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Believers were of one heart and soul

Date: 19 March 2023

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan

Sermon Text: Acts 4:32–5:16



19Mar23 Herald SK_revised
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TRANSCRIPT Introduction

Blessed Sunday to everyone. For parents of school going children, I trust that the past week has been a good time of family bonding due to the school holidays.


Greetings also to those who are tuning in online. If you reside in Singapore, we hope to be able to greet you in person in the weeks to come.


As a church, we are going through the book of Acts. This is volume 2 of what Luke the writer has written. The Gospel of Luke being the first volume.


In Luke-Acts, we are moving from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the man from Nazareth, who is also the Son of God, to the life of the church which is the spiritual body whose head is this same Jesus the Messiah.


Jesus who has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father, has now sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to be witnesses of the God’s grace found in Christ Jesus, to the ends of the earth.


And we have observed over the past few sermons how the pouring out of the Holy Spirit has enabled that to happened at Pentecost.


As I was preparing for this sermon, a friend of mine, shared a link to a Straits Time’s online article.


It was reported on 12 Mar 2023, that Australian megachurch Hillsong is under investigations for financial misconduct by the local authorities. Following allegations that its founder Brian Houston, used church funds for his lavish lifestyle, among other things.


In March 2022, Mr Houston resigned from Hillsong after acting inappropriately towards two women and for covering up sex abuses.


According to the article, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie had in Parliament accused the church of breaking financial laws in Australia and around the world.


Mr Wilkie also claimed that the new head of Hillsong, Mr Phil Dooley, has misled the congregation about his spending. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in honoraiums were also paid to US pastors overseas, he claimed.


The leaked documents also claimed that the church employs celebrity songwriters and designates them as pastors, so they receive a portion of their salary tax-free.


The article ended reporting that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) commissioner Sue Woodward said in a statement to 9News that the ACNC is investigating concerns raised about Hillsong Church charities.


We don’t know yet what would be the outcome of these allegations, but such news hardly surprizes anymore right?


Over the years, we have had media reports of hypocrisy confirmed in prominent Christian leaders. There was deceit found in their interactions with staff and their dealings with financial giving.


Today’s text is from a time of the 1st century and something somewhat similar is recorded. The church of God here on earth is never perfect. Human nature doesn’t change. We are sinful people, always in need of redemption.


The bible doesn’t sugar-coat the lives of the believers in the Jerusalem church. Such truthfulness is needed isn’t it. It enables the bible to be a mirror to our souls. To show us the reality of who we really are.


The first snapshot of the faith community, the first summary was found in Acts 2:42-47.


Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

I submit that today’s text is also a summary, an extended summary of the lives of the church in the first century. A summary that gives some concrete details.


I’ve entitled today’s sermon ‘Believers were of one heart and soul.’


This description is taken from Acts 4:32. And I submit that our whole passage will elaborate for us, the 3 ways that can lead to being of one heart and soul.


What it means for believers to be united. How can we be of a singular focus and determination. What does it take to make us one family in the Lord.


Loving generosity (4:32-37)

Acts 4:32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were about 120 in number. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, God added 3000 (2:41) souls.


After the healing of the lame man at the temple, a further 5000 (4:4) men came to put their faith in Jesus.


So, God was growing the church in Jerusalem by leaps and bounds.


But because Israel was under Roman rule and the religious leaders persecuted the believers, we get the picture that many of them were not financially well-off.


I’m sure they struggled from hand to mouth.


Unity is a big thing in the faith. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that in Christ, we are one body, have one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.


Easy to say we have unity, easy to say there is oneness, but what does it look like in reality? A reality that is beset with economic, cultural and national differences.


Luke describes for Theophilus, that the one heart and soul these believers had were displayed in their life-values - that no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.


It is said and I think there is truth in it, that in the process of conversion (when a yet believer becomes a believer), the final and most significant evidence for the modern person is the surrendering of the wallet.


Because we acknowledge by our lifestyles that money makes the world go round and thus we want our wealth to do our bidding.


Instead, true conversion means that everything that we have, is to be considered as a stewardship from God.


Our wealth belongs to God. And this attitude of stewardship is key to unity in the body.


Imaging our body, it has many parts. We thank God that He has made the body such that what we consume in, oxygen, food and water are distributed.


And it has to be distributed so that every part of the body is nourished so that it can function as it should.


If you look at v32 and v34, it speaks of this loving generosity that was evident in the early church.


It’s interesting then to see that Luke arranges v33 to be the meat.


I submit, it seems why they were able to have such loving generosity was because of v33.


Two things are mentioned. Firstly, with great power the Apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.


To get to the resurrection, you would have to begin with the birth, ministry and death of Jesus. And Jesus did not consider equality with God something to grasp, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and became obedient to the point of death on a cross.


Loving generosity was enabled by the preaching of God’s Word that centred on who Jesus is.


Secondly, we see that great grace was upon them all.


We know that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and so God’s grace was His enablement to live out the Gospel implications of unity in the Lord Jesus.


So, what we observe is a picture of a family who supports each other in their needs.


Now for many of us, in our own family, if we care to admit, it’s based more on equality distribution than on a need basis.


I don’t think it will go down well with Singaporean families if when distributing family resources, a sibling is given a higher portion just because of his need level.

We will always argue for distribution on an equal portion basis.


Or when resources are need from siblings, example care-giving. We all typically want equality in financial participation and effort.


But would we as believers be willing to contribute more if our other siblings are unable to? Do we appreciate their needs?


I submit, it will only be by the grace of God that we can help one another as the need arises. And this transforming grace of God, finds its source in God’s Word.


God’s Word exhorts us and the Holy Spirit then brings it to bear in our lives.


So, Luke proceeds to give a concrete example. There were those who were owners of lands or houses and they sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold so that it can be distributed.


And here Luke introduces Joseph Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus. A Jew from the diaspora.


Barnabas will be a significant church leader in the book of Acts. We will see that he truly lived out how a believer should take care of other’s needs.


After Paul’s conversion, many were still afraid of him. So, in Acts 9, when he came to Jerusalem from Damascus, it was Barnabas who realized the need for Paul to be accepted by the Apostles and so he did the introductions.


When the Gospel converted many Gentiles at Antioch, the church in Jerusalem saw the need to authentic what was happening and they sent Barnabas.


Acts 11:23 records that when Barnabas saw the grace of God in the Antioch believers, he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.


From the life of Barnabas, we see that once God enables loving generosity in us, it will impact our pockets, our relationships and our outlook.


But may I emphasise again, loving generosity in the body of Christ, cannot happen through my persuasion nor the coercion of anyone.


It can only happen through the transformative power of God’s Word.


Finally, I would like us to observe that they brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.


This means that they gave the Apostles the authority to determined how it was to be distributed. They did not claim ownership of it after they gave it to the leaders.


In some churches today, there are those who still attempt to assert great influence over their tithes and offerings.


I submit that Acts 4 helps us to see that God has appointed the church leaders to take on the responsibility of financial stewardship.


Once we give it to the Lord, we give up our ownership of it.


And so, it behoves for us to spend effort to pray for our leaders that they will have godly discernment, to use it for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.


Loving generosity builds unity. If we say we want to be One Hermon@Henderson, loving generosity must become evident in our relationships.


Holy Living (5:1-11)

Is there a perfect church? According to a famous pastor, if you do find one, don’t go there. Because it will become less perfect.


That is the reality. We are all sinners saved by grace.


And we thank God that Luke did not give us a rose-tinted picture of the early church. Instead, we see that sinful behaviour was evident even then.


After introducing Barnabas as a positive model of loving generosity, Luke now gives us a negative comparison in the couple, Ananias and Sapphira.


All the terrible examples of fallen Christians both prominent and not so prominent continue this legacy of Ananias and Sapphira.


We have been told that the church would meet regularly at Solomon’s Portico which is within the Jerusalem Temple area. A covered area which was big enough to hold 100s of people.


It is in this physical setting that we see Ananias come and present the sales proceeds to the Apostles.


Now Luke already tells his first audience the inside story – Ananias and Sapphira had already discussed to withhold part of the sales. But Apostle Peter is unaware.


So, to each question that Apostle Peter raises to Ananias, they can appreciate the penetrating gaze of God upon the heart of Ananias.


Because Peter along with the rest of the Apostles have been filled with the Holy Spirit, we see divine enabling with regards to discernment. Something was not right with Ananias and so Peter probed.


From Peter’s questions, we see that there was no command to sell property and to give it to the needy. Definitely giving the full proceeds was not required.


But since we have the model of Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira wanted the same admiration from the community.


To be seen giving 100% but actually withholding some secretly.


They wanted to deceive the community, that they were as sacrificial as Barnabas. They were looking for man’s praises not God’s approval.


And the couple must have looked forward to the commendation given very publicly at Solomon’s Portico.


That day, the community learnt 4 lessons. The Holy Spirit firstly is omniscient.

Meaning that the Holy Spirit is all knowing. Nothing is hidden from the Holy Spirit.


Secondly, the Holy Spirt is holy. Satan is the father of lies. Pride was the reason why he rebelled against God. So, when Ananias and Sapphira yielded to the temptation of Satan, prideful deception emerged.


Because the Spirit is holy, it cannot overlook such acts of sin.


Thirdly, by linking that the couple have lied to the Holy Spirit (v3) and that they have not lied to man but to God (v4), Scripture teachers us that the Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity.


Finally, we see that the presence of God is with His church. And God identifies so closely with His body.


When we lie to the church, we lie to God. This will be seen again when Jesus meets Saul on the road to Damascus.


May these 4 truths also open our eyes towards having a more appropriate relationship with our Triune God.


For the first readers who would be well versed in Jewish history, there are 2 words which Luke uses that is full of meaning.


The first to Ananias is the word ‘kept back’.


Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?

In the Greek Old Testament, this word is also used in Joshua 7:1. Achan took some of the devoted things.


Jos 7:1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

After the successful battle of Jericho, the Israelites were going to conquer the city of Ai. God commanded that all the plunder was to be devoted to the Lord. But Achan coveted some of the spoils and so he took some of it and hid them under his tent.


So Joshua rounded up Achan and his family and all his possessions and the whole of Israel stoned and burned them at the valley of Achor.


Joshua 7:26 records, then the Lord turned from his burning anger.


Achan’s sin was that of theft, Ananias was that of deception. Different sins but it is interesting to see that both were dealt with decisively by God who is holy and just.


Achan happened during the time at the start of Israel’s move into the Promised Land. Ananias’s incident is recorded for us at the beginnings of the church.


In God’s wisdom, maybe He needed to nip it in the bud for the young nation and infant church.


Church, today, God may not discipline us like Achan and Ananias, but that does not mean He is unable to.


Let us thank God for His abundant mercies. He does not give us what our sins deserve.


The second word is to ‘test the Lord’.


Acts 5:9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

Ex 17:2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

And we know that when Israel ‘tested’ God, in the wilderness, it was because of their rebellion to His ways. That displayed their lack of trust in God.


And Scripture records for us, that testing God led to dire results for Israel.


To be a community that is of one heart and soul, it is to reject everything that is encapsulated in these 2 words – kept back and tested.


Luke gives us the appropriate response we are to have towards our Holy God. He repeats it twice.


Acts 5:5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it…. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

We are to have great fear. We are to have great reverence and respect for our Holy God.


And Proverbs says,


Prov 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

May I submit that the omniscience of God and our reverence of Him is helpfully and practically encapsulated in this statement – God is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal and the silent listener to every conversation.


If we live out this statement in our family here in Hermon, I’m quite confident that we will be moving in the right direction of Holy Living.


Since Holy Living builds unity. If we say we want to be One Hermon@Henderson, Holy Living must become evident in our relationships.


Prayer saturated lifestyle (5:12-16)

Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

We now come to the final verses of today’s text. It’s a summary of what the Apostles did and the reactions of the people.


I submit that significantly, these verses are a fulfilment of the prayers of the believers.


Acts 4:29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.


Signs and wonders are the miracles which the Apostles did in the name of Jesus. By being empowered to heal as Jesus did, they were authenticated as true disciples of Christ Jesus.


But Acts 4 helps us to see that the focus was on speaking God’s word with boldness.


So, if we use Acts 4 to guide us as we look at Acts 5, we can infer that the proclamation of Jesus the crucified Son of God always followed the healings done.


Thus, in the midst of the healing narratives, we see v14, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.


Miracles authenticate the Apostles who proclaimed the Gospel so that men and women would be drawn into God’s Kingdom.


And as the context of chapter 4 has indicated, it began with the believers being saturated in prayer.


A prayer that God was pleased to answer. For it is in His will that many will be drawn to Jesus.


At Pentecost, God brought all the Jews from the diaspora to Jerusalem so that they could hear the Gospel in their own language.


V16, tells us that the empowerment for healing now brought people from the towns around Jerusalem to the Apostles.


Acts 1:8 is being fulfilled.


It is interesting that in the midst of signs and wonders, v13 shows us that there was reservation by some. Miraculous healing attracts, but when it is coupled with divine insights and discipline, it forces a re-think.


This still holds true today. We have a God who is both our Compassionate Healer and our Holy Lord.


As we present the Gospel, let’s not shy away from presenting both sides. And God will draw to Himself all whom He has called.


Acts 5:12-16 describes for us, God answering the fervent prayers of the believers. Authenticating them as truly His children.

I submit that corporate prayer builds unity. So, if we say we want to be One Hermon@Henderson, saturating ourselves together in payer, must become evident in our relationships.


Conclusion

May I end with an encouraging testimony of a Pastor whom I admire through his writings.


Rev John Stott. He was an Anglican Minister who served at All Souls Church, Langham Place in London.


Rev Stott was called home to the Lord in July 2011 at the age of 90. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Rev Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world.


In 1974 he founded Langham Partnership International. And it was a platform for him to encourage the spread of Christianity across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, China, Russia and the Middle East.


Rev Stott was a popular speaker and a prolific writer. For many of us here, his book Basic Christianity was a key resource.


As we think about financial giving for the needy in the faith community. May I highlight the legacy of Rev Stott.


It is said that in an act of joyful obedience, he donated 100% of his book royalties and speaking honoraria to launch and seed the growth of this ministry.


I know of a few lecturers at Trinity Theological College who have benefitted from scholarships that the Langham Partnership have given for their studies.


When Rev Stott retired from public ministry in April 2007 at the age of 86. He took up residence in the College of St Barnabas, in the town of Surrey, a retirement community for Anglican clergy.


Fitting that his last days were at the College of St Barnabas.


Biblical Barnabas, the son of encouragement who was willing to sacrificially give to the needs of his fellow believers.

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