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Ananias and Sapphira
By David A. DePra
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, but 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. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied unto men, but unto God." And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down, and gave up the ghost. And great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" And she said, "Yes, for so much." Then Peter said unto her, "How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried your husband are at the door, and shall carry you out." 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. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:1-11)
The account of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts is one of saddest events in the life of the early church. It is also one of the most misunderstood. But if we take a fresh look at what happened, we may yet come to understand the message God is sending us. And this event may yet effect us the way it affected the early church: "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things."
A Move of the Holy Spirit
Acts is a narrative. What that means is that, yes, it remains the inspired Word of God. But it also means that rather than direct doctrinal teaching, Acts records historical events. We need to read Acts with this in mind.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. (Acts 2:44-46)
Almost immediately after the day of Pentecost, when the church was born, and three thousand souls were added, a move of the Holy Spirit began. Luke records that an initial impact was that they, "sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need."
We notice several things here. First, we find NO command to the church to do this. No one stood up and said that selling possessions and giving the money to those in need was mandatory for Christians. Rather, we find this generosity was a spontaneous reaction to the Holy Spirit. These people had SEEN something which carried them outside of themselves. Their generosity was the result.
Now notice: You and I cannot, simply by DOING what they people did, see what they saw. No. Their DOING was the result of something, not the means thereunto. This is why it is important to keep in mind that Acts is a narrative. It records that this impact of the Holy Spirit happened. It is not a command, "to go and do likewise," or a formula God is giving us as to the specifics of how to live a Christian life.
Donít misunderstand. What these Christians did in selling possessions and giving the money to those in need was wonderful. The spirit of that is certainly one that God wants each of us to have. We should, at all times, be willing to give everything away should God direct. We donít belong to ourselves. How much less do our possessions. But this does not mean that the ONLY way to please God is to go and live in a Christian commune, where no one owns anything. People have tried that. It doesnít work. It doesnít work because you and I might be able to duplicate the mechanical obedience of Acts 2. But the question is: Is it a move of the Holy Spirit?
These people in Acts 2 were expressing the reality that they were no longer living for this life. Nothing they owned mattered anymore. The Holy Spirit was moving, at that time, in that way, through the church. What they did was voluntary, joyful, and without compulsion. Again, it was not the outcome of a command or of pressure. It was the outcome Ė at that specific point in time for those specific people Ė of being baptized by the Holy Spirit.
We need only read the rest of Acts, and the epistles, to discover that such a phenomena was not being practiced everywhere, nor continually. We find instances where Paul asks one church for support for another. We find other instances where Paul speaks of support for the ministry and for the poor. There is NO indication that what we find in Acts 2 was going on at that time as a continual practice. The WILLINGNESS was there, but not that very same move of the Holy Spirit.
If you and I are yielded to the Holy Spirit, when the Holy Spirit moves, we will move. This is the key. But donít ever try to move the Holy Spirit. Even if what you want to do is a GOOD thing. You will wind up creating a religious movement, powered by the flesh. Its initial effects might even seem good. But in the end, it will do great harm.
The Holy Spirit moved upon these people among those first 3,120 Christians, and they were so carried into the purpose of God, that they sold their possessions and distributed to the poor. They counted nothing as belonging to themselves, but considered it all to belong to God. THAT is a great example for us, and an indication of what happens to people who SEE the reality of Jesus Christ.
The Move Continues
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
In Acts 4, the growth of the church continues, as does the move of the Holy Spirit. Once again, there was a tremendous unity Ė they were all of ONE ACCORD. This means they were all "sold out" to Godís will, and to His purposes. This was before politics, power, and money in the church. This was before people began to use the church for THEIR agenda. The Holy Spirit was having HIS way.
Thus, we see that people continued to sell their possessions Ė even lands and houses Ė and bring the money to the apostles. The apostles then distributed this money to anyone who had need.
In addition to this generosity, we find that many miracles were happening in the church. Not only had the day of Pentecost brought the miracle of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but Luke writes, "With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all." We also find that one sermon converts several thousand at a time. People are healed. Miracles, signs, wonders, and shakings were taking place Ė all under the power of the Holy Spirit.
This was the Holy Spirit moving in the church in its initial stages. The center of it all was Jesus Christ Ė Jesus crucified and resurrected. This was the message and this was the obsession. Luke writes,
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
This is the CHURCH. This is what happens when the church is operating in the Holy Spirit. There is unity in Jesus Christ. This means that each person is motivated and dedicated to the will of God for themselves and for each other. There are no other agendas. There are no politics or power struggles. There are no games. It is a church which not only belongs to God in fact, but which functions like it.
Ananias and Sapphira
Stepping into this wonderful move of the Holy Spirit were a man and his wife, Ananias and Sapphira. We are given no background about them. We can conclude, however, that they had been among those who said they accepted Christ, during those first days after Pentecost. They were obviously known to many in the church. And they were very much aware of what was happening in the church among their brethren. They had seen many of their friends selling possessions and giving the proceeds to the church, for distribution to the poor. At some point, they decided to sell a piece of land they owned.
Ananias and Sapphira would not live through the day. They would both fall dead. The cause would be a terrible SIN Ė a sin they not only committed, but conspired to commit. Peter said their sin was that they had lied to the Holy Spirit Ė lied to God Himself.
But what does that really mean? Ė to lie to God? And why was the penalty for doing so DEATH? What are we to learn from this terrible sin, and itís consequences?
Well, we are told that Ananias and Sapphira had sold their land for a sum -- letís say, $10,000. But they brought only part of it to Peter Ė letís say $5,000. So far, so good. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, Peter told Ananias directly that he was never under any obligation to sell the land in the first place, or to give all of the proceeds to the church even once it was sold.
Peter said, "While it (the land) remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not (the money) in your own power?" So the sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira was NOT that they refused to give all the money received for the land to the church. No. They were never under any obligation to sell the land, or to give any of the money to the church Ė it was all completely their choice before God as to whether to do so.
The sin, however, was that they told Peter and the church that they had sold the land for $5,000 Ė instead of for the $10,000 they had truly received. Not only that, but they had conspired to tell this lie. This was a premeditated, deliberate lie Ė knowingly planned beforehand by this husband and wife.
We can hardly imagine what they must have been thinking, and what their conversation must have been like, leading up to this lie. They would have had to have looked each other in the eye, and to the complete disregard of honestly and Truth, and in complete irreverence to what the Holy Spirit was doing in the church at that moment, agreed to lie about this to Peter and the church.
It is one thing for a person, in the heat of a moment, to blurt out a lie. People do that because they are on the spot, and perhaps do not want to look bad. But this was a lie that was premeditated. And agreed to by TWO people. Thus, there was no confusion, no weakness, and no excuse. It was planned, premeditated, and deliberate.
However, we dare not miss the point here. The LIE was only the outward manifestation of something worse that was going on here in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira. We conclude this for several reasons. First, there was NO mandate to sell their property, and NO mandate to give all the money. They could have just as easily walked up to Peter and said, "We sold our land for $10,000, and want to donate $5,000 to the church." That would have been completely acceptable. In fact, there is ever reason to assume that others in the church did that very thing. Again Ė Peter even told Ananias that this was totally within his power of choice all along. Ananias and Sapphira clearly knew this. They had to have known it or they would not have felt the need to lie.
So why did they lie? Why did they do what they did? It seems clear that they wanted APPEAR to be something they were not. They wanted people to think they were more generous than they really were. In effect, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was that they took a move of the Holy Spirit and used it for their own purposes. They used a holy thing of God as a vehicle to tell a lie about themselves Ė they used a holy thing of God for unholy purposes.
Can we see that? The move of the Holy Spirit was doing wonderful things in the hearts and lives of people. This was a church which was pure and holy. But here, in Acts 5, we find the first recorded instance of pollution. We find the first recorded instance of a people using the church, the Holy Spirit, and the holy things of God, for their own agenda and purpose. In this case, Ananias and Sapphira used the move of the Holy Spirit to promote themselves as being highly spiritual and generous.
Notice what HAD to have been in their hearts: A complete IRREVERENCE for God. Sure. They could not have done this terrible thing if they had had any real reverence for God, or for His people. Here we have two people who sat down and figured out how to lie so that they could appear to be spiritual before the church. It apparently never occurred to them that they were polluting something that belonged to God Himself.
Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead that day Ė and it was because of their sin. The passage never actually says that God "struck" them dead, but that they dropped dead. It would seem that the spirit which governed them was so out of place with the move of the Holy Spirit, that once they were exposed, even their physical body could not live. This is judgment. And it was final.
Lest we still not grasp the seriousness and depth of their sin, read again the words of Peter. He says, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" Get that: Satan. In the midst of this wonderful move of God, this couple had allowed Satan to fill their heart.
Did Satan sneak into the hearts of these two people and make them do this thing? No. Satan has no such power over humans. Rather, WE provide the attitude and intent, and once we do, then Satan has an open door to enter into our hearts and make what we are thinking about doing seem RIGHT. Once Ananias and Sapphira crossed the line and gave Satan place in them, Satan filled their hearts. Ananias and Sapphira were totally responsible for what they did.
Was God too hard on Ananias and Sapphira? And why donít we see people dropping dead today in the church? I mean, supposedly Christian people commit all kinds of sins today in the church. People lie all the time, they steal, they trash the holy things of God. This has been going on for two-thousand years. Why did this happen to Ananias and Sapphira, but is not something we see much of today?
First of all, thank God it doesnít happen today. God is very merciful and long-suffering. But it DID happen to Ananias and Sapphira. Why?
Could it be that God was showing us just how serious He is about His church? Could what happened here, in this first recorded instance of people using the Holy Spirit for their own purposes, be an indication of Godís REAL mind about such things? Ė even though the immediate penalty of death does not often follow today? God is saying, "This is how serious a sin it is to take what is Mine and use it for unholy purposes."
Would that we would get the message! Ananias and Sapphira, despite the incredible witness of the Holy Spirit in His people during that day Ė a witness they must surely have seen and understood Ė had developed no more of a reverence for God then that they went ahead and used what God was doing for their own purposes. This is, in some measure, the story of the historical church, isnít it? People have always taken the things of God and used them for their own puposes Ė money, power, and pride.
Most people who are guilty of such sin do not drop dead. God is merciful. But never think that the sin they commit is not as serious as that of Ananias and Sapphira. It is. And while physical death may not be immediate in most cases, there is a very real spiritual death which this kind of thing brings upon people Ė upon the whole church. And there IS a judgment yet to come. If you want to know what is wrong with the church today, read Acts 5. These events are there for OUR admonition.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor 3:16-17)
"Holiness" means, "to be set apart for Godís use." And obviously, the HOLY Spirit is going to be working unto that end Ė with regards to everything. But if to "be holy" is to be set apart for Godís use, what would that make something which I set apart for MY use? It would make it UNHOLY, wouldnít it? You bet.
We need to get this straight: The church does not belong to us. WE donít even belong to us. But this is not merely some platitude. It is something God is dead serious about. God purchased the church with the Blood of His Son. And you and I have NO BUSINESS doing what WE please with Godís property.
In this day and age, many mainline churches have given into the gay agenda, fornication, adultery, abortion, and every manner of compromise with the Truth found in the Word of God. People have taken the things of God and have trampled them underfoot. But God tells us that judgment for these things is as certain and as final as God in heaven. It may not come upon people as it did Ananais and Sapphira. But it is going to come and there will be no escape.
There is still time to repent. God never withdraws that offer. But the sin is that we wonít Ė despite the offer. People continue to use the church as a forum for doing their own thing.
What are some of these things people use the church for? One is POWER. People love to impose their will upon the church Ė especially the pastor. Or perhaps it is the pastor imposing his will upon the church. Itís all about WINNING. But if I am not dedicated to Godís will, and seeing it executed according to His methods and means, I am guilty. I need to repent.
Power is related to PRIDE. Spiritual pride. Ananais used the things of God to make himself to appear to be something he was not. People are still doing that. Always have been doing it.
Another use of the church is POLITICS. This is manifested when people compromise with the Truth for the sake of members and money. People "cut deals" with the things of God. The goal is often, "peace at all cost." Folks donít want to go through the trauma of confrontation for the sake of Truth. So they allow false teachers, and people celebrating sins like homosexuality, to be in the pulpits. Christians allow unbelievers to be in leadership positions in the churches. This is directly against Godís Word. But again -- itís all about politics. Not about God.
Another thing is, of course, MONEY. You can tell a lot about what governs a church by itís attitude towards money. Some ministers, and some churches, sell out the things of God for money. The end, they think, justifies the means. But it never does in the eyes of God.
There are two kinds of people in churches who are guilty of these things. First, there are those who commit these sins. But then there are those who permit them Ė usually in the name of "love and forgiveness." Ask: Has this stopped it from happening?
The reason these things are so wicked is not because God has a rule or law written down somewhere which is being violated. Itís true that it does. But the reason these things are wicked is because they misrepresent who God is. They hurt people spiritually. Most of us, they betray a complete irreverence for God, His Son, and the Bible.
Perhaps you think this is too harsh. Fine. Then go right ahead and do your thing. But ask: Did Ananias and Sapphira fall dead that day, or didnít they? Yep, they did. And this event is recorded to get us to repent and turn back to God. That episode is there to show us Godí s mind for His church; for His Bride. Would that people who call themselves by the name of Christ would begin taking this seriously. If we would, the church would once again begin turning the world upside down. *
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