Giving and Giving Thanks
Barnabas and Ananias are a tale of two givers in the early church. As community life in the first church at Jerusalem began to establish its identity, Luke records some of the patterns representing the function of the local church: submitting to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, meals & communion, along with prayer. God provided miracles to keep them in a sense of awe. A remarkable and repeated statement of community life is the economic activity of these first believers (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32, 34–35).
Selling property became common as needs continued to arise in the community. In financial giving, the first response is to give a portion from income. Liquidation of assets signifies a sacrifice beyond their ability.
The state of the economy in Jerusalem was fragile during the years between Pentecost and the Roman devastation (A.D. 33–70). Luke notes that these extreme measures produced, “not a needy person among them.” The apostles were given charge for redistribution of liquid assets entrusted to the church, until this hindered their ministry of prayer and the Word (Acts 6:1–6). The task of caring for the poor in the fellowship was given to deacons, and other churches outside of Jerusalem continued to minister resources to the impoverished mother church (Rom 16; 2 Cor 8–9; 1 Cor 16:1–4).
Christian giving comes with hazards. Not all gifts are acceptable to God. Joseph/Barnabas (Acts 4:36–37) is directly contrasted with Ananias/Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11).
Barnabas followed the established pattern of giving in the community, and he is chosen to be Luke’s positive example. Barnabas is a nickname that means, “son of encouragement.” He was a preacher/teacher from Antioch who introduced Saul/Paul to the apostles. He gave himself in obedience to missions with Paul, but we first learn of him as an extraordinary giver. His obedience to the call to Gospel ministry is complemented by his willing sacrifice of material resources in support of this struggling church family.
Luke contrasts the excellent character of Joseph with Ananias (Acts 5:1–11). Stealing glory from God in financial giving to the church demonstrates a deficiency in the fear of God. This story of a husband and wife who conspired to take credit, as sacrificial givers to the church, while holding back a portion for themselves became the negative example.
Their names in Hebrew and Aramaic ironically mean, “God is gracious” and “beautiful.” In lying to the church, the equation is lying to the Holy Spirit (3rd person of the Trinity), who is preparing the bride of Christ for future glory. The Holy Spirit desires purity and holiness for the body of Christ, and the serious nature of hypocrisy, disobedience, and the quest for human reputation and acclaim was dealt with in a judgment miracle performed by God in the church. God’s judgment begins in His own house (1 Pet 4:17).
Unrighteous man refuses to honor God and give thanks to Him (Rom 1:21). We must fear God and always ascribe to Him the glory when we give in secret (Mt 6:3). It is more blessed for us to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), as He opens our hearts with the love of God in sharing material resources entrusted to us for giving to those in need in the church (1 John 3:17).
Jesus promised that by this love for one another, the world would know us — and by association — Him. Give thanks for the grace to give.
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 1, 2021