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Acts 5:1-11 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a possession and gave part of the proceeds to the church while implying that they had given the whole price. This teaches lessons about lying, but consider other important lessons about giving and church finances.
Some people claim that the church consists of individuals; so whatever the individual can do, the church can do. They see no distinction between the work of individuals and that of the church.
Acts 5:4 – Peter said to Ananias regarding the possession that he had sold: “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?”
So, the property that belonged to Ananias and the price of the property were under Ananias’ control until he gave the money to the church. After he gave it, it would no longer be under his control but would pass to the control of the church (4:35,37; 5:2). It follows that the church had possessions separate from the property of the individual members.
The church has no power to decide how an individual must spend his money, and likewise no one individual has the right to decide how church funds will be spent. These are separate funds under separate control. (Compare 1 Timothy 5:16.)
Some people claim that the early Christians were expected to sell all their possessions and pool all their resources under the control of church leaders as a form of communism. But the story of Ananias and Sapphira shows that members were not all required to give up all personal possessions. (Compare Acts 2:45; 4:32-5:11.)
People “had all things in common” in the sense that they shared willingly. But the amount each person gave was a matter of voluntary choice. The sharing was not forced on the people by the church, let alone by the government as practiced in Communism.
Further, the funds were then distributed to cases of need (2:45; 4:35), not to balance out possessions so all would have equal wealth. Later passages describe Christians owning houses (chapter 12; 21:8; etc.).
Neither the church nor any church leader has the right to tell others how much to give. Each individual will then give account before God for the amount he chooses to give.
So, while this example does not require communal church life, it does demonstrate the importance of great generosity and sharing, which we today should be willing to imitate.
Matthew 6:1-18 – Jewish leaders sought to do good works in order to receive praise and recognition from other people (Matthew 23:1-12). Ananias and Sapphira had the same problem: they wanted the blessings and glory of serving God without the sacrifices involved.
The also shows that acts of worship and service to God can actually become evil when done for wrong reasons. And such wrong motives also often lead to other forms of sin, such as lying in this case.
Contrary to what some believe, just because we serve the true God does not necessarily mean He will be pleased with our service. We must offer the service He has authorized in the way He has authorized. This takes effort and self-denial. Some want the honor of obedience without the effort. They may put on a false front. But as with Ananias and Sapphira, God is not fooled.
So let us give cheerfully and willingly, not to receive the praises of men, but to accomplish the purposes that God gave the church and to please and honor Him.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2020
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.