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Fellowship Tests the Genuineness
Of Our Conversion (e)

Acts 4:32-5:16

Jim Davis

Acts 4:32-37
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. (NIV)

Acts 5:1-5
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 part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (NIV)

These passages are actually one unit of scripture given to describe the realities of Christian fellowship. It is here that we begin to understand the cause and effect of the gospel message. The power of the gospel message was saving thousands, enabling them to speak with boldness and assurance. God's wisdom and power is directed through Christ to save humanity. The effect of their salvation is seen as forgiveness, reconciliation and healing, bring them into fellowship with fellow believers. It was in this fellowship that the genuineness of their conversions were tested to maximum proportions. The first picture of fellowship is very positive. The second picture of fellowship is equally negative.

Solomon wrote, "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man." (Proverbs 27:19) Just as our heart reflects the real person, so the quality of Christian fellowship reflects the quality of the church. Some fellowships are superficial while others are artificial. Some fellowships are based upon quantity, while others are based on quality. It is here in these verses that we catch a glimpse of real fellowship. We see the fellowship of the saints at its best and at its worst. We see an attempt to replace quality fellowship with the superficial and artificial.

Our Focus Is the True Test of Fellowship

The real test of Christian fellowship is when people give of themselves. This requires getting past the superficial. The natural tendency of the human heart is to seek its own interest. The natural human heart wants to elevate its own importance and interests. Not yours. Not even God's. Our natural heart desires to reflect our importance.

This philosophy permeates our society. All the self-help books say: "Just be true to yourself." Modern day authors tell us how to build a better self-image. Talk show hosts tell us: "You need to decide for yourself what's right or wrong." Many believe that the Bible teaches us to: "Just follow your heart." As our hearts examine this philosophy it even sounds good, doesn't it? The Bible has a lot to say about the human heart. However, the Bible paints a much less noble picture of the heart than most people are willing to believe. The Bible tells me that the tunnel vision of my heart wants to make me the center of the universe. The Bible teaches that our hearts are naturally self-centered. And Satan is encouraging me every step of the way.

The Bible doesn't encourage us to follow our own hearts. We need to sit up and take notice when we see a fellowship that is focused on the needs of others rather than on its own needs. Such a fellowship is one without tunnel vision. We see such a fellowship in the first few chapters of Acts. Quality fellowship has an outward focus.

Acts 2:44-45
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as needed. (NIV)

Acts 4:32-37
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. (NIV)

"No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." This adage is so true. "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet."

They laid the money at the apostle's feet. It wasn't to enrich the apostles. It was to alleviate the needs of the needy brethren. These actions demonstrated the depth of their fellowship . . . the depth of their mutual encouragement and support. It is here that we see how God enabled them to be a blessing to one another.

It has been suggested that the depth of our commitment to Christ be tested by our loyalty to those in the body of Christ. In the December 31, 1989, Chicago Tribune, the editors printed their photos of the decade. One of them, by Michael Fryer, captured a grim fireman and paramedic carrying a fire victim away from the scene. The blaze, which happened in Chicago in December 1984, at first, seemed routine. But then firefighters discovered the bodies of a mother and five children huddled in the kitchen of an apartment. Fryer said the firefighters surmised, "She could have escaped with two or three of the children but couldn't decide whom to pick. She chose to wait with all of them for the firefighters to arrive. All of them died of smoke inhalation." What an example of loyalty.

It was this type of concern among the first believers that gave their message such credibility. They were laying their lives on the line for one another. The true test of fellowship is when we demonstrate our care for those for whom Christ died.

In Luke's brief description of fellowship, we discover the essence of the church. They were of one heart, one soul, one blessing and all rooted in one great conviction. It is here that we see a heartfelt emotion guided by reason and determination. It is here that we see the power of the resurrected Christ enabling them to have all things in common. It wasn't just sharing their material blessings. It was the sharing of their heart, mind and soul that makes it so real. It went far beyond sharing the same theology.

We can only enter into a valid fellowship when we know what is going on inside one another. It only happens when are free to be open about what we are thinking or feeling. Fellowship happens when we can be honest about our own struggles in maturing as Christians. When others hear us honestly share our own doubts, difficulties and misgivings they are encouraged by our growth in spite of the hindrances. How we feel about ourselves, other people and life in general affects everything we do and are.

We can only have "all things common" in a tangible way when we really know what's happening in each other's lives. People are helped through times of unemployment, economic crunch and physical needs. They are helped through difficult relationships and emotional difficulties. Such a focus encourages fellowship.

"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet."

Luke describes Barnabas' heartfelt response to the needs of fellow believers in only two verses. Yet, these two verses sum up the man, so much so, that the apostles renamed Joseph, Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement."

You could define the human aspect of the first Christian fellowship in one word . . . "Hospitality." Barnabas gives us an example. "Hospitality...has always been a virtue and a duty of God's people." Hospitality makes the church a home. Hospitality is an evangelistic tool, leaving a lasting impression on visitors and breaking down misunderstandings or resistance. Hospitality meets benevolent needs. Hospitality serves to strengthen new converts. Hospitality creates fellowship. ("Given to Hospitality" by Dana Slingluff. Pulpit Helps, Jan 1989. Page 18.)

In the Kofa Mountains of Arizona, jutting majestically from the red granite sides of a 2500- foot canyon, are the only native palms in the entire state. For years it has been a mystery how those tropical plants can flourish and remain so strong and luxuriant on the dark, almost perpendicular sides of this narrow gorge. The fact that the sun reaches them only 2 hours a day makes their hearty growth even more of a puzzle. Botanists finally concluded that the stone walls must reflect enough light and store enough warmth throughout the day to enable these trees to thrive in the cold shadows of the canyon!

This is the design of Christian fellowship in a dark world. We are to soak up the warmth of God's presence and reflect it to the world through our fellowship as Christian.

Our Focus Defines Us
Sadly, every fellowship has had its Ananiases and Sapphiras who contradict the very nature of Christianity.

Acts 5:1-5
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 part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (NIV)
At the beginning of each new period in salvation history we see the Lord judging sin seriously. When the tabernacle was first erected, God killed Nadab and Abihu for offering false fire before God. (Leviticus 10) Achan was punished severely for taking of the first spoils of Jericho for himself. (Joshua 7) Here in the outset of Acts, God judges Ananias and Sapphira. These judgments serve as a warning to us.
Matthew 6:1-4
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)
We must remember that Satan can twist religion ever so slightly, so that we end up worshipping ourselves. We will seek the glory that belongs to God. When we do, our worship is energized by Satan. He is the master of disguise. Satan energizes us as we are motivated by pride. When Satan energizes us, he succeeds in destroying the true fellowship of God's people. Satan seeks to break down the kind of fellowship initially reflected in the books of Acts. He wastes no time in doing it.

There are hummingbirds that are hatched and nurtured in the crater of an extinct volcano. They never fly up and get a view of the vast surrounding countryside, even when fully grown, but always stay in their own barren little world. Many who call themselves Christians live like that. Although never engaging in shameful acts, they exclude God from their thinking and fail to realize that their souls are immortal and have the capacity for fellowship with Him. Motivated solely by their fleshly desires, they seem to be satisfied to exist within the limited confines of their own sinful pleasures. They have restricted their vision to a hummingbird horizon. Ananias and Sapphira were such individuals.

If a congregation today received such a gift from such persons, no treasure would take issue. Yet, the motive with which the gift was given, made it artificial and superficial. They could have only given part of the price of the land. There were no hard fast rules to tell them to give it all. They didn't have to give anything. "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?"

The biggest sin was that they failed to give themselves. It was written all over their faces. They were present in body, but absent in soul. They withheld the greatest gift of all, the gift of themselves. They withheld the gift that God wanted to give the fellowship through them. They denied the fellowship the blessings of God through their lives. They were looking out for number one. They wanted to share in God's glory without sharing the cost. Satan had convinced them that they could have it all without the cost.

A traditional tale is told: Where there was once a minister in a small village in Russia who vanished every Friday for several hours. The villagers boasted that during those hours their minister ascended to heaven to talk with God. A skeptical newcomer arrived in town, determined to discover where the minister really was. One Friday morning the newcomer hid near the minister's house, watched him rise, say his prayers, and put on the clothes of a peasant. He saw him take an ax and go into the forest, chop down a tree, and gather a large bundle of wood. The minister proceeded to a shack in the poorest section of the village where an old woman lived. He left her the wood, which was enough for the week. The minister quietly returned to his own house. The newcomer stayed on in the village and became a disciple of the minister. And whenever he hears one of his fellow villagers say, "On Friday morning our minister ascends all the way to heaven," the newcomer quietly adds, "If not higher."

It is the giving of ourselves that defines the quality of fellowship. God wasn't about to allow Satan's destruction of the first real fellowship with pretense. He struck them dead. This seems drastic. Yet, we die each time we withhold love or forgiveness or sensitive caring. It is then we become confined to our own sinful pleasures.

A Quality Fellowship Resulted In Growth

Acts 5:12-17
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. (NIV)
There was a thing of beauty about the first century fellowship. What was being accomplished, could only be done through the power of God. "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people." We see the Spirit's hand every step of the way. Wonders and signs were gripping them and they awe struck as they beheld the power of God. There was an outward evidence of an inner working of God's Spirit. The results of this was a respected and growing church.

They preached Christ boldly and authentic believers were being born. It was all being done by the power of God. God's Spirit was convicting, convincing and confirming his love in that first fellowship. "No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people."

It was a fellowship that offered healing. Not just to those on the inside, but especially to those on the outside. "Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed." People on the outside of fellowship need Christ's healing hand today.

Conclusion:

It was a church enabled by the power of God. It was a respected growing church. It was a church that offered healing to the world. What made all this possible was the loyalty of those in its fellowship. When this happens, God gets the glory.
 
 

 

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