Sermon Passage: Acts 4:32-37
Sermon Commentary Notes
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:32-36).
The Apostle Luke authored both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. In the Gospel of Luke, he gave an account of Jesus’ life. He did not intend for the Gospel of Luke to be a separate book from The Book of Acts but presented them as volume one and volume two of one writing. As Luke’s gospel circulated in the early Church, the other gospels were eagerly received. Everyone recognized volume one of Luke’s account as a gospel; they separated it from the Book of Acts and made it a book on its own, which is essential because of the theme. Luke did not intend to present two writings with different themes. What he wanted to communicate with his gospel account (volume one), he also wanted to communicate with the Book of Acts (volume two). It becomes evident that the central concept is the indwelling of God’s life in the human being, which lifestyle demonstrates! Jesus is a Spirit-sourced man in the gospel account, and through Him, the gospel spread into the lives of the disciples in the Book of Acts.
However, another subordinate theme, “materialism,” also flows through both volumes. Luke often presents the subject of money and its binding quality in our lives. He makes it evident in his writing that money is not a blessing from God, but is a curse or an obstacle to your spiritual success. If you are to become the godly person desired by God, you must make your way over the barricade of materialism. Materialism will trap, entangle, and control you! “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
This theme of materialism is dominant in the parables. A Pharisee invited Jesus to eat in his home. During the meal, a “woman in the city who was a sinner” crashed the party. She stood behind Jesus weeping. She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair; she kissed His feet and anointed them with the alabaster flask of fragrant oil. How could a godly man have intimate contact with this sinful woman? Jesus responded with the “Parable of the Debtors” (Luke 7:41-43). One man owed a creditor 500 denarii, and another man owed 50 denarii. The creditor forgave both men for their debt. Jesus asked, “Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Jesus presented forgiveness of sin in the context of materialism.
On another occasion, a lawyer tried to test Jesus by quizzing Him about the necessary activities to gain eternal life. Jesus pointed him to the summary of the law in the Old Testament, loving God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus shared the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37), placing materialism at the center of every action in the story. The parable starts with a person robbed of his materialism; it continues with the priest and Levite not willing to get involved because of the expense. But a Samaritan who should have hated the injured Jew gets financially involved.
In another instance, a man from the crowd asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus answered that it was not His business to do so, but He told the “Parable of the Rich Fool” (Luke 12:16-21). The rich man had plenty; he built more barns and stored more goods. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool!’ This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:19-20).
The “Parable of the Unjust Steward” is strange (Luke 16:1-8). A steward stole from his master, and the master told him to get ready for an accounting. The steward realized he was in trouble, so he called all the people who owed the master and reduced their debit. He did this so they would help him when the master put him out. Jesus commended this man. He was shrewd in his financial dealings. If you are not wise in your materialism, how can you be trusted with real riches?
When the Pharisees heard the “Parable of the Unjust Steward,” they derided Jesus because they were lovers of money. He then told them the “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). There was a rich man who had the best of everything, and a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores, laid at his gate. Lazarus desired only to eat the crumbs from the rich man’s table. The beggar died and went to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man died and went to Hades. On the other side of death, they had reversed roles. When the rich man cried out to Abraham, he was told, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:25).
On another day, as Jesus neared Jerusalem, He told the “Parable of the Minas” (Luke 19:11-27). A master departed to a far country, leaving ten servants in charge of his goods. He gave each ten minas and instructed them to do business until he returned. Upon his return, each servant came before the master to provide an account of his earnings. Each had doubled the amount except one who kept his money in a handkerchief and showed no gain from it. This parable asks, “How do you handle your finances?”
Except for one, all the above parables are exclusively Luke’s. He also wrote the story of the Rich Young Ruler, whose life was gripped by money. His materialism trapped him, and he was unable to release his possessions to embrace Jesus. Here again, we see Luke describing money not as a blessing but as a curse. We must climb over the top of materialism because it is a barricade to spiritual success. The evil of materialism is a strong theme throughout the Gospel, according to Luke, and the same theme continues in the Book of Acts. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit ushered the believer into a new dimension of intimacy with the mind of Christ! God merges His nature with the believer. How does this affect the realm of finances in the Kingdom person?
After Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:41). Luke reported the effect of this on their materialism. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This was no small feat among 3,000 people, but the church continued to grow. Undoubtedly, as the church doubled and tripled, this practice was lost, but repeatedly in this book, Luke presents the effect of God’s nature on the materialistic view of the believers.
Luke connects the movement of God in the early Church with the physical, materialistic response of the believers. Why would Luke make this an essential theme of his writings? How important should it be to us? Each report on the generosity of the early Church connects to the strong movement of the Holy Spirit. For instance, Luke writes, “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). In the following two verses, he proclaims the unity and generosity of the church. They “sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:45).
In chapter three of Acts, Luke highlights the healing of the lame beggar, setting the stage for the next two chapters. This miracle significantly demonstrated the power of God. Peter grabbed the lame beggar by the right hand, yanked him to his feet as he cried, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). Immediately the bones in the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. He began to leap, walk, and praise God! In describing this man in the following verse, Luke gives us insight into the extent of the miracle. God healed the beggar completely, making him mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically whole!
The lame beggar, over forty years of age, was a fixture in Jerusalem at the Gate Beautiful (Acts 4:22). Everyone knew him. The multitude of temple worshippers passed by him, looked at him with pity, yet supported him. This miracle impacted thousands in the temple. Everyone in Jerusalem was talking about the grace of God granted to a lame beggar (Acts 4:16). It so impacted the leaders of Israel that they had to get involved. This miracle instigated the persecution of the early Church, causing the believers to rely on the sovereignty of God. They prayed not to be saved from persecution but to continue in the same power of ministry that brought them to persecution, remaining in the same boldness as before.
Luke said, “As great as the miracle was among the early Church, let me tell you of an equal miracle.” He relates the attitude of the early Church to materialism. No one thought of his possessions as his own; they had all things in common (Acts 4:32). No one among them lacked (Acts 4:34). Luke gives the example of the man nicked name by the apostles as Barnabas. He was an encourager. He sold his land and laid the money at the apostle’s feet (Acts 4:36). What a miracle! The miracle in Barnabas’ life was equal to the miracle in the life of the lame beggar! The only explanation is the Divine movement of the Holy Spirit! Luke connects the power of the Spirit of Jesus moving on the people of the early Church with their response to materialism!
Luke proposed that the attitude of the early Church toward materialism connected to the presence of Jesus in their lives. He also established an effective combination between their attitude and the power of Jesus in them. These new Christians had all things in common, and they expressed a powerful witness (Acts 4:33). The victory they had over materialism was evident in their relationship with the Lord Jesus and the grace they received from Him. It was as if their witness to Jesus’ power created their victory over materialism. Our attitude toward materialism should combine with our witness of Jesus’ resurrection!
How does the power of God fill the believer, and he does not express it in his security? If a person’s security is in materialism, would that not affect God filling him with the Spirit of Christ? When people receive the mind of Christ, a shift takes place in the way they think about material things. Luke begins this paragraph with an emphasis on the oneness of heart and soul existing in the early Church. The content of this oneness is so strong that no one looked on his possessions as his own. They had all things in common. Then Luke adds, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The word beginning the English translation is “and,” translated from the Greek word “kai.” This word generally combines ideas, which follow directly and necessarily from what precedes. The view of the early Church towards their possessions was in combination with the powerful witness given of the resurrected Jesus.
We discover the combination of the physical and spiritual in the Book of Acts. The early Church’s convincing mannerisms and eyewitness accounts were not the power of their testimony. The power was in the presence of the resurrected Lord! As they spoke of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus penetrated the lives of those listening. The people felt His presence. Luke linked their powerful witness with their attitude toward materialism, forcing all to consider the combination of the physical and the spiritual. The principle is secure. When the physical yields to the spiritual, there is a movement in the spiritual world that demonstrates itself in the physical world, changing both worlds forever. If our security is in the physical, that blocks how people see us in the spiritual.
However, in our English translation of this verse (Acts 4:33), “and” appears again, a translation of the Greek word “te.” “Kai” is used to couple ideas, which follows directly and necessarily from what precedes. Although “te” is generally employed when subjoined with something, which does not directly and necessarily follow. “Kai” connects and “te” annexes. Luke presents the main building as the attitude of the early Church concerning materialism, allowing the Spirit of Jesus to reveal His resurrection presence. But added or annexed to this is, “And great grace was upon them all.” The early Church’s attitude about their possessions created an atmosphere where Jesus filled their witness with the power. They experienced the blessing of God’s grace because of their attitude about their possessions. Therefore, it flows both ways. Our attitude towards materialism affects God’s movement on others, but also the movement of God on our lives.
Lest any should think that the question of materialism is a small issue, Luke moved from the positive account of Barnabas’ generosity (Acts 4:36-37) to the chilling tale of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). These stories confirm the radical nature of materialism and its effect on our lives and others. The love of material things is the cause of much self-deceit. There seems to be something quite natural about the lies of Ananias and Sapphira. Have you thought about the many ways we rationalize and excuse our covetousness and greed? “I’m not all that well off,” we say. “I have all I can do just to make ends meet.” “I worked hard for this and deserve it.”
Materialism, along with self-deceit, relates directly to physical insecurity. We focus on the physical instead of the spiritual power released within our merger with Jesus. Martin Luther once called security the ultimate idol. Over and over again, we demonstrate that we are willing to exchange anything for a taste of security. We sacrifice our family, our health, our church, and even truth to get a slight advantage in materialism. “Well,” one might say, “it hasn’t killed me yet!” But it will! Materialism is of such significance that the early Church recognized this self-deceit about security and confronted it most radically. People consistently ask me about this story and the severity of it. What is the depth of truth in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira?
The issue of most questions is, “Why was God so severe toward the actions of Ananias and Sapphira?” Perhaps that is not the question that we should ask! Maybe the question should be, “Why do we think what occurred to Ananias and Sapphira was severe?” Is it because we have not been struck dead? Are we admitting our self-deceit concerning our dependency on materialism? Are we looking at the long-suffering of God towards our self-denial? We consistently praise Him for His physical provisions and equally complain when we do not have physical comfort. We even develop a gospel of truth that holds financial and material gain as the epitome of spiritual blessing. What is wrong with us? Maybe we have maintained physical breathing by the grace of God, but we have died in the most crucial area of our lives!
Is Luke right in stating the words of Jesus? “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Do we find our security in materialism or Christ?