A CASE STUDY IN GENEROSITY AND GREED
All right, grab your wallet. Come on, man, pastor said, “Grab your wallet.” Ladies, go in your purse. Men, go in your pocket or maybe in a purse but get your wallet. OK, get your wallet. Everybody hold your wallet. Seriously, get your wallet. Get your Bible, get your wallet. Get them both, OK? Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to read the Bible while we hold our—? [Congregation responds, “Wallet.”] Wallet. You kids are sharp.
All right, we’re going to read the Bible while we hold our wallet. You know why? Jesus says that most people are prone to worship God or money. How many of you have never really read the Bible while holding your wallet? I think it will be very clarifying, all right? We’re going to pick a god here, and it’s going to determine our budget, you ready? If you haven’t picked up your wallet, you’ve already picked your god. You’re keeping your god in your pocket. Get your god out of your pocket. Hold him in your hand, all right? And get your Bible. We’ll learn about this other god.
So in Acts 4:32–5:11, we’ll look at what it means to be empowered by the Spirit to be generous. So we’re going to read our Bible while we hold our wallet. First, we’re going to look at generosity, Acts 4:32–37: “Now the number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as they had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas”—Barney—”(which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Here’s what we’re going to deal with today: generosity and greed. We’re in the book of Acts. (I’ll leave my wallet right there and make sure no one can see my credit card number ’cause I know somebody online is going to do something terrible, OK?) We’re looking at generosity versus greed in this amazing historical case study. It begins with generosity on behalf of the church—they’re being very generous—and an early church leader named Barnabas, or Barney, the “son of encouragement.”
GENEROSITY IS EVIDENCE OF . . .
As we look at generosity, I’ve got six things for you that I want to examine today from this section of God’s word. And if you’re new, I know you don’t want me to talk about money. That’s what we’re going to do. It is for us, I think, perhaps along with sex, the most pernicious, pervasive idol in our entire culture. “Don’t tell me what to do with my sexuality. Don’t tell me what to do with my finances. Those are mine.” Whatever the Bible has to say, those are the two areas where there’s the greatest resistance.
We’re just going to drive right over that today. We’re going to look at what God’s word has to say about issues of stewardship, and greed versus generosity.
If you’re new, I’m not just picking on you. We’re going through the book of Acts, right? Those of you who have been here for a while know this is just where we find ourselves as we continue our study of God’s word, and here we’re seeing generosity from God’s people and a leader named Barnabas who’s mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
1. THE HOLY SPIRIT
First, we see that generosity is evidence of the Holy Spirit. One of the evidences that someone has met Jesus and received the Holy Spirit is that they have a transition in their view of all that is their possessions. We read of it this way in 4:31: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” So, it says they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then they gave generously. Cause, effect. The Holy Spirit empowered them to be generous.
In addition, we read in 4:33 that they had “great power.” When Luke uses the language of power, it’s almost always in reference to the Holy Spirit. You and I are not inclined naturally toward generosity. Generosity is therefore not natural; it’s supernatural. It’s supernatural. God has to change us, connect us to Jesus, provide for us the person, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of the things he births in us is generosity. Now, that means we’re not just looking for ways we can take, but we’re looking for opportunities we can give. And it becomes a change because we know that God gives to us. We’re grateful for the generosity of God, and then we’re generous toward others because we want to mirror, reflect, image, worship this God who is so generous to us. We want his generosity to be shared with and shown to others, amen? So, it really is a Holy Spirit thing.
So, right now, if you’re like, “I don’t want to talk about money,” the Holy Spirit is trying not to just get the money out of your hands but trying to get the idol out of your heart. He’s dealing with maybe the deep root issue in your soul—and that is that you’re a lover of money. And that makes it hard for you to simultaneously be a lover of God. So, generosity is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Generosity is also evidence of mission, right? We read this in 4:33: “With great power, the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Jesus is God, becomes a man, lives without sin, dies for our sin, rises for our salvation, ascends back into heaven. That’s what we read early on in the book of Acts. He then sends the Holy Spirit to empower his people to continue his mission.
Mars Hill, that’s us. It’s the best mission in the history of the world. It’s the only mission with eternal consequences—and praise God we get to be a part of it.
They can’t stop talking about Jesus, and they want everyone to know that Jesus is alive. And so every sermon or sermon summary in Acts mentions the resurrection of Jesus—“Jesus is alive,” “Jesus is alive,” “Jesus is alive.”
Their generosity is to forward the message, the mission, and the ministry of Jesus. It takes money for a company to move forward. It takes money for a family to move forward. It takes money for a ministry to move forward. And God’s people immediately, because of the Holy Spirit in them, have this desire to fund the mission of getting the message about the Messiah out. They just want it to go out.
Mars Hill, this has to be our heart. We want as many people as possible to hear about Jesus. And we’re privileged to live in an age of technology where, all of a sudden, we can post blogs, sermons, e-books, and resources. We can send broadly. We can give generously. We can impact globally.
I mean, I don’t know if you’ve really thought of this, but to me God’s providence in our life together has been fairly remarkable: God saved me at nineteen in college. I was working on a communications degree before they had something called the Internet. You may have heard of that. And I got my communications degree, so PR, advertising, marketing, speech. I emphasized speech in my degree program. Graduated. We started a core group for Mars Hill Church and, lo and behold, something called the Internet goes public, and a lot of our people are working in a little startup you may have heard of called Microsoft. That’s all the providence of God.
All of a sudden, this great wave rolls in, and it just happens, in the providence of God, that our little Mars Hill surfboard had paddled out, and we got to ride the wave. So, we don’t have a denomination behind us, a marketing firm, a large corporation, or organization that’s sponsoring us. Much of what we have seen is, teach the Bible and send it out. That’s not everything we do. It’s the part I really like, but it’s part of what we do.
Here’s what I want to say: thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you that for seventeen years I’ve been able to open the Bible, teach it. You guys have allowed me to do that, and then you’re generous to help use technology to get that out globally. It’s amazing.
And they got that. They’re part of the mission by helping support those who are preaching the gospel. And I just know that when we get into the kingdom of God, there’s going to be a huge party, and a lot of the people who have received resources, teaching, instruction, and experienced salvation through the message of the Bible are going to thank you for your generosity.
I see it all the time. I’ve had in the last week, I think, thirteen people come up to me separately and say, “I’m growing in Jesus,” or, “I met Jesus. I download sermons. Tell the people at Mars Hill, ‘Thanks for giving so much away.’” So, thank you. It’s awesome! It’s amazing! Some of those are soldiers in tents in Baghdad. Some of those are single moms. Some of those are people who are incarcerated. Some of those are people who are hospitalized.
Some of those are bands that are on tour. Grace and I were having dinner the other night. A guy walks up to us, a cool-looking young guy. He says, “Hey, thanks for putting stuff out there. I met Jesus. I’m growing in my faith. I’m on tour with—” Some of these huge bands that I won’t name-drop. And he said, “I’m on the road, so I listen to the teaching at Mars Hill Church, and I feel like that’s like a church home for me.”
Praise God! Look at what we get to do: we get to learn about Jesus and then send it out to the world. Last year, over 15 million sermons were downloaded. I know it’s not all about the preaching of God’s word, but let me tell you, I love preaching God’s word, I love preaching it here, and I just want to say thank you for the generosity that helps me get the news out about Jesus, ’cause I love what I do. So, thank you.
Generosity is an evidence of the Holy Spirit, mission, and unity. It says in 4:32 that they were “of one heart and soul.” A whole bunch of people, but they’re one. Kind of like—not identical to but kind of like—the Father, Son, Holy Spirit; they’re three persons but one God. Mars Hill’s a whole bunch of people, but we’re one church, we’re one people. There is unity there.
The greatest way to have unity is by having generosity. I’ve seen a lot of church fights, splits, and divisions between the takers and the takers. Not really had to mediate between the givers and the givers; not really been an issue. “No, I would like to give.” “No, I would like to give.” “I will give.” “I will give more.” “I’ll take care of it.” “No, I’ll take care of it.” “I’ll take care of you.” “No, I’ll take care of you.” Oh, let me get in and break this up, all right? [Congregation laughs.] This is really going to a bad place here. All this generosity, and the next thing you know we’ll hug each other. This is just going in the wrong direction. [Congregation laughs.]
Generous people tend to get along. Generous people tend to build unity. In fact, I would tell you, the people who are most unified at Mars Hill are also the most generous to Mars Hill. Because your treasure follows your heart, the Lord Jesus says.
They are one. And what this doesn’t mean is that they had uniformity. Unity and uniformity are different. Unity in our world is all the people of the same age over here. All the people of the same race here. All the people of the same socio-economic background here. All the people of the same subculture or tribe here. It’s unity around uniformity. So, it’s really “like attracts like,” right? Christianity and our church is not about uniformity, where everybody’s the same. It’s about unity. We all agree on who’s most important. What’s his name? Jesus.
You need to know, if you walk into Mars Hill, we’re different races, ages, men, women, young, old, black, white, rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, independent, anarchist—we’re all here, right? The big goofy family that is Mars Hill. You walk in and go, “What brought this crazy little team together?” ’Cause it sure ain’t the hobbies or the life stages or even the political ideology. The answer is, “Hey, Jesus is alive,” and we’re all pretty fired up about that.
That’s where the unity comes. And it doesn’t require uniformity; it actually allows a great amount of diversity, but it provides us an opportunity for unity. That being said, this includes not only the people in our local churches but all of our local churches.
There’s great diversity. We’ve got a church in Sammamish, up on the plateau, with lots of families, lots of kids, everybody’s educated, got a good job, makes a ton of money. Go to Rainier Valley—that’s like a unicorn. They’ve heard of it but never seen it, right? It’s not everybody’s married, has a bunch of kids, went to college, got an MBA, makes a ton of money, lives in a big house, and has a retirement plan. That’s not Rainier Valley. That’s not Rainier Valley. That’s not the University District. The University District is all college kids. Bellevue, a lot of families, young urban professionals. Jump down to Albuquerque, ton of Hispanics, right? Go over to Orange County, it’s a whole other milieu and mix.
Go to Portland—they’re all weird. They’re weird. They’re weird. No, I love Pastor Tim. Pastor Tim is like a brother to me. And he’s in Portland, and they’re doing great. Mars Hill Portland, when you see this, know that I love you, you weird people. I love you, all right? But Portland is a weird place. It is, as Pastor Dave says, what happens to a city when white people go unchecked. [Congregation laughs.] All of a sudden, you’re like,Wow, there’s, like, a guy on a unicycle pedaling to power a blender so he can run a smoothie company, right? That’s Portland, you know? It’s just different.
But this diversity allows us to have great unity even though we’re different people, different cultures, different cities, different states, who knows, maybe one day, different nations—one Jesus. One Jesus. And we see that their generosity is a demonstration of their unity. It’s a demonstration of their unity.
It continues that generosity is also an evidence of love. It says in 4:34, “There was not a needy person among them.” Now, things get really weird in the church when we try to organize the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It gets really weird. So, the Holy Spirit is convicting this person, “Go buy groceries for that single mom,” and convicting this person, “Pay for high school camp for that kid ’cause his family can’t afford it.” And the Holy Spirit’s convicting this, you know, later-in-life couple, “Take that extra car you don’t really need or use or drive, and give it to that college kid who’s all on their own as their family’s abandoned them and they’re new to Jesus,” right? The Holy Spirit’s just sending out little assignments to God’s people. And they’re obeying that: they’re sharing, they’re giving, they’re generous so that nobody has needs. And it’s not like they’re calling the government, saying, “Hey, God’s people have needs again,” ’cause God’s people are meeting the needs of God’s people.
It gets really weird when the church gets legalistic—it tries to organize this. But we want to encourage this and ask you, as the Holy Spirit puts people in front of you and opens your eyes and opens an opportunity, to avail yourself to that opportunity, share, be generous, and give. Love is sometimes what we say—“I love you.” Love is sometimes what we do—“I want to help you.” Love is often what we give—“This is for you.” “This is for you.”
Here, love is demonstrated with generosity. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say, I meet a dad. I go to his house, and he says, “Man, I really love my family.” I say, “That’s great. I’m looking forward to meeting your wife, meeting your kids.” I show up. Wife’s got a beater car, kids don’t have a winter coat, not a lot of food in the fridge. Dad’s got a huge new truck, nice bass boat, some pretty sweet golf clubs, a few hunting rifles, and anATV. And he says, “Hey, here’s my family. I really love them.”
The answer is, “No, you don’t, because your wallet reveals your priorities. And you’ve bought a lot of things for yourself, but you’ve not given generously to your family or those beyond your family. So, you don’t love them. You may love the idea of loving them, but you don’t love them.”
If you want to grow in love for someone, give. This is why givers make the best spouses, why givers make the best parents, why givers make the best friends, why givers make the best employees, why givers make the best church members. You know why? Because they love big and they love well. This is where it’s not just about the giving; it’s about God changing how you interact with everyone and everything else. And generosity is a demonstration of love.
I would say this as well: this includes our economic model at Mars Hill Church. So, let me explain this to you. We’re one church across fourteen locations, and we work as one centralized budget. And we made this decision with the executive elders and outside council. What we didn’t want to have is lots of money go into the rich church and they spend it all, and lots of money go into the poor church and they don’t have any to spend. In a family, you don’t favor one kid over the other, right? Right? OK, this kid’s barefoot, and this kid gets “sick” Nikes. (That’s what my seven-year-old Gideon calls them.) It’s like, “No, that’s not right.” You don’t have one kid, you know, living at a level that’s very different from the other kids; you have some parity and equality across the family.
The way we do it is, we have some of our churches that are more rich, affluent, right? Sammamish, Bellevue, Ballard, West Seattle, and Shoreline tend to have better, greater giving. Rainier Valley—lots of single moms, lots of first-generation immigrants, lots of first-generation converts, not a lot of dads. It’s going to be poor. So is University District. They’re college kids, a lot of them. There are some great families there as well. There are also places where we’re starting new churches, which means, for the early years, they’re not generating a lot of revenue. They’re going to need some support. So, what does that mean for us? It means the more affluent churches give to the more struggling churches.
What this allows us to do is go start churches in places where people don’t because it’s not economically viable. Well, we want to make ends meet, but for us the most important thing is not, “How much money will we make on this?” The question is, “How many people can we reach through this?” ’Cause we use money, but we love people. We don’t love money and use people. We love people and use money.
I’ll give you some really cool examples. When we were over at Mars Hill Sammamish, telling them about Mars Hill Rainier Valley and telling them, “You can’t add a bunch more staff. You’re generating more revenue than you’re spending; you guys are generous and doing good. But we’re sending a lot of it to Rainier Valley because a lot of these kids don’t have dads and it’s a struggling poor community, and we want to have a church there.” They literally almost broke out with the wave. “Yay, we get to give our money away!”
Have you ever done that? Have you ever, writing your bills, were like, “Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Yes, yes, yes!” Right? How many of you while writing your taxes every year are like, “Put on the music, whoo! Give me a drink with an umbrella! I need to celebrate! Ah, it’s tax day!” No, no. If so, call 9-1-1. You are not right, right? But God’s people who have God’s heart for God’s mission give generously to God’s people. And there’s a joy there. There is a love there. There is a generosity there that is not natural—it’s supernatural.
That’s how we do it at Mars Hill Church. And I want to thank those of you who are generous, who allow us to do the kind of ministry that we get to do in places like U-District and Rainier Valley, and also start new churches. It’s a demonstration of love.
In addition, generosity is an evidence of leadership. So, the church is generous, but who’s the guy who’s named? Barnabas—Barney, son of encouragement. Tell me if this isn’t weird: the Bible just told us about a guy’s giving. How many of you would be not so excited if we told everyone about your giving? Like, if right now I said, “OK, we’ve got forty minutes, and now we’re going to roll through the people in the church, and we’re going to look at all their giving.” How would that go for you? How many of you right now would feel like you’ve got to go to the bathroom, right? You would get into your car and drive as fast as you can, as far as you’re able. You’d say, “No, no, no, no, no, don’t talk—” OK, we’re not going to do that. Probably, OK? Let me just make it uncomfortable for you, but anyways. “Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha—” Nervous laugh—“ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, don’t tell them what I didn’t give, OK?”
Here’s the deal. We know what Barnabas gave. Why? He’s the leader. And part of a leader’s duty is to set an example because if the leader isn’t generous, the people won’t be generous. Do you know that we track the giving of all the elders at Mars Hill Church? Let’s say somebody comes up and says, “I feel called to be a leader”—like a high leader. We’re going to look at, “Well, do you give?” And if they don’t give, the answer is? Not yet. Not yet. Because if you’re not generous toward God’s people, you have no right to lead God’s people, right? If you’re not generous toward God’s people, you shouldn’t have the right to lead God’s people.
Barnabas is a very generous man. In that day, your wealth was primarily tied to your land. You don’t have investments and the kinds of portfolios that we do today. It was really about commodities. You own land, you own gold, you own silver, you own cows; you own stuff. And that was your inheritance you handed to your kids and your grandkids. And that’s actually a good idea. Proverbs says that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.
But the Holy Spirit convicts Barnabas. And I would ask what does the Holy Spirit convict you to do? He says, “You know what? I want you to sell that land, and I want you to give all the money.” What does Barnabas do? He sells the land, he gives all the money, and he goes on to be a leader in the church. You could read the rest of the Bible, in Acts, and he’s mentioned a couple of times. He’s a leader.
Leaders need to be generous. Leaders have to be generous. If your leaders are takers not givers, in Luke 6:40, the Lord Jesus says that when fully trained, students become like their teacher. Greedy people train greedy people. Takers train takers. Generous people train generous people. It’s modeling and showing more than it’s requiring and demanding.
Barnabas—here’s what’s cool: he’s called the “son of encouragement.” One of the ways that he encouraged was through giving. How many of you like to give gifts, right? I married that girl. You know what we have in our house? Tons of gifts. We don’t know who they’re going to yet, but we’re ready. We have boxes, bins, closets filled with gifts. Anybody who comes over to our house is going to get a gift. I promise you, they’re going to get a gift. Do you have this book? “No.” You do now. Oh, you’re pregnant? Perfect, I have a onesie. We have stuff everywhere. You know why? Grace is a giver. And that’s one of the ways that she encourages.
For how many of you, your encouragement sometimes is, “I give you words, but sometimes I give you gifts?” See, Barnabas was an encourager, and I think he encouraged in part with his generosity. He was a really generous, joyful guy, and let me say that those two things go together. Generous people tend to be joyful people.
Number 6. I’m going on vacation tomorrow; lower your expectations, numbers are hard. Generosity is evidence of trust. This is a little crazy to me, OK? So, Barney sells the land. I don’t know what he gets. Let’s say $600,000, right? So he gets a big old Santa sack and loads it up with, I don’t know, mina, denari, whatever they’ve got. Now, here’s Barney coming into church, walks up to the front, where does he drop the offering? Where does it say? Not a trick question. It’s in your Bible, next to your wallet. What does it say? “At the apostles’ feet.” In front of everybody.
Imagine if I did this right now. I said, “OK, we’re going to collect our tithes and offerings. Just bring them up and put them right here, right around at my—actually, at my feet,” right? You’d take a photo, put it on Instagram, and I would be picketed before I ended the sermon, OK? That’s how it would go. Say, “Just stack it up and, if need be, I’ll look over the top, and I’ll finish my last point over the pile of loot. It’s pretty amazing.” We’re not going to do that either.
But what does it illustrate? How much trust did they have in the leadership? That’s a high trust. For how many of you if you sold a rental home, a vacation home, a piece of commercial real estate, and you wanted to give it all to the church, you just showed up and said, “Hey, I trust you guys, whatever,” you’d be like, “No, no, no, I’ve got a lot of questions first. Let me check. Where’s the financial statement? Let me meet the CFO. You know, how are things spent? What’s the budget?” I mean, you’re going to have a lot of questions. They trusted the leadership.
Let me say this: We would encourage God’s people to be generous and good stewards. Give to churches—and here they’re not giving to parachurch or a cause or something. They’re giving to the church. It’s the only institution Jesus made. It’s the only one that’ll be around when he comes back. Everything else has a life cycle. The church endures forever. They give to the church. He gives to the church, and they trust the leadership.
If you’re at Mars Hill, we want to be trustworthy. If you’re visiting, we want you to find a church where you could trust the leadership so you can give generously, OK? But this is where the church is young and they don’t have even all the things that we have in place. We’re part of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. It’s an external gold standard. They look at all of our processes and procedures and payroll, and they give us, you know, a passing-grade gold star. We have an external firm that audits our books and does a full thorough review and gives us a report. We also have an external board, not employees of the church, to whom we are accountable, that do have legal jurisdiction, and they’re over us so that we’re under authority, right? We’ve got a greatCFO who’s from Deloitte & Touche, a great accountant—you can pray for his wife as she’s battling cancer. We have a great accounting department. Our executive pastor is world-class. I mean, he got his MBA and went to Harvard and ran a real estate empire for the Prince of Qatar as the CEOof 1,500 employees and $38 billion, OK?
So, all that to say, we really want to be a trustworthy organization, amen? And we want you to trust that we’re trying by God’s grace to be good stewards so that you can be generous with a clear conscience.
And we see that here: they gave generously and they trusted wholeheartedly, and they knew that even though all of these things were not yet in place—all of these things were not yet in place—they trusted the leadership, even though Judas, who had been the CFO, just hung himself after stealing. Apparently, they cleaned up their accounting department, and now they have a high degree of trust with their donor base, amen? So, all of that is generosity, generosity, generosity.
GREED IS . . .
And now, we have a tragic example of greed. Grab your Bible, Acts 5:1–11. We’ll read it together. “But”—all right, that’s pretty indicative of where we’re going, right? “A man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira,” right? And be careful too, you guys who are new Christians—you’re like, “Oh, we’re going to name our baby. Go to the concordance. I love ‘Sapphira.’” No, no, no, look it up first, right? “Yeah, this is Judas. That’s my other kid, Achan.” Like, oh boy, OK, yeah. [Congregation laughs]
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property”—sounds eerily familiar, right? _Hey, this is what Barney did—“And with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of that land? While it remains unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and he breathed his last.” He died.
Do you think that was an awkward offering, right? You’re sitting next to Ananias, “Hey, how are you doing, yeah?” Grab the plate, hand it to him, he dies. [Whistles.] “Bring it back, I got to put a little more in there just in case. This is a scary day.” “When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard it. The young men rose up and wrapped him and carried him out and buried him.”
All of a sudden, they had to have a burial ministry. What a weird day it is to be an usher. You’re like, “OK, I’ll hand out the flyers.” He died. Who buries him? I don’t know, rock, paper, scissors. [Mimics rock, paper, scissors. Points finger.] You—you know? He didn’t tithe a lot. Did he tithe enough for a shovel? [Congregation laughs.] Like, you know, it’s a—I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have said that. But it’ll happen again, so I’d just—yeah, OK.
Verse 7, “After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in.” Here she comes, ladies. “Not knowing what had happened.” So she couldn’t text him. “And Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” Died.
“When the young men came in they found her dead”—the interns always get these jobs, by the way. It’s the what men? Young men. “They carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard those things.”
How many of us reading that go, “Wow, that’s harsh,” right? This is the New Testament. I was thinking they learned their lesson, they ran some Dave Ramsey Financial Peace classes, and the whole city got the gift of budgeting. Amen, yay.” They died.
You know why it bothers us? I read the commentators on this, and they all have a little hard time with it. Here’s why it bothers us: because we’re not dead, OK? How many of you reading it are like, “Well, if God kills people who don’t give enough, hmm, what am I doing here?” Like, if God kills bad stewards, we should all be dead. God gives grace. Sometimes we presume upon his grace and when he gives less grace to someone than we’ve received, it reminds us how much grace we have, amen? So, this is an opportunity in God’s grace to get a renewing of the mind and a re-adjusting of our priorities.
But they just died. Now, let me say two things that are not things I would assure you of but I’m thinking about.
Number one, I wonder if Ananias and Sapphira were somehow leaders in the early church, in part because we hear about Barnabas—like, everybody in the church is not named except for Barnabas because he’s a leader. And then, these two people are listed as, you know, doing the opposite of Barnabas and not giving the whole amount of the sold property. But I’m wondering if they’re not leaders and if it’s not comparing and contrasting the gifts of leaders and their generosity. And I say that in part because most of the time that the New Testament mentions someone by name, they’re a leader, because the leader is held to a higher standard.
Number two, I don’t know how it worked, but I wonder if it wasn’t like this. I wonder if they didn’t have a piece of property they were going to sell, and they thought, Oh, I don’t know, we’ll just pick a number—it’ll bring in $800,000, fair market value, right? We Zillowed it, and it came up $800,000. And then it went to market, and I wonder if it wasn’t a situation like it was some years ago where there were bidding wars, competitive offers, and escalator clauses, and now it goes for a million bucks. And Ananias and Sapphira are sitting at home going, “Well, we thought we’d give $800,000. We got $1 million. That seems like a lot. Here’s what we’ll do: we’ll keep $200,000.”
OK, let’s just be honest, while you’re holding your wallet and your Bible, how many of us would be tempted to do the same thing? How many of us have done the same thing? How many of us have done it with less money but similar percentages?
Now, some of you are like, “Man, he’s really going after money.” OK, if you’ve been at Mars Hill Church, I go after everything, right? Right? Like, we go after every—adultery? Going after it, right? Pride, lust, greed, covetousness, stealing, murder. I’m not super shy, right? We’re talking about money today. We’re going to go after it.
I think this is why sometimes God ties our giving to a percentage. So it’s, “OK, I’ll give the Lord this much money,” because if he increases your income, your giving should increase as well. Fact: the more you make, the less you give percentage-wise of gross or net income. Poor people give more as a percentage than rich people. And so, some people wrongly think, Well, when I make more money, I will give more money. You may not. In fact, statistically, you probably will not. And so, God likes to tie giving sometimes to percentages so that as our standard of income increases we first increase our standard of giving before we increase our standard of living.
That being said, six things I want to examine about greed.
Number one, greed is stealing. It’s not yours; you can’t keep it. It says in 5:2, “He kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it.” The word there is literally “to pilfer, to embezzle.” I want you guys to hear this: if you are—whether you work for the church or a company or whatever it is—falsifying the books, you’re stealing. If you’re paid to work a certain number of hours and you’re loafing, you’re stealing. If you are falsifying reimbursements to have the company or the church pay for things that they shouldn’t, that’s stealing. If you are taking things that belong to the organization home with you, it’s stealing.
The biggest problem that companies have today is not consumer theft—it’s employee theft. They can put a security guard out front to make sure that the customers don’t steal, but it’s the back door that the employees go out that’s really the one that’s troublesome. So as God’s people, we need to say, “Man, they’ve made the Ten Commandments. If something doesn’t belong to me I shouldn’t put my hands on it, or if it doesn’t belong to me, it’s to pass through my hands, not remain in my hands.”
They are guilty of stealing. And it’s not that they weren’t generous, but it’s that they didn’t give what the Holy Spirit told them to. They gave but not what he said. So, I don’t want to tell you what to give. What I would tell you is, ask him what you’re supposed to give—I don’t know—and whatever that is, give that. But the Holy Spirit gave them some direction, “Sell it, give it.” They sold it, gave part of it.
Number two, greed is demonic. So, we say, “Well, you know, we view economics differently, we’ve got different perspectives, you know? There are alternative economic lifestyles. We each got our way of seeing things.” Here’s what Peter says in Acts 5:3: “Why has Satan filled your heart?” Who’s supposed to fill our heart, Mars Hill? Holy Spirit. “Don’t be drunk with wine; be filled with the Holy Spirit”—Ephesians 5—“be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Their thoughts, their thinking, their motivations, their desires—they’re demonic. The heart is the seat, sum, and center of your identity. It’s mentioned over 900 times in the Bible. The Bible says in Proverbs that your life comes out of your heart. So, your spending is revealing what you’re ultimately loving.
It says, “Why have you allowed Satan to fill your heart?” Sounds familiar? Who else comes to mind when you hear the words, “Satan entered their heart?” Who comes to mind, Mars Hill? Judas Iscariot. Jesus’ ministry had some revenue. They had their first CFO; their Chief Financial Officer was Judas Iscariot. He had the money bag. He paid the bills, and he took in the tithes and offerings. And though he was with Jesus for three years, the Bible says he was stealing the whole time. Stealing from Jesus.
It’s horrible to steal. It’s particularly horrible to steal from the church. Jesus is having a meal with his disciples. He looks at Judas and he says, “Satan has filled your heart.” What does Judas then do? Betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver in fulfillment of the prophesy in Zachariah.
When Satan fills your heart, you’ll trade Jesus for money. That’s exactly what Judas did. You can have Jesus or money. Judas said, “I’ll take the money.” Ananias and Sapphira knew the love of Jesus, and they could choose to walk with Jesus or keep their money. They tried to have both.
See, in the first example, Judas is like some of you who would say, “I would give my life to Jesus, but I don’t want it to affect my bottom line.” Some of you are like Ananias and Sapphira who say, “I will be part of the church, and I will allow it to affect some of my economics, but Jesus cannot control all of my economics. I’ll try to find a way to negotiate with him. OK, I’ll give you a percentage, but not the full percentage you want.”
Here’s the truth, guys. We don’t negotiate with God; we obey him. Jesus is our treasure. He is invaluable. His grace is in no way comparable to wealth. It can’t be purchased. That’s why it’s given. And it lasts forever.
But people like Judas, if it’s Jesus or money, they would forsake Jesus for more money. People like Ananias and Sapphira will try to get Jesus and money and strike a deal with God to where they can have both gods. And that’s demonic, OK? And we live in a day, you need to know, that a lot of thinking is demonic. And that is, Everyone owes me. That’s demonic because, see, Satan is a taker, and God is a giver.
Number three: greed is lying. It says in 5:3, “Peter asked why did you ‘lie to the Holy Spirit?’” So, the Holy Spirit convicts you, convicts them, convicts me, convicts us of something that he wants us to do or give, and then we say, “We did it,” and we didn’t. We’re lying. Then he says in verse 4, “You didn’t just lie to men, but you lied to God.”
This is in my understanding the clearest declaration in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit is God. You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit; you’ve lied to God because the Holy Spirit is God. It’s lying.
Now, OK, here we go. If you were in church that day, and Ananias brings up the loot and drops it at the feet of the apostles, would it look like he was generous? Yes or no? That looks very generous. And he was lying. You can look generous and still be lying. And that’s when you’re giving for people’s praises and not God’s glory. You could be giving with your hands but not giving with your heart. And that was the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Before we just judge them and say, “Oh, I can’t believe they did that,” let’s look at how we do that. If you were to go on social media today, you would assume and presume that this is the most generous generation of young people in the history of the country. Because everybody’s got a cause, right? Everybody, I mean, everybody’s got a cause. Wave the I’m-for-this-organization, I’m-for-this-cause, I’m-for-this-movement, I’m— flag. Yes, and you need to give, and click here, and give to that. And everybody’s waving a flag.
Statistically, they’re giving very little, and they’re not giving for very long. It’s a bandwagon culture. “Jump on and be one of us good people.” “Yeah, I’m one of the good people. I gave five bucks. I waved the flag. I put it on social media. I can check the box of generosity and move on.” Why do we do that? Because everybody’s watching. And it makes us look socially, civically minded, generous, caring, and compassionate. And that’s Ananias and Sapphira. And that’s lying. It’s appearing to be giving when you’re not.
Greed is also heart-revealing. He says in Acts 5:4, “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart?” Before it’s ever a problem in your finances, it’s a problem in your soul, OK? And even as I teach this, I know the resistance. Here I am, running into a stiff wind, right? And you’re not like, “Yes, tell me to be less greedy, less me-centered, more generous in God’s—” “Yes, I was hoping that the megachurch pastor would talk about money today. Thank you, Pastor Mark. God does answer prayer.” I know it’s not that way. But it’s the heart.
For those of you who are generous, you’re good stewards, and you’re obeying the Holy Spirit, what I’m saying doesn’t bother you at all; it actually makes you joyful. If it bothers you, it’s because there’s a problem. And it reveals our heart.
Here’s the issue with money: we have idols in our heart. I think it was John Calvin who said that the human heart is an idol factory. We try and find people and things to worship rather than God. And the money isn’t what we worship. The money is the means by which we worship our idol.
I’ll give you some examples. So, let’s say your God is comfort. Will more money allow you to achieve your god of comfort? Yes or no? Totally. Let’s say your god, your idolatry is status. You want everyone to think you’re very successful. Will more money allow you to pursue that? “Yes, I could buy these clothes, I could drive this car, I could use this technology, I could present myself in this way. It shows how successful I am.” Let’s say that your idol is beauty. If you have more money, can you make yourself appear more attractive? Yes. Let’s say that your idol is your spouse’s beauty. We call them the trophy, OK? If you generate more money, can you get a better trophy or get your old trophy all dolled up? Yes. Yes.
We use money to feed our idols, and that is a revelation of our heart. Now, some of you will immediately be confused and you’ll say this: “But I read a story in the news where somebody died. They lived in a dumpy old house. They drove a broken-down old car. They wore a threadbare sweater. They never turned on the heater. And they died and left $10 million. What about them?” Have you ever seen that story? Happens all the time. You know what their idol was? Security. So, they wouldn’t spend a dime in case anything bad happened. “That’s OK. I can get my money, and I’ll be all right.” And it was feeding their idol of security. It does reveal their heart.
Number five: greed is contagious. Acts 5:9, “You have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord.” Ananias comes in, lies, dies. Sapphira comes in, lies, dies. They’re co-conspirators; they’re collaborators. When people are thieving, they tend to do so in collusion, right? You’re at work, trying to rip off your boss, somebody’s got to work with—“Say I was there,” “Say you saw me,” “Say I didn’t do it,” “Cover for me,” “Punch me in,” “Punch me out,” whatever the case may be. “Cover me.”
Some of you ladies are going to read this and you’ll say, “Well, I thought the wife was supposed to submit to her husband?” Ultimately, she’s supposed to submit to the Lord, and if he’s stealing from the Lord, she should not follow him to the grave. “A prudent wife”—this is from the Lord, Genesis 2:18, that the wife is supposed to be the helper. Sapphira should have walked in and said, “My husband’s a crook. I can’t find him, but he’s been stealing,” and she would have been fine. But as it was, he lied and died, and she lied and died. She shouldn’t have been following her husband because he wasn’t following Jesus.
It’s contagious. So, let’s say you grow up in a home where, let’s say, your dad is a hustler and a stealer. Kids are going to pick that up. Let’s say you grow up in a home where mom and dad are generous. Kids are going to pick that up. Mom and dad are looking for opportunities to bless, love, serve, give. So are the kids. If the kids are like their parents and their parents are looking for ways to thieve, steal, use, manipulate, they’re going to grow up to be like that because these issues are contagious.
Lastly, greed is damnable. They both what? Die. There’s no happy ending. The whole church is just—nobody’s blinking, they’re all looking at each other, like, “Wow!” God cares a lot about stewardship. It’s damnable. It’s damnable.
Ownership Vs. Stewardship
What we’re seeing here is the difference between ownership and stewardship. I’ll close with that big idea. Ownership leads to greed; stewardship leads to generosity. Ownership leads to greed; stewardship leads to generosity.
Ownership and stewardship are major themes in the Bible. The Bible actually has, I believe, having studied it now for over twenty years, three major themes: sin, suffering, stewardship. I think those are the three main themes of the Bible. And each of us is going to read the Bible, and certain themes are going to jump out to us. So, those are the people, the verses, the stories that are going to sort of leap off the page, and we’re going to catch those most easily.
So, how many of you, when you read the Bible, all you see is sin? “Do this, do not do that, here are the consequences. You need to repent, or you’re going to hell.” How many of you read the Bible and you’re like, “That jumps out. I get that. That’s what I see,” OK? Raise your hand. How many of you? Do a little survey here.
Suffering. You go to the Bible. People are hurting, people are sinned against, people are sick, people are demonized, people are oppressed. There are unjust laws, there’s greed, there’s lack of generosity. God cares for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, the hurting, the afflicted. He weeps with those who weep. He comforts those who are mourning. How many of you say, “Yeah, when I read the Bible and I see Jesus, that really jumps out to me. That’s what jumps out to me,” OK? Be honest.
Stewardship. God owns everything. He wants a good return on investment. Invest wisely, give generously, steward faithfully. You gravitate toward Proverbs, which has a lot of this stuff. You look at everybody in the Bible who’s a leader, a financier, a political leader, and an investor. You go to Joseph, who saves up for the rainy day. You go to guys like Nehemiah, who raised a ton of money for massive ministry efforts. And you gravitate toward Jesus’ parables, because 25 percent of Jesus’ teaching was on finances and stewardship, and that includes a lot of his parables where he’s talking about business and return on investment. How many of you are more stewardship? When you open the Bible, you’re like, “I get that. I’m trying to figure how to be a good leader, good financer, good businessperson.”
All three themes are in the Bible. And it’s not like one is good and one is bad. I want you to see this. We’ll just do this since we’re here. What do you think I am? Sins, suffering, stewardship? Sin is the big one for me, OK? And I tend to cause suffering by talking about sin, right? No, I care about sin, and I want people to repent. I care about suffering people, and I care about stewardship. But my strength historically, I’m more like prophet—“Repent, repent, repent.” Would you agree with that?
GOOD STEWARDS LOVE AND CARE FOR MORE PEOPLE
Here’s what I’ve learned: those who understand stewardship help us love and care for more people ’cause they’re not wasting leaders, dollars, facilities, and technologies. Those who understand stewardship help us love and serve more hurting people, and they help us get the word of God out further, farther, faster.
So, praise God for those who are skilled in stewardship. It means we’re not going to waste our energies, our efforts, our dollars, or our resources. We want to get the best return on investment, we want to love and help as many hurting people as possible, and we want the message of Jesus to go out to as many people as possible.
Do you see how this all works together? That’s why this issue in Acts 5 is so damnable. That could have helped more people and reached more people but, as it is, you’re just lying and stealing. It’s about the mission, not just the money. It’s about the mission, not just the money. That’s the story of Acts 5.
Here is ownership versus stewardship: Ownership is, “It’s mine. It’s mine. I’ve earned it. I deserve it. I’m entitled to it. I will consume it. I will use it. I will enjoy it. I will spend it. It’s mine.” Stewardship is, “It’s not mine.” You notice these are different? “It’s all his. I’m his. God doesn’t give to me; God gives through me. I’m not an owner; I’m a steward.”
In the same way, if somebody dies, they leave a will and give instructions for the inheritance to the executor of the will, who does not own the estate. He is to oversee the disbursement of the estate to those who receive the inheritance. You and I, in the economy of God, are not the recipients; we’re the distributors. We’re like the executors of the will. And in the will, God is gracious and says, “OK, you’re the executor. I’m going to give these things to you. The rest, I need you to pass on to them.” We’re in that position. That’s what a steward is and does.
A DIFFERENT WAY TO LOOK AT TITHING
I’ll tell you the difference between ownership thing and the stewardship thing. I was having a conversation not long ago with a guy—a new Christian, a great Christian—you know. Every time they find out you’re a pastor, they’re like, “I’ve got a question.” You’re like, OK, OK, here we go.
His question was, “Tithing. What about tithing? What about tithing?” I said, “Well, it’s 10 percent. It’s in the Old Testament.” And his basic question was, “Why does God get 10 percent of my money?” I said, “Well, OK, let’s look at it another way. Why do you get 90 percent of his money?”
How many of you have realized, “Oh, yeah, that’s a different way to look at it.” If God came to you and said, “I own everything, but I’m going to share some of it with you. We’re going to do a split.” You’d be like, “Ah, what percentage do I get?” And he said, “Ninety,” you’d be like, “Good deal. Way better than the government. Good deal.” How many of you would love it if the government said, “Ten percent flat tax. That covers your property taxes, covers your, you know, purchasing taxes, your sales taxes, your death inheritance taxes, your FICA, your Social Security”? You’d be like, “10 percent!” I can’t do a back flip, but I would try, amen? I would try really hard. You understand then how generous God is. That’s stewardship mentality. That’s stewardship mentality.
Let me close with this. Here’s what a preacher means when he says, “And let me close with this”: Nothing. It just means you might not pay attention, OK? So, is God like this—closed-handed? “It’s mine. It’s all mine. Give it to me. It’s mine.” Is God like that? Or is the God of the Bible like this: “It’s mine, and I like to share it with you. I’m like a dad who’s really generous with his kids and loves to bless them. I’m a God who keeps his hands open ’cause I’m all about sharing and loving and giving”?
BEFORE YOU GIVE ANYTHING, GOD GIVES YOU EVERYTHING
See, this is where Christianity is different from other religions. Before God asks you to give anything, God gives you everything. That’s amazing! Our God is a giver, not a taker. God does take. If you’re new, and you’re not a Christian. get ready for the mind-blow. Ready? So, you’re here today, you say, “OK, I’m not a Christian. I want to come to Jesus and become a Christian. What do I give him?”
What do you give him, Mars Hill? What do they give him? Sin. Like, if I was going to ask for something, I would not ask for that. Like, if I was God with a Christmas list, what do you want? “Sin. Everybody’s sin. I want all the sin.” Right? It’s how we know we didn’t make the Bible up. Like, nobody made this up. This is a God who’s beyond our comprehension of kindness. Here’s what God says: “Give me your sin. And I’ll give you my salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, eternal life, love, adoption into my family, new nature, and the Holy Spirit.”
That’s what I get? It’s not a fair deal. No, that’s a grace deal. And Jesus goes to the cross and dies for your sin and pays your debt to God. And then, he invites you to be on mission with him—“Hey, there’s a whole world of people out there that are still in their sin and they don’t know their Savior. Let’s go get them.” You say, “Yeah, that’d be amazing! I’d love people to meet you, Jesus. After what you’ve done for me, I want everyone to experience that.” Jesus says, “All right. If you’re going to go with me, let me put some stuff in your hands. But don’t hold it like this; hold it like this. Don’t just keep it; share it.”
The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. Do you know who is the most joyful person? God. Because no one’s given more than God. No one’s more joyful than God. And when God’s people get God’s heart, they become generous, they become joyful, they experience the joy of giving, they get to see others experience grace through them, and they’re so glad that Jesus would share with them this message and mission of generosity and salvation.
Mars Hill, it’s the best life. I want you to have joy. And to have joy you need to have Jesus. And if you have Jesus, you must be generous.
At this point, we’re going to transition. We always take Communion. And Communion is where we remember that God so loved the world he—[Motions to the congregation. Congregation responds, “Gave.”] Gave! And who did he give us? Gave us Jesus.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND
So, as we come to Communion, we remember we give God our sin, and he gives us our Savior. And when we take the bread, it reminds us that Jesus gave his body. When we take the drink, we remember that Jesus gave us his blood for our sin. That’s a gift, amen? And we remember that salvation is a gift.
We’re also going to give of our tithes and offerings, and as we are, let me just do a little wrap-up with you. I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and a little church family update: we just finished our fiscal year at the end of June. Here’s where we’re at as we collect our offering: We’re in the summertime. We’re over 9,000 adults a week, over 2,000 kids a week. About 11,500 a week, and about 36 percent of the entire church is giving anything in the last year. To those of you who have been generous and contributed, thank you. And for the rest, we invite you to do the same.
Here’s where we’re at: Our giving and our expenses are basically identical, so we’re living within our proverbial means. We don’t have a ton of margin, but we are being good stewards by God’s grace and the leadership of some people who are very good at these things.
Here’s how we ended the fiscal year at the end of June: We brought in $900,000 less than we were anticipating. But because we have a great team who understands stewardship and our reporting is very quick, we didn’t have a deficit. We were able to course-correct our spending, so we basically ended the year with a very small surplus. And that’s a thing to rejoice in. Maybe some of you set your budget, and then your income wasn’t where it should be. As a good steward, you adjust your expenses so that you’re not in debt. That’s exactly what we did this year.
We did see a 13 percent increase in giving over last year, so thank you for that.
Once again, we’re averaging about 100 baptisms a month. And of all the things I could tell you, that’s one of the most encouraging—three or four years in a row now we’re averaging 100 baptisms a month every single month. And we praise God for all those people meeting Jesus. Our high-water mark this year was 21,000 at Easter, and we’re always praying to serve more people.
Here’s what’s next: Ten Commandments will start in the fall. Then we’re going to go through the book of Malachi over the Christmas season, and then January through Easter, we’re going to go through James, the book written by Jesus’ brother. So tons of Bible. Big shock there. That’s what we’re doing.
Mars Hill Kids has new content and a new director. Pray for them. We’ve got over 3,000 kids, ten and under, across the whole church on a good Sunday.
I’ve got another book coming out, and we’ve got a big conference in November. Rick Warren, Greg Laurie, James MacDonald, Matt Chandler, Crawford Loritts, and myself are going to be in Downtown Seattle simulcasting to Bellevue, down to Mars Hill Albuquerque, to our network churches in Reno and Orlando. Big leadership event. You are all welcome; we’d love to have you.
You heard it here first: we have 14 churches; we’re pregnant with our 15th. That would explain my weight gain. It is Mars Hill Phoenix, amen? There you go. So, Lord willing, we’re going to start Mars Hill Phoenix, amen? What a great place to go during the winter. Go visit Mars Hill Phoenix. So, pray for them as we’re gathering a core and sending Pastor Ryan and getting ready to launch Mars Hill Phoenix.
Coming up next week as well, Grace, the Fab 5, and I are going on a little vacation so, because you guys are the best and I love you, I wanted to bring in some of my best friends, and I asked them to preach their best sermon. So, here’s what we’ve got coming up in the next five weeks: We’ve got Paul Tripp, Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem—I’m really excited about that—Larry Osborne, who’s on our external board, and my friend Eric Mason. They’re all coming to preach what they think is the best sermon they’ve ever preached. We love you. You’re going to have a summer of really great, awesome, amazing, gifted, all doctorates, published authors, Bible teachers, amen?
At Mars Hill, we love Bible teaching, and I love teaching you, but I’m really excited for you to hear God’s word through some other voices. And so, that being said, I’ll pray, and we’ll give you an opportunity to respond.
Father God, thanks for an opportunity to teach the Scriptures today. God, I pray for us, that we would not worship wealth but that we would worship you with our wealth. That we would not use people to make money but we would use money to love people.
And Lord Jesus, I thank you that you spoke of these issues a lot because there’s a lot that we need to think about. I thank you God for those who are good stewards, and I pray that they would be encouraged today. And I pray for those who are bad stewards, that they would seek out those who are good stewards and ask for some instruction and help. And God, ultimately, all is for the glory of Jesus, and so we want to be good stewards. And we ask for this grace in his good name. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
Jesus says that people are prone to worship God or money. Money, perhaps along with sex, is the most pernicious, pervasive idol in our culture today. Despite whatever the Bible has to say about it, it’s a topic that’s met with the greatest resistance. This sermon looks at what God’s word has to say about issues of stewardship, and greed versus generosity.