Robert Jeffress - Sin in the Church
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". God takes sin very seriously, no surprise, right? Whether it's a small misstep or a huge moral blunder, God views all sin the same. Today we're going to look at the first time sin crept into a church family and the foreboding consequences that followed. My message is titled "Sin in the Church" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In our study of Acts, we've seen a number of firsts in the New Testament. the first time people were baptized with the Holy Spirit of God, the first time people were able to speak in other languages, the first time persecution came to the church, and today we're going to look at another first, the first example of God's judging sin inside of the church, and what a dramatic heart stopping, literally, judgment it was. If you have your Bibles, turn to Acts chapter 4 as we talk about how God deals with sin in the church. But now when we come to verse 32, we come to another manifestation of being empowered, being filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and that is unity. A church that is filled with the Spirit of God is unified, and it's a unity, as we'll see, that leads to generosity. Look at verse 32. "The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul". There was unity.
Now remember, unity doesn't mean uniformity. In other words, there was great diversity in the church. There were Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor, but they were united together by the Spirit of God. As the late Adrian Rogers said about the early church, the early church wasn't frozen together by tradition, they weren't wired together by denominational organization, they were melded together by the Holy Spirit of God. "They were of one heart and one mind". Notice what it says, "The evidence of their generosity". They were so much a part of one another that "Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and the abundant grace upon all of them. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostle's feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need". There was no needy among them. And we have an example of that generosity beginning in verse 36 and verse 37. "Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles's feet".
There is a man in the early church whose name, actually his nickname was Barnabas. He was one of those people you just love to be around. He always had an encouraging word for people. And so when people saw him coming, they just gave him the nickname. "Oh, there's Barnabas, the son of encouragement". Now I want you to notice two things about his gift here. First of all it was voluntary, nobody twisted his arm into giving a gift. "Don't you think God's speaking to you today and maybe you ought to give a gift"? No, none of that. He gave it voluntarily and so should we. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver". He'll accept from a grump, but he loves a cheerful giver. His gift was voluntary.
Secondly, notice that Barnabas's gift was brought to the church. He came and he laid it at the apostles's feet. Now, here's another first in the book of Acts. This is the first example in the New Testament of what we call storehouse giving. People know they're supposed to give, but where are they supposed to give to? Storehouse, God has a principle that his gifts are always to be given to his storehouse. Malachi 3:10. "Bring ye all the tithes," where? "Into the storehouse". God has a central receptacle for giving to him, the storehouse. In the Old Testament, the storehouse was the tabernacle, later the temple, but in the New Testament, where is the storehouse? Well, it says right here. "He brought it and he laid the gift at the apostles's feet".
D.L. Lowrie, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lubbock used to say, "And where are the apostles's feet"? They are planted firmly in the church. In the New Testament, the church is God's storehouse, and that is where the gift was brought. Now, there are plenty of places you can give your charitable gifts, there are plenty of Christian organizations out there. Our primary, our first place of giving, is to be the church. God ordained the church, God created the church, it wasn't our creation, it was God's creation to carry about his work of the great commission. And that's exactly what Barnabas did, he brought it to the church.
Now, this is a display of generosity in the church, but I want you to notice the contrast between what Barnabas did and what two other people did. Remember there were no chapter divisions in the original text. This is all one story and it's linked together by that word in verse 1 of chapter 5, but, but. Contrast what Barnabas did to what this first couple did. "But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion, he laid it at the apostles's feet". The name Ananias means, Yahweh is gracious. Sapphira means beautiful. This couple took something that should have been a beautiful and gracious act, and they had it riddled with sin. "They brought a portion of the gift and laid it at the apostles's feet".
Now this is key to understanding. Apparently Ananias and Sapphira saw all the recognition that Joseph got. "Thatta boy Joseph, that's just the gift we needed". And they said "We'd like to have some of that recognition too, but would like to have it at a discounted price". And so they mimic Joseph's selling of the land, but they only give a portion of it and they hold back some of it. Now here's the key, holding back a portion of it wasn't a sin, there was no requirement first of all that they sell any property to begin with. And they certainly weren't required to give it all to the church. But the phrase, "They kept back some of the price," that word enosphisato in Greek means financial fraud. They committed financial fraud. They told everyone they were giving all of the proceeds to the church when in fact they lied and kept back some of the proceeds for themself. That was the sin here.
Now here's another first we have in this story, the first instance of hypocrites in the church. That word hypocrite, it comes from a Greek word hypokrite that means actor. In the Greek theater actors wore masks. They pretended to be somebody else than who they really were. And that was Ananias and Sapphira, they told everybody, "We're giving everything to the church," but they held back a portion. They were hypocrites. Have you ever heard people say, "Oh, I can never go to church, there're too many hypocrites in the church". I have a friend who has a great reply to that. When people would say that to him he said, "Oh well then come on then, you'll feel right at home". Hypocrites are every place, inside and outside of the church. But that was the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, they were lying about their gift.
Now look at their sin being exposed. Lewis Sperry Chafer said, "Secret sin on earth is an open scandal in heaven". The problem with secret sin is it never remains secret very long. Look at verse 3. "And Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the price of the land?'" That's an interesting phrase. "Satan has filled your heart". Can Satan possess a believer? Can demons possess a believer? No, if you mean by possess own, if you've been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, only God can own you, you are God's possession, and God doesn't share his possessions with demons or with Satan. So no, Christians can't be possessed, cannot be possessed by demons, but they can be influenced by demons. This is the word here fill, to be controlled by.
In fact, Peter didn't use the phrase accidentally. Remember a few months earlier, Jesus had said the same thing to him. When they were headed towards Jerusalem, Peter was trying to convince the Lord that he didn't need to go to the cross, that there would be another way. And in Matthew 16:23, what did Jesus say to Peter? "Get thee behind me, Satan". Satan? This is Peter, gonna be the leader of the apostles. But Peter was allowing himself to be used by Satan to be a stumbling block to the Lord. And so Peter uses that same question with Ananias. "Why have you allowed Satan to control your heart, to lie to the Holy Spirit"? Then he says in verse 4, "For you have not lied to men, you've lied to God".
Wait a minute, he did lie to men, he told the whole church, that's the point. When you lie to another Christian, you're lying to the Holy Spirit who indwells that Christian. And by the way, when you lie to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is equal to God, so to lie to another Christian is the same as lying to God. That's what the sin was here. Notice how the sin was judged. "And as he heard these words," verse 5, "Ananias fell down and he breathed his last; and great fear came upon over all who heard of it". That phrase breathed his last, ekpsucho in Greek, is a word that's almost totally used, completely used to describe divine judgment. We don't know if Ananias had a brain aneurism, a stroke, a heart attack, but he was immediately dead.
Now, Jewish law required that a corpse be buried as quickly as possible to avoid the rapid decomposition that was present in that part of the world because of the climate. And so verse 6 says, "Some of the young men took the body of Ananias quickly away and buried it". This is kind of funny. Verse 7. "Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife Sapphira came in not knowing what had happened". Now we're not told why they didn't come to church together that day. Why it took Sapphira three hours to get there. Maybe it was just because she knew this was gonna be their big day, their day of public recognition, when they were gonna be honored for their supposed sacrificial gift. And she was taking some extra time with makeup and her dress. After all, her name meant beautiful, she wanted to live up to the reputation because this was gonna be a big day for them.
So she walks into the room, and there is Peter, and Peter asked her, "Did you sell a piece of property and give all of the money"? Remember, she doesn't know what happened to her husband. And she said, "Yes, yes. It was such a pleasure for me to do that, to sell this property. And by the way, Peter, Ananias and I were thinking right here would be a great place to put a plaque, remembering our generosity to the church". But Peter wasn't interested in talking about plaques that day. He said to her in verse 9, "'Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will come and carry you out as well.' And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband".
And in the greatest understatement of the entire New Testament, Luke says, "And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things". I've often thought Peter missed a great opportunity here. Had he passed the offering plate right then, he could have collected the biggest offering in church history. Talk about a best gift Sunday, this would've been it. But he didn't do that. And the reason is this passage is not really about giving, it's not about money, it's about how God deals with sin in the church.
And I close today with three brief principles, three sobering truths about secret sin in your life and in the church. First of all, remember secret sin is never secret. Right now, you may be involved in secret sin that you think nobody knows anything about. That may or may not be true. Just because they haven't talked to you about your sin, doesn't mean they haven't talked to other people about your sin. But in the end, whether or not other people know what you're doing, God knows. In Proverbs 5:21 it says, "The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all of his paths". There are no thoughts you think, there are no conversations you engage in, there are not any internet sites you frequent that God doesn't see. He's watching and he's evaluating.
Secret sins are not secret. Secondly, secret sin infects the church. You think, "Man, that was a harsh punishment to strike these two people dead". God was sending a message to us 2,000 years later about the severity of sin. Sin in the church is like a cancer cell that if it's not dealt with, it metastasizes and grows, and grows, and grows, until it devours the whole body. It's the same way with sin in the church.
Do you remember the story of Achan in the Old Testament? The Israelites had successfully conquered the city of Jericho, it was a great victory. Thy went on to try to conquer the city of Ai, A-I, Ai. It should have been a piece of cake compared to Jericho, but they were defeated unexpectedly at Ai, and they wondered why. And God revealed the reason, one of their soldiers, Achan, an Israelite, when they conquered Jericho, he disobeyed God and kept some of the treasure for himself. And that was the reason the entire Israeli army was defeated at Ai. And when they found out that Achan was the one who caused the defeat, they took him out and they stoned him to death.
We're to have that same attitude about sin, not just in other people's lives, but in our life. We need to realize that sin can have a devastating consequence on the entire body of Christ if it's not dealt with. 1 Corinthians 5, Paul chastised the Corinthians for not dealing with a man who was living an openly immoral life and was ruining the witness of the church. They boasted about their graciousness and their forgiveness. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:6 and 7, "Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens a whole lump of dough"? Leaven is always a picture of sin in the Bible. And just as it takes only a little leaven to cause a whole lump of dough to rise, so it only takes a little bit of sin to permeate an entire church. Verse 7, "Clean out the old leaven so that you may become a new lump".
Secret sin infects the church. Third, and this is so crucial, remember, secret sin will eventually be judged by God. You know, we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira and it's easy to forget these people were not enemies of Christianity, they were not enemies of the faith, they were a part of a household of faith. They'd been saved, they had been baptized, they were a part of the church. But remember this, being a Christian doesn't exempt you from God's judgment, it guarantees God's judgment in your life. You know where I get that? Hebrews chapter 12.
The writer says in verse 5 and 6, "Have you forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as a son? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you're reapproved by him. For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives". If you're truly a Christian, God is not going to allow unconfessed sin to remain in your life. He loves you so much he's going to discipline you, and that discipline can be very hard and very dramatic. He loves you too much to allow that sin to go unaddressed. He loves the church too much to allow that sin to infect the rest of the body.
And you know just like a parent has a range of disciplines he can choose for a disobedient child, from a mild rebuke to a spanking, and God has the same range of possibilities for us as his children. Sometimes his judgment may begin as a rebuke from a fellow Christian, but it can go all the way to physical death like it did with Ananias and Sapphira. By the way, God does that today. Did you know that? 1 John 5:16 and 17 talks about sin unto death. It's not a particular sin, but there is a state of mind for a Christian where he becomes so unrepentant, so disobedient, and he hurts the cause of Christ so much by his sin, that God says, "I'm gonna take you from this earth, I'm gonna bring you home with me right now so that you're no more trouble and no more of a stumbling block to others". That's what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. That's what happens to other believers today.
Are you involved in secret sin in your life right now? If I could give any final message to you, it would be this. If you are, don't confuse God's patience with God's tolerance for your sin. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed immediately, the sons of men are fully given to do what is evil". Many times people mistake God's patience with God's tolerance. They think, "Well God hasn't done anything to me yet, what's the big deal"? Don't confuse his patience with his tolerance. God's judgment, God's discipline, is inevitable, it's inevitable, but it's also avoidable. You know what the remedy for unconfessed sin is? 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".