The Fear of the Lord

The Fear of the Lord

On January 9, 2005, Pastor Jack Arnold was preaching at Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Ovada, Florida, and he was preaching a sermon based on his life verse – Philippians 1:21,

“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

He had quoted Charles Wesley, saying. “Until my work on earth is done I am a mortal.” He went on to say, “But, when my work for Christ is done, I am out of here! I don’t know about you, but when my work is done, I go to be with Jesus, and that will be gain. And when I go to Heaven…” At this, Jack Arnold paused, he looked up, he swayed, he grabbed hold of the pulpit, and he fell, and as he fell to the ground, the Lord took him home. Immediately there were church members who came to his aid medically, but he was gone to be with the Lord at the age of sixty-nine.

An Associate Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian says, “We were stunned. It was traumatic. But, how wonderful it was he died in his own church among the people he loved the most.”

None of us can control the time or the circumstances of our own death. This is in the hands of the Lord, but I do hope I die in favor with the Lord. I hope I die speaking of the glory of Jesus Christ and of the richness of Heaven, itself.

In Acts 5, we read an account of two more who died suddenly in church, but unlike Jack Arnold, they died with lies on their lips and with deceit in their hearts. The story of Ananias and Sapphira acts as a grave reminder to us of the seriousness of sin and of God’s zeal for the purity of His people. This story communicates to us that life is too short to give ourselves over to sin, and eternity is too long not to live in integrity with God.

We learn of the priority of purity in our relationship with God, Himself, in Acts 5:1-4. This story teaches us four lessons that help us live in integrity and in purity. This story teaches us that integrity is more valuable than reputation. If we forget that lesson, we will not own integrity.

Secondly, Satan actively works to destroy Jesus’ church.

Third, we learn that Satan tempts Christians to be his servants; that he desires to use even God’s own people as his instruments to destroy the church.

Finally, that God acts to protect and to purify His people.

We look at lesson number one as we desire to be men and women of integrity, and lesson number is that integrity is more valuable than reputation. God places a contrast before us in Acts 5, to teach us this lesson. At the end of Chapter 4, He talks to us about a man whose name is Joseph.

Verses 36 and 37, tell us,

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.

It is clear that this is a great, positive example of a man who loved God and whose life had been so changed that he willingly sold a valuable piece of property. Undoubtedly, it is a very difficult thing for the flesh to let go of, and yet he willingly arid gladly did this to help the poor Christians and the Christians who needed financial aid. He acted in ways throughout his life, then, not only in this instance, but he acted in ways throughout his life that people around him had more hope because of his presence, because of his words, because of his actions. They were built up in their faith because of Barnabus’ life. In fact, Joseph, as his name was given from his birth, was such an encourager, that the Apostles, the leaders of the church, recognized his great ministry to others around him and they gave him a nickname – they started calling him “Barnabus.” This was not his given name. This was not the name that he grew up with, but it was the name the church gave him and that is what everybody at church began to call him – Barnabus because Barnabus means “Son of Refreshment,” “Son of Encouragement,” and this is what Barnabus was. His life was such a life, that others around him were “refreshed” in their walk with God; they were “encouraged” in their life just simply because of the way that Barnabus lived, the way he talked, the way he walked.

This kind of thing, of changing a person’s name, doesn’t happen very often anymore. It is more common in our time to give people nicknames that call attention to physical attributes or to personality traits. Many of the guys I play basketball with are known only by their nicknames. After playing with them for ten years I don’t know their real names often times, but I know nicknames. For instance, there is a guy we call “Tiny” and he is this big, husky guy. There is another guy we call “Dad” because he is the oldest guy on the court. Then there is another guy called “Fish,” and I don’t know why we call him that.

So, Joseph became known and named by everyone in the church “Barnabus” because he encouraged so many with his generosity, his graciousness of speech, his gentleness of spirit. His nickname told of the effect that he had on people who came in contact with him. They became refreshed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that kind of name change; to have others come around us and say, “I am no longer going to call you __________, but we are going to call you ‘this’ because this is the positive effect you have on other peoples’ lives.” I wonder if we were given a new name what name that would be? Would it reflect positive qualities of our effect upon others, or the opposite?

There is a contrast set against Joseph that is found at the beginning of Chapter 5. There is this little word “now” and I think the King James reads “But.” It is indicating there is a contrast between this man called Joseph and these two who are mentioned.

Now (But) a man names Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
In contrast to Joseph, is this husband and wife team, Ananias and Sapphira. Interestingly, their given names are excellent names. Ananias means, “God is Gracious,” and Sapphira means “Beautiful,” but their names do not match their lives. Ananias denied God’s graciousness through his greed, and Sapphira forfeited her true beauty through the ugliness of her sin.

What exactly did Ananias and Sapphira do that was so wrong in this story? It is important to note that Ananias and Sapphira were not wrong because they kept part of the money for the property they sold. They didn’t have to sell the property and once they sold it, they didn’t have to give all of it to the Lord. They didn’t have to give any of it as an offering to the Lord. That is Peter’s point in Verse 4.

Peter said,

Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?

“You didn’t have to sell it? You didn’t have to give any of the money to the church in order to help the poor.” What was so wrong about their actions? Their sin was in publicly claiming to have given all of the proceeds of the sale of the property, while at the same point, keeping part of it to themselves. In this way, they were lying to the church that Jesus redeemed, and in lying to the church, they were lying to the Holy Spirit who indwelt that church.

They lied because they desired the approval and praise of people. They saw how the church responded to Joseph by even changing his name, and they said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have our names changed; to be known and have this reputation as ‘gracious individuals’.” They desired that reputation, they desired to be thought of as “spirit-filled,” and yet they were not willing to yield control of their lives to the Holy Spirit. They feigned a deeper spiritual commitment than they actually had. In a word, their sin was “hypocrisy,” “Christian fraud,” “premeditated deception.”

No sin draws a sharper rebuke from our Lord Jesus than the sin of hypocrisy. That is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to say (Matthew 6:1),

“Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to have them seen by them.
If you do you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”

He goes on to say (Matthew 6:2),

“So, when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites doin the Synagogues and in the streets.”

And, He goes on to say (Matthew 6:5),

“Don’t pray as the hypocrites do. And when you fast, don’t fast as the hypocrites do; those who have a reputation without inner character. Don’t be like them.”

Ananias and Sapphira valued their reputation more than they valued integrity.

Hypocrisy is not merely when a believer fails to live up to the Standards of a Christian life. If that were true, then none of us would be outside the definition of hypocrisy. There are times when each one of us fails to live up to the absolute Standards of Holiness that Christ places upon us, and because we fail, that doesn’t mean that we are hypocrites; that means we are sinners still, but that doesn’t mean we are hypocrites. What creates a hypocrite is when a person fails to live up to Standards of God and then pretends, and present themselves as people who do measure up to the full Standards of God. They are not honest with themselves and they are not honest with other people in regard to the condition of their soul. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to impress others with a spiritual generosity that they did not possess. They desired the reputation that Barnabus earned without paying the price that Barnabus paid; without engaging in the cost of true discipleship.

George McDonald writes, “Half of the misery in the world comes from trying to look instead of to be what one is not.” Beloved, let us observe this example that God had given for us.

There are two applications I want to draw from this story and from this specific principle of valuing integrity more that reputation.
The first application is beware of hiding your sin, and we hide our sin through lies. Lies become the instruments which cause us to be able to conceal the true nature of our hearts and our failings. This strategy of lying to conceal sin is as old as Adam and Eve itself. What did they do the moment that they sinned in the Garden? They went and hid themselves from God as if it is possible to hide from God. Lying to hide your sin will keep you from ever being able to enjoy integrity. You will never be able to enjoy integrity as long as you hide the failures of your life, as embarrassing as those may be. You will never be able to enjoy integrity until you are honest before God and honest before other people.

Here in the story, Ananias asked his wife to lie with him; to deceive others with him. How wicked it is for a man to ask his own wife to cover up sin for him. Not only did he ask, but she agreed. Sapphira said. “Sure, we can cover this up together. We can gain this reputation as a couple.”

Men and women do not be party to a lie. Ananias and Sapphira decided together to hide their sin through lies and hiding sin never works. Hiding sin only fertilizes sin so that it grows and eventually it is found out. Certainly, it is always known by God, Himself.

In Hebrews 4:13, we read what the Bible says of God.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The only true opinion that really matters is God’s opinion, and when we hide from our sin, we keep God’s Grace from dealing with our sin in a way that ultimately would be a blessing to our own lives as well as to the church.

The second application: confess your sins to God and to one another. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and over and over again never consider, “God must be tired of me confessing my sin.” No, that is what we do when we walk in the Truth. Confess you sin and God is faithful over and over again to forgive us our sin. He is just to do so, because the blood of Jesus Christ covers all sin.

James 5:16, would go on to tell us,

…confess your sins to each other and pray for (one) another…

That it is important, when we sin against others, or we sin in a way that affects others, that we would confess our
sins to one another instead of hide them. A humble confession is God’s remedy for hypocrisy. Do not wait until you are caught to confess. If you are caught, there is still opportunity to truly confess, but don’t wait until you are caught in a sin; until that sin has had so much destruction that it breaks out in some open sore. Ananias and Sapphira would have lived a long life if they would have only listened to the Holy Spirit and confessed sin.

As Christians, we still have a fleshly nature and so as Christians, we still sin and we need to confess our sin. God calls us to live a transparent life before Him; to walk in the Light. It is only as we walk in the Light, transparent before Him, that we are able to have fellowship one with another. That is one of the reasons why this sin was so potentially destructive to the church; that it would have ruined the fellowship of the church, that it would have ruined that unity of one heart and one mind.

The Second Lesson – Satan actively works to destroy God’s church. We saw a contrast, first, between Joseph, and Ananias and Sapphira, but now another, even more significant contrast appears: the contrast between the work of God’s Holy Spirit in the church and the work of Satan even within the church. In Verse 31, (of Chapter 4) we read how “the whole church was filled with God’s Spirit.” They were al1 filled with God’s Spirit and enjoying the effects of the Spirit’s control over them.

In Verse 3, of Chapter 5, Peter says,

“Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…”

Ananias and Sapphira are examples of people who are filled, or controlled, by the Evil One. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not merely a sin that came from their own flesh, but it was born in their flesh and energized by Satan, himself.

Satan seeks to destroy the church on a number of levels. There is at least a three-fold strategy that we see throughout the Book of Acts that Satan uses to destroy God’s church. He first attacks the church from the outside through persecution and fear and intimidation, and we saw him in Chapter 4, implement that strategy, when the Apostles were thrown into prison and beaten, and what affect did that have? No affect. In fact, the church kept growing. The Gospel went forth.

Satan engages his second line of assault against the church and that is moral corruption from within. If he can’t reach the church from the outside through persecution, then he will seek to destroy the church from the inside. Ananias and Sapphira weren’t enemies of the Cross; they were recipients of God’s Grace, and yet from the inside, Satan had latched onto their hearts to bring about a corruption from within.

The third line of assault that Satan uses is assaulting the church through deception; attacking the Truth to get the church to leave the message of the Gospel and all of its fullness.

There are two applications to this lesson that Satan actively works to destroy Christ’s church. The first is, beloved brothers and sisters, “put on the full armor of God;” be ready for the assault of the Evil One; be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Know that your adversary, the Devil, prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour you.

The Bible teaches us that Satan is a very real person and he acts in this world to challenge God’s authority and to destroy God’s gracious plan for the world. When we look at the world, we didn’t simply look and observe the economic or political causes behind all of the events that take place that are horrible in this world. We don’t look at inner city crime, for instance, and say, “The problem with the inner city is there is not enough education.” We don’t look at the wars and say, “The problem is we don’t understand each other and have enough cultural understanding to be at peace. If we just sat down at the table long enough, then the problems of this world would disappear.” This is the world’s assessment of the problems of this world, but it is not the Bible’s.

The Bible tells us that the problem is much deeper and until we come to understanding the depth of the problem, we will never come to the answers. That is the reason why the world’s history is lined with human solutions failing time and time again, and yet every generation is hopeful that, “Maybe ours is the generation that will be able to use these solutions to solve mankind’s problems.”

There is no end to it, because the problem is in your heart and mine; that our hearts are desperately wicked, that there is a real Satan that is at work to latch on to this rebellious nature that we have to work against God and against His plan and His agenda for this world.

Beloved, our part is to put on the full armor of God; to be ready so that we take up the resource of God so that Satan doesn’t ruin our own souls; so that we might be part of the solution of this world; to present to this world that there is a possibility of overcoming the problems, and that possibility comes from the Gospel and that is at work in a real ways through lives.

When we visited Africa this past year, we had the opportunity to observe some lions in an open air environment; that weren’t behind cages. You know, when there are lions that you are very close to, in an open air environment, you act differently because you recognize that, “There is a real danger here and I don’t want to become lackadaisical. I don’t want to become careless, because carelessness in that kind of environment, it will kill me.” Please understand that there is a very real Satan and his purpose is to destroy the church of God, and if you are a part of that church, his purpose is to destroy you.

The second application I would urge you toward is to love Jesus’ church. It is troubling that so many Christians have stopped loving the church of Jesus. I know that the church of Jesus is not perfect. After all, you and I are members of her, but there still is a reason Satan hates the church so, because even Satan knows that this precious thing called the church which God has purchased through the blood of His own Son is His chosen instrument to bring Himself glory in this world. It is the instrument; it is the only instrument that God has chosen to bring Himself glory in this world. Let us love what Jesus loves, and let us not hate the things that Satan hates.

It is far easier to sin and thus act as Satan’s instruments if we do not love the church.

There are two lessons we have learned thus far. We have learned to value integrity over reputation, and we have learned that Satan actively is at work to destroy Jesus’ church. The third lesson is this – Satan tempts Christians to be his servants. He desires even the redeemed to be his own instruments. Peter observed that Satan wanted to use Ananias and Sapphira to destroy Jesus’ church and that is why he says at the end of Verse 4,

“You have not lied to men but to God.”

Ananias’ and Sapphira’s hypocrisy threatened the integrity of the whole church and such hypocrisy, if left unchallenged, would ruin the church. That modern cry, “Oh, the church is full of hypocrites!” would have absolutely been true from the beginning if God did not act. That was Satan’s design; to destroy the effective witness of the church through hypocrisy.

Some people might ask the question, “Were Ananias and Sapphira true believers?” First, I would say, on one level, it is impossible to answer that with absolute knowledge because it is not absolutely declared for us. God alone knows the condition of the soul. Certainly, Ananias and Sapphira were not acting like born-again people when they died. It is possible to be a member of Jesus’ church and still sin and sin gravely. I think that Ananias and Sapphira really were genuine Christians because they were included in that group known as “Believers,” in Verse 32, of Chapter 4; that they were involved in some way with the Holy Spirit and that is why is was so surprising that they would be filled with Satan and would lie to Him; that the whole point of the story is a warning to the church; it is a warning to Christians, not to unbelievers. Finally, it is true that Scripture describes that Satan can latch on to the life of a believer if he or she submits themselves to him. In fact, God reveals in other places throughout Scripture that He will, and that He does, chasten His Own to the point of physical death. He did it in 1 Corinthians 11, in regards to the Lord’s Supper when some were sickly and many of them had fallen asleep because they took of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

He speaks of it in 1 John 5:16, when He says,

“There is a sin that leads to death…”

And, that is a physical death that He is talking about in that context.

Peter knew the direct danger of being an instrument in the hands of Satan. Peter is the one challenging Ananias and Sapphira, and yet, he knew the specific danger of it. You remember Peter, when Jesus prophesied that He was going to be rejected, and that He, Himself, as the Messiah, would suffer at the hands of wicked men; that He would die upon the Cross, what did Peter do at that point? The text tells us in Mark, that, “Peter rebuked the Lord,” and then Jesus looked back at Peter and said,

“Get thee behind me Satan,”

indicating to Peter, even though Peter was a Disciple of Jesus Christ, now he was in the hands of Satan being used by Satan to be an instrument to destroy the plan of God. Jesus spoke so forcefully to Peter, to shake him, so that he would recognize the role that he was playing in the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, himself. Yes, Satan can, and does, use Believers to do his will and to do his work.

A question we have to ask ourselves that this story confronts us with, is, “Has Satan ever used me?” And to be more pointed, “Is Satan using me to accomplish his will and his work among God’s people?” This is a grave question that this story brings full force to our soul, because it is a very strong possibility that that would be the case, and certainly, I believe every Christian is tempted by the evil one and by his minions to become instruments in his plan to destroy the church. There are hundreds of ways in which we may be used by Satan to do this, but certainly this one here, hypocrisy, is one of the greatest – when we are seeking to present ourselves as something that we, truly, are not.

There is one application that I want to draw from this lesson and it is an application specifically for husbands and wives. There are many applications we can draw but I want to draw one for husbands and wives; for those who are married, here today. When God created marriage, and He did so, He did so with a design, He established marriage to encourage each one of us towards personal holiness. Husbands, therefore, were called by God to love their (Ephesians 5:25)

…wives just like Christ loved the church…

because when husbands love their wives just like Jesus loved the church, there is a likely effect. There is a stimulus towards holiness in the life of the wife. When husbands love them in such a way, for instance, as to bring the Word of God to them, to wash them with the Water of the Word, when husbands love their wives like Jesus loves the church, and Jesus intercedes for His church, so when husbands begin to intercede for their wives and begin to pray for them and with them, there is a strong encouragement that pulls wives toward a Godly life. That is God’s intention for marriage.

Furthermore, wives are called to submit to their husbands, and the purpose of that is for personal holiness; it encourages personal holiness in the life of the wife but also in the life of the husband, as well. To submit means, simply, to respond to his leadership even as they would respond to the leadership of Jesus. In this way, the lives of the wives are constant encouragements to the husbands to obey God. They see this gentleness of character, this submissiveness before God, this responsiveness to God’s leadership in their wife’s lives and by force of example they are pulled toward Holiness. That is God’s intention for marriage that when we embrace God’s design in marriage, that this becomes a unit that draws both of us closer and closer to the Lord throughout a lifetime.

We stop and look at Ananias and Sapphira’s marriage. The dynamics of-their marriage had become twisted and perverted so that their marriage, instead of fulfilling God’s divine design to help them on toward holiness, became and encouragement, through each other, toward evil and toward rebellion. Ananias is leading his wife away from honor to God. He is influencing her towards disobedience and towards impurity; he has lost the role of his design as a Christian husband. Sapphira, likewise, by her lack of submission to God, has lost her ability to influence her husband for Godliness altogether and she becomes a part of the problem as well.

The point is that God creates marriage to help us toward holiness and the application is won’t you as a married man or a married woman, commit your selves together, first, to focus on that goal afresh. God’s ideal is that husbands and wives commit themselves together to that purpose. If you are married to a husband, or married to a wife, who is openly defiant and resistant to the will of God, to submitting to Him, please understand that you can still fulfill your divine design; that it is still possible for you, through your responsiveness, first of all, to maintain your own personal holiness by God’s Grace, but also, to have tremendous influence, and don’t give up hope that that is the case. Husbands, when you continue to love your wives as Christ loved the church, even if they are resistant and rebellious toward God, that your loving nature, as Jesus loves the church, will have an affect upon her and a strong pull in her life. Wives likewise, if your husbands are defiant, please understand that you can still fulfill your God-given design by your gentleness of spirit, by the example of your lives of submitting to God and respecting your husband, to have this huge influence to pull them toward holiness as well.

We live in a world where people do not want to take their bad actions seriously, and we begin to minimize our sin. We say, “It really doesn’t matter,” or, “It doesn’t matter very much.” I found a quote from C.S. Lewis that I found immensely helpful to me in thinking of my life in integrity. This is what he says, “Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all lifelong you are slowly turning the central thing into either a Heavenly creature or a Hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God and with other creatures and with itself, or else, into one that is in a state of war with, and hatred, with God and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven and that it is joy, peace, knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.”

The point of that quote is to say, you know, every time we make a decision, whether it is in our marriage or whether it is outside our marriage, every time we make a decision, we change ourselves. We either become more a person of character, more a person of Godliness, because of that decision, or we become more a creature of Hell itself. Please understand the value of the little decisions that you and I make everyday.

We have seen three lessons: the value of integrity over reputation; Satan enlists Christians to accomplish his will; Satan actively works to destroy Christ’s church; and finally, God acts to protect and purify His church.

We read of Ananias being carried out as his words uttered a lie. Three hours later his wife, Sapphira, comes back in and they ask her, “Tell me, are you complicit in this? Is this the amount of money that you sold the field for?” “Yes, it is.” She, too, dies and is carried out.

This is difficult for many to accept as they read the Bible that God would act this way, especially in response to something that seems so menial, so small. This bit of lying, giving only half or three-quarters, we don’t know what percentage it was, but just keeping a portion of property to yourself, seems like it is a very small sin. Is it worthy of death? Such a response from God shouldn’t surprise us, not when we read the Old Testament and we see Nadab and Abihu who offered strange fire to God and they were struck dead. Not when we see Ezra reaching out to steady the Ark as it is on the ark, and as soon as he touches that Ark he is struck dead by God. What God is saying is, “You know, the God of the Old Testament was passionate for holiness and purity among His people. The God of the New Testament is not less passionate for the purity and holiness of His people, and He wants us to know that at the very outset so that we don’t forget.

God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead because sin is always serious to Him. Without this kind of action the church would have been left open, particularly at its beginning, to being a church of lies, deceit, and hypocrisy, and would have ruined this.

Does God still do this kind of thing? The answer to that is, “Yes.” That is what 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 John 5, tell us. He loves His church; He loves the people in His church. But, He will not allow His church, or us, His people, to be destroyed by pride and by lies. The big question is not, “Why did God do this to Ananias and Sapphira?” The big question is, “Why doesn’t God do this to me?” That is the big question when we understand God’s Holiness and the gravity of sin.

I leave you with a couple of principles and applications behind this lesson. The first one is to fear God. Two times it talks about a healthy fear breaking out upon the church.

In Verse 11, it says,

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard. . . these events.

Hebrews tells us that

The Lord shall judge His people and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

So, fear God.

The second application I would bring to you is simply this, tell the truth. The truth will often be inconvenient. The truth will often be embarrassing. The truth is what God uses to liberate our hearts from sin. Lies only bind us up all the more to ever becoming the people that God intends us to be.

Tell the truth.

The answer for our sin is found in Jesus; first for the forgiveness of sin. I believe that Ananias and Sapphira were redeemed. I believe that they have Heaven today; that they are forgiven. There is tremendous damage that forgiven sin can do in the church. God has taken away the eternal penalty of our sin if we are genuinely born again, but the consequences of our sin are grave and God will act. He will act because He loves us, even in the strong way, He will act.

We need Jesus more and we need a humble heart toward Him.