September 10, 2023
Spiritual Gifts, Part 5: The Gifts Quenched (Acts 4:36-37; 5:1-6)
And then there was the day when Barnabas, under the power of the Spirit, blew them all away!
The first church must have been an electric atmosphere, all those gifts pouring down on believers, gifts for the gathering in, somebody w gift of prophecy, somebody with the gift of teaching, somebody with a gift for administration, someone to answer questions like, how are we going to organize? Where are we to meet? … Others received gifts for the sending out, somebody with the gift apostleship so they could carry good news across cultures, somebody with the gift of evangelism, somebody with gifts of healing… Still others received gifts of flourishing, ecstatic energies by which believers could speak and interpret tongues, break out singing psalms and spiritual songs, or begin to craft artifacts of beauty like wall paintings in catacombs.
I’m placing the gift of giving under flourishing gifts. I know money is needed for the gathering in, to free the preacher to preach, to keep A/C on in summer & heat in winter, to buy study materials. And certainly, there must be financial support for the sending out. I remember being in Moscow to teach on the Friday of the month that was payday. The American missionary took the subway around the city and gave cash envelops to the pastors, whose sole support was American churches… But gathering in giving and sending out giving is one thing. It the responsibility all disciples of Jesus. The Lord loves a cheerful but expects our money whether we can smile about it or not! Wince when you drop an envelope onto the plate but do drop it in! … The gift of giving is different. This is giving as Paul refers to it in 1 Cor 13, “if [under the power of the Spirit], I give away all my possessions-“This is giving as in the church of Macedonia participating in the offering for Jerusalem gave far beyond their means. It is an ecstatic act of the Spirit, an energy burst that transcends everyday caution. Somebody suddenly gives with abandon and the rest of us stand in awe.
That first somebody in the early church was a man named Barnabas. Here’s the set-up. The first Christians had a common fund to help those most needy among them. Many if not most in the early church lived on the edge, not sure where tomorrow’s meal would come from. The few members higher on the economic ladder gave from their surplus to ease the burden. There must have been days when the common panty was full, and other days when it was empty. When it was empty it meant some people left worship still not knowing how they would feed their families come Monday.
And then this happens: In the Spirit, under the power of a charismata, the spiritual gift of giving, a man named Joseph renamed Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) by the disciples after this episode, Barnabas sells a piece of property and lays the proceeds at the feet of the disciples. I don’t know if it was because of the largeness of the property, the price it brought, the percentage of Barnabas’ net worth it represented, the timeliness of the gift, or all these things together but the early church was so taken by the event that Luke had to make it part of the permanent record of the Acts of the Church.
Acts 4 ends on that high note. Acts 5 brings us back down to earth with a “but”. “But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” It’s a tawdry act. Husband and wife scheme to dupe the church -make it look like they’re giving a sacrificial gift when they’re not… Ananias and Sephira want the public recognition Barnabas got. They imagine the spotlight, the oohs, and ah’s of the moment when.
They drop the sack of proceeds from the sale at Peter’s feet. But it’s all built on a lie… Now that’s tawdry but not fatal. As Peter says: “you could have kept your land or sold it and kept the proceeds. It was yours to do as you wish”.
But Ananias and Sapphira crossed another line. The Book of Acts is the story of the Church in the Power of the Spirit. It the account of a divine power surge by which the ordinary persons are filled with charismata, spiritual gifts, and are thereby able to duplicate the ministry of Jesus in signs and wonders. Ananias and Sapphira receive the spiritual gift of giving, the same impulse given to Barnabas. But instead of exercising that impulse, allowing it to carry them to new spiritual heights, they treat it with contempt. Peter says, “you didn’t lie to me and us; you lied to the Holy Spirit!”
What happens next remains a mystery. Peter doesn’t curse, he and the apostles are about healing and life not cursing. But when confronted with lying to the Spirit, Ananias collapses dead. Sapphira will appear before Peter a little later and do the same. Is there something like a voodoo power going on here? Did Ananias and Sapphira have pre-existing health issues so that the stress of ex-communication from their community of faith overwhelmed? What it just an amazing coincidence. This much is certain: the surprising coincidence of the giving of the spiritual gift, its abuse by Ananias and Sapphira, and their sudden deaths, left an indelible mark in the church’s memory. The last words of the story: “and great fear seized all”. Reubens captures that fear for the ages.
“Do not quench the Spirit” says Paul. Here’s some of the other versions of that life-affirming verse. KJV: quench not! CSB: don’t stifle! CEB: don’t suppress! CEV: don’t turn away from! I especially like, ISV: don’t put out the fire. Paul knows how to translate that warning into best practices. So, in Romans 12 he says whatever gift you’ve been given, use it! “… If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve (there’s not retiring from a spiritual gift!); if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” [The uncloaking of the gifts display!]
The Spirit is the power behind all our life-affirming impulses, the Spirit has given us gifts so our great passion and the world’s great needs can be connected for the world’s good and our deep satisfaction. The Spirit has given us impulses to gather in the church, send out the church, and sustain the church as a place of flourishing. So go on now; claim don’t quench your gift!