Great Love and Fear

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he 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 some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.

“Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 4:36-5:11).

In the Old Covenant, God required His people to give Him a tithe, that is, 10% of all their possessions: “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). In addition, other offerings were stipulated that amounted to about 30% overall.

In the New Covenant, the principle and practice of giving in the church rose to 100%. No specific amount was ever commanded. In fact, the only real teaching on giving that’s found in the New Testament is to give cheerfully: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7); but the people demonstrated their love for God willingly by giving sacrificially.

Truth is, we actually do give as much as we love. Yes, there are people for whom 10% is too much to give; but there are others for whom it’s nowhere near enough. Giving to the Lord is a direct reflection of our love for God. The merely religious who fill many churches, love to put on a Christian face Sunday mornings. They dress, talk, and act the part in many ways, but their hearts are in “the gall of bitterness” (Acts 8:23).

One of the clearest ways we demonstrate our love for Christ is how we give, not just how much, but how. Jesus praised the widow who gave her last two coins, which were worth about 1/5 a cent total (Mk. 12:42). Jesus praised, not the amount, but the heart with which she gave: “She, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:44). Though He did not say so directly, we can infer that Jesus praised her love for God that motivated her gift.

Luke illustrated New Testament giving with two examples – one good and one bad. A Levite named Joseph, whom most of us today know as Barnabas, sold some land and gave the money to the apostles. The irony, which must’ve been obvious at the time, has been largely lost in the ages. Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus, a member of the priestly cast. When Joshua divided the land among the tribes, the Levites received no inheritance of real estate. They were to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and to the sacrifices. The Levites lived on the offerings the people brought to God. Now, however, this Levite sold his property and brought the proceeds to the apostles who used it to provide for the needs of the church. No great fanfare was made over his gift, since everyone was doing it. He was just one example of countless saints who gave to the Lord because they loved their God.

The other example involved a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold a piece of land, but brought only half the proceeds to the apostles. The problem wasn’t that they’d kept some of the money – Peter said it was theirs, even after it was sold – but that they’d misrepresented the amount. They lied to God. As a result of their misdeed, they both died. Again, no fanfare. They were simply buried.

Luke wrote that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” It must’ve been a terrible shock to the curious and suspicious attenders who were present that God not only knew what they’d done, but He cared enough to deal with them so resolutely.

We cannot offer a lie as an act of worship to the infinitely holy God and expect to get away with it. He disciplines His children whom He loves and He condemns the unregenerate who oppose Him.

Where there is no love for God, there is no worship of Him, only the rattling of dead men’s bones. Perhaps the reason there is no great fear of God in many churches today is because there is no great love for Him either.

May God cause His love to rise in our hearts that we might honor Him in worship as He deserves.

By grace,

Chris

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