When you read through the Biblical history of the early church, you’ll find a period of time spoken of in Acts 4:32-37 where things seem to be going pretty well. During this time, everyone shared what they had so that the needs of others could be met. In fact, many people even sold their personal property so the money could be used to help others. It was a time of sincere generosity as people enjoyed God’s blessings together. So things were going pretty well for the church during this time but then two people decided that they were going to try and put God to the test…
“But there was a man named Ananias (with his wife Sapphira) who sold some property and brought only part of the money, claiming it was the full price. (His wife had agreed to this deception)” (Acts 5:1-2)
One of the impressive things about the Bible is that it doesn’t try to put a spin on unflattering events like the one we see above. When people in the Bible messed up, the Bible gives us the straight story about what really happened. The portion of the Bible quoted above is a good example of this, because it’s very honest about a situation that doesn’t reflect very well on the early church.
You see, Acts 5 tells the story of two people named Ananias and Sapphira who decided to sell a piece of property they owned. That wasn’t so unusual- many people in the early church were doing that. What was different was this: “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet” (verse 2 NIV). In other words, this couple decided to bring part of the money from their sale but pretended that they were bringing all of it. They decided to publicly lie to the Apostles and they were both in full agreement on it.
When it says that Ananias kept back part of the money for himself, the Bible uses a word that means, “to embezzle, to withdraw secretly and appropriate to one’s own use.” (1) This word is used in only one other place in the New Testament where it’s translated “to steal” in Titus 2:10. So apparently the idea was for Ananias and Sapphira to hold on to their money while still giving the appearance of “giving it all up for Jesus.”
But not everyone was fooled…
“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, Satan has filled your heart. When you claimed this was the full price, you were lying to the Holy Spirit. The property was yours to sell or not, as you wished. And after selling it, it was yours to decide how much to give. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God'” (Acts 5:3-4).
The Bible doesn’t tell us how Peter recognized what Ananias was trying to do but it’s pretty safe to say that the only way that he could have known was if God revealed it to him. So having been tipped off regarding Ananias’ real intentions, Peter traces the blame right to it’s ultimate source: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart…” (verse 3).
Here we see part of strategy used by Satan, the spiritual enemy of God’s people. If the enemy can’t wreck the church from the outside, he may try to influence people who are already in the church and destroy it from the inside- sometimes by getting them to lie as we see here. This brings to mind something that Jesus said regarding the devil in John 8:44: “When he lies, it is perfectly normal; for he is the father of liars.” This is why lying is wrong for Christians- it has it’s source in the character of Satan, not God.
Now, Ananias may have thought that he was trying to put one over on the Apostles, but Peter tells him that he was guilty of something much more serious: “When you claimed this was the full price, you were lying to the Holy Spirit. You weren’t lying to us, but to God.” In other words, Peter is saying, “Hey, you’re not trying to fool me- you’re attempting to deceive God.” That’s bad.
You see, Ananias was free to do as he pleased with his money but one thing that he was not free to do was use it to represent himself as a super-spiritual person when he wasn’t. So what should his attitude have been? Well, 2 Corinthians 9:7-9 has something important to say about that…
“Everyone must make up his own mind as to how much he should give. Don’t force anyone to give more than he really wants to, for cheerful givers are the ones God prizes. God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and more so that there will not only be enough for your own needs but plenty left over to give joyfully to others. It is as the Scriptures say: ‘The godly man gives generously to the poor. His good deeds will be an honor to him forever.'”
So what was the result of all this?
“When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5).
When Ananias saw that he was busted, he was overcome and died as a result. Ananias probably expected to be praised and honored for what he did, but the result couldn’t have been more different than what he expected.
But the story doesn’t end there…
“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Did you people sell your land for such and such a price?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘we did'” (Acts 5:7-8).
So now Sapphira shows up. Since she had been gone, Peter asked her, “Did you sell that property for such and such a price?” But instead of telling the truth, she decided to keep up the lie. The Doctor can just imagine the incredulous look on Peter’s face as he spoke the following words…
“…Peter said, ‘How could you and your husband even think of doing a thing like this– conspiring together to test the Spirit of God’s ability to know what is going on?'” (Acts 5:9a).
In other words, Bzzzzt!!! Wrong answer….
“‘Just outside that door are the young men who buried your husband, and they will carry you out too.’ Instantly she fell to the floor, dead, and the young men came in and, seeing that she was dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Terror gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened.” (Acts 5:9b-11).
Because Sapphira engaged in the same kind of fraud and hypocrisy that her husband was guilty of, she suffered the same fate. Ananias and Sapphira were both obviously guilty of lying, but they were also guilty of something perhaps more important: pretending that they were giving everything to God while deliberately holding back from Him at the same time.
The moral of this story is that we can fool some people but we can’t fool God. God is patient, kind, merciful, loving and forgiving, but God must also be respected. He is not to be lied to or treated casually and He is definitely not to be treated hypocritically. Ananias and Sapphira thought that they could lie to God and get away with it. But they found out that it just can’t be done and they serve as an important warning to those who believe that they can do the same.
(1) See Thayer’s Greek Lexicon