With God, giving is all or nothing — and if you give it all, but don’t have love, then you have nothing!
+Scripture Reading: Acts 5:1-11
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds for himself, but brought a portion and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and withhold some of the proceeds from the land? Did it not belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How could you conceive such a deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God!”
On hearing these words, Ananias fell down and died. And great fear came over all who heard what had happened. Then the young men stepped forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife also came in, unaware of what had happened. “Tell me,” said Peter, “is this the price you and your husband got for the land?”
“Yes,” she answered, “that is the price.”
“How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Peter replied. “Look, the feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that instant 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. And great fear came over the whole church and all who heard about these events.
I want to talk to you today about the spirit of giving, and I want to tell you how it’s really “All or Nothing.”
On the heels of Christmas morning, I’m sure no one wants to think anymore about giving! And what thankless giving! I mean, with all due respect to Santa, ever notice how Christmas is exactly like your day job? You do all the work and some fat guy in a suit gets all the credit.
But seriously folks. There is no better time to talk about giving, because on Christmas we have this tradition of giving, and our kids hold us to it. But the rest of the year, actually, the church has a tradition of giving too, but the only one who can hold us to it is ourselves.
Now, the story of Ananias and Sapphira might seem very frightening! They didn’t want to give up all they had to the church – so they kept a little back for themselves. What’s the harm in that? Most of us probably keep far more for ourselves and our families than we give to the church – is God striking anyone down for that?
But the problem with this couple is, they lied. Peter said, “you had every reason to do what you wanted with the property while you still had it, and every reason to do what you wanted with the money while it was in your hands — but you lied to me and to God about giving it all.”
Ananias and Sapphira pretended to give it all away to the church in order to look good, and gain God’s blessing, and probably some status for themselves on the side.
Has your giving ever been like this? Honestly, we’re not human if we don’t wish to derive some benefit from giving, right? Even if we just want to feel good by making others feel good. Is that so bad? Should the story of Ananias and Sapphira terrify us if we don’t give everything we have to the church, or to charity?
Is God going to strike us down if we don’t go all or nothing?
While the church certainly stood to benefit from their donation, whatever Ananias & Sapphira thought they were going to gain for themselves, God denied them. God struck them dead and that was that.
Now, why such a harsh punishment? What was expected of Ananias and Sapphira that they failed to do? And is the same expected of us?
The answer can be found by diving deep into the Good Book.
Let’s ask ourselves first, why did this couple bring money to Peter in the first place? Was this donation the same kind of offering that is expected of us on an average Sunday morning offertory? What was going on in the church at this time?
In Acts 4, Luke records: “All the believers were one in heart and soul. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they owned…There were no one needy among them, because those who owned lands or houses would sell their property, bring the proceeds from the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet for distribution to anyone as he had need.”
Now, I remember hearing over and over in college that this passage meant that Jesus was the first ever card-carrying communist, and that not a single church has gotten it right since Acts 4, because look – do any of our churches operate like a that? Have they ever since then?
But they say that’s what Jesus wanted his church to be and that’s what he expects of us, in church and out! I heard this so many times and in so many places that I believed it for years.
But that’s not what was going on, and some of you will be relieved to hear that and others might be very disappointed!
Now, there’s a very good reason for this, that has to do with Biblical prophecy. There’s a long version and a short version, and some time the long version will be a whole sermon series, but for the sake of time we’ll stick to the short version!
So the first question we need to ask, is why was everyone selling their property in the book of Acts? Surely Jesus didn’t tell anybody to do that, did he?
Of course he did! In Matthew 19, a rich young man asks Jesus what he must to do gain eternal life. Jesus says: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
So we have our first answer. People were selling their property because Jesus told them to! So…does that mean if any of y’all are living in homes you own and driving in cars your own, you’re not obeying Jesus? What’s the answer – sell it all? Maybe just rent? This isn’t small stuff, you don’t want to end up like Ananias and Sapphira right?
The answers lie ahead as we answer our second question.
So the second question is, with everyone selling all that they owned, why were they sharing the proceeds in Acts 4? The long answer is spread out throughout the whole Bible in prophecy, but the short answer is in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus gives his students an important prophetic warning: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that her desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country stay out of the city. For these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”
Jesus said this was to fulfill all that was written by Daniel – namely, that the temple and the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened.
Now think about this. If there were 500 years’ worth of prophecies saying Martha’s Vineyard would be destroyed in 500 years, and all of a sudden a holy man who could raise the dead showed up and said, “This generation shall not pass away till all these things have happened,” you might rethink your property investments, correct? It might be time to sell, and start looking for another place to live. It was the same with those who lived in Judea and believed in Jesus.
History records that the Christians did heed this warning. When the future Caesar, General Titus, came with his troops and surrounded Jerusalem, they got out of dodge in time to escape the carnage, just like Jesus told them to.
It was a second exodus – now doesn’t that make sense now why Luke records Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration talking about Jesus’ “Exodus, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem”?
Search the New Testament. You’re not going to see any other Christians selling their property except for those in Judea. In fact, Paul exclaims that the Corinthians were getting rich! He repeatedly writes to the churches everywhere else to remember the “collection for the saints” which were to be delivered to the poor persecuted church in Jerusalem, doing everything they could to spread the good word until the appointed time came for them to flee the city.
Just like the remnant of Moses’ generation sold off their properties and cashed out all their wealth for the exodus from Egypt, so did Jesus’ generation prepare for their exodus from spiritual Egypt, which is what the Apostle John called Jerusalem, as the time came for its appointed destruction.
This brings us back to Ananias and Sapphira.
It was in this time, foretold by Moses, Jesus, and all the prophets – “the days of vengeance” and the days of “wrath” – that this couple decided to sell their property in Judea. And when they went to Peter to give him the money, but withheld some, so God did not withhold his wrath for their dishonesty.
This is exactly what Peter meant when he said, “Judgment begins in the house of God.”
What God was preparing to pour out on unrepentant Jerusalem – so unrepentant and spiritually adulterous that Apostle John also called her spiritual Sodom – He did not hesitate to pour out on Ananias and Sapphira as an example that his wrath was already standing in the doorway, to avenge the blood of the righteous martyrs all the way back to Abel.
What did Peter also say to Simon Magus the Samarian, who wanted to buy the Holy Spirit? “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in our ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of your wickedness.”
What Simon did was the same as what Ananias & Sapphira did – they were trying to buy their way into God’s salvation, which is an act of wickedness — and God was beginning to pour out his wrath on the wicked, because the appointed time had come.
So I want this story to help you understand something: what happened to Ananias and Sapphira is not going to happen to any of you. Scripture is clear and full of assurance about that. Nor should you believe any church that tells you that you are meant to surrender your belongings to them – that’s a cult. That’s not right either. No one, church or no church, has the right to expect that of you, or to threaten the fate of Ananias & Sapphira over your head.
We are not inhabitants of 1st century Jerusalem, who were preparing for an exodus to escape the destruction of the city and of the temple. Scripture is clear: we no longer live under the Law, but under grace. Were we living under the Old Covenant Law, we would need that Temple standing to perform those sacrifices for us otherwise we would be subject to the wrath of the law, because “the law brings wrath” as the Paul the Apostle says.
But we proclaim and believe in the Cross, the New Covenant of Jesus. Paul said to the Thessalonians, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If this was true for all of those first century believers who were watching “God’s wrath being revealed from heaven” against the breakers of the Law, even as the Law was passing away — and the Temple with it — how much more so is it true for us for whom the Law and the Temple are things of the ancient past.
I’m going to be straight with you – the New Covenant makes it very, very difficult for me to scold you, or to scare you into doing the right thing. God made his message clear with Jesus: Jesus died for your sins, so that they may be washed away and remembered no more. Even Paul struggled to convey the importance of a holy life, because he admitted, “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”
You have freedom in Christ.
No one is forcing you to be a joyful giver. No one should.
But I’ll tell you this: precisely because there is no compulsion, how much more gracious, and pleasing to God, is your giving when you give joyfully. This is what it means that grace abounds. When you do good that you’re not forced to do, it’s so much more good.
Isn’t it strange and fitting, with all this talk of giving and prophecy, that Jesus’ most profound prophecy, the Olivet Discourse, was spurred by a story about giving — a visit to the Temple, where he noticed a poor old widow giving a small, meager gift to the temple:
“Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
It is only after this that Jesus pronounces judgment on the temple and says, not one stone will be left standing. What did God say: “Your sacrifices mean nothing to me [Isaiah]…I don’t want sacrifices, I want charity and mercy.”
Charity and mercy – those are matters of the heart and soul of a person. The “all” of a person. With God, giving is all or nothing. In pronouncing judgment on the Temple, God says “If you’re not going to give me your all, don’t bother.” That is the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira – all or nothing.
This little Church here is like anything else on earth – it needs food and water to survive. But if any of you feel obligated to give to this church – consider this whole message your permission to not feel obligated. And not just the church, but to the stranger on the street in need, the hungry child. God probably isn’t going to strike you down if you don’t give.
But consider whom God did strike down so that you could live under such grace: Jesus. Consider what his condemnation means for you – salvation. Consider the all that he gave, so that you could get away with giving nothing, and yet gain everything. And consider then, if you have gained so much by giving nothing, how much you can gain by giving.
By forgiving us in Christ, God has stripped away any justification for another to make any demands on you – you’re indebted to no one – on earth. Has someone sinned against you? Christ has forgiven him — he owes Christ, not you…
…You owe Christ, and no one else.
So: what should your attitude be, in giving? All or nothing. Say it with me now. And here’s what the Bible says about it:
“Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
This is what Ananias and Sapphira missed, but the widow in the Temple didn’t. The married couple lived for themselves, but the widow lived for the Lord. And that is the difference – she was motivated by humble love of God.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Love is always the key to Gospel truth. When it comes to all or nothing, if you don’t have love, then you have nothing. Love is the difference between bare minimum and above and beyond. Love is how God judges whether you’re giving all — or nothing. And you will get what you give – give love, and you get it all, but if you have not love, you gain nothing.
This is how we’ll part ways with this year’s Christmas season — let’s take that spirit of giving into the rest of the year, but let’s go for it “all or nothing” — just like Jesus showed us how. And instead of once a year, trying to figure out how to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” — How about, from now on, all year round, we put the “Christ” back in “Christian”.