CHAPTER 12-THE EARLY CHURCH TESTED IN FELLOWSHIP
In our studies in the book of Acts we have seen the early church tested by persecution. This test was met by prayer. When the apostles were warned not to talk or teach about Jesus Christ, the church prayed for boldness to be better witnesses. And when they had prayed the place where they were assembled was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spake the word boldly. Before opposition they stood firm.
The new problem was that of poverty within the church. And it is wonderful to read how they met this problem: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; But they had all things common" (#Ac 4:32).
This spirit-filled church was also spirit-taught. They recognized the principles of stewardship. Stewardship implies ownership without possession and also possession without ownership. God owns all while men possess all of this material world.
This recognition of the principles of stewardship led the church to meet the problem of poverty within the fellowship. The early church was full of poor people, especially poor widows whose husbands had forsaken them because of their faith in Jesus Christ. What will become of these poor people? This spirit filled church will find an answer to the problem. And so we read that they had all things common. That is, they created a common fund from which to take care of the needy. This was a voluntary matter; there was no coercion; nothing was taken from anybody. It was not the result of legislation but from a spirit of compassion.
The church did not vote for all members to sell what they had and put the proceeds in a common fund. What each member had was given voluntarily, and the Holy Spirit guided so as need arose there was money in the common fund to meet it. It was not done all at once so that nobody owned anything from that point on. It was not done to make all members equal, but for actual need. The principle of private ownership was retained else there could be no stewardship. As the Spirit led the members sold their property and put the proceeds into the hands of the apostles to be administered where there was need. The tenses of the verbs in the account indicate that it was an occasional course of action and not a once for all act.
An example of what was being done is given us. A man named Joseph, better known as Barnabas, a Levite, of the country of Cyprus, having land sold it and brought the money to the apostles to be used for relief of the poor.
Now over against this true exhibition of the spirit of Christian stewardship they have an effort to play a double role. A man named Ananias and his wife wanted the credit for a generosity they were not willing to practice. They too, sold some land and divided the money, secretly laying a part of it aside, while pretending to give it all.
Ananias came alone and handed money to the apostles. Peter discerned his deceit and hypocracy and charged him with lying to the Holy Spirit. Ananias had dealt falsely not with men but with God. Peter goes on to say in effect, that he did not have to do this. You did not have to sell the land and when you sold it you did not have to give it. It was in thy power to use it as you pleased. Your sin is in trying to deceive the Holy Spirit.
When Peter got through Ananias dropped dead and fear filled the hearts of all who heard it. The two young men gave him a speedy burial. Peter pronounced no judgment; his death was a direct act of the Holy Spirit.
Three hours later, Sapphira his wife, not knowing of what had happened to her husband, came in to where the apostles were. Peter inquired about the price they got for the land, mentioning the amount Ananias had given. Sapphira said, Yes, that was what we got for it. Peter himself must have been shocked when he said to her, "How is it that ye agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those which have buried thy husband are at the door and shall carry thee out" (#Ac 5:9). And instantly she dropped dead and the same young men coming in found her dead and buried her by the side of her husband.
Look at the effect of all this!
1. Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard what had happened. One translation reads, "The whole church was appalled, great awe and strange terror and dread seized them and all others who heard of these things."
3. And unbelievers were afraid to join the church.