What is the Meaning of Acts 4.32-5.11

Community And Discipline

Acts 4:32-5:11

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Acts 2 ended with a note of community Acts 2:41-47. And then Peter heals a man crippled from birth (3:1-8). The people witness this (3:9-10) and Peter responds to the people with his second sermon (3:11-26). Peter and John are arrested (4:1-4). They then appear before the Sanhedrin where Peter makes his defense (4:5-12). The Sanhedrin debate what to do with them (4:13-17) and they decide to release them (4:19-22). Peter and John then return to the believers and pray (4:23-31). And then there is again a note of community (4:32-37).

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This section divides up into two. First, we have the disciples sharing all their possessions (4:32-37).

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And then we have the discipline of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11).

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Disciples Sharing All Their Possessions (4:32-37)

Luke reminds us in verse 33 (cf. 31) that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit and so they speak the word of God with boldness.

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Those empowered by the Holy Spirit are bold and powerful witnesses.

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The rest of the verses in this section focuses on their community. There are several statements.

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  • “One heart and soul”

They were truly encouraging one another and experienced great fellowship and companionship.

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  • they had their possessions in common

Christian communism? No, this is willful, not forced: “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own.” They voluntarily sold their property and the right of possession was not outlawed. Property or money did not belong to the community of disciples until it had been given to the apostles. See Acts 5:4, 5. Peter’s speech here tells us that they were under no obligation to sell their property and after they did sell it, they were not required to give all of it or any of it to the church if they didn’t want to. This was their choice.

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  • no needy person among them

And it was not equal distribution. It was according to need.

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  • property owners sold their property and brought the value to be shared

We should not assume that a property owner sold everything that he had and so thus he became poor himself. Rather, it is better to picture it as the rich selling of possessions sufficient enough to help others in need. The church is to care for its own (1 Timothy 5:3-16; Acts 11:28-29).

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Insert one notable example: Acts 4:36-37 36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

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This is setting up a “foil” in contrast to what will happen with the deviant couple at the beginning of chapter 5. We have here a righteous individual and then que the sinful couple in chapter 5.

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“This is part of the Lukan belief that wealth is used properly when it builds relationships and community (Luke 12:33–34; 16:9; Acts 2:44–45; 11:27–30; 24:17). What concerns the evangelist are the social benefits of wealth rightly used. What he wants to avoid is the use of wealth in the service of private indulgence. Wealth is properly used, he thinks, when disciples live out of their being filled with the Holy Spirit. Only if they do not follow the guidance of the Spirit will they use wealth for private indulgence instead of to express and build community. Barnabas is depicted here as one who follows the Spirit’s leading (cf. 11:24).”[1]

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In Barnabas, we have one good example. In the next section, we have two bad examples.

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The Discipline Of Ananias And Sapphira (5:1-11)

Notice the similarities between Acts 5:1-6 and 5:7-11

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  • the name (Ananais, v.1; Sapphira, v.7)
  • Peter’s speech (5:3-4; 8-9)
  • the one falling down and dying (5:5; 5:10)
  • men, carry, bury (5:6; 5:10)
  • fear among all (5:5; 5:11)

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Read Acts 5:1-11

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What sin did this couple commit? Remember this is voluntary giving. See Acts 5:4, 5. Peter’s speech here it tells us that they were under no obligation to sell their property and after they did sell it, they were not required to give all of it or any of it to the church if they didn’t want to. This was their choice.

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  • They kept some back when they said they were giving it all: they lied (Acts 5:2).
  • They conspired to do this (Acts 5:2, 9)

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They are not fulfilling their vow (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:22-24).

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What is their motive?

They could have been jealous of Barnabas and his escalating preeminence among the disciples. Yet at the same time, they were covetous. Because of spiritual pressure, they wanted to show their devotion to Christ… And they pretended to have greater devotion to Christ in their money than they actually had.

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Why did they sin?

  • Satan filled their heart (Acts 5:3).

Satan can energize or influence saved people.

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  • They lied (5:4)

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This is reminiscent of Joshua 7:1-26 and the sin of Achan. Nothing like discipline to make God’s people fear! Thus, the need for church discipline.

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So we have in this story a threat to unity in the assembly and its resolution. God intervenes and there is justice. At the beginning of this early assembly, God shows the need for integrity and purity.

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So we have two attitudes about wealth: be like Barnabas and encourage others with your wealth or selfishly horde wealth for your own benefit. Judas did not gain in his selfish act (Acts 1:18-19); neither do these 2.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from What is the Meaning of Acts 4.32-5.11

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Go to Acts Main Page

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  1. Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts : A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 50.

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