Luke tells us that one of the natural outgrowths of the fellowship experienced by Jesus’ followers soon after Pentecost was their mutual support of each other. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45, NKJV).
This sharing of common goods is not a requirement of the community but a voluntary outgrowth of their love for each other in the fellowship they experience. It is also a concrete expression of their unity. This mutual support continued for some time, and we are given more details about it in Acts chapters 4 and 5. It is also a theme that we find in other places in the New Testament, as we will see next.
It is in this context that Barnabas is introduced for the first time. He appears to be a wealthy person who owned land. Having sold his property for the benefit of the community, he brought the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). Barnabas is portrayed as an example to follow.
Read Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 5:1-11. Compare the behaviors and attitudes of Barnabas with those of Ananias and Sapphira. What went wrong with this couple?
Besides their sin of outright lying to the Holy Spirit, these people also displayed greed and covetousness. Perhaps no sin can destroy fellowship and brotherly love faster than selfishness and greed. If Barnabas serves as a positive example of the early church’s spirit of fellowship, Ananias and Sapphira are the opposite. Luke is honest in sharing this story about less virtuous people in the community.
In the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17), the last commandment, about covetousness, is unlike the others. While other commandments speak of actions that visibly transgress God’s will for humanity, the last commandment is about what is hidden in the heart. The sin of covetousness is not an action; rather, it is a thought process. Covetousness, and its companion selfishness, is not a visible sin but a condition of sinful human nature. It becomes visible only when manifested in selfish actions, such as what was seen here with Ananias and Sapphira. In a sense the last commandment is the root of the evil manifested in the actions condemned by all the other commandments. Their covetousness opened them to Satan’s influence, which led them to lie to God; this is not unlike what Judas’s covetousness led him to do, as well.
What are ways in which we can seek to uproot covetousness from our own lives? Why is praise and thanksgiving for what we have a powerful antidote to this evil?