me ask you, HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE? How much do you care for the other people who are part of your church family?

See, they were so united, they were so like minded, that if one of them was suffering, they all suffered. If one of them was in trouble, the rest of them shared the burden.

To the point where guys like Barnabas thought nothing of cashing in his investments to help other Christians in need. He said WHY SHOULD I HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH – when I’ve got brothers and sisters with nothing.

We couldn’t do that. Could we? I mean, investments, they’re so hard to get at. And there’s all the legal fees when you sell. And anyway, there’s always social security to help out anyone who’s really doing it tough. Hey, we explain it all away, don’t we. To the point where we DON’T HAVE TO CARE ANYMORE.

This morning, between us, I guess we’ve got a million dollars worth of cars parked outside. But we’ll say we can’t afford to help each other. And I reckon between us we’d own 20 million dollars worth Of houses. Between us, we’ve got I guess $10000 worth of watches on our wrists. Between us we’ve read $700 worth of newspapers through the last week.

And yet you might be sitting next to someone who’s doing it very tough. And they’d never dream of asking for help; and you’d never dream of GIVING IT.

Don’t get me wrong. Peter says to Ananias, you DIDN’T HAVE TO GIVE ANYTHING. It’s meant to be a reflection of what’s in your heart.

But what’s in YOURS? These believers were one in heart and mind; and they were FULL OF GRACE. They said WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS. And they meant it. Except for the ones like Ananias and Sapphira. Who said WHAT’S MINE/ CAN MAKE ME LOOK GOOD.

We need to be careful, don’t we. We need to make sure we’re GENEROUS. And we need to make sure we’re GENUINE.

It’s interesting, isn’t it; the lesson from Ananias and Sapphira was that GOD MEANS BUSINESS. That he S HYPOCRISY. And the church stood in awe of that. In a way that we should as well.

But take a look a bit further on. Verse 12 and 13, all the believers used to meet together in the verandah area to the side of the temple. And you’ve got this strange contradiction if you have a look at verse 13 and 14; word had got around. These weren’t people to be messed with. The CHURCH MEANT BUSINESS.

And we’re told that when they met, no-one ELSE dared join them, even though they’re highly regarded. They’re held in awe. Except that MORE AND MORE men and women believed in the Lord. And were added to their number. Not as casual onlookers. But as serious CONVERTS.

Those who weren’t sure / were scared to join them. Recognised more BUCKET in themselves than BOUQUET.

And yet, there were many GENUINE believers as well. Who God had really done a work in. Who were serious about serving him, and serving the others.

When the church means business, that’s what happens. I mean, hypocrisy hasn’t stopped, has it? People talk about it all the time. They say it. Christians are hypocrites.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And IT CAN STOP WITH YOU. It can stop with OUR CHURCH. As we get serious about PREACHING JESUS. As we get serious about THE WAY WE CARE. As we get serious about the way we SHARE. Not just because we’re KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. But because we really are ONE IN HEART AND MIND. As followers of Jesus.

Then God really WILL add to our number.

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