Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 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.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? … You have not lied to men but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (verses 1-5)
This is a fearsome event, especially so early in the life of the newborn church.
This husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, conspire together to sell a piece of property, making a show of giving the whole amount to the church apostles, yet actually, deceptively, holding back a substantial portion for themselves.
To be clear, the issue has nothing at all to do with any compulsory obligation to “have all things in common.” Although such sacrifice was common practice in the early church, Peter makes it abundantly clear to Ananias that the property was his – pure and simple – before it was sold, and that afterwards the full proceeds were entirely at his own disposal.
Rather, the issue has everything to do with lying to the Holy Spirit. Ananias, apparently without making any explicit statement, portrays himself as having made a greater sacrifice than is actually the case. Without words, he’s portrayed a lie, seeking to deceive not only the church itself, but the Spirit who is guiding and directing the church’s life. This is hypocrisy, clear cut, depicting oneself to be seemingly better than reality.
Sapphira, on the other hand, puts the lie into concrete words, verbally affirming that the full proceeds of the property sale had been given to the apostles. Husband and wife have acted the part together. They’ve sought to revel in glory that isn’t rightly their own. Indeed, perhaps this is the basic error in the whole scenario, desiring glory from those around, when the focus instead should be on the Lord God receiving all of it.
The irony in the story is that the sacrifice made by Ananias and Sapphira was absolutely real, indeed inspiring. How many of us would as readily take a substantial piece of property and sell it, giving what must have been a significant portion sacrificially into the hands of the church? The problem came in their motivation. It was askew. Since so many were giving similarly, had they felt the compulsion to “keep up with the Joneses”? It seems they hadn’t fully understood their new identity in Christ, that when he cried out from the cross, “It is finished”, there was nothing more needed to guarantee their worth. No lump-sum payment could make Ananias or Sapphira – or you, or me – any more valuable in the eyes of the Lord.
The judgement that fell on these two was perhaps the Lord’s wake-up call to the fledgling church that honesty and integrity before him are foundational. He knows all our sin and brokenness, our greed and conceit, our deficiencies and deceitful tendencies. He’s already paid the price. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Live transparently before him. He knows you already. “In Christ” – that’s our only hope of glory.
Father, here I stand, unhidden before you. You know me through and through. I acknowledge that I could never be good enough, big enough, self-sacrificing enough to earn your approval. Gratefully, I receive your full acceptance in Christ. Help me to live honestly before you, and before brothers and sisters in Christ. To your glory alone. Amen.
Reflect: In what circumstances do you tend to portray yourself as someone other than you truly are? Confess it to the Lord. Ask him to reaffirm your identity and worth in Jesus alone. Receive. Walk in this truth.