“Ananias and Sapphira”Categories: Sermons
Sometimes, the stories from the Bible that we most need to hear aren’t the pleasant, uplifting ones about the righteous who overcame through God. Instead, they’re the sobering ones about when God’s people chose to forsake Him and paid the penalty. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, we are sure to face the same temptations that those people did. If we come to those temptations unprepared, that makes it all the more likely that the devil will overcome us and destroy us as he did those unfortunates so long ago.
As a result, it’s important for us to spend some time considering those stories, but it’s even more important for us to consider our own lives in their light. Could it be that our souls today are imperiled as the souls of the ancient Israelites were, or the souls of the church in Ephesus were? This kind of introspection is the only cure for the disease of self-deception. With this in mind, then, let’s spend this evening considering the first Christians in the entire Bible whom we know for sure were lost. Let’s consider Ananias and Sapphira.
This downbeat story, though, begins with an upbeat narrative about how our first-century brethren were of ONE HEART AND SOUL. Let’s read about them in Acts 4:32-37. Because many of the brethren in the Jerusalem church were only in town for the Passover when they obeyed the gospel on Pentecost, the local Christians had to step up and provide for them. This they did joyfully, even selling their houses and lands when that became necessary to support their brethren.
In this section of the story, I see two main lessons. The first is that good hearts bear good fruit. Luke begins by observing that the Jerusalem church is of one heart and soul, and he is able to point to particular actions taken by brethren, sometimes even particular brethren, to back up his claim. So too for us. We know that this congregation, like every congregation, is supposed to be of one heart and soul too. If we are, that’s going to show up in the way we lavish money, time, and energy on one another.
Second, this is one of several places in Scripture where we see evidence of a church treasury. Sometimes you’ll hear folks arguing that there’s no Scriptural authority for a church to have a treasury. However, in this text, it’s clear that money was being laid at the apostles’ feet for them to distribute in a time and manner that seemed best to them. If an accumulation of money to be spent over time isn’t a church treasury, I don’t know what is!
This takes us, though, to THE SIN OF ANANIAS. Look at Acts 5:1-2. I’ve heard it said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and so it is here. Ananias and Sapphira see all the acclaim that people like Barnabas are getting for their generosity, and they want that praise too. However, they don’t want to give everything to the Lord, so they keep part of the proceeds back for themselves while claiming they’ve given all.
On one level, this seems like a victimless crime, doesn’t it? We don’t have to imagine too hard to see Ananias and Sapphira convincing themselves that their little white lie wouldn’t hurt anybody.
Indeed, we have to watch out for this trap in our own lives. We must beware of the temptation to give part while acting like we’re giving all. We want people to think of us as super-Christians, as pillars of the church, so we talk a good game around brethren, but we don’t live the way we talk. We wring our hands about how filthy our society is, then we go home and watch the latest pornfest on HBO. We exalt selfless love in marriage, but behind closed doors, we treat our spouses like dirt. This too seems like a harmless pastime, a victimless crime, but we must be aware that God sees things differently.
We see just how much differently in PETER’S INDICTMENT of Ananias’s sin. Let’s continue with Acts 5:3-4. As Peter points out, there was no good reason for Ananias’ hypocrisy. The property belonged to him; nobody made him sell any of it. Likewise, nobody required him to give every penny from the sale. When it would have been easy for him to tell the truth, he chose to lie instead.
In this, I think there are two lessons for us. The first is that when we lie, we must remember whom we’re trying to lie to. I suspect that Ananias didn’t have the slightest thought that his “little white lie” was directed at God. He figured that he was going to fool his brethren and go his way. However, the spiritual consequences of his sin—and our sin too—were much wider than he thought.
Second, we must remember that hypocrisy never fools God. Sure, we might well deceive everybody at church. We might go on fooling them for decades. However, we never should think that we are deceiving the Lord, not for an instant. He knows what we’re up to, and He is not pleased.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira ends with GOD’S JUDGMENT. Consider Acts 5:5-11. The husband-and-wife team tells the same lie, and both of them meet the same fate. God strikes Ananias down, and a few hours later, He strikes Sapphira down too.
Once again, I think there are two applications here for us. The first is that God hasn’t changed since the Old Testament. Of all the myths of pop religion, this is one of the most persistent and dangerous. People say all the time that God in the Old Testament was wrathful and harsh, but in the New Testament, He is merciful and forgiving.
The problem with this theory is that it simply doesn’t match up with the evidence. By the end of this story, Ananias and Sapphira are no less dead than Nadab and Abihu, or Uzza, or any of the other poor fools who put God to the test in the Old Testament. God’s conduct does not change because God does not change, nor will He ever do so.
From this, we can conclude that God will judge iniquity. In fact, I think this is the reason why God did what He did. He destroyed Ananias and Sapphira to leave us with no doubt about what the fate of hypocrites always will be. If we practice hypocrisy, God may not blast us on the spot (although He might!). However, when we choose to continue in sin, secure in the delusion that we will not suffer for the wrong we have done, we do nothing less than make our punishment certain.