Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 5:13-20; Acts 4:32-5:11; Psalm 9:11-20; Genesis 22-23
The early believers gave generously to others in accordance with their hearts and minds (Acts 4:32). God asks his followers to give sacrificially, just as Jesus did on the Cross. Abraham was asked to make the supreme sacrifice (Genesis 22). Through that, he showed his willingness to give everything to God and trust that God would provide for him.
Ananias and Sapphira took the opposite approach. While their external acts were similar, their hearts and minds were elsewhere. They acted like the people Jesus criticised in Matthew 5. Their righteous acts were no better than those of the Pharisees, which came from a desire to be seen doing the right thing. Instead of being salt and light to the world, their act was like tasteless salt, good for nothing.
These instances in Acts exemplify the general theological principles described in Psalm 9:15-20. Justice is important to the Lord. Part of his character and nature is concern for the needy and afflicted. He wants his people to act with justice, and through this he will be better known as a just God. Jesus likewise called on his followers to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Our acts should bring out what is good in the world, as salt enhances the tastiness of food. Our deeds should bring the light of truth to the world, and draw people towards to glorify God. Through our just acts, people will know that God is just.
Hence it is so wrong when God’s people act with injustice or dishonesty. Not only are people hurt, but God’s name is sullied. Psalm 9 is also a call for justice for those who act wrongly. We may be shocked by the dramatic punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. God intervened immediately and hence struck fear into people’s hearts. He must have seen this as important for the early church to realise. The psalmist similarly calls on God to strike people with terror, reminding us that we are mortal and he is God (Psalm 9:17, 20).
That may seem strange to us, if not abhorrent. We like to hear and speak more about the love and grace of God. Yet love and justice go together. Parents must both care for and discipline their children. Our justice systems demonstrate that we believe wrong-doing should be punished. Sometimes wrong-doers get trapped by the natural consequences of their acts (Psalm 9:16). We get caught out in our lies, or lose jobs or relationships because we do wrong. Sometimes God intervenes directly, although given how many shady property deals have gone down without people dropping dead, he does not do this regularly. And in the end, there will be a day of judgment (Psalm 9:17). That can be a factor motivating us to live ethically. But the greater influence is God’s grace at work in people’s lives (Acts 4:33). As we receive God’s love and forgiveness, and see that he is a God of justice, we should be motivated to be like him: loving the needy and afflicted by sharing our time and resources. Then, as the world looks on, God will be glorified.