Acts 4:32 – 5:11

Acts 4:32 – 5:11

Absolute Unity

Sermon Text: Acts 4:32-5:11
Sermon Theme:  Unity in Christ means unity in life.

Sermon Reflections:

The disciples loved one another. This was the blessed fruit of Christ’s dying precept to his disciples and his dying prayer for them. Thus it was then, and it will be so again, when the Spirit shall be poured upon us from on high. The doctrine preached was the resurrection of Christ; a matter of fact, which being duly explained, was a summary of all the duties, privileges, and comforts of Christians. There were evident fruits of Christ’s grace in all they said and did. They were dead to this world. This was a great evidence of the grace of God in them. They did not take away others’ property, but they were indifferent to it. They did not call it their own; because they had, in affection, forsaken all for Christ, and were expecting to be stripped of all for cleaving to him. No marvel that they were of one heart and soul, when they sat so loose to the wealth of this world. In effect, they had all things common; for there was not any among them who lacked, care was taken for their supply. The money was laid at the apostles’ feet. Great care ought to be taken in the distribution of public charity, that it be given to such as have need, such as are not able to procure a maintenance for themselves; those who are reduced to want for well-doing, and for the testimony of a good conscience, ought to be provided for. Here is one in particular mentioned, remarkable for this generous charity: Barnabas. As one designed to be a preacher of the gospel, he disentangled himself from the affairs of this life. When such dispositions prevail, and are exercised according to the circumstances of the times, the testimony will have very great power upon others. 

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may forego their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles. The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavoring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls. How sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech.

(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

  • Is your opinion on the ways things should be in the church getting in the way of having unity? Much division in the church would be eliminated if individuals were not so impressed with their own wisdom. A person who thinks that he is wise in this age—that is, wise in contemporary human wisdom—does nothing but deceive himself. Anyone who is so self-deceived ought to recognize that human wisdom is mere foolishness without God. Unity in the church can never come without recognizing human wisdom to be what God declares it to be: foolish. And unity can never come without Christians becoming foolish in the world’s eyes by conforming to God’s wisdom in matters concerning God, salvation, and spiritual truth. Human wisdom has no way of discovering and understanding divine things. Even Christians do not have a right to their own opinions about the things God has revealed. When Christians start expressing and following their own ideas about the gospel, the church, and Christian living, the saints cannot help becoming divided. Christians are no wiser in their flesh than are unbelievers. The church must create an atmosphere in which the Word of God is honored and submitted to, in which human opinion is never used to judge or qualify revelation. As far as the things of God are concerned, Christians must be totally under the teaching of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we be open to God’s wisdom and truly become wise. Common commitment to the Word of God is the basic unifier. Where the Word of God is not set up as the supreme authority, division is inevitable. A Bible that is not studied carefully cannot be followed carefully. And where it is not followed there will be division, because there will be no common ground for beliefs and practices. When the truth of Scripture is not the sole authority, men’s varied opinions become the authority. Some people are not satisfied unless they can express their opinion on virtually everything. Intellectual pride cannot be content to listen and admire; it must always speak up and criticize. By its very nature, it must always try to win out in an issue. Pride is always at the heart of human wisdom, the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness before God.
  • How powerful can our testimony be if we are of one heart and soul with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” In His high-priestly prayer, Jesus prayed that “they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21). The first fellowship was an answer to that prayer both in position and practice. The basis of their shared life was twofold. First, they were preoccupied with ministering to each other. So intent were they on meeting each other’s needs that they had no concern for gratifying their own desires. Theirs was a humility stemming from seeing themselves in relation to Jesus Christ, and others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3). Second, they were focused beyond themselves to reaching the lost world with the truth of the gospel. That left them little time to bother with trivial personal matters. Their unity stemmed from focusing on those priorities Jesus had left them: selflessly loving each other and reaching the lost world.
  • Are we accomplishing our mission as a church? Are we united in service to achieve our goals? These early Christians were clearly united. They not only prayed together but were one in heart and mind—perhaps because of the way they prayed together!  Not only were they united; they were unselfish. This passage shows us a distinctly Christian view of possessions which centers not in ownership, but stewardship; not in creed, but need; not in fad, but family. We have no other New Testament record of communal sharing, and we should not apply this passage universally to other groups of believers. God deemed it necessary at this time and place and laid down a general principle of sharing with others. Notice the result: There were no needy persons among them but were united, unselfish, and unafraid. Looking back at the prayer, we see its fulfillment in their power for witness and their clear focus of that witness— the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike many congregations today, these early Christians knew their identity and precisely what God expected of them. They moved forward with courage to achieve their goals.
  • Who created our worldly goods? He who made them to be transitory. Who bestowed them? He who has a right to take them back. For what purpose have they been lodged in the hands of prosperous men? For their special benefit and gratification? Yes, but for their occupation, their exercise, their trial also, and more. In the first place, the changes of events prove to us that we do not hold by any absolute tenure what we seem to hold; for how often it is suddenly snatched from us or drained gradually away! So much for chances. And then come in the settled decrees of our condition and the demands of our consciences. Consider them both, and you will see how amply they vindicate the expressions of the text as applicable to all men and times and places. You will have no community of goods; and indeed we can scarcely conceive of any social project so unnatural, so unjust, so impracticable. Yet still the goods of the wealthiest cannot choose but flow into the community. He must part with them, whether he will or not, and regularly part with them. He can have no enjoyment from them but by their use, and their use is their perishing. They are not his but as they pass, and when they are gone whose are they? They must be spent and distributed, and return into the common stock from which they were amassed. Reflect further on what the various obligations of life admonish us ought to be. Are we not stewards and debtors, rather than owners and lords, in the portion that is allotted to us? Much is due to the service of our brethren; and all is in pledge to Him, to whom the whole must be accounted for. Benevolence, justice, and truth are greater apostles than Peter and James and John; and honest contributions must be brought and laid down at their feet. [N. L. Frothingham]
  • Have you asked yourself what you are keeping back? Some of you give your bodily attendance — your ear, eye, attention. Where is your heart? Are you keeping that back? and will this be acceptable? Some of you are giving your intellect; are you keeping back your affections? Those of you “that are rich in this world” — what are you keeping back of that which the Church needs? In every community there are some who are convinced of the worth of religion, and outwardly unite with the Church. Neither their conduct nor their neglect is such as to subject them to discipline; and yet they are far from having made a complete surrender of themselves to God. Their religious life is a compromise. The bulk of their time and energy is devoted to self and the world; the dust and sweepings are offered to God. Fingers that glisten with diamonds drop dimes into the contribution-box. Luxuries are cheerfully paid for; but poverty and prudence are urged as excuses for mere pittances towards the cause of God. Ananias in broadcloth and Sapphira in silk sit in churches every Sunday, trying to cheapen the bargain with God, and cheating as well, by offering less than complete surrender. The Bible nowhere places the blame for a Christian’s sin on Satan. If you do not want Satan to fill your heart, take care that God fills it first. When the devil finds an empty brain he fills it with false ideas, wicked plans; when he finds empty hands he fills them with mischiefs; when he finds an empty heart he fills it with vanities, burning passions, vicious sympathies and delights. If you wish to be saved from temptation’s power, keep your heart full of the love of God, your hands full of noble work, your mind full of high thought and desire.

Additional Note:

THE TRINITY IS UNITED BY LOVE (By Augustine): If love made one soul of so many souls and one heart of so many hearts, how great must be the love between the Father and the Son! Surely it must be greater than that between those people who had one heart. If, then, the heart of many brothers was one by charity, if the soul of many sisters was one by charity, would you say that God the Father and God the Son are two? If they are two Gods, there is not the highest charity between them. For if love is here so great as to make your soul and your friend’s soul one soul, how can it be, then, that the Father and the Son are not one God? Let true faith banish the thought. In short, understand from this how excellent that love is: the souls of many people are many, and if they love one another, it is one soul; still, in the case of people, they may be called many souls, because the union is not so strong. But there it is right for you to say one God; two or three Gods it is not right for you to say. From this, the supreme and surpassing excellence of love is shown to you to be such that a greater cannot be. (From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)

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Acts 4:23-31