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Minor Men With a Major Message: The Couple Who Paid The High Cost Of Low Living

Acts 5:1-11

The thrust of the sermon today comes from the opening segment of the fifth chapter of the book of Acts. However, before reading those verses, I want to set the stage for that story by reading the concluding verses of the fourth chapter of the book of Acts. I shall begin to read at the thirty-second verse. This is the Word of God: “Now, the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power, the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas, which means the son of encouragement, a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own, and after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it, then, that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died, and great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in not knowing what had happened, and Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much,’ and she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ And Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ And immediately, she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband, and great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh, God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Once upon a time, back in the days of the early church, there was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. Now, I know that those names will sound a bit old-fashioned to you, but don’t let that fool you because you see, their story is just as true now as it was then. You need only to change the names, to insert perhaps your own name or mine. They were the couple who paid the high cost of low living in the Kingdom of God.

Here’s the story: Ananias and Sapphira had heard about a Christian named Barnabas, and this Barnabas had a piece of property which he owned, and he proceeded to sell that property. And all of the money that he received from the sale, he brought to the church and devoted it to the work of Jesus Christ, and he was being widely praised because of his generosity. Now Ananias and Sapphira began to think that it would be a good idea if they could have some of that kind of praise for themselves. And so they owned a piece of property, and they proceeded to sell that property intending to give the proceeds from the sale to the church for the work of Jesus Christ. The problem was that when they got the money into their hot little hands, they discovered that they had cold little hearts, and they couldn’t part with it. They had it, and they couldn’t turn it loose, at least not all of it. And so the Bible says, “They kept something back for themselves.” Now, it was at that point that Ananias went down to the church to report what he had done, but instead of telling what he had actually done, Ananias proceeded to tell those at the church that he had sold a piece of land and that he was bringing all of the proceeds from that sale to the church to be used in the work of Jesus Christ.

And when Peter heard that, he stood up in blazing anger, and he pointed his finger at Ananias, and he said, “Ananias, why is it that you have come to this place to lie? You had that land. It was your own. You could do with it whatever you chose. When you sold it, you had the money. It was yours. You could do with it whatever you chose. You decided to keep some for yourself, but then you came here and told us that you were giving all of it to the church. You have not only lied to us. You have lied to the Holy Spirit of God.” Now, Peter said that with such force and such authority that it literally scared Ananias to death. The Bible says, “He fell down and died,” just like that. Then the Bible says, “About three hours later, his wife came to the church. She hadn’t heard what had happened, and Peter said to her, ‘Sapphira, was the figure which Ananias reported to us about the sale of the property – was that figure accurate?’ And Sapphira said, ‘Oh, yes. Absolutely accurate,'” and Peter then accused her of the same treachery as had been perpetrated by her husband earlier, and lo and behold, she dropped dead too.

You know, when you stop to think about it, it really was rather appropriate, don’t you think? I mean, they were together, and they were together in their ambition. They both wanted to be praised for their generosity. They were together in their greed. They both decided that they would keep some back for themselves. They were together in their hypocrisy. They wanted to be known far and wide as great stewards of the Lord when in fact, they weren’t. They were together in their deceit. One of them lied, and the other came along and confirmed it. Yes, they were together in life. Surely, it is appropriate that they should be together in death. That’s the story. Hoo, that’s some story, isn’t it?

And given the fact that just eight days from now, you and I are going to be making our decisions about what we’re going to be giving to the work of Jesus Christ through this church, I know that you can’t believe that I’ve chosen to preach on Ananias and Sapphira today. Well, if it’s any comfort to you, I can’t believe it either.

And you’re probably thinking to yourself that all I’m going to do in preaching on Ananias and Sapphira is try to scare you into giving your money to the work of Jesus Christ through the church. No. No, I’m not going to do that at all. No, instead, I am going to try, with God’s help, to win you into giving to the work of Jesus Christ. Because you see, when you look closely at the story of Ananias and Sapphira, what is so sad about those two is the fact that they missed out on two of life’s greatest joys. Missed them completely.

First, they missed out on the joy of giving to the Lord.

You know, the crucial phrase in that passage of Scripture is the phrase, “They kept something back for themselves.” That’s crucial. You see, it seems to me that our stewardship is best measured not by what we give but rather, by what we keep.

Now, to underscore that point, I want to set up for you right now a list of honor for those individuals who are the great stewards of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I want to call their names, and I want to rank them in order. Ranking them on the basis not of what they gave but on the basis of what they have kept.

Right up at the top on this list of honor, in the highest spot, would have to go the widow in the New Testament, the one Jesus told us about. You remember, the widow who had two mite? That’s all she had to her name, and what did she do with those two mites? She gave them both. She didn’t keep anything back for herself. She gave it all. Therefore, she deserves the place of honor, and she is there alone. She gave all that she had. She kept absolutely nothing back for herself.

Now, just a little bit below her on the scale of honor, I think we would have to place Dewey Lockman. He lives in California. He was converted to Jesus Christ during the days of the Great Depression, and after his conversion, he began to realize that the true Christian, the true disciple of Jesus Christ is one who tithes, and so he began to tithe. But not only that, he began to think about all of those years before his conversion, all of those years when he had given absolutely nothing to the Lord, and he decided that he wanted to somehow try to make up for all those wasted years. So you know what he did? He started to double tithe. Wasn’t easy. I mean, this began during the days of the Great Depression. It meant some adjustments for him and for his family, but he did it, and you know what happened gradually? His financial ship began to right itself, and he decided, then, that double tithing was not enough, and so he raised it to 30%. And that felt so good that he raised it to 40%.
And as time passed, he came to the point late in his life where he’s actually giving 90% of his income every year to the work of Jesus Christ in the world. He’s keeping only 10% for himself and for his family. He has reversed the tithe, and therefore, he needs to be just a little bit below the place of honor there on the scale.

Now, down there right about midway on the scale, I think we should put the name of Zacchaeus. You remember how in the Bible – you remember what happened when Jesus first retrieved him out of a tree and then out of his sin? What did he do in response to his Lord? He devoted half of all that he possessed to the work of his Savior. He kept only half for himself. For him, his commitment to Jesus Christ was a 50/50 proposition, and therefore, because he kept half for himself, he belongs about midway on the scale of honor.

Now, you drop down just a bit farther, and I think I would want to right in there the name Bill Crockett. You don’t know Bill Crockett. He’s a member of another church, but some years ago now, he wrote a letter to me, and he said that because of his building commitment in Jesus Christ that he was going to begin that very year to tithe in response to Christ. “And not only that,” he said in that letter, but he was committing himself to raise that percentage by 1 percentage point every single year thereafter. And I get a letter from him every single Christmas reporting to me as to how he’s doing. The last letter I got said, “I’ve managed to get it up to 19%, and I can’t begin to tell you what this has meant in my life. I can’t begin to express to you the joy that I feel in that kind of giving,” and mind you, Bill Crockett is not a wealthy man. Yes, he belongs there on the scale of honor just a little bit below the midpoint.

Down a little lower on the scale, I think we would have to write in the names of those Christians among us who tithe. Those Christians who take 10% right across the board and devote that to the work of Jesus Christ. That’s where my family stands. We take the compensation offered to us by the church each year. We total it up, and we divide it by 10, and we put the figure down. It’s so simple when you do it that way. You don’t even have to think about it, and not only that, it feels so good when you do it. And there are many of you who know just exactly what I’m talking about, and so you join my family and me. You join me right there on that – we’re rather low down, I’ll admit that, but we’re at least on the scale.

And then down at the bottom, well, I think we’d have to put those Christians, well, who simply, very casually offer 1 percent or 2 percent or maybe 3 percent, those Christians who, you see, keep for themselves 97 or 98 or even 99 percent. Now, what I want you to notice is that one’s place on the scale is not determined by how much money one has, and it’s not determined by how much money one gives. It’s determined simply by how much one keeps. That’s the point.

What I’m trying to do here is to challenge you to try faith giving in your life. Now, faith giving is a little bit different from just simply making a pledge. When you make a pledge, you do one of two things. You sit down, and you try to figure out what your anticipated income is going to be for the next year, and then you look at that, and you try to figure out what you can afford to give to the work of the church, and you put that figure down on the card, and you hand it in. Or you sit down, and you look at what the anticipated needs of the church are for the next year, and you try to determine what percentage and increase in the need there is, and then you increase your own gift by that same percentage, and you put the figure on the card, and you hand it in. And periodically, you’ll set a little reminder about how well you’re doing, and it’s all very, very business-like, and it’s adequate, yes. I think I have to say that. It is adequate. The problem is that it never gives your faith a chance to express itself.

You see, faith giving is something different. Faith giving is not thinking about what you can keep. Faith giving is thinking about what, by faith, you want to be able to give to Jesus Christ. It’s sitting down and evaluating how much Christ has done for you in your life, evaluating how much Jesus means to you in your everyday experience and then trying to figure out what, by faith, you’d like to give in response to Jesus Christ, and that’s what you put down. You may have no idea on earth how you’ll ever be able to give that much, but that’s okay. That’s faith giving. You put it down in faith, and if you then launch out in that faith, you will work, and you will give, and you will pray – yes especially, you will pray that God will somehow help you to meet that commitment, and if you launch out in that kind of faith, then I promise you God will help you in ways beyond your wildest imaginings. God will help you to meet that commitment. He’ll do it.

Do you ever stop to think about the fact that when babies are born into this world, they always come with their fists tightly clenched? But when Christians are born from above, born anew in Jesus Christ, they always have their hands open. That’s one of the very distinctive signs of new birth in Jesus Christ.

The true believer, the true disciple of Jesus Christ understands that faith involves not just the Good Book and not just the hymn book but also the checkbook. And my friends, if you begin to give out of your faith in Jesus Christ, then I promise you some absolutely wonderful things will begin to happen to you and to your family and to the church of which you are a part.

And what’s so sad is that Ananias and Sapphira missed out on all of that. They sinned against God. They missed out on the joy of giving to the Lord. They kept something back for themselves.

Now secondly, Ananias and Sapphira missed out on the joy of giving to the Church.

You know, the Church never has to be afraid of that which comes against it from the outside. The Church never has to fear godless philosophies like communism or socialism or fascism. The Church never has to fear those things. They cannot ultimately defeat the power of God through the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has never happened, and it never will. No, the Church has only to fear that which hurts it from the inside.

It has only to fear disloyalty from within. It has only to fear those who claim to have the faith but who do not live like it, and you know, that’s really why Peter hit out so hard at Ananias and Sapphira, and you know something? I think Peter learned that from Jesus Himself. Jesus rarely ever got angry, you know that? Rarely ever. I mean, He never got angry at any of the circumstances or the situations that He encountered in the course of His life, and He never, ever got angry at people who spoke the truth. He rarely ever got angry. You remember when the rich, young ruler came to Him, and Jesus offered him the gift of the Kingdom, and the rich, young ruler turned Him down flat and turned and walked away, Jesus was hurt by that I think, but He wasn’t angry. Or when Martha of Bethany tongue-lashed Him for being late, she said to Him, “Lord, if you had gotten here on time, Lazarus wouldn’t have died,” I suspected that Jesus was hurt by the fact that she felt that way, but He wasn’t angry. No, Jesus rarely ever got angry, but when He did get angry, that anger was always and only directed at those who claim to be gods but who did not live like it.

The hardest, harshest words that He ever spoke in all of Scripture were always directed against those who were guilty of that kind of hypocrisy. He said things like, “You’re like a tomb. You’re all shiny and white on the outside, and inside, you’re filled with the stench of death.” Whenever Jesus saw hypocrisy, He hit it, and He hit it hard, and I think Peter learned that from Him, so then when Peter encountered the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, he hit it, and he hit it hard. He hit it so hard that he literally scared them to death.

But I think the point to remember is that Peter – it’s obvious from the story that Peter understood that stewardship is absolutely vital to the ongoing work of Jesus Christ in the world. To put it bluntly, in the Kingdom of God, money matters. That’s right. And Peter understood that. He understood that if the great commission of Jesus Christ is going to be fulfilled in our world, then that means that the people of Christ will have to give joyfully and sacrificially to make it happen. Peter understood that. That’s why he hit them so hard.

I want to remind you of something: it was when Adolf Hitler persuaded the Nazis to sacrifice to the point that they were willing to use for one meal a day nothing more than flavored sawdust. It was when he persuaded them to sacrifice to that point that Nazism became the dire and demonic threat that it was. It was when the Emperor Hirohito of Japan convinced the Japanese people to take the fillings out of their teeth and to devote the gold and the silver to the war effort, it was then and only then that we began to feel the heat from the land of the rising sun. It was when Mussolini convinced the Italian ladies to begin melting down their jewelry in order to build a new Roman empire, it was then and only then that fascism began to spread.

Well, I want to ask you something. When did the Church of Jesus Christ begin to spread? When did the Church begin to move out with great power and great effect? I’ll tell you when. It was on the day of Pentecost, what one writer has called the day of plenty of cost because it was that day, yes, that very day that Christian men and women began to give of themselves sacrificially, so much so that you can actually read these descriptive words written of them on the pages of the book of Acts: “Now, the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common,” and then it says, “That with great power, the apostles shared their testimony, and there was great grace, grace, amazing grace, over them all.” That’s when the Church began to be great.

I believe that the greatest days in the history of this church are just ahead. The greatest opportunity for providing spiritual leadership in the midst of a moral morass, the greatest opportunity for pouring ourselves out in deeds of loving, unselfish sacrifice, caring concern for people in the midst of a sin-sick, sorrow-torn world. The greatest opportunity for calling the people of this city and this nation and this world to travel on the highway of faith built by the Prince of Peace, the greatest opportunity for making the kind of sacrifice that saves. I believe, yes, I believe that the greatest days in the history of this church are just ahead, and that’s why I believe that God is calling us now perhaps as never before to give joyfully and sacrificially by faith that we may rise up to meet the challenge of those great opportunities.

For you see, if we fail to do it, if we miss the opportunity, then we shall be guilty of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. More than that, we shall miss the sheer joy of having a full share in the ongoing work of Jesus Christ through this great church. I believe that. Yes, I do.

Well, the story closes with Ananias and Sapphira having lied together in life now lying together in death. That’s the high cost of low living in the Kingdom of God.

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