The Purity Imperative
Text: Acts 5: 1- 11
Proposition: God sees purity in the church as being critical to that which holds the body of Christ together.
Introduction: I recently bought a water product that filters ordinary tap water with five different types of filtration. With it came a tester that you just dip into a glass of water and it gives a reading as to the purity of the water. When I tested water right out of the tap it gave a reading that was alarmingly high. The point that became obvious to me is that purity is a very relative term. We could drink water from the tap and not think twice about its purity and yet when you measure it there is a considerable difference. How important is purity? Check out this You tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqktNBpeQeE
It turns out that we do have concerns about purity but only about some things. What if purity is a bigger issue than we thought? What if purity is is about more than just sexual purity? Just as purity of food and air and water are essential what if purity is really what God seeks in all of who we are? Acts 5 is about an unusual refining process as God the Holy Spirit begins to build the church. It’s about purity and the importance of purity not only in the beginning of a church but in all that we do and are. Turn with me to Acts 5.
I. Just As the Holy Spirit Uses Opportunity So Does Satan, Purity is the Point.
We’ve talked over these last weeks about how the Holy Spirit builds the church as He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. We recognized that conviction comes as result of proving Means, Motive and Opportunity. Satan uses those very same tools to create shame, guilt and sin. Acts 5 begins with Satan capitalizing on an opportunity in a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira. It’s a strange story because they seem to be doing a good thing and yet it is exposed as being so evil that it costs them their very lives. They sell some land, they take out some profit for themselves, they bring the rest of the money to the Apostles. That’s all okay, there’s nothing wrong with the aspect of owning land, selling it and even keeping the amount that you want. So where did they sin? What was it that Satan tempted them both with that would lead to their deaths before the sun set that day? Perhaps it all came about from the spontaneous way that the Holy Spirit was building the church. People were being made alive spiritually, they could see things that before were not even on their minds. They saw their own sin, they saw the call to love one another as Christ loved the church. They saw need and they saw their ability to meet that need. Transformed lives create transformed communities and that creates a conspicuous opportunity to draw people to faith in Christ. Living faith is attractive and it is highly regarded by people, even by people who don’t believe. That’s where Satan saw opportunity. At the end of chapter 4 Barnabas sold some land and gave the entire proceeds to church. The respect that Barnabas received for doing that became a temptation point for Ananias and Sapphira. They were torn between wanting to be wealthy and yet wanting the godly respect that comes from giving it all away. It would seem that Peter has the spiritual gift of knowledge as he sees right through the actions of this couple to the sin that lay at its core. Look at verse 3, “But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Peter asks two questions: 1. Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? The answer is likely complex but it has these ingredients. Satan did this in order to deceive and destroy Ananias and Sapphira. Satan did this so that impurity would taint and tarnish and ultimately destroy what the Holy Spirit was seeking to build in the church. If the integrity of the church could be compromised through a Trojan horse virus then it would rot from the inside out. The infection was a complex virus made up of pride and a desire that others think well of them and greed. At the same time it showed contempt for God that acted as if God didn’t know this little secret or if He found out it wouldn’t really matter. It was an attempt to make God of no consequence, to make sin and the impurity it transmits as of being of little effect. That’s why Satan did what he did and all Peter is doing is inviting Ananias to see the source of the deception and it’s end target. Temptation was used to attack the first church, had it gotten through the front door compromise and strife would have killed this embryonic fellowship. When you encounter temptation see not only what it promises but also why it is you desire it and where it will ultimately take you.
2. Why have you conceived this thing in your own heart? What Ananias had conceived in his own heart was to say he was giving it all when in reality he never intended to do so. Do you remember James 1:14, 15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Note that Ananias did not sin when he was tempted by desire. He didn’t even sin when he was enticed. That word ‘enticed’ means ‘to bait, or to catch with bait’. Temptation is like that, it’s like bait that pretends there is no hook inside. Watch out for the hook, stop temptation by seeing it for what it is… a trap! If you don’t, the very next step will result in sin and sin once it is conceived will bring about death. That was immediately true in the case of Ananias and Sapphira but ultimately true for all of us. When Peter asks Ananias, “Why did you conceive this thing in your own heart?”, he is not only reminding Ananias that it was his choice to sin but also calling him to see the degree of the sin. He had tried to lie to the Holy Spirit and in so doing to try to defeat the purposes of God in what the church is meant to be. Ananias see the bait, see the trap, resist temptation, resist the devil and he will flee from you as one who has been discovered.
II. The Fear of the Lord Refined the Church Making Way for the Holy Spirit.
On March 24, 1989 the oil tanker The Exon Valdez ran onto the Blight Reef in Prince William Sound. More than 10 million gallons of oil poured out coating the coastline for hundreds of kilometers. A bird soaked in crude oil had two problems. How could it extract itself from the sludge and then once free how could it clean itself enough to be able to fly? When we speak about purity in the church it comes down to these same two things. How do we get set free from sin and then how do we eradicate it from our lives on a daily basis so that can live a life that reveals Jesus Christ. Sanctification is all about these two steps. Freedom from sin’s bondage comes through faith in Christ, the daily cleaning of it from us is what the Holy Spirit directs us in.
It’s three hours later when Sapphira came to the area of the Temple called Solomon’s Porch where the apostles were. She comes before Peter and he asks her if the amount that Ananias had said they had sold the land for was the amount she agreed to give. When she says that it was, Peter asks her yet one more question: “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” It’s really a two part question. 1. How could you both have acted so foolishly. Surely one of you should have seen the error and stopped this dangerous action. Marriages are made not just for the purposes of procreation and sexual expression, they are made so that two are stronger than one. 2. How could you have been so vain as to deliberately tempt God? It was as if they were saying God won’t do anything because God is not as holy as His Word says He is. To test God or tempt God is to make Him out to be less than He is… the Holy, Almighty, Sovereign and Just and Loving God.
As we read this passage it can seem to us to be a harsh sentence. There are many in the church today who have done far worse than these two and yet we are still alive. Perhaps that’s just the point, it’s not that God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira that’s so amazing, it’s that He hasn’t taken ours! God in His great grace has tremendous patience with us and though it’s true that the church was at a critical phase when this happened and integrity and purity were crucial to the formation of the church, purity today is still an imperative for the church. What cleared the way for purity or holiness to gain foothold in the church at that time was the fear of the Lord. When Ananias fell down dead it says, “So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.” When Sapphira died it says, “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” The fear of the Lord is what God uses as a balance to the foolishness of our sin natures. The purity imperative is for the church today, in our jobs, our marriages, families and in our hearts. Let the fear of the Lord be a guide and not an obsolete doctrine.