Worship and Boldness
The Book of Acts is set in a battleground. The enemies look different to those of the Old Testament (Goliath, the Amalekites and so on), but opposition rages on. And in this passage, we see two weapons in the fight to advance the kingdom of God: boldness and worship.
The first weapon is clear: to speak the word of God with boldness. It’s interesting to see how the believers, in prayer, remind God of His voice through time: the voice that said “Let there be light”, the voice that (through the Spirit) spoke through David, and the voice that was heard on the earth through Jesus. Tom Wright puts it like this: “when the apostles quote Psalm 2 in their confident, exhilarated prayer, they are not just finding a vague proof-text… they are calling up a very specific text which speaks graphically and powerfully of the Messiah as the Son of God, destined to rule the whole world.”
We worship a God who speaks, and it is so. We worship a God who cried out, “it is finished!” And all our sins were dealt with. No wonder they were able to worship in prison and speak boldly in front of the council: the voices of the opposition probably sounded tiny in comparison.
The second weapon – worship – takes a little more teasing out. I’ve noticed recently that when Kees leads a morning service, he’ll say “let’s continue our worship with singing,” or words to that effect. I think others have started doing the same thing! It’s good to be challenged when we fall into the trap of saying inaccurate things by rote. And it’s true of course: while it’s Biblical and edifying to sing praises to God, it’s also correct that this is only one of the ways we worship.
So anyway, I see Barnabas’ generosity (4:36-37) as an act of worship. The passage tells us that Barnabas was a Levite – part of the tribe responsible for leading Israel in worship, part of the tribe entrusted with carrying the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15-16), part of a mighty, joyful, noisy bunch of musicians! There’s something joyful about Barnabas’ giving – nobody has coerced him into giving but he is stirred to generosity. He’s worshipping God sacrificially and he’s sowing into the mission of the early church. He’s worshipping in a way that shows that he is free of a love of money and full of a love of others.
It comes as something of a shock, therefore, to see how Ananais and Sapphira act. Why did they do it? John Piper argues that perhaps they “functioned on a human level” and never really regarded Holy Spirit as a real person. Or perhaps they thought that he wasn’t God and therefore didn’t know their hearts and minds. Or perhaps they thought that he wouldn’t really punish them.
Either way, both Ananais and Sapphira fall down dead. This isn’t as common an occurrence in the Bible as many might think, but it’s not unprecedented. In fact, it reminds me of a similar time in the Old Testament where the presence of God was in the Israelite’s midst, and Uzzah fell down dead after touching the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:7).
In any case, this passage serves as a reminder of how our attitude to money tells us a lot about our attitude to God. Do we worship money, or do we use money to worship God? Is money the object of our love, or a means by which to show love? Let’s be free of our love of things, and firm in our love for each other!