Ananias and Sapphira

Part One: Acts 5:1-8

“If I am lying, I am dying” not only rhymes but is descriptive of the crime and punishment of a couple in the early church, Ananias and Sapphira. They plotted together to sell land and give only a portion to the church. They lied in that they were acting and claiming as if they were giving 100% of the proceeds of the sell. Why try to get away with such a thing? They did not lack instruction from God. The apostles were preaching powerful lessons to the young church. “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The message of the Resurrection of Jesus was not popular with the Jewish leadership. In fact, they had arrested Peter and John and thrown them in jail. This would have been a bold demonstration of the sincerity of the apostles.

This Christian couple were not without support. The early church was united together in the apostles’ teachings (2:42). Not only did they have a common spiritual unity or fellowship, but they also socialized with each other in their homes (2:44-46).

Ananias and Saphirra were part of a group of very generous Christians who were willing to share with other saints who were in need. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common… Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (4:32-35). This is one of the great demonstrations of benevolence in history. On the Day of Pentecost three thousand were baptized and added to the church. Seventeen different nationalities were represented. Many would have stayed to learn from the Apostles. This created a group of needy brethren. Those who had extra funds would have brought their contributions to a common treasury (at the apostles’ feet) to be distributed by the apostles to those in need.

In addition to this positive influence, the couple also had the encouraging example of Barnabas. “And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:36-37). Barnabas did not give seeking recognition. His good example would have exhorted others to do the same. Next, the Apostles’ approval would have motivated others to do good as he had done.

Oliver Cromwell had his portrait made by a court painter who left off his unsightly warts. Upon examination of the painting, Cromwell demanded, “Take it away, and paint me warts and all.” When Luke writes his history of the early church, he includes “warts and all.” The church of the first century was an imperfect church and was so because of imperfect men and women like Ananias and Sapphira. This may be the first recorded sin in the church’s history. But it will by no means be the last negative example recorded in the inspired words of the New Testament writers. The church of today needs the encouraging example of someone like Barnabas as well as the negative example of this couple.

Ironically, the name Ananias means “the Lord is gracious” and Sapphira means “beautiful.” Her name is associated with the sapphire gem and perhaps a recognition of the beauty of Ananias’ wife. However, there is nothing gracious in store from the Lord for this couple and they do not have a beautiful story on the pages of the Bible.

Just like Bonnie and Clyde worked together to steal, so Ananias and Sapphira conspired together to deliberately deceive. Verse nine says they had “agreed together” (5:9). The motive of their heart is not clearly apparent by their mere actions. However, God knew, the Holy Spirit knew, and Peter an inspired apostle knew. They could not conceal their hypocrisy of pretending to give all for the praise of men and greed. They wanted the reputation of Barnabas at a basement bargain price. “They wanted to have their cake, and eat it, too.” So “he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (5:2).

Their sin had nothing to do with the amount they gave. Ananias was under no obligation to sell his property or give the proceeds for the needs of the saints. Peter reminded him of this, “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (5:4a). If they had given nothing there would have been no blame attached to their action.

Peter accused Ananias of three sins. First, they had lied to God. “But Peter said, “Ananias, why…Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (5:3,4b). Three different expressions are synonymous: “Lie to the Holy Spirit…Lied not unto men, but unto God…Try the Spirit of the Lord” (5:3,4,9). They made the mistake of thinking they could get away with this as if they were dealing with mere men. But Peter had the guidance of the Holy Spirit and knew. When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he discovered that in persecuting the church he was persecuting Christ (9:4). Ananias finds out that his lie to the church is lying to God. He had not given this thought before he brought the gift.

Peter also condemned Ananias for allowing Satan to fill his heart. “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart’” (5:3a). This couple did not have to give into Satan’s temptation any more than Adam and Eve were forced to eat from the forbidden tree. Satan may be the father of lies (John 8:44) but no one has to take it to heart and believe and act upon those lies. Peter knew all too well the persuasive influence of the Devil when he denied Jesus three times (Lk. 22:31,32). Remember, Satan’s temptation does not remove culpability from the tempted.

Not only did Ananias and Sapphira lie to God but stole from God in that they predetermined to “keep back part of the price of the land for” themselves (5:3b). The Greek word nosphizo used for “keep back” literally means embezzle and can be translated “steal” (Tit. 3:10). “Will a man rob God?” (Mal. 3:8). Yes. They robbed God of what they had already agreed to give Him. They had vowed to give all but broke that commitment in giving only a portion and stealing the rest of it. The Old Testament warns against this sinfulness. “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Dt. 23:21-23). “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. it is better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:4,5).

The punishment for Ananias was instant death. “Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him” (5:5,6). The phrase “breathed his last” comes from the Greek word ekpsycho which literally means “to breathe out the soul”. Death is when the soul departs from the body. Peter was not his executioner. God took is life just as he punished Nadab and Abihu and Uzzah for their sins. Why was this sin a capital offense? Others would go on to sin more grievously in the church. Millions of liars will wear the name of Christ and billions more will have stolen from God. God did not and is not striking them dead. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-10 Paul mentions those Israelites who died in the Wilderness as an example to Christians everywhere so they would not continue to so sin. Thus, Ananias and Sapphira are New Testament examples left by the Holy Spirit to warn against lying and dying.

There is no more room in the bulletin this week. The cliff-hanger is related to Sapphira. Will she repent of robbing God? Will she recant her lie? Or will she continue the charade and meet the same fate as her co-conspirator?

– Daniel R. Vess

2024-03-17 - Treasure In Heaven
2024-03-31 - Ananias and Sapphira (Part 2)
Categories: The Forum