May 5, 2003

LifeWay Family Bible Series for May 18

Money matters measure spiritual maturity
___bluebull Acts 4:32-5:11
___By Tim Owens
___First Baptist Church, Bryan
___The church in Acts experienced rich fellowship as the members shared together in the joys and struggles of life. They were willing to give their possessions away when other members had need. Acts 4:32-37 records how Barnabas gave unselfishly to meet a need in the life of the early church. Tragically, Acts 5:1-11 records how one couple gave deceptively and as a result experienced the judgment of God. These Scriptures challenge the Christian family to give to God's work without duplicity and out of reverence for God.
___By the end of Acts 4, the church had grown so rapidly they were no longer numbered. The growth was due to believers allowing the Holy Spirit to control their lives, the chief characteristic of which was boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went.
___The unity of the early church was a powerful testimony to the world that Jesus Christ was truly sent by God. The basis of their unity was twofold. First, they were committed to ministering to each other. They truly considered others "better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3). They had discovered the joy of meeting the needs of others. Second, they were determined to share the person of Christ with as many people as they could. Their ministry to people inside the church and their witness to people outside the church left them little time to pursue a selfish agenda. They were living out the priorities of Christ: Love each other and share Christ.
___The unselfish, Christ-centered unity of the early church revealed itself in sharing material possessions. Ac
ts 4:32 says: "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." All members of the church understood that everything they had belonged to God, and when someone had a need, they freely gave to meet the need. Genuine Christian love is not in word only, but it reveals itself in tangible acts of ministry. James says: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:15-17).
___One could draw the same conclusion with the virtue of love. Love, if not accompanied by action, is dead. John says virtually the same thing in an even more forceful way: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3:17). Christian families will reveal their love for the Lord by giving generously to the Lord's work and by sharing God's material blessings with others.
___The way believers use their money may be one of the truest measurements of their spiritual maturity. Yes, giving can be practiced in an insincere, hypocritical way. The act of giving does not guarantee the motive of giving is for the glory of God. However, one who loves God will find joy in giving generously to the Lord's work and to people who have material need.
___As Jesus confronted the rich young ruler, he met a man who had a seemingly unblemished moral record. It seemed the young man could talk the theological issues of his generation. But when Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and articulated that it was his love for money that was keeping him from eternal life, Scripture says "he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth" (Luke 18:23). Parents need to teach and model for their children the spiritual truth that money matters measure the maturity of one's Christian life.
___The story of Ananias and Sapphira is indeed fascinating. Barnabas and Ananias both sold a piece of land. Both brought the proceeds to the apostles and committed it to their care. The difference was Barnabas brought all the proceeds while Ananias brought only a part of the proceeds.
___Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to sell a piece of land or, having sold it, to give part of it or all of it to the church. Their sin was a sin of hypocrisy or a lack of integrity. They wanted the credit for giving sacrificially. Their primary motive in giving was to make themselves look good in the eyes of the apostles and the church. God always looks beyond what believers do in religious practice to why they do what they do. Because of their duplicity, God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira.
___What does this story teach people who make up a community of faith? First, God despises hypocrisy. Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira with the fact that their sin was against both the Holy Spirit and the church. A lack of integrity can ruin both one's fellowship with God and with fellow-believers. Second, believers need to take seriously the command: "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15,16). To be holy means to live with a clear conscience before God and God's people. It means to have "clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:4). It means to live transparently before God and the church, with nothing hidden. Third, for the sake of its testimony, the church needs to administer discipline when necessary. The church must find the balance of confronting sin in the church, but it must do so in a spirit of love and reconciliation.
___Question for discussion
___bluebull How easy is it to discern your own motives for giving?

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