These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.
Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 47 ~ Nov. 16-22
Acts 1-14, James
As Acts opens, we see the church in its infancy, experiencing the romance of its newness, but beginning to transition into maturity. Jesus reiterated His mission statement for the church -the Great Commission- in Acts 1:8. The church is to be about the business of making (missions/evangelism) and training (discipleship) disciples. Sunday school is one of the places where discipleship (training in God’s word, holy living, and the life of the church) takes place. Last week we trained on one practice of church life: the Lord’s Supper. This week, we will train on another practice of church life: giving and offerings.
As I said, the church was in its infancy, and you know infants– sometimes they get things wrong and sometimes they get things right. Today we’re going to look at one example of how they got giving right and one example of how they got giving wrong.
Taking Care of Our Own
Already bound together by their love for Christ, the ever present threat of persecution (Peter and John had recently been arrested) served only to draw Christians closer together, and to make sure they looked out for one anothers’ needs. There was no government safety net, and even in Jesus’ day (John 9:22), people were being expelled from the synagogue for identifying with Him, so the Jews could not be counted on to help needy Christians either. The church recognized that they were responsible for taking care of their own, and this is still part of the mission of the church today. Can you think of some specific examples of how our church has stepped up and taken care of its own?
Holding Stuff Loosely
Verse 32 says church members held that none “of the thngs that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” We need to understand that this is not talking about socialism or living together in a commune and sharing everything (otherwise, no one would have owned houses or lands as verse 34 mentions). It means that church members loved their fellow Christians so far above material things that it was nothing to them to sell their possessions if it meant helping a brother or sister. They did not have the American mentality of acquiring more and more stuff to hang on to, or measuring their worth or success by their bank accounts.
It’s All God’s Anyway (Psalm 50:10-12; 24:1)
The early church had an understanding and a reverence for God’s sovereign ownership of every molecule of the universe that we would do well to cling to. To these first century Christians, saying that nothing that belonged to them was truly their own was a recognition that everything belonged to God– their houses, their lands, the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and the fulness thereof (Ps.). To them, money was simply a tool they could use to minister to others– a tool owned by God that God Himself was entrusting to them to use for His glory. We are also to hold our money and possessions with the question always in our mind, “How can I use this to glorify God and further His kingdom by ministering to others?”
We Joyfully Give All Because Christ Joyfully Gave All (2 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
Verse 33 almost seems to be stuck into this paragraph at random. After all, the other five verses are about giving, and 33 is about preaching. But it’s a very important verse. Notice what the apostles were preaching: the gospel. The church heard about the Savior who gave everything, His comfort, His security, even His very life- everything -for them. And what was the response? Out of love for Jesus, gratitude for all He had done for them, and a desire to follow in His footsteps, they joyfully gave to others.
These folks are the “cheerful givers” Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. We are not to give under compulsion: not the compulsion of the Old Testament Law, since Jesus fulfilled it and we are no longer bound by the tithe, not the compulsion of guilt that we’re not giving enough or trying hard enough, not the compulsion of fear that God will zap us if we don’t give enough, and not the compulsion of peer pressure, desiring to look good to others. God wants our giving to be motivated by our love, joy, and thankfulness to Him. And when churches preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor.) as the Jerusalem church did, they produce grateful, joyful saints who desire to give everything back to Christ.
Trusting and Submitting to Trustworthy Pastors (Hebrews 13:17)
Twice (35 & 37), this passage says that when the church gave money, they brought it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This tells us two things about the Jerusalem church: 1.) The apostles (their pastors) lived their lives, made decisions, and taught God’s word in a way that earned the church’s trust, which all pastors should strive to do. It helped that there were twelve of them to keep each other accountable. 2.) The church trusted their pastors and submitted to their leadership. They did not feel they had to take control over the pastors or their decisions about distributing the money. They trusted their pastors’ judgment and leadership. Hebrews 13:17 says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
As long as our pastors are trustworthy and not violating Scripture or scriptural principles, we are to submit to their leadership.
Motive Matters (Matthew 6:3-4)
Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira?
a) They didn’t give a big enough offering.
b) They didn’t give all the money from the sale of their land.
c) They lied about how much of the money from the sale of their land they were giving.
The answer, of course, is “c”. This wasn’t about their offering. This was about lying to make themselves look like hotshots to other church members. Remember, we just discussed 2 Corinthians 9:7, which makes clear that God doesn’t want us to give under the compulsion of fear that He will zap us for not giving enough or the compulsion of peer pressure– trying to look good to others. This was God’s judgment on their prideful desire to be esteemed by others as big givers instead of being humble and not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing (Matt.).
As Peter pointed out (4), they didn’t have to sell the land at all, and when they did sell it, it was up to them to determine how much of the money they would give to the church (back to 2 Cor. 9:7- “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart”). All they had to do was be honest about it. First Samuel 15:22 says:
And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
When it comes to giving, God cares far more about the attitude of our heart than the amount of our check.
Users are Losers
Not only were Ananias’ and Sapphira’s motives for giving wrong, but they used a ministry of the church (the offering) and the people of the church to get what they wanted: admiration and accolades. We don’t use the church to get an ego boost or build our reputation in society. God’s church, His ministries, and His people are not entities at our disposal for us to use to gratify our selfish desires. They are holy and precious to Him, and we are to treat them as such.
Giving is an act of worship, submission to God’s sovereign ownership of everything, and a ministry to others. It is an important way that all church members can take part in the life of the church. God wants our hearts to be so completely His that it is a joy to give back to Him as much as we possibly can.