Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Greed for Glory

Ananias and Sapphira​ But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Act 5:1-11)
Ananias and Sapphira, the first power politicians in the early church. There problem is, they want the prestige. Added to this, they want their cake and to eat it too. Barnabus came on the scene in chapter 4 having sold a field and given the money to the church. I somehow doubt Barnabus had liquidated all his assets. People that own a field, tend to have more than one. It’s just the way it is, and it was this way back then too. But Barnabus becomes one who begins to play a big role in the church. Him selling a field in chapter four is far from the end of appearances in Acts. Later it will be him who goes and finds Paul and kickstarts Paul’s career. Barnabus seems to be one of those guys naturally gifted with leadership abilities, and a love for the church. He sells his field because he sees a need that needs to be met. And he gives the money to the church and the church knows who does it. It’s no secret.
“Don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing.” Oh we can be a silly lot of people. Somewhere along the way growing up, in fact I remember the Sunday school class it happened in, I was taught that you should never let others know what you are doing for the church. The teacher did a little tirade against people writing checks to charity, because that let people know who was doing the giving. It’s taken me a long time, and a good hard read of “Through the Eye of a Needle” by Peter Brown to undo a lot of that lesson. It’s actually one of those things that makes me look a little cockeyed at James these days. Seems odd. I mean the apparent contradiction between James and Paul on justification is one thing, but their treatment of the rich is where the real clash is. Paul spends time in almost every letter thanking rich benefactors who make his ministry possible. James insults them as oppressors. I mean a guy reading James could get the impression that being rich is sinful in and of itself. But greed is the real sin and that is something that is not particular to the rich. There are plenty of poor people consumed with greed. In any case a person sees in Paul and here in Acts that there is nothing wrong with recognizing those who give from their heart to the work of the Lord, holding them up as examples and encouraging more. And the church is much better off thanking people who do these things than they are shunning them, or acting as if they don’t deserve thanks for what they do. Yes giving in secret God rewards in secret, but the faith that motivates a man like Barnabus is not visible, and God rewards it.

On the other hand, there are people who come about from time to time in a congregation that desire nothing more than to lord it over others, to manipulate, and seek their own glory, drama seems to follow them at every turn. It isn’t faith that motivates them to give but the desire for control and power. I’m left shaking my head when I see this sort of thing. All it does is cause dissension, and in this day and age, people will just go somewhere else and rightly so.   This is what Ananias and Sapphira are up to. They want the prestige and recognition. It isn’t faith that motivates them but vain glory. It would seem they have no faith. If they did they would know that you cannot lie to God. But they try to lie to the church. They sell a field and give some of the proceeds to the church, holding some back secretly. There is no reason to do it secretly unless you want people to think you have made a big sacrifice on their behalf. As Peter says, it was your field, it was your money, you could do with it what you wanted, but why lie to God? Their sin exposed they die instantly. Today this doesn’t always happen with the same intensity. But one wonders if the people who do this sort of thing are living to begin with, their faith it seems has long since died. And when faith is dead, so are the works, and no amount of giving or doing on their behalf can bring the faith back to life. Only God can do that, but those who sin against the Holy Spirit remain unforgiven. 

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