Last Sunday, I finished a series of sermons in Acts. This was an overview series rather than a detailed verse-by-verse exposition, looking to pick up the broad themes of different sections of the book. Sunday’s sermon was based on something I had never noticed previously — there is a reference to money on almost every page of the book of Acts.
I probably broke all rules of homiletics by bringing a sermon with 26 points (for 26 different passages). I had a seminary professor who might not approve. 🙂
The book was written to Theophilus (as was the book of Luke). Theophilus was given the title “Most Excellent” in Luke 1:3, a title used for government officials / noblemen. C.H. Lenski says there is no record, in the first two hundred years after Christ, of any Christian using this title to address another Christian. Luke’s Gospel, then, appears to be a sort of extended Gospel tract to a nobleman named Theophilus who had some knowledge of Christianity and the Old Testament but was not saved.
Acts is also written to Theophilus, but omits the title — presumably he was now a believer, no longer called “most excellent,” but if any title at all would be given, it would be “brother.” This book’s purpose was not to present the Gospel to an unbeliever, but to strengthen a believer. It shows God’s sovereign hand in the spread of the Gospel. But the repeated references to money seem to indicate a secondary theme — helping a relatively wealthy man understand how God wanted him to view and use money.
We don’t know if Theophilus was REALLY wealthy, but anyone who was “most excellent” would almost certainly have been better off than most people. If you are reading this, you have a computer and are relatively wealthy by world-wide and historical standards. (For fun, plug in your income and find out where you rate — if you are in Britain, it’s a virtual certainty your income is in the top 20% world-wide, and probably much better, especially if you are honest enough to count any benefits you are getting.) So for all you rich people out there :), here are 26 passages in the Book of Acts that have some reference to money.
The A-Z of Money in Acts
A. 1:18 — Judas “purchased a field”. Judas didn’t actually buy it himself, but the money of his ill-gotten gains was used for that purpose. Perhaps the Holy Spirit led Peter to say that Judas had purchased it to bring to mind the worst use of money in all of history — the purchased betrayal of our Lord.
B. 2:44-45 — Brothers and sisters in the Lord are more important than money. They sold their possessions to help each other’s needs. The first of many passages emphasising the value of giving alms.
C. 3:2-6 — A different kind of alms. They had something better than money to give.
D. 4:32-37 — Sharing with one another, selling land to do so. (Note: Jews would not generally sell the land of their inheritance, so this would not be selling land which they would need to be able to provide for their own family. This is extra wealth.)
E. 5:1-5 — Ananias’ lie about money, and what followed from it. The first of several passages dealing with the need for integrity / honesty in handling money.
F. 6:1-8 — Visible integrity in money handling. A particular group in the church felt their widows were not cared for properly. Seven men whose names show they were from that community were appointed to handle it, leaving no room for further charges of favoritism. This passage also shows the church working together to care for its needy.
G. 6:11 — A very bad use of money, bribing witnesses.
H. 8:8-23 — God’s gift can’t be bought.
I. 8:27-40 — A money-man finds the Lord. The rich and powerful can be saved
J. 9:36, 39 — God values alms
K. 10:4 — Alms again
L. 11:29-30 — Alms on a broad scale, relief to the saints in Jerusalem
M. 12:20-23 — Economically inspired flattery, but it didn’t turn out too well
N. 16:16-19 — They lost their evil profit, so they turned to evil mischief
O. 17:9 — Jason put up a bond for brothers as surety that they would not cause trouble in the city. Paul and Silas left the city that night, ensuring there would be no accusation against them which would cause the loss of his bond.
P. 18:3 — Working to earn his own living
Q. 19:18-20 — Counting the cost of discipleship. They could have sold the books for a great sum of money, but they did not want to profit by witchcraft.
R. 19:24-28 — Trying to protect their own wealth. “Great is Diana!” (and by the way, we’re losing MONEY!)
S. 20:4 — This is not as obviously about money as some of the others, but it is there. Paul was taking a collection from the churches to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He took with him representatives from the various regions. This allowed them to share in the joy of delivering the gift to those who needed it. It also ensured they could report to those who knew them that, yes, the money had been used for the purpose given. So it was providing things honest in the sight of all, as Paul wrote to the Romans. This note is a matter of financial ethics, which is why these men are not only named, but their home region is given — they were financial representatives. We do well to make sure our financial ethics are visible to anyone who cares to look.
T. 20:33-34 — Paul said he never coveted, that he earned his own way, that his financial dealings had been right before them.
U. 20:35 — The blessedness of giving
V. 21:24 — An example of generous giving for worship. Paul agreed to pay for the sacrifices for the vows these men had taken, and do so visibly to show respect for the Law. This was worship-giving. When Jesus said to give secretly (Matthew 6:1-4), He was talking about alms to the poor. He never taught other giving must be secret. He watched and even talked about temple giving (Luke 21:1-4)! Secrecy in giving in worship is not wrong, but it is certainly not commanded in Scripture. In this case, the exact opposite is done — it was public to demonstrate fidelity to Scripture.
W. 22:28 — God doesn’t need money, He can provide costly things freely when needed, often long before the need.
X. 24:17 — Right use of money discredits accusers. Paul doesn’t go into detail. The point was that he’d been doing good, not evil. He did not publicly humiliate those in need by bringing them as witnesses. He simply discredited the accusations. The giving of churches of Asia Minor and Greece for needy saints in Jerusalem was probably well-known, and he simply referred to what all present would have to acknowledge.
Y. 24:26 — Looking for a bribe
Z. 28:30 — Generosity for the Lord’s servant. Paul was a prisoner. He had been a prisoner for a long time, so would not have had a loaded bank account. Anything he had of value with him would probably have gone down with the ship at Malta. He was under house arrest. SOMEONE was paying the rent for the hired house in which he was staying. It wasn’t the Roman government!
Was Paul working? Perhaps, but if so, someone was buying tent-making materials, someone was taking the tents to the market and selling them, someone was helping him a lot with at least that aspect of his financial needs.
More likely, he had direct financial help during this time to enable him to hire the house, buy his food, etc. Perhaps someone wealthy took responsibility for the matter — maybe even a man named Theophilus gave towards this need.
We may never know the reason Theophilus received a God-inspired letter mentioning money on almost every page. But it is too much to be just incidental to the story. The right and wrong use of money is a significant theme in the Book of Acts. Anyone who takes the book seriously as part of God’s Word will be variously (and repeatedly) challenged, rebuked, or encouraged as to their use of money as they read its pages. Whether you are REALLY rich or just relatively rich, there is much here for you.