Today as we continue in our series “The Ten Suggestions???” we are going to dig into the eighth commandment. And we’re going to read a passage in Acts chapters four and five that puts an interesting twist on this topic. So if you can open your Bibles to Acts chapter four we are going to read beginning at verse 32.
Now as you are finding your place, I’ve got to ask you a question. Have you ever been stolen from? You know maybe something you really treasured or cherished… it wasn’t of great value, but it meant a lot to you... Or maybe it was something of great value? Do you know what that feels like? You know where you go outside to your car… you come home… or you get that call from the bank… and you feel violated. You’ve been ripped off and it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you think you are… you’ve got some stuff… you’ve got things you treasure and cherish. We all do!
And today, theft is so common, that we don’t even realize how insecure we really are. But it is a reality we all face. You know, your neighbor tells you their house was broken into while they were away at work. You hear on the news that the store on the corner was robbed. So we’ve got locks on our doors. Maybe a dog or gun? An alarm system on your car? A security code on your phone, your laptop, your iPad? And all of that is for what… to protect you from being ripped off… from someone stealing from you.
But this was not the way the world is supposed to be. When God made the world, it was very good and without sin. All of this stealing and the measures that we have to go through to protect our stuff is the result of sin, the fall, and the curse. And you know what really blows my mind is that some people will still say, “People are basically good in their heart.” That is ridiculous! Just leave your door unlocked and see what happens.
We’re sinners, we’re covetous, we’re idolaters, and we’re selfish!!!
So I have got to wonder… what have you stolen? You know, we tend to have this self-righteousness… this sense of justice when we’ve been stolen from, but when we’ve stolen from others… well then we minimize it, trivialize it, and overlook it. You know we have this Robin Hood mindset that they have so much they won’t notice or even need it. But here’s the big idea of the eighth commandment: If you take what’s somebody else’s and keep it and make it yours, you’re stealing.
So let’s read a passage that puts an interesting twist on this topic in Acts chapter four and five. Beginning at verse 32 of chapter four:
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
5:1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. NIV
Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received.” The number one characteristic of Satan, the devil, our archenemy is that he is a deceiver… that “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He will deceive you by speaking into your heart, his thoughts and ideas, leading you to believe that they’re yours. It happened to King David in 1 Chronicles 21:1 when “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” And it happened to Judas Iscariot when the devil “prompted” him to betray Jesus (John 13:2).
David, Judas, and Ananias acted on Satan's idea. None of them would have purposefully obeyed Satan; but what if Satan silently and subtly slipped the idea into their minds? What if the thought came to David "I need to know how large my army is"? What if Judas thought he could provoke Jesus to deliver Israel from the Romans? And in the same way, what if Ananias and Sapphira thought it was their idea, to build a little security net, to keep back some of the money while getting the credit, glory, and praise from others in the church who believed they’d given everything? What if they knew that it was Satan's idea? What if they knew that God knew… they probably wouldn't have done it right?
So today we are studying the eighth commandment in Exodus 20:15. And the eighth commandment is very simple: “You shall not”—what? “Steal.” So we want to see what God has to say about stealing; we want to know the truth, because if Satan can get you to believe a lie, he can control your life. If Satan can place a thought in your heart… and he can… he can deceive you as well. That's why Jesus says, it’s the truth that sets you free (John 8:32). That’s why it is so important that we reconsider the Ten Commandments; because they’re so much more than suggestions.
So we want to discover just what is stealing and not only that, what was the deal with Ananias and Sapphira? This morning I want to show you how they are related; so first let’s look at the commandment: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). It’s very simple, there are no footnotes, no qualifications, and no exceptions. You just don’t steal. Yet we do don’t we? And we do a lot.
We just read in verse 32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). And it almost sounds as if it is promoting communism, but the Bible doesn’t teach that. It teaches us to be managers, because ultimately everything belongs to God, he gives us everything, and whatever he’s given you is yours, whatever he’s given them is theirs, and you can’t take it. So the Bible teaches us the right of ownership.
But what happens, is Jesus comes along, and says to love your neighbor. On a personal level, Commandments five through ten are really about loving your neighbor and therefore one of the ways you can show love to your neighbor is by not ripping them off. You may like it, but if it belongs to them, you’re violating your neighbor’s rights and hurting them.
So God wants to bless you and do what’s best for you, but also what is good for your neighbor. So let’s take it up a notch, and look at Malachi 3:8, where the Lord says, "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings.” And so the Lord carries on this dialogue knowing we’re just like kids and we’re going to ask ‘What do you mean?’ Right?
So, what does the word “rob” mean in Hebrew? It means to rob or plunder. To rip off someone in our language today. This Hebrew word is used in one other place in the Proverbs where it says, “For the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” (Proverbs 22:23). So it means to be ripped off.
So God says, you want to know how you’re robbing me, "In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8)
You see, if you believe in God, if you love God, and if you trust God, as a manager of what he’s entrusted you, you give back to God, both tithes and offerings. The Bible models giving a tithe, which is ten percent off the top, and that our giving should be “cheerful,” “regular,” “sacrificial” (2 Corinthians 8 and 9). With special offerings and gifts, to help missionaries, other people, the poor, whatever the case may be. It’s tithes and offerings.
What God is saying here is, “You robbed me.” So if God puts money in your hands for you to manage and share, and you keep it, you’re stealing. We’re to give because God loves us and we love God. And just as God gives to us, he wants us to love in return by giving. And so this is really biblical thinking that everything belongs to the Lord, everything comes from the Lord, everything will return to the Lord, and that whatever we have, he has entrusted to us to manage in love.
You see the result of faith… of trusting in Jesus… is that the heart is released from its attachment to things and newly committed in its relationship to people. We see this in verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind". Notice it says “All the believers”. Meaning all those believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, all those trusting him, and all those being satisfied with all that He is for us. This faith is the driving force behind the series of events that are taking place in this story. Everything good comes from that. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
So believing in Jesus caused them to be one in heart and mind… believing in Jesus causes the heart to be committed in its relationship with people, but then this passage takes it up another level and says, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). So trusting in Jesus does two things: first, the heart is committed in its relationship to people, and second, the heart is released from its attachment to things.
Jesus came proclaiming freedom (Luke 4:18). Freedom from the attachment to things and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21). We were called to be free to love others. And so what we see here is a picture of a community of faith whose hearts have been transformed by the love of Jesus. Acts 4:34-35 tells us, “From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” And so the believers found themselves free to care about others, freely selling land and houses and giving the money to the church to meet the needs of other brothers and sisters in Christ. United in love, those things that were once of great value, once a form of bondage, now only have value as a means of loving others.
That's what this story is all about. That’s exactly what they were doing here in Acts chapter 4. They weren’t trying to earn God's favor, they weren’t looking for the approval of others, they believed... Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor" (Luke 12:32–33). You see, faith in the promises of God brings freedom… not freedom to indulge the sinful nature; but rather freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).
So what Luke is describing for us here in Acts is the freedom of true faith in Jesus. It’s the freedom from things and this new Christ-like love for people. Christianity is a matter of freedom and love. Becoming a Christian means being changed from the inside out so that you fall in love with people and fall out of love with things.
And so what we find here is two living examples: Barnabas, a man who has experienced the grace of God and the freedom of faith in Christ; and Ananias and Sapphira, a couple who try to fake it when it is not really there. One who was a giver and another who was a taker.
Barnabas is mentioned in Acts 4:36-37, "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)…” Isn’t that awesome. The apostles renamed him “Son of Encouragement” He is one of the most mature, reliable, and loveable leaders of the early church. He’s supportive, trustworthy, evangelistic, helpful, and right here in verse 37 we see how Barnabas' ministry began. He “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.” It began with him giving away some of his stuff and demonstrating a heart of love for the poor. He stands as an example to others, to cut the attachment to things, committing himself to loving others as Christ has.
Now on the other hand, in Acts 5:1-2, “A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.” Ananias brought part of the money to the apostles and said that he brought all of it. He lied. So Peter asks him this in verse 4: "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4). In other words, nobody forced you to bring any of your money in here. If your heart doesn't tell you bring it, don't bring it, but don’t lie.
The other people had an authentic change of heart and they’re doing what they want to do and not what they feel pressured or obligated to do. They've been changed from the inside out by trusting in Jesus. They're free. But Ananias and Sapphira are the exact opposite. They haven’t really been changed on the inside, they’re not satisfied with all that God is for them in Christ, but they still want a place, some benefits, and some recognition as part of the Church. The reason they drop dead is to give a warning to the whole church that phony Christians will all end up that way, sooner or later. And verse five says, “Great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5).
No kidding right? This was the real deal. The Bible says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:28). So we should fear hypocrisy. We should be afraid of lying to the Holy Spirit. Faking faith in the presence of God like Ananias and Sapphira is a fearful thing. God will not be mocked. Yet the Holy Spirit is a great comfort here, the comfort of the Holy Spirit brings peace and growth to the church as we by his indwelling power become real and authentic, loving one another as Christ has loved us.
But maybe this morning you realize that you’re a thief, your faith is not authentic, you’ve stolen someone’s identity, and you’re lying to the Holy Spirit. You need to understand that you’re in great debt. You’ve accumulated a spiritual debt to God and that sin in the Bible is stealing. All sin is a violation of the eighth commandment.
You see God made us to love. When we sin and don’t love, we’re stealing. When we don’t serve, we’re stealing. We’re stealing the life, the freedom and the time that God gave us. We’re stealing the breath, the hours, the dollars, the words, and the opportunities. Every time that we keep back some of ourselves from God, we keep back from him a return on his investment, we steal and we sin against God. We are accumulating a debt that is payable on death, as the Bible says, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Here’s how Jesus says it, the most famous prayer in the history of the world in Matthew 6: “Our Father” it begins and then he says… ”Forgive us our debts…” (Matthew 6:12). Debts because all sin is debt. It’s stealing from God.
Here’s how the Bible explains it, regarding our spiritual debt. Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (ESV). This is the gospel. Amen?
God created you in his image, you were created to worship him, you belong to him, you were redeemed by him. Your life is to be lived according to the principles he has given us in his word. You’re life is to be lived as a steward. And every sin is a breaking of the commandments and the covenant that God made with you. So you’re accumulating a debt to God and you owe Him.
But here’s the good news, God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He became a man and his name is Jesus Christ. The very One to whom we owe an insurmountable debt came to pay our debt. Jesus lived without sin, accumulated no debt, went to the cross and died in our place to pay our debt. Jesus suffered so that we don’t have to. Jesus took our place and died so that we don’t have to. And that’s the good news. When Jesus died, our debt was paid.
Jesus picked up your tab, he paid your bill, and removed all your debt. On the cross there is such a beautiful picture of what Christ accomplished for us. He was crucified between two what? Two criminals, two people who violated the eighth commandment. One didn’t believe, didn’t turn to Jesus, didn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness, didn’t become a Christian, and died, and went to hell to pay his debt forever. The other turned to Jesus and said, “We’re punished justly, we’re getting what our deeds deserve. But you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re God, I’m a sinner. Please forgive me.” And Jesus said to him, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
Not only does Jesus pay our debt, but he gives us the promise of heaven. That man, that one criminal, closed his eyes to this world and opened them to the eternal blessings of paradise in the presence of God. Isn’t it amazing that like him we could steal from God our whole lives, and that He would pay off our debt, adopt us as his children and welcome us into our eternal inheritance? That’s the grace of God. Amen? That’s the good news of Jesus Christ.
So then Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them…” “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). You know how Jesus could forgive those who accused him, those who put him to death, and who crucified him? Because he was dying so they could live and so they could be forgiven. When Jesus died, and then rose again on the third day, Jesus paid our debt. He conquered sin and death.
The question today is not, are you a thief? The question is are you a thief who will turn to Jesus? Are you a thief who will ask Jesus to pay your debt on the cross?
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
December 14, 2014