GETTING THE MESSAGE/Acts 5:1-11
In this story we are introduced to a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. We are told they sold a piece of property and lay part of the proceeds from the sale at the feet of the apostles to be used for gifts to the poor. However, they conspired to falsify the truth of the transaction.
Ananias appears first and gives the money. Peter exposes the deception, and Ananias suffers sudden death. A few hours later his wife Sapphira comes before the apostles ignorant of her husbands’ fall, and she repeats the false narrative concerning the money. She also is struck dead.
The judgment was not because of the amount of money they gave. They were free to do with their property as they chose (verse 4). The judgment was from the misrepresentation. They are contrasted with Barnabas (chapter 4), who was so named by the apostles for his service to the church. He also gave the proceeds from the sale of a property he owned to aid the poor. Ananias and his wife wanted the reputation but not the character of Barnabas.
The sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira is shocking. There is no doubt we are to see it as a judgment of God, and it is given to provoke fear in us (verses 5 and 11). So to understand it, we need to understand the grievous nature of the sin.
The sins that stand out are greed, hypocrisy, and lying. Riches are not evil, but they are dangerous to our souls. Paul warns (Ephesians 5) that no greedy person will inherit the kingdom of God. You can give to the church or to charity (in itself commendable) for ostentatious reasons. The Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being greedy even though they were dutiful in giving.
The greed of the couple in this story is exposed by their hypocrisy. They wanted to make the appearance of being more generous than they were. It must have been painful for them to give, and it was plainly impossible for them to give without receiving credit for it. The duplicity of their hearts is the warning here. God will not be mocked.
They conspired to lie to men because they loved the praise of men. But they were ignorant of God. The Scripture says God hates lying lips, and that the devil is the father of lies. Peter remarks that it was Satan that filled the heart of Ananias (verse 3). The devil is deceitful; so will those be under his influence. But Ananias and his wife were not hidden from the Holy Spirit when the conceived the plan to lie to the apostles.
We need to consider that all things come from God. God is the absolute Lord of all things, both in heaven and earth. Whatsoever is possessed by any creature is by His indulgence. Everyone must get a grant of God of all he has. Money tends to rule men to set limits on the rights of God over them. Yet we have nothing but by God’s leave.
This passage is a warning of the nature and power of sin. William Plumer warns of the nature of sin: “It is the missing of the mark. It is transgression. It is rebellion. It is iniquity. It is evil and only evil. It is folly, the opposite of wisdom. It is a lie, the opposite of truth. It unmans a man. It separates between God and his creature. It opens hell. It banishes from the best society, which is heaven. It cannot be cured by finite power or human means.”
Peter had earlier stated that Christ Jesus is the only name under heaven whereby men may be saved (4:12). Christ came into the world to save sinners, but we must be sincere in faith. He is wise and knows all things. He knows who are his. Christians have love to the unseen Christ, for delivering them from the judgment of God.
After our recent ice storm, I, like many, resolved to be better prepared for the next power outage. Yet, I haven’t done anything yet toward that resolution. There may not be another power outage. But it is certain I will stand before the Lord. This is a story meant to shake us out of lethargy and get us prepared for the day of the Lord.
Ananias and Sapphira belonged to the best church. They had the apostles as their ministers. They saw and heard miraculous things. Nevertheless, they were entirely unprepared for the judgment of God. And it came suddenly. It always does. So, as the Lord directs, let us be watchful over our souls.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.