We are not required to share. If someone requires me to share what I have with others, that will not produce cooperation. Instead, it will produce alienation. This is why experiments with socialism and communism have yielded ugly, bitter fruit. That said, there is a need for compassion and comforting sympathy among Christians. The first century church didn’t look at material wealth as something to be possessed but as something to be held in common. This example leads to great power and great grace in the church (Acts 4.33).
A man nicknamed Barnabas by the apostles exemplified sincere, compassionate giving in the first century church. He was an encourager. Literally, to encourage means to pour courage within someone. When Barnabas sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the early, persecuted church in Jerusalem, he was pouring courage within the fledgling church. You provide this comforting sympathy only when you truly love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Anyone who is genuinely moved with compassion to comfort others is responding to the great power and grace of God.
What is hypocrisy? It’s a word that is not explicitly used in the first 11 verses of Acts 5, but the concept cannot be missed. The Greek word literally means to “put on the mask”. Hypocrisy is the opposite of genuine. There is no Barnabas-like comforting sympathy in hypocritical actions. It is the act of communicating something you are not. It is fueled by deceit and discovered by God. It leads to the place all sin leads: death.
- Hypocrisy is deceptive (Acts 5.1-2). Ananias and Sapphira sought to deceive the early church by playing the part of Barnabas. They were hypocritical encouragers. They didn’t give all the money they gained from the sale of their own land. Instead, they kept back part of the profit and pretended to give it all. They allowed selfishness instead of selflessness to drive their actions.
- Hypocrisy is discovered (Acts 5.3-4). Nobody hides from God (Hebrews 4.13). The evil spirit filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit. His wife followed his corrosive example. Living as if God does not see your heart or as if God does not exist is the epitome of hypocrisy. Nobody forced this couple to give comfort to a hurting church. But they wanted the same attention Barnabas received for his genuine sacrifice. However, they didn’t actually sacrifice to give comfort.
- Hypocrisy is deadly (Acts 5.5-11). God judged Ananias and Sapphira in a severe way. Great grace and great power came upon the church through genuine selflessness. When this couple died for their hypocrisy, great fear leading to great purity came upon the early church. God judged them severely to provide a dramatic pause in church growth. The church did not fear Peter, but the Holy Spirit who indwelled them at Pentecost. We don’t often see hypocrites die in our churches as a direct act of the Holy Spirit. However, death occurs wherever this sin is promoted.
The solution to our hypocrisy is found in our repentance. We must truly see this as a problem, turn away from it, and change our thinking about its destructive nature. The answer to hypocrisy is not brutal honesty which turns away from everything religious; the answer is found in compassionate, Christlike honesty which turns away from selfishness and toward the needs of others.