Sapphira

 

 

Introduction   Acts 5:1-12

 

Ananias, with Sapphira his wife made a decision to lie to the Holy Ghost and paid a serious price that cause the church to fear God. What we want to look at is Sapphira devotion to her husband and the deadly consequences a loyal wife faces when making a decision to trust man rather than God Almighty. Unfortunately this is common in the church of today, where women follow blindly the wrong Lord of all.

 

1.      Disciple Clones  (Acts 5:1-12)

·        In our text we see a special offering taking place where the church sold all voluntary (Matt 19:16-26)

·        The rich man desired eternal life, he was a believer but Jesus required him to sell out entirely.

·        This is what Jesus is looking for from the modern day church, to make him Lord of your life

  i.    Ananias and Sapphira understood this and love God but were not able to make that commitment

ii.     They follow the rules went to church gave to God but were not totally yielded to God

iii.    This shows the difference for true disciples to the religious realm of Christianity

iv.     Going thru the motions and appearing to be saved is not all that is required, you need truth.

v.      Both had an issue with trust in God although they we numbered amongst the church

vi.     Their sin was not that they held back but that they were not honest in their walk with God

·        Ananias was asked about the amount but his sin was the lie (vs. 3-4) Satan has filled

·        Jesus requires a sell out of your earthly possessions, it's your choice to do that

·        The issue is who is influencing you, your actions Satan or The Holy Ghost

Lying to God's Spirit won't cut the mustard

 

2.      Planning a Lie

·        Sapphira was a women that stood by her man - both decided to fool the church by lying

·        At what point does a women of God make a stand for God against her husband

·        (Eph. 5:22-24), (1 Pet. 3:1-2) & (Col 3:18)  God commands the wives to be subject to their husband

    a.  Sapphira is illustrated as a women that was a Christian and involved in the church with her husband

    b.  She was devoted to God and followed this rule to honor her husband

  • Both plotted, felt convicted to sell all, but allowed Satan to fill their hearts
  • At this point Sapphira could have done the right thing and oppose Ananias
  • Sapphira needed to obey God in what he dealt with her, if sell all then do it
  • Being convicted they both knew God's will, Satan them challenged both
  • This is the sin of disobedience plotting against God and making your own destiny
  • When lying it is a thing between God and you, not the church or your pastor

 

 

3.      Unhealthy Alliance   (vs. 7-9)

·        At this point Sapphira not knowing came to the church searching for her husband

  i.      Immediately confronted with her sin, what Sapphira did was to continue her hidden sin

·        Sapphira loved her husband, this is seem in her concern after 3 hours she went looking for him

   i.     She is not a bad women but believes the lies of the Devil and suffers the consequences

 ii.      Being deceived is not alibi for disobedience, we think if we are lied to God understands

·        This is not the case ( 1 King 13:11-22) Old prophet lie to the Man of God and he was killed

·        But we are Christians God wouldn't do this (OOOH Realllly) what about the Man of God

  i.      Sapphira a good women honored man rather than God ( Matt 10:34-40)

ii.      It's very simple Sapphira loved the wrong thing, she was deceived and lost sight of God

iii.      (Luke 8:20-21) -  Jesus identifies family to those who do the will of God instead of those physical ties, Mary not that her didn't love her but he understood you must love God first.

  • We need to look at our lives and see what are our priorities?

  • Is family, possession or selfishness?

  • Will you lie to God and think somehow you'll get away with it?

  • Sapphira was deceive don't allow yourself to be deceived also

 

_____________________________________________________________________

Acts 5:1-12
5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
KJV

 

Matt 19:16-26
16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
KJV
 

Eph 5:22-24
22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

1 Peter 3:1-2
3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
KJV

Col 3:18
18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
KJV
 

1 Kings 13:11-21
11 Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
12 And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
13 And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
17 For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.
19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
20 And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back:
21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,
KJV
 

Matt 10:34-40
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
40 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
KJV


Luke 8:20-21
20 And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee.
21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
KJV

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Acts 5:1
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
[But a certain man named Ananias] Of these unhappy people we have no further account than what is recorded here. In reference to birth, connections, etc., their names are written in the dust. The import of his name, chananiyah (OT:2603), the grace or mercy of the Lord, agrees very ill with his conduct.

Acts 5:2
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
[Kept back part of the price] Ananias and Sapphira were evidently persons who professsd faith in Christ with the rest of the disciples. While all were making sacrifices for the present necessity, they came forward among the rest, pretending to bring all the money they had gotten for a possession, kteema (NT:2933) (of what kind we know not), which they had sold. A part of this price, however, they kept back, not being willing to trust entirely to the bounty of Providence, as the others did; thinking probably, that, as the whole was their own, they had a right to do with it as they pleased. And so they had, they were under no necessity to sell their possession; but the act of selling it for the ostensible purpose of bringing it into the common stock, left them no further control over it, nor property in it; and their pretence, that the money which they brought was the whole produce of the sale, was a direct lie in itself, and an attempt to deceive the Holy Spirit, under whose influence they pretended to act. This constituted the iniquity of their sin.

Acts 5:3
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
[Why hath Satan filled thine heart] The verb pleerooo (NT:4137), which we translate "I fill", Kypke has showed by many examples to signify, to instigate, excite, impel, etc., and it was a common belief, as well among the pagans as among the Jews and Christians, that, when a man did evil, he was excited to it by the influence and malice of an evil spirit. It is strange that, by the general consent of mankind, sin against God has been ever considered so perfectly unnatural, and so evil in itself, that no man would commit it unless impelled to it by the agency of the Devil. The words of Peter here prove that such an agency is not fictitious: if there had been no Devil, as some wish and perhaps feel it their interest to believe, or if this Devil had no influence on the souls of men, Peter, under the agency of the Holy Spirit, would not have expressed himself in this way; for, if the thing were not so, it would have been the most direct means to lead the disciples to form false opinions, or to confirm them in old and absurd prejudices.
[To lie to the Holy Spirit] Pseusasthai (NT:5574) to (NT:3588) Pneuma (NT:4151) to (NT:3588) Hagion (NT:40), To deceive the Holy Spirit. Every lie is told with the intention to deceive; and they wished to deceive the apostles, and, in effect, that Holy Spirit under whose influence they professed to act. Lying against the Holy Spirit is in the next verse said to be lying against God; therefore the Holy Spirit is GOD.
[To keep back part of the price] Nosphisasthai(G3557000) apo (NT:575) tees (NT:3588) timees (NT:5092). The verb nosphizein (NT:3557), nosphizesthai (NT:3557) is used by the Greek writers to signify purloining part of the public money, seculation. The word is used here with great propriety, as the money for which the estate was sold was public property; as it was for this purpose alone that the sale was made.

Acts 5:4
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
[Whiles it remained, was it not thine own?] See the note at Acts 5:2, and see that also at Acts 2:44.

Acts 5:5
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
[Fell down, and gave up the ghost] Pesoon (NT:4098) exepsuxen (NT:1634), Falling down, he expired, breathed his last: "Gave up the ghost" is a very improper translation here. See the notes at Gen 25:8, and at Matt 27:50. Two things may be remarked here:
1. That the sin of this person was of no ordinary magnitude, else God would not have visited it with so signal a punishment.
2. That Peter must have had the power to discern the state of the heart, else he had not known the perfidy of Ananias. This power, commonly called the discernment of spirits, the apostles had as a particular gift, not probably always, but at select times, when God saw it necessary for the good of his church.

Acts 5:6
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
[The young men arose] Some of the stout young men belonging to the disciples then present, who were the fittest to undertake a work of this kind, which required considerable bodily exertion.
[Buried him.] This was on the same day in which he died. It was a clear case that he was dead, and dead by a judgement of God that would not be revoked as therefore it was no case of suspended animation there was no reason to delay the burial.

Acts 5:7-8
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.

Acts 5:9
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
[To tempt the Spirit of the Lord?] So the Holy Spirit, God, and the Spirit of the Lord, are the same person.

Acts 5:10
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
[Yielded up the ghost] See Acts 5:5. It was not by Peter's words, nor through Peter's prayers, nor through shame, nor through remorse, that this guilty pair died, but by an immediate judgment of God. The question of the salvation of Ananias and Sapphira has not been a little agitated; and most seem inclined to hope that, though their sin was punished by this awful display of the divine judgment, mercy was extended to their souls. For my own part, I think their sin was what the apostle, 1 John 5:16, calls a sin unto death; sin which must be punished with temporal death, or the death of the body, while mercy was extended to the soul. It was right in this infant state of the church to show God's displeasure against deceit, fraud, and hypocrisy: had this guilty pair been permitted to live after they had done this evil, this long-suffering, would have been infallibly abused by others; and, instead of leading them who had sinned to repentance, might have led them to hardness of heart, by causing them to presume on the mercy of God. That hypocrisy may be afraid to show her face, God makes these two an example of his justice; but, because they had not the ordinary respite, we may presume that God extended mercy to them, though cut off almost in the act of sin. Their case, however, cannot become a precedent, allowing them to have received mercy; because those who have seen in this case the severity of God must expect much sorer punishment, if, with such an example before their eyes, they should presume on the mercy of their Maker: this would be doing evil that good might come, and the perdition of such would be just.

Acts 5:11
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
[Great fear came upon all the church] This judgment answered the end for which it was inflicted; a deeply religious fear occupied every mind, and hypocrisy and deception were banished from this holy assembly. On the word Church, see the observations at the end of Matt 16. It has been properly observed that we have in this place a native specimen of a New Testament church:
1. Called by the Gospel;
2. grafted into Christ by baptism;
3. animated by love;
4. united by all kinds of fellowship;
5. and disciplined by the exemplary punishment of hypocrites. See Dodd.
 


Acts 5:1
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.

Acts 5:2
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part - pretending it to be the whole proceeds of the sale. We have here (as Olshausen says) 'the first trace of a shade upon the pure, bright form of the young Church. Probably among the new Christians a kind of holy rivalry had sprung up, every one eager to place his means at the disposal of the apostles.' Thus might the newborn zeal of some outrun their abiding principle, while others might be tempted to seek credit for a liberality which was not in their character. The coolness with which this couple planned the deception aggravated the guilt of it.

Acts 5:3
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart - that is, Why hast thou suffered him to do it? implying that Satan is powerless over the hearts of men until they give him encouragement. Compare Acts 5:4, "Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?" and see the notes at Mark 14:1-11, Remark 8, at the close of that Section; and the note at John 13:27.
To lie to (or 'deceive.') the Holy Spirit - that is, to lie to men so manifestly under His immediate illumination and direction that it was not so much the human instrument as the divine indwelling Spirit that he attempted to deceive. It is astonishing that Neander should speak of it as doubtful whether Peter detected the dissimulation and hypocrisy of this couple 'by a glance into the secret recesses of their hearts, imparted by the immediate influence of God's Spirit, or by a natural sagacity derived from the same source.' Nothing can be clearer than that the historian represents Peter as conscious of supernatural illumination and direction, and wishing the culprits and the whole assembly to recognize this as his sole warrant for proceeding in the matter as he did.
And to keep back part of the price of the land? [Tischendorf, contrary to his own principal authorities, inserts se (NT:4571) after nosfisasthai (NT:3557). Lachmann adheres to the Received Text, which wants it.]

Acts 5:4
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? A striking appeal to themselves, in presence of the whole Christian assembly, whether all the sacrifices which had been made for the support of the new community had not been purely voluntary-the sales first, and then the surrender of the proceeds.
Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? It was this conception of the thing in his own heart which opened the door of it for Satan first to enter in, and then to fill it with this shocking plan.
Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God - in the sense explained at Acts 5:3; and compare Ps 51:4. Nothing could more clearly imply both the distinct Personality and the proper divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:5
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard [these things] - that is, on those without the Christian circle, who, instead of disparaging the followers of the Lord Jesus, as they might otherwise have done on the discovery of such hypocrisy, were awed at the manifest presence of divinity among them, and the mysterious power of throwing off such corrupt matter which rested upon the young Church. [The tauta (NT:5023) at the end of this verse, though implied, is evidently an addition to the genuine text.]

Acts 5:6
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
And the young men, [hoi (NT:3588) neooteroi (NT:3501)] arose, wound him up, and carried him out - i.e., out of the city (compare Luke 7:12; John 11:31),
And buried him. It is a great mistake to suppose (with Mosheim, Olshausen, Meyer, and others) that these were an inferior order of ministers. They were merely some of the younger and more active members of the Church, not in the capacity of office-bearers, nor coming forward now for the first time, but who probably had already volunteered their services in making subordinate arrangements. In every thriving Christian community such warm young volunteers may be expected, and will be found eminently useful.

Acts 5:7
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
And it was about the space of three hours after. Since the Jewish hours of prayer were at intervals of three hours from each other (see Acts 2:15; 3:1; 9:9), it has been remarked, as not improbable, that the meetings of the Christians were so also, and that Sapphira must have been now coming in, as her husband before had done, to attend one of the stated public assemblies of the Christians.
When his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.

Acts 5:8
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? - naming the sum.
And she said, Yea, for so much. Thus was coolly carried out this coolly-concerted plan, which was divinely permitted to be gone through with, that the whole guilt of it might be laid bare and brought home before all the assembly to this wretched woman, before the vengeance of Heaven descended upon her.

Acts 5:9
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together (see the note at Acts 5:2) to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? - of the Lord Jesus, as the usual style of this book would incline us to understand "the Lord" here. They thus virtually agreed to tempt or try the Spirit of the Lord whether they could not escape detection by that Omniscient Spirit, of whose supernatural presence with the apostles they had had such abundant evidence.
Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. How awfully graphic is this!

Acts 5:10
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men, [hoi (NT:3588) neaniskoi (NT:3495)] - in the sense before explained, though the term is slightly varied,
Came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. The later Jews buried before sunset of the day of death. Here again the reader should be on his guard against the tendency to weaken the miraculous character of the judgment that befell this couple; as when Neander would represent it, in the case of Ananias, as the result of the astonishment and terror, produced on him by the detection of his sin and the holy denunciations of a man speaking to his conscience with such divine confidence; and in the case of Sapphira, by the impression of her husband's fate in addition to all this. Even Olshausen would admit that the death might be a natural event, though, in the circumstances, it may be regarded as miraculous. Such comments cannot fail to shake one's confidence in the narrative itself, if he gives any heed to them. No doubt astonishment, terror, and burning shame would be in them like fuel to the flame of divine vengeance; but this is a very different statement from Neander's.

Acts 5:11
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
And great fear came upon all the church. No doubt this effect on the Christian community itself was the chief design of so startling a judgment, which had its counterpart, as the sin itself had, in Achan (Josh 7), while the period at which it occurred-the commencement of a new era-was also similar. 'It is worthy of remarks (says Lechler), that here the word "church" [ekkleesia (NT:1577)] occurs for the first time in the Acts. Hitherto it is "the disciples" (Acts 1:15); "all that believed" (Acts 2:44); "the multitude of them that believed" (Acts 4:32). Luke here names "the whole Church" as a collection. It is not to be viewed as accidental that this collective idea of the Church is first brought forward in connection with that event which appears as an imposing act of "divine church discipline"' (as Thiersch expresses it).
Triumphs of the Gospel (5:12-16)

Acts 5:12
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord (or by common consent) in Solomon's porch - (see the note at Acts 3:11.)
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
 

Text: Acts 4:32-5:11
Preachers don’t like this story, apparently. I once spent a morning in a large seminary library hunting for sermons on Ananias and Sapphira and couldn’t find any. The two most read preachers’ magazines - Expository Times and Pulpit Digest - didn’t have a single sermon on this passage. Folks dropping dead in church (it happens occasionally) isn’t nice. 

There are some big questions here. Why did they do it? How did Peter know? Why was the punishment so severe - and so swift? Why did God deem this sin so bad?“Did they go to heaven?” one woman asked after I’d preached on this passage.

There are no easy answers. And yet with all our questions this story is an acted parable of the Christian gospel; it’s about sin, judgment, and the possibility of grace.

Sin

In most of our English translations the story begins with the little word“but”. Luke, the author of Acts, sets up a study m contrasts. There are Barnabas, a man filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24), and Ananias, whose heart was filled with Satan (5:3). One was utterly truthful, the other a liar.

Here are counter pointed faith and unbelief, selflessness and selfishness, goodness and deceitfulness, sacrifice and sacrilege, trust in God and the worship of self (”hubris,” pride), total commitment and base hypocrisy.

The setting was“paradise regained.” They had all things in common, real community: shared resources, sensitivity to others’ needs, security - not in material things, but in the risen Christ. It’s the closest to Utopia the world has ever seen. Sinners - even murderers of the Lord Christ - were repenting and being forgiven and accepted; the sick were being healed; great grace was upon them all.

But in the midst of all this beauty and harmony, the serpent enters the garden again. It’s a horrific story. And yet, we feel, Ananias and Sapphira were just ordinary people like us. Don’t we sometimes engage in“impression management” to manipulate others’ opinion of us? Who of us hasn’t sometimes pinched stuff from our employer for personal use? Or falsified our tax return a little bit? Or withheld the truth, or covered up with a“white lie”?

Their motives were probably pretty ordinary - perhaps even defensible. Perhaps their generous or heroic selves were inspired by the generosity of Barnabas. Their fearful selves wondered what would happen in their old age if they gave away all their assets. Their critical selves asked questions about the“bums” on the receiving end of these handouts. Their distrustful selves may have raised questions about the apostles’ honesty; the church hadn’t appointed auditors yet. But in the end their egocentric selves won; they wanted glory without sacrifice, the kudos Barnabas had received without having to pay the price. 

Yes, they were ordinary people - very ordinary. What sins might we have committed if we were sure we’d never be found out? If you had carried out some of the evils you planned or dreamed about, you’d be in jail for life. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not greed, but deception, hypocrisy - and who of us hasn’t done worse?

There is something more insidious, subtle, and dangerous here however. Ananias was engaged in an act of worship. Barnabas had laid his gift“at the apostles’ feet,” and this same expression is used of Ananias. Their offerings weren’t merely to the apostles, but to God. Their motivations, the“thoughts of their hearts,” were therefore God’s concern. Here is the worst kind of hypocrisy - the sort that got Christ so angry - hypocrisy bordering on sacrilege. It wasn’t just a matter of pretending to be devout but really being a liar and a cheat (though they were that). Sacrilege goes a lot further; it’s robbing God of what is rightfully God’s,“stealing Divine glory,” withholding what we have professed as belonging to the Lord. Ananias and Peter are not just two mortals confronting each other. Here the battle is joined between God and Satan, whose instruments they have become.

Astonishing. Perhaps this man and his wife were in the group on which the Holy Spirit fell so dramatically at Pentecost and had also been baptized in water as they joined the church. Previous to that Ananias may even have been among the seventy apostles preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits (Luke 10:9, 17). Let us never forget there is no sin that is impossible for any one of us to commit. There but for the grace of God we go too.

Judgment

Such was the spiritual power among those people that this sin was immediately detected and judged.

How do we explain this sudden death? Members of traditional societies - our Australian aborigines, village people in Papua New Guinea have no problem at all with a story like this, with their experience of the power of“pointing the bone” and of witchcraft. In the (ignorant) West we have to explain it - psychosomatically. (William Barclay, for example, with his penchant for naturalistic explanations of the biblical miracles, reminds us that when Edward I blazed in anger at one of his courtiers the man dropped dead in sheer fear.)

Interestingly, a similar thing had happened twice before. In Eden a man and a woman tried to deceive God, and the result was death. Then there was Achan“stealing” what rightfully was God’s: he and his whole family and possessions were destroyed. Adam, Achan, Ananias - at the beginning of each“fresh start” God was making with God’s people, the same thing happened. Surely these things are written for our
instruction.

Awesome, fearful. As a pastor I wonder what kind of worship service I would have led for the following three hours? Nothing in our clergy handbooks helps us here. Then, imagine the moment of horror when Sapphira wanders in: every face would have told her the story, if she’d noticed. In the awful silence, they could then hear the footfalls of the young men who’d just buried her husband.

But why this immediate capital punishment with no opportunity for repentance? It’s not fair, you say. Negatively, the responses tumble over each other: Who said life was supposed to be fair? Who sets up valid criteria for fairness? Human categories of what’s fair are constantly changing. And who’s in charge, anyway, in the ultimate sense? And who’s to know whether, as it’s been put simplistically; God was somehow“destroying a body to save a soul”? We’ll have problems in this“bent world” if we put our faith in systems of fairness - or in our systems of anything. Our trust is in a righteous, just God, who can handle the moral judgments of the universe without too much help from us. On the other hand, we can reverently say:“God has a lot to answer for.”

C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, says God’s attitude to sin is analogous to that of a surgeon to cancer. The destructive tissue has to be removed. God’s judgment is love at work destroying what is destroying us. Sometimes the divine surgery is radical (as in this story); sometimes it’s postponed.

Grace

Peter makes it very clear that Ananias didn’t have to follow the course he did. He was in full control at every point (5:4). This wasn’t“primitive communism.” Private property had not been abolished; no one was being forced to sell his or her possessions. The sharing was voluntary, not a precondition of entering the church.

And I’m sure we can say that even after Ananias and Sapphira decided to bring only part of the money, they still had an alternative course of action open to them. 

John Claypool imagines another scenario:

If they had just said:“Here is where we would like to be - with Barnabas’ kind of trust and generosity. But we find we are not there yet .... All we can do now is give part of the proceeds.  Would you help us grow toward  what we would like to become?”’

Then there would have been healing and nurture and grace mediated through others in the caring fellowship. But instead there were deceit and death.

The way of Ananias is not only an ancient way; it is practiced in politics and business every day. Wasn’t it President Theodore Roosevelt who called those people on Capitol Hill“the Ananias club”? I wonder what might have happened if President Richard Nixon had come clean and told all he knew about Watergate a year before his resignation?

Ananias and Sapphira had a warped view of God - apparently as a sort of cosmic“neurotic perfectionist” who could not accept them if they were imperfect. Occasionally I visit or counsel people who are
perfectionists; they got the impression from someone that life has to be highly organized for them to be happy. Often they had parents who rarely praised them for anything. If only Ananias and Sapphira had realized that God is not like this. God is a grower of persons and not in the business of mass production. There’s no such thing as instant
sanctification.

But they also had a defective view of their fellow Christians. They were fearful about their inability to measure up, and obviously felt others wouldn’t accept them if they confessed to being less than Barnabas. Hypocrites also have another problem - a huge inferiority complex. They are unable to accept their own uniqueness and
imperfections. Maturity is all about living with imperfection, your own, your parents’, others’. Hypocrites have to play a sort of one-upmanship game in which they come out best in every comparison.

The essence of grace, on the other hand, is acceptance - by God of us, and of others and of us. Grace is love-before-worth. It creates worth in another rather than responding to worth in the other. So grace abounds where sin abounds. And as the church is a society of people on the receiving end of God’s grace, it’s the community par excellence where we accept others fully on the same basis as God has accepted us (Rom. 15:7): solely on the basis of grace - not law, not doctrine, not sacramental observance, but grace alone!

If only Ananias and Sapphira had understood this! By their behavior they were denying the most fundamental truth in the Christian faith: we cannot earn significance. We can’t achieve wholeness, salvation, through our own efforts. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is a given, a gift, that we gratefully receive in spite of our failures and our sin.

So, Ananias, Sapphira, you didn’t have to earn what you’d inherited. Don’t strive to be a luminary; just let your light shine. You don’t have to be like Barnabas. You are intended to be your own person, to be what no other is and to do what no other can do. So you can“go to church” and be just who you are. You don’t have to play the sick“over-under” games our society forces on us. Church is the place where grace reigns and where all acting stops. You can hang up your mask with your hat at the door. That’s why Christ’s Church is“glorious,” according to the New Testament - not because it’s perfect, but because it’s being redeemed. Here’s where nobodies become somebodies,“no-people” become“God’s people” (1 Pet. 2:10).