SERMON TITLE: Resisting (un)faithfulness
TEXT: Acts 4:32-5:11 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s great to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And today we’re beginning a new series that we’re calling Resistance as we jump back into the book of Acts. Now some of you weren’t with us last year, so let me quickly catch all of us up with what’s happened in the book thus far — but you may find it helpful to go and check out the sermons from last year on our website or app — the series you want to look for is titled Ordinary.
The book of Acts begins with an introduction where we learn that Luke — a doctor — has been hired to do an investigation on the life of Jesus and the early church. And Acts is part two of his investigation. So Luke was hired to do research, to verify facts, to make sure the stories circulating about Jesus and the church were reliable — and we have his findings in the gospel of Luke — part one of his investigation — and the book of Acts — part two.
And right away Luke records the ascension of Jesus. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Jesus was crucified on a cross, but death could not keep him in the grave. And for forty days he appeared preparing his disciples for the mission he was about to give them. And on the day of his ascension — the day he went up to Heaven — Jesus, “ordered them (his followers) not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4b-5 ESV)
And then he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)
So Jesus promised his disciples that they’d be given the power needed to accomplish their mission of taking the news about him to the whole world — they would be empowered witnesses.
Next is a story where the disciples find a replacement for Judas. And what we learned is that Jesus loves to use a nobody for his glory.
Then we find the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise when — in Acts chapter two — the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples. And as Peter preaches his first sermon a crowd of people — from many different nations — respond to his message. And a new community is formed — united together by a common faith in Jesus.
And we see these ordinary followers take advantage of ordinary opportunities to tell others about Jesus. They help others to see what their greatest need is — that they need a Savior — that they need to be rescued — and that Jesus is the only One who saves.
And last year we ended our series by seeing the early Christians pray for boldness in the face of persecution. The religious leaders had arrested some of the Christians for telling others about Jesus and they threatened them — “If you keep it up — you’ll suffer even greater harm.” And in the midst of these threats all of the Christians — not just the apostles — but all of them prayed for boldness and that they would remain faithful to Jesus even if it meant suffering on their part.
And now — we’re all caught up — so let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter 5. We’ll begin in verse 1 and we’ll also look at some verses found at the end of chapter 4.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
“For every gospel action, there is an opposite and devious demonic reaction.” That’s a quote from a book the elders are reading titled Old Paths, New Power by Daniel Henderson. If you want to grow with us, that’s the book we’re discussing for the next few months — Old Paths, New Power.
But the opening sentence of the first chapter made me stop. “For every gospel action, there is an opposite and devious demonic reaction.” (David Henderson Old Paths New Power, 33.) And that’s what we’re going to see over the next few weeks as we study the book of Acts. But I don’t want us to focus so much on the reaction of the enemy as I want us to focus on the power we have to resist — by the Holy Spirit and God’s Word — our enemy.
Now the ways in which our enemy tries to weaken our resistance will surprise, shock, and — I hope — horrify us as often the attacks come from within the church — which is what we’ll see in our story. Up until this point in Acts, attacks have come from outside the church — but now — they come from within — and our enemy knows how to cause division among us.
What’s one of his favorite tactics? Our money. Our possessions. Our stuff. There are few things that have the power to control us like money. We live in a culture of independence. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours I’m probably jealous of.” And “my stuff is mine because I’ve earned it — and if you don’t have it — and want it — well then you need to work harder.” That’s how many think.
“But Josh, what about the people who give to others in need?” Have you ever noticed how many Americans view generosity as something you do only when you have the time or money to share? We live in a “be generous when it’s convenient” culture — and the enemy loves to use this thinking against God’s people because it entices us to be unfaithful with what God has entrusted to us.
Now let me say that I appreciate hard work. I want you to know that the staff of Gateway works hard — working hard isn’t the problem. The problem is that often we view our hard work as an excuse to not be generous.
But there’s an opportunity — here — for those of us who follow Jesus. Because the Christian faith teaches us to view our money and possessions and stuff differently than the way of our culture. For our faith teaches us that everything we have is a gift from God — even the things we’ve worked for. So there’s an opportunity for us to live in a way that shows how our view of money and possessions has been shaped by our faith which teaches us that everything in life is a gift from God — our salvation is a gift — our family is a gift — our education and employment and church are gifts — everything is a gift from God — and the opportunity before us is to show others how to resist unfaithfulness and — instead — demonstrate faithfulness — where we view things not as stuff we’ve earned — but where we view all things as gifts from God — things we haven’t earned, but are ours to enjoy and steward for God’s glory.
But a danger — especially for the Christian — is how easy it is to live with a “what’s mine is mine” mindset and then come to church and be conflicted as you hear stuff about “loving your neighbor” and “being generous” and “living solely for the glory of God” — all of these characteristics of faithfulness that are expected of those who follow Jesus. And maybe you feel stuck because you’re caught up in this “what’s mine is mine mindset” and your response — to what you know is expected of you as a Christian — is to fake it — that’s one way our enemy attacks us. He convinces us that we can nod our heads in agreement with these truths of Scripture and yet live agreeing with the culture around us. The division from within comes when we say we believe everything is a gift from God without living as if everything is a gift — but is something we’ve earned — this is what happens when we fail to resist unfaithfulness.
But the hope of the gospel is that we can resist unfaithfulness. For God has given us everything we need to be faithful — not because we’re super awesome — but because through faith in Christ we’ve been given the Holy Spirit who lives in us and desires — even more than we do ourselves — for us to be faithful. So as a Christian, we must have a different mindset about money, possessions, and stuff — our enemy doesn’t want us to change our minds — he finds joy in our unfaithfulness — he knows that if we change the way we think about money and possessions and stuff — that their power will lose its grip on our hearts, which will free us to live as God intends us to — as faithful people who show the world how generous our God is.
And that’s what we see in our story from Acts. We see some in the church who understand that everything is a gift from God. And yet there’s an immediate reaction by the enemy because — for others in the church — let me say that again — these weren’t outsiders — these were people on the inside — and yet the enemy uses them in an attempt to cause division. And the warning for all of us is this: Things haven’t changed in 2,000 years — using our money, possessions, and stuff — to cause division within the church — is still a favorite tactic of our enemy.
Now — before we go on to how we’re supposed to live — let me remind you of the gospel — I’ve been saying that word but I want us all to understand what it means — because some of us will be tempted to try and resist unfaithfulness without resting in — without believing in — without our resistance being fueled by — the gospel.
In the beginning God created everything — and he declared his creation to be very good. The reason why we long for utopia — a place without sickness and death — a place without war and conflict — a place without abuse and neglect — is because we can all trace back our lineage to two people who experienced such a place here on earth. And God gave Adam and Eve purpose — they had an identity — they were valuable — they had a beautiful relationship with God and each other.
Yet they doubted God’s goodness and his promise to them. They listened to the enemy who told them they could still experience the favor of God while ignoring his commands. Essentially God had told them, “In knowing and experiencing my love for you — respond to my love by enjoying the gift of my creation and showing me that you trust and love me by obeying one simple command: Don’t eat from this tree.”
And the enemy deceived them into believing that — if God really loved them — he wouldn’t hold anything back from them — a lie many people today believe as well. And they doubted God’s love — “maybe he doesn’t know what’s best for us” — they doubted God’s word — they failed to resist unfaithfulness — and they ate from the tree. And as their eyes were opened — as they understood what they had done in disobeying God’s command — that they had brought sin into the world — their sense of purpose and identity were broken and shattered. They hid themselves when God came seeking them out and — even while knowing what they had done — God promised that one day he would restore all that had been broken by their sin and unfaithfulness.
And throughout the Bible, we read the story of God pursuing a people who are broken, and hopeless, and purposeless, and greedy, and unfaithful, and living for temporary pleasures all while he offers them an eternal purpose that they can’t even begin to fathom or dream about. God pursues us because he loves us — he pursues us when we don’t love him but hate him — he is relentless in his loving pursuit of his children for whom he has a great plan.
And the culmination of his love is seen in the Father sending his Son, Jesus, to come and defeat our enemy. Jesus came to crush the Serpent once and for all — to defeat our enemy — to set us free from our slavery to the father of lies and his deceptions we’ve believed. Jesus came so that we could be given the power to resist unfaithfulness.
And the one whom the Son sets free from the power of the enemy is free indeed.
No longer — having been set free by Jesus — do we have to believe the lies of the enemy.
No longer do we have to fear what will happen if we don’t submit to the thoughts and ways of the culture around us.
No longer must we give into the lure of unfaithfulness.
We’re free to follow the One who demonstrated his love for us in dying for us — we’re free to be faithful.
Yet our enemy is still on the attack. The victory is secure — our enemy is defeated — but he’s still taking shots at us — and he’s trying to take us down with him. And that’s why we find two ways a person might respond to the gospel.
The first response is a resistance to faithfulness. What does it mean to be unfaithful? Let’s begin in Acts chapter 5 — beginning in verse 1.
THE DANGER OF UNFAITHFULNESS
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." 9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:1-11 ESV)
What an intense and shocking story. But it’s here that we see what our enemy hopes to accomplish by using God’s gifts — of money and possessions — against us. Ananias and Sapphira are part of the church. In fact, the first use of the word church in the book of Acts is found here in verse 11 — a story about money and possessions — a story about responding to the gospel with faithfulness or unfaithfulness — this is the first time we come across the word church. And I think one of the reasons for this is because Luke is trying to show us that not everyone who’s part of the church is really part of the church.
Since its beginning, there have always been people who gather with the church, but aren’t really part of the church. And one of the most revealing places this shows up — a part of life that’s hard to describe just how revealing it is as to your response to the life changing — purpose giving — power of the gospel — is your view of your money and possessions — that’s what we find with Ananias and Sapphira.
And let me say — because this may be your first time at Gateway and you’re like, “Here we go. Preacher man talking about money. Just what I expected.” This story in Acts is just the next story. Come back next week and the story is about suffering — so we’ll talk about suffering. The week after that is about our roles in the church. We just keep going right through books of the Bible and the topics that come up are the topics we address — and today’s topic is money and possessions.
Now in a moment, we’ll see how the faithful — those who resist unfaithfulness — respond to the gospel. They have unity with one another, they care for each other, they trust the church leadership — but each of these faithful responses have an opposite — enemy influenced — reaction by the unfaithful. Instead of striving for unity, the unfaithful stir up disunity. Instead of being generous — the unfaithful fake stewardship. Think about it — giving is almost always a secret activity, right? So the unfaithful think — “No one knows if I’m really being generous or not — faithful or not” — so they bring something to the apostles’ feet, but they do so under false pretenses.
And what’s the result? How does God respond to the unfaithfulness of Ananias and Sapphira? It’s shocking isn’t it? They die. God judges them and — the consequence for their unfaithfulness — is death. So get this — even though they’re rubbing shoulders with people who’ve found life and hope and purpose — they’ve experienced none of it.
And I wonder why their deaths shock us — I know the story shocks me — and I can’t help but wonder if — what’s shocking — is how this story reveals what God really thinks of fakers. Over the past few months we’ve heard about a college admissions scandal here in the US — some wealthy families bribed their children’s way into college. And what was our reaction? “Cheaters!,” right? “They deserve the consequences of their choices.” They were deceiving people into believing something about their child that wasn’t true. They were pretending to faithfully follow the admissions process, but were found to be faking it. What they thought was a secret became known to the public.
Similarly, a reaction of the enemy — when it comes to the unity, generosity, care for one another, stewardship and all of the ways the gospel changes a person — a reaction of the enemy is to convince us that we can still experience God’s grace while being unfaithful with our money — while faking it.
And let me say something to be very clear. I am not out to try and persuade anyone to give money to Gateway Church — this sermon isn’t some sort of set up for that. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin wasn’t their lack of giving to the church; their sin was thinking that — because they could deceive others into thinking they were being faithful — they could deceive God too. They thought they could fool God into thinking they were being faithful — like they could fool others — but God will not be made a fool.
And my concern — and know that I say this because I love you — my concern is that there are people among us who have mastered the art of faking faithfulness — it’s easy to do in a large church like Gateway.
Someone may ask you where you were last weekend if they didn’t see you at your usual worship service.
Occasionally someone might ask about you about your life group or where you serve.
But you know something that no one dares ask about? Your giving — we keep that in the dark, don’t we?
And things that are kept in the dark are dangerous because none of us are beyond giving into the temptation of being unfaithful with our money. And that’s because we neither appreciate God’s grace nor fear him like we should.
I mean did you see what happened in the church because of this? Because of the unfaithfulness of Ananias and Sapphira — great fear came upon the church. And next week we’ll see that the word is going to spread — much like in the Old Testament — that you don’t want to mess around with the God of the Christians — there’s no fooling around with him. And the craziest thing happens — more people believe.
Ananias and Sapphira show us one way to respond to the gospel. But there is another response — the response of resisting unfaithfulness — not being a faker — being faithful. Let’s look back in verse 32 of chapter 4.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR FAITHFULNESS
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.” (Acts 4:32-37 ESV)
Here we see the response of the faithful. Now did you notice that this is a response to the apostles’ testimony about the resurrection of Jesus? That’s another way of saying the apostles’ were proclaiming the gospel. And this response includes unity — they were of one heart and soul — and they viewed their possessions not as their own — but as gifts to be used for the good of others.
And look at the results of their faithful response to the gospel — and I hope your heart longs for what we see here in this beautiful picture of what the church was like and what it can be today.
There were no needs among them — they took care of one another.
There was a sacred trust between the congregation and the leadership — they laid the money at the feet of the apostles — trusting them to be faithful stewards of how the money was used.
There was an encouragement among the people — individuals in the church were given new names — kind of like nicknames — one man being such an encourager that “encouragement” was what people called him. If we were to give you a church nickname, what would it be?
And what I love most — and long for most — is that great grace was upon them all.
I love the word grace and what the word represents.
Grace means the unearned, favor and blessing of God.
Pastor Ben’s last series was all about grace — the last best word.
Grace is what makes the Christian faith unique — that God favors us — and blesses us — even though we don’t deserve it and haven’t earned it.
Grace goes against the grain of our “you’ve got to earn it” culture because you can’t earn grace — it’s a gift.
And the reason why grace makes the Christian faith unique is that all other religions — and even for non-religious people a key part of your view of life is this: Who you are must be earned. You must attain your purpose. You must determine your identity. You must make a name for yourself. You dictate your value.
But not so says the Christian faith. The Christian faith’s response to all of that is...grace! Grace says that who you are — your purpose, and identity, even your name — are all gifts given to you.
And here — in this story of the early church — in responding to the gospel in faith — one of the results is that this early group of believers experienced great grace. And all I can think is “if grace is everything the Bible says that it is — then how awesome must great grace be?” For as amazing as grace is — we have the opportunity — as a church — to experience great grace — but only if we respond to the gospel in faith.
How would you like for our marriages to experience great grace?
Or the hundreds of children — who are part of our church — to experience great grace.
Can you imagine what it would be like for us to experience great grace as we sing together and pray together — as we hear God’s Word preached together.
Great grace in our life groups.
Great grace as we serve one another.
Great grace as we go and proclaim the gospel.
Can you imagine us experiencing God’s great grace?
CHRIST CONNECTION / SERMON CONCLUSION
So how do we resist against unfaithfulness and be a faithful people? By believing the gospel. Resistance against unfaithfulness begins with a true understanding of the gospel because the gospel stirs in us both an awe of God’s grace and a holy fear of his wrath and judgment. We’ve seen — in our story — some who understood the gospel and responded in faithfulness and experienced more of God’s grace — while others responded with unfaithfulness and experienced God’s judgment.
This story is a reminder that there are two kinds of people among us — the faithful and the unfaithful — and it’s impossible to distinguish between the two. On the outside, Ananias and Sapphira looked just like Barnabas — but God wasn’t deceived — and he’s not deceived today. You may fool us, but you’re not fooling God — may this warning lead you to repentance.
We’ve learned that you can experience the blessings of grace while not personally being changed by the gospel. Ananias and Sapphira experienced blessings of grace — they witnessed miracles, they heard the preaching of the apostles, they experienced the mercy of God as they were loved and cared for by his people — and instead of responding to the gospel in faith — they thought they could keep those blessings while remaining unfaithful. Their death is a foretaste of the judgment that — all who reject the gospel — will receive.
We’ve seen that God’s grace leads to faithfulness. Experiencing God’s grace doesn’t lead to a lazy attitude towards his commands — no — grace leads us to having a desire to please the One who has given all things — including himself — to us.
Finally, this story warns us that God takes sin seriously. This story shocks us. But my prayer is that what shocks us isn’t the question, “Why did Ananias and Sapphira die?” — but that this story would shock us into asking, “Why am I still alive?” The answer is grace. God is being gracious and patient with you because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, NET) May we all repent of our unfaithfulness and — because of God’s grace — go forward walking in faithfulness. Let’s pray.
PRAYER OF APPLICATION
Heavenly Father, thank you for being faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to you. Thank you for loving us, calling us, saving us, protecting us, and giving us new names through our faith in Jesus. Help us all to resist the tactics of our enemy — the father of lies — and instead walk in the power of your Spirit according to the truth of your Word.
God you know how powerful our money and possessions can be. Help us to see them as the gifts from you that they are — so our identity and comfort are not found in them — but in you — the giver of every good gift. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: Want to resist unfaithfulness; need God’s grace)
May you go — responding to the gospel with faithfulness — with God’s great grace upon you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.