The Presence Of God

August 11, 1996
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomi Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA. - Translated January 17, 2011
Acts 4:32-5:11

1. The dreadful events that took place during the early church are recorded in today's passage of scripture. Please look with me again at the opening section in chapter five.

2. "But, the man named Ananias consulted with his wife Sapphira, sold land, and with his wife's consent, he falsified the amount of the money, brought a part of it and put it at the feet of the apostles. Whereupon, Peter said, 'Ananias, why has your heart been snatched by Satan, [why] have you been deceptive to the Holy Spirit, and [why] did you falsify the amount of the money for the land? Had you not sold it, it would have been yours, and if you sold it, the money for it would have been as you wanted for it, right? Why did it get into your head to do such a thing? You have not lied unto human beings, but you have lied to God.' When he heard this statement, Ananias fell and his breathe was gone. When everyone heard this, they became very afraid. Standing up, [some] young persons wrapped the corpse, carried it away and buried him," (Acts 5:1-6).

3. Well, as we read this text, I think we will find a lot of things we don't understand. Is it really possible for something like this to happen? Even if it is possible, is what is written in this passage so sinful that the person must die? Couldn't Peter have handled it in a less grandiose and different manner? And [I have] other questions, etc. So, I guess in the end all I can say is I don't understand what I don't understand. But, I suppose, though, that there are at least two things that we need to observe upon reading this passage.

4. One is that the point, "the judgment of God," is very much overemphasized in this passage, but we must not [find ourselves] applying it to every single event that happens. For example, just because we've read a passage like this, we must not [start] making claims like anybody who dies a miserable death around us simply "died because they were judged by God." This is no laughing matter. As a matter of fact, these are words we hear in much of the religious world. There are times it is even heard in Christian churches. The judgment of God is a sacred precinct which human beings must not touch upon lightly. We must not be quick to say "It is the judgment of God" or anything like that.

5. But on the other hand, I can make the case that it is a mistake to neglect the side about God's severity which is found in this narrative. Everywhere in the Bible it warns we must not treat God with disdain. Paul says the following in The Book Of Galatians. "You must not misunderstand. God is never to be treated with disdain. That which a person has sown will turn into what a person will reap. Anyone who sows to his or her flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, anyone who sows to the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit," (Galatians 5:7-8). Also, in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples he speaks as follows. "Therefore, consider the mercy and the severity of God!," (Romans 11:22). We ought to enjoy God's love and gift of forgiveness and take pleasure in fellowship with a God who is filled with loving kindness. But we must never grow [carelessly] accustomed to [Almighty] God. We must never once take sin lightly, trifle with it, or do anything close to disdaining God.

6. We want to read this passage with the above two points in mind. In addition, without overdoing our interpretation of what we don't understand as something we don't understand, we want to rely on God and thus improve our understanding of the message that God is speaking to us through this passage.

7. Well, what might the issue have been with Ananias and Sapphira?

8. The issue presented in this text is what we would [now] call "the offering." As seen from a broader perspective, it is taking issue with what we call good works and acts of piety. They sold land. Then they offered up a portion of it. Since the text says [they] "falsified the price," perhaps when they offered it, they said, "I have offered up all of the land that I had. This is the price for it."

9. The situation of the church back then is recorded at the end of chapter four, which is the background for what they did. The following is written beginning at verse thirty-two. "The flock of those who had believed became one in both heart and mind, and there was not one person who claimed a possession belonged to him or her, but they had shared all things. The apostles with great power testified of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and a great deal of good will was had by all. There was not one poor person among the believers; because everyone who had homes and land sold them, turned in the price, put it at the apostles' feet, and then the money was shared with each one according to their needs," (4:32-35). This type of behavior was already found in chapter two and verses forty-four and following. Right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the church was born, it was the same thing, "All the believers became one, they shared all things, sold properties and possessions, and in response to each need, they all shared with one another." This same behavior is described as well in this [passage].

10. Then in chapter four, the example of the man Barnabbas was given in particular. "For example, he was a Levite, and was called by the apostles Barnabbas - which means 'the son of consolation.' Also Joseph, born on the island of Cyprus, sold the field he used to have, brought the money from it and put it at the feet of the apostles," (4:36-37). Then in chapter five, as another illustration, the example of Ananias and Sapphira is given for comparison.

11. The comparison of chapter four with chapter five is important. In chapter four, the people in the church shared their possessions, and some offered up their land. This was not due to some compulsory force upon them. Both Peter and Ananias said, "If you don't sell, it's yours, and if you do sell, then doesn't the money go into your pockets?" That's right. The people were free to either sell or not sell their lands. They were also free in what to do with the money after they sold it, or to give the entire sum, or to give a portion of it. There was no duty [for them to do that] to be a Christian.

12. So, what was the true nature of the act of "the sharing of possessions" that we see in chapter four? Some of us may have already noticed it, this event where they shared possessions is written as a continuation of the event where they were filled by the Holy Spirit. The time that was described in chapter two was also written as a continuation of the event of Pentecost. In this passage as well, in chapter four and verse thirty-one, it continues with the words, "Everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to give out the word of God boldly."

13. In other words, the important thing is that the entire way they should live in their day to day specific faith practice had been born out of the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. I mentioned it before when I gave the lecture from chapter two; the important thing here in this text is not anything about a Christian communist system being born. This system did not last for long. It changed. In the end, it would not be set up as a system. The focus lied not on the establishment of a new order, but on their being made free by the Holy Spirit. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were filled with the mind of God, they were filled with the love of God, and made free from narcissism. They were freed from the insistence that their possessions totally and always belonged to them. They were liberated from that painful way of living in which one lives constantly claiming, "What's mine is mine." Thus, they could see the people around them. So, they had a chance to use the things entrusted to them by God in order to follow God's will and to restore both themselves and others.

14. Contrasted with the figure of the church in chapter four, the event with Ananias and Sapphira is depicted. This is depicted as a single instance. The warning is being issued to us that it is something that could happen to anybody anywhere in any time period. Then, in chapter five we encounter a very interesting statement. Peter said to Ananias, "Ananias, why was your heart stolen by Satan and [why] did you act deceptive over the price of the land by lying to the Holy Spirit?," (verse three). In Japanese we don't see it, but when verse three is translated literally, it is essentially the following words, "Ananias, why did Satan fill your heart?" And very interestingly as it is, the word "to fill" that is used in this text here is the same word that is used in the place where it says "filled by the Holy Spirit" in verse thirty-one.

15. On the surface, it is the same action. They sold land. They offered up the price. However, on the one hand, it was done [by some] as they were filled by the Holy Sprit, but on the other hand it was done [by Ananias and Sapphira] as their hearts were filled by the devil. Such a dreadful event is documented in this text. It is saying that there are times when good deeds and devout behavior, which look exactly the same on the surface, could be done [just as much] by either being filled with the Holy Spirit or by being filled with Satan.

16. Where does the difference between them lie? It does not lie on the outside but on the inside. It does not lie in the outwardly appearing places, but in the hidden places. It isn't [to be found in] the good cause, but in the real motive. It isn't [to be found in] the final result, but in one's motivation. Why were Ananias and Sapphira deceptive about the price [for the land]? Why couldn't they have said, "Actually, we are not able to offer the whole thing up?" Was it because they wanted to obtain the admiration of the others? Was it because they wanted to be respected and honored? Did they want to stand in a position of leadership by winning the people's confidence in them? Did they want to validate the meaning of their own existences by being recognized by others? We can only guess why. The movements in a person's heart are not simple. However, at the least, it is certain that this was not a thought produced by the Holy Spirit in them. No, much rather, there was inside them something that [could] even go so far as to squash the Holy Spirit's voice, who was pointing out their error to them in their hearts and giving them warning. And this is not just somebody else's problem.

17. At this point we are reminded that while Jesus cared with deep compassion for the broken hearted sinners, yet he repeatedly and strongly confronted the Pharisees and the scribes. Jesus said, "O scribes of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites are wretched because you resemble white painted graves. The outside looks beautiful, but the inside is full of the bones of the dead and all kinds of uncleanness. Thus, while you look righteous on the outside, the inside is full of hypocrisy and iniquity," (Matthew 23:27). Of course, this was not only the problem of the Pharisees, I'm sure it was also the problem of the entire religious world that surrounded Jesus at that time. And if I may add, I think we can make the case that it is also a universal problem for human societies which only evaluate and judge the outside.

18. That's right; the part that is truly dreadful is on the inside. And Jesus hung on the cross in order to redeem people from that dreadful sin. [He hung there] so that humankind would not be like the Pharisees and the scribes of the law, but live according to the Holy Spirit, to live by the life of God, and to be brought into a new relationship with God. For that purpose, the risen Christ ascended to the right hand of God, he received the promised Holy Spirit from God the Father and poured it out upon us, (Acts 2:33). The church was born through this Holy Spirit; their day to day faith life was born by this Holy Spirit. This was described in chapter four. But, after the church was thus born, it had temptation from Satan, who was always trying to make it go back to the darkness of legalism and hypocrisy.

19. The problem of Ananias and Sapphira was their having fallen into this temptation. Separating from God, not seeking the living presence of God, not seeking the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, Ananias and Sapphira, whose "hearts were filled by Satan," [did] a superficially pious deed. This is but one example. As a problem which the church has had for generation upon generation, this has worked at times to lead the church in a hugely mistaken direction, or else it has even worked as a power to destroy the church. We must hear as a warning for ourselves the figure that we are seeing here.

20. And so, at the same time we want to take this as a positive recommendation to seek the in-filling of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God. "When [your] motives come into question, [you] can't do anything, [can you]?" "Everything winds up as hypocrisy, doesn't it?" "So, it's better to do nothing, isn't it?" While this may seem true, it is not God's plan that we come to such a conclusion. Looking forward, earnestly and more and more, we should seek the faith life that is filled by the Holy Spirit.

21. The summer learning sessions have come. This time, we were encouraged to examine our own lifestyles and practices. At that time, our focus was not on how much work we could have done during the past year. The first task of believers is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The title of "Program Of Learning" was written in our church bulletin. One, every day, we have a time to read the Bible and to pray. Two, every week, we attend Sunday services, and give audience to the word of God. Three, every month, we attend a learning session, study the Bible, and examine ourselves. Four, every year, we attend the summer learning sessions, and have deep fellowship with God. Five, we read the writings the church publishes. When you think about it, all of this, which the program gives, is just the norm. It doesn't say one thing about special work and ministry. If we ask why, it is because the first task of believers is to live filled with the Holy Spirit. These things are guidelines for living filled with the Holy Spirit.

22. The lifestyle that pleases God is produced by the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. The faith practice which has lost true life, the pious lifestyle which filled the heart with Satan, are miserable. In fact, even though [we] have never experienced anything like Ananias and Sapphira when they were struck down dead, a dead like lifestyle is truly miserable. We [want to] inspect our faith practice once more and we want to start seeking with hearts anew the faith life that is filled with the Holy Spirit.