Integrity

  I.      Introduction

The last time I taught, we studied who the Holy Spirit is and His perfect timing at appearing at Pentecost 50 days after the Passover Lamb was slain.  And we studied how, at the moment of our trust in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who laid down His life as a payment for our sins, that we become new creatures, temples of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

And Chris and Theresa and I have always said that we welcome your questions, we should all be like the noble Bereans and check the Word of God to see if what we are teaching is true.  As teachers, we should be prepared to explain our teaching, even if we have to say, “Let me study that and get back to you.”

Well, immediately after that lesson, Jilda came up and asked me one of those questions.  And I was stumped, so I resolved to study the question so I more clearly understood the Word of God.  That understanding also led itself on today’s lesson, so I’m going to back up to Jilda’s question and share my journey with you.  So, bearing in mind that the Holy Spirit comes to live within us at the moment of our trust and belief, let’s look ahead briefly to Acts chapter 8.

I don’t mind looking ahead to Acts chapter 8 because in May I’ll be teaching from this same chapter.  I might just simply teach this same lesson again.  If you’re getting older, like me, you won’t remember that I already taught this.

II.      The Holy Spirit in Samaria

Acts 8:14-17 –

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

So, Jilda’s question was, “I thought you said the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment of our belief?  So why wasn’t the Holy Spirit indwelling already in these people when they believed?”

That’s a good question, and I was stumped.  In my quest to understand the answer, I was directed toward a biblical research article entitled, “The Transition Problem in Acts” by Roy L. Aldrich of the Dallas Theological Seminary.  The key to understanding Jilda’s question is first understanding Dispensational Theology, that while God never changes, our relationship with God has changed several times.  Some of these dispensations, or distinct periods, are very easy to understand.  We talked about how in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came upon men briefly and for a specific purpose, but in the New Testament, Christ died for us and we are considered pure and holy and now the Holy Spirit dwells within us, He doesn’t just come upon us and leave when the mission is fulfilled.  These are two distinct Dispensations out of 7 Total Dispensations, and we are living in the 6th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace, or the Church Age.  The Millennial Kingdom after the return of Christ is the 7th and final dispensation.

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The Book of Acts is unique in that it is a transitional book between the 5th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Law that the Israelites had lived in for 1500 years, and the 6th Dispensation of the Church Age we live in today.  Certain things are recorded in Acts that only happened once as part of this transition, like the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.  Make sense?

So this question about why these people had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit can be answered by recognizing that Peter and John were in Samaria, and up to this point, the people of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria hated each other.  While they believed the same God, Samaria had their own temple.  For the Church Age, God desires a Church in unity, and it would do for the people of Samaria to have their own traditions separate from the new converted Jews of Israel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the Samarians began with unity with the new Christians in Jerusalem.

I know of no other example of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling being delayed in the Church Age except for the Samarians in Acts chapter 8.

It was a good question, and it actually helped me a lot with today’s lesson on Acts chapters 4 & 5, and let’s read today’s scripture.

III.      Tithe, or Die

Now, remember in this transitions to the beginning of the Church Age, Acts describes the birth of the church and identifies many desirable attributes of the church.  Let’s start at the end of Acts 4:32 and continue to Acts 5:5 –

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?  And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?  What made you think of doing such a thing?  You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

One possible lesson from this verse is that we should tithe, or die.  Or another way to look at this is a transitional verse, unique to the first century church at that time, and see how we may apply it to our lives today.

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So what’s happened here?  Let’s look at the early church, described so beautifully in our Acts 4 verses.  The believers were one in heart and mind, and they shared everything.  This is a biblical approach to the church – we are not to lay up treasure on earth, but instead store up treasures in heaven.  We are to love God with all our heart mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  It’s our recognition that the gifts and blessings, whatever they are, are given to us by God for His purposes, and as Christians our purpose is to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I dare say that this first church was unique.  The Holy Spirit has enabled speaking in tongues and the understanding of those tongues, the Holy Spirit had blown through this church with a rushing wind and fire and power.  At one prayer meeting, the Holy Spirit shook the meeting room.  Peter was so filled with the Holy Spirit that thousands who had heard of Jesus gathered outside the church and hoped Peter’s shadow would fall on them so they would be healed.  It says in Acts 5:16,

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Every person Peter touched was healed.  Every.  Person.  I dare say none of us have ever belonged to a church like that.

And Ananias and his wife Sophia… er,  Sofaria… Sopapilla… what was her name?  Oh yes, Sapphira.  Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be part of a church like this.  And everybody else was selling their possessions and their land and their houses and Bananas and Sopapilla wanted to be among them.

Were they required to sell everything?   No.  Peter says right here in the scripture, “after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”  Ananias wasn’t required to sell anything at all.

It reminds me of a story I heard when I was a kid, about a man that was confronted by a robber with a gun.  The robber pointed the gun at the man and said, “Your money or your life.”  And the man replied, “Why, my life, of course.  I’ll need my money for my old age.”

One of the reasons this first church was so generous with each other was that they lived with an expectation that Jesus would return, not just someday, but within their lifetimes, based on scripture like Matthew 14:28,

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

That’s not what Jesus meant, and Mark 9:1 quotes Jesus in a way that clarifies what Jesus meant –

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Slide13

Jesus was referring to the Day of Pentecost when Jesus’ kingdom came with power.

And so the first church lived expectantly that Jesus would return quickly.  And if we knew that Jesus would return tomorrow, what use are any material possessions?  The first church was already ready for Jesus’ Second Coming, and placed their faith that all their needs would be met.

All except Ananias and Sapphira.  They were still laying up treasure on earth, just in case.  But they also wanted to be part of the fellowship of this incredible church, so they donated some of it, and kept the rest for themselves.  And there is nothing wrong with that, except they wanted to appear as though they had given up everything.

And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could see right through their lies and into their hypocrisy.  They were lying so they would look good.  They wanted to be counted with everybody else as completely generous with everything, but they also wanted to keep some for themselves.

So why did they have to die?  Remember how powerful the Holy Spirt was in this church.  Ananias and Sapphira were there for the miracles, they had experienced God’s power and seen and felt God’s holy presence residing in Peter and the church.  People should be reverent when in the presence of God, but Ananias and Sapphira casually lied to the Holy Spirit to make themselves look good.

IV.      Your Money or Your Life

Look, God doesn’t need your stuff.  Whatever you’re holding back, God will still accomplish His plan even if you don’t have a garage sale and donate all the money.  I dare say God can create more stuff if He needs to.

But what He desires is for us to have a heart for Him.  And that means trusting in Jesus for our needs and being honest with the Lord of Creation that can see into our hearts.  God doesn’t want us to give Him lip service and say we love Him.  He will look into our hearts and see for Himself if we love Him.

This is harder than it sounds.  We all want to look good in front of others, so we say and do things to please people instead of the Lord.  But our outward appearance is of no interest to our Lord.

The prophet Samuel was looking for somebody to replace Saul as the King of Israel and he came to Jesse’s family.  Samuel looked at Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab.  Eliab was apparently tall and strong and handsome, for when Samuel looked at him, Samuel said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”  1 Samuel 16:7,

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel then went through all the sons of Jesse before he found David, the youngest, the one who slew Goliath, the one after God’s own heart.

The Lord looks at the heart.  People look at our fruit.  Our challenge as Christians who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is for us to be the same on the inside and the outside.  We want to be Christians on the inside because a heart for the Lord pleases our Creator, and we want to be Christians on the outside, not to please men, but to be able to do the Lord’s will effectively.

  V.      Math Quiz

Let’s have a math quiz. Everybody get out a sheet of paper and a number two pencil.

What is the definition of a fractional number?  A fraction consists of a numerator and a denominator.  The denominator, the bottom part, tells us how many parts the whole is divided, and the top part, the numerator, tells us how many parts we have.  A fraction is part of a whole.

Slide17

And integer is a whole number.  It is complete.  It’s not a fraction like ¾ and it’s not a decimal like 3.14.  It is complete.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

Slide19

God wants us to be an integer, full of integrity.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else.  You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach.  Integrity is being one person.  You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside.  When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God.  We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

Last week when Theresa spoke about the change in Peter’s character, I started thinking about Peter’s conversion into a man of integrity.   When Jesus was teaching, Peter was like, “heck yeah, I’m one of Jesus’ guys.  Me and Him, we’re close.”  And then after the arrest of Jesus, Peter was like, “Man, I don’t know the man.”  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Peter was so afraid of being seen as a Jesus-freak that he cursed in front of a servant girl to prove he didn’t know Jesus.

But after the death of Jesus on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, Peter changed.  He proclaimed Christ boldly, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became the rock upon which Jesus built His church.  When Rome burned in 64 AD and Nero fiddled, Nero blamed the Christians and arrested the most visible, most vocal, most dedicated Christian he could find – Peter. Peter was crucified by the Romans, proclaiming the glory of Christ all the way to his death.  Peter was crucified upside down, claiming he was unworthy to die in the same manner as our Savior.  Peter died as a man of integrity, the same inside as he was on the outside.

Slide21

We can sometimes give up the long term benefits of integrity for the short term benefits of appearances, but it rarely ends up well.  Ananias and Sapphira tried to maintain appearances by lying to the Holy Spirit, and it didn’t end up well for them.  It’s interesting to note that Ananias and Sapphira were believers and their salvation is secure, though their bodies are a little worse for wear after failing their integrity test.  But when we focus on what God wants instead of our own desires, our integrity brings us a closer relationship with God our Heavenly Father.

 

VI.      Conclusion

We struggle with integrity, we forget that the struggle is not ours, but we surrender to the Holy Spirit working within us.  Our sinful selves war with our new eternal selves, and we are called to die to ourselves and let Christ live within.  Only then can we be whole, and integer.  We cannot do this on our own.

King David, after his affair with Bathsheba, was confronted by the prophet Nathan, and David was grieved when he realized what he had done.  What he had done before men was selfish and prideful, but it wasn’t against man that David sinned.  All sins are against the Lord who sees our innermost beings.  David cried out to the Lord in Psalm 51:1-7 –

Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You—You alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.

So You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Only through accepting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the punishment for our trespasses can we be cleaned, whiter than snow, a child of God with the integrity our Lord desires within us.

To God be the glory.

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