20 June 2014

Sapphira: Not A Mite Would I Withhold

Acts 5:1-11

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold

- because all the others do it,
and it won't do to fall behind;
- because it's a good deed,
and gives us a good name;
- because no one will know
how much we withhold
as long as we say,

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold

- but isn't the cost too high?
isn't His cross too heavy?
isn't this asking too much
from us who must live
in this dog-eat-dog world
that revolves around money
and tramples the weak
who give and love and forgive
like He tells us to?

Take my silver and my gold,
(some of it at least)
not a mite would I withhold

(we know they must mean spiritually,
for in real life how could this be?)

But do not tell;
let them admire
a cheerful giver;
let them see
good Christians,
so committed
(aren't we?)
What's so wrong
with sneaking in the back door
and paying half the price
if no one knows
and grace is free?

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold,

not a mite,
not a mite,
no - more
but no one need know,
no one -

but you do.
And heaven takes no stowaways
who flee the cross
to come in cheap;
and it's too late now
to give everything,
because we withheld

[20. June 2014]

Like other early Christians, Sapphira and her husband Ananias sold their property and donated their money for the Apostles to distribute to the poor and needy. What they did differently was that they kept a little bit for themselves - but lied and told the Apostles they were giving everything.

I think what's significant in their story is that they could have just kept their property - or just kept their money (v.4) - or even done half-and-half and honestly declared it. Why did they lie? I think their reason was a false motivation for giving in the first place. Maybe they wanted everyone to think they were giving so much, to admire them. Maybe they just wanted to keep up with the rest, and weren't really giving out of their own heart. Why keep the money? Maybe they were worried, maybe they thought giving a whole lot of what they owned would be a rather risky thing and not very realistic in the "real world" (stanza 2+3).

Sometimes being a Christian with all it entails, all the giving-up, the service to others, might not seem "realistic" or even "safe". Being "too nice" can get you in trouble, they say. It brought Jesus in trouble! But He wants us to take up the Cross, to follow Him (which actually means: learn from His example, do as He did), and sometimes - or even often! - that can mean doing things the world wouldn't find very sensible, and that involve giving up comforts we'd rather hold on to, or that the world tells us we "need". But taking up the Cross, paying the full cost of discipleship (obedience to Jesus), does not lead to deprivation but rather to gaining a lot more than we would otherwise lose. There is false security in money and possessions (and those other things that are hard to give up) - in God there is true security.

Sapphira's story is one of the spookier ones - since it all ends with her and her husband dropping dead. It's a pretty stark warning... and I think on the one hand it's a warning not to lie to God, not to attempt to hide things from God who truly sees everything. But on the other hand I think it's also a warning against hypocrisy: pretending on the outside, while not being willing to fully surrender and truly obey. Grace is free but it's costly. Costly because it cost God everything - He gave His Son, He gave Himself, to save us. We need to keep up our part of the deal by obeying - because faith and obedience are tightly interlinked. We aren't truly believing if we don't obey - and we can't truly obey if we don't believe (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). We need to have the right motives for what we do - in Sapphira's case, it should have been to serve God and serve the poor, not give a good appearance and gain admiration for herself.

The guy-sneaking-in-the-backdoor sneaked in at the end; he's actually from Jesus' parable of the great feast (Mt 22:1-14). I realised he actually fits to this story...
And the line "Take my silver and my gold / not a mite would I withhold" is from the hymn "Take my life and let it be" by Frances Ridley Havergal. It just fit so I decided to fiddle with it a bit.

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