UNION GROVE CHURCH OF CHRIST, CLEVELAND TN.
ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
Do you remember Ananias and Sapphira? Acts 5 records a sin that they committed, along with their subsequent death. What did they do? Why was their action wrong? What was the reaction of those that heard about it? What can we learn from this event? Let us take a look together. Here is the complete text of Acts 5:1-11:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part, and laid it at the apostlesí feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine hart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles It remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast 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 ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee 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.
As a background to what we read about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, the previous chapter tells of the unity and benevolent acts of the early disciples, including how a number of them sold land or goods and brought the money to the apostles in order to help supply the needs of others (Acts 4:32-37). While things seemed to be going so well for the church in many ways, what took place in the case of Ananias and Sapphira stands out as the first recorded instance of internal problems in the church. It reminds us of the truth that if the devil is unable to cause havoc for Godís people from outside forces, then he will gladly resort to internal disruptions, whether they come in the form of false teaching, immoral action, backbiting, or whatever.
Can we pinpoint just what it was that Ananias and Sapphira did that was wrong? We can, indeed. These two were married, they had a possession, they sold that possession, they brought part of the money from that sale to the apostles, and they kept part of the money for themselves. None of these five items, however, constituted a sin. Their downfall was their dishonesty. Again, it was not wrong for them to retain some of the funds that they received by selling a possession. We know that this is the case from the questions that are recorded in Acts 5:4 : "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" These questions from Peter make it clear that any discipleís sale of property was voluntary, after a sale was completed the funds belonged to the disciple that received the money, and it was the discipleís right to do with the money as he saw fit. He could give all of it to the church. Some, in fact, did just that. But, such was not required.
Just what did Sapphira and Ananias do that was dishonest? They let on like they had given to the apostles all of the funds that they received from a sale of property, when, in fact, they did no such thing. As we noted earlier, they kept back a portion for themselves, which, in and of itself, was perfectly acceptable. But they lied about it. Peter said that Ananias lied (Acts 5:3). Later, when Peter asked Sapphira to tell him if she had "sold the land for so much," her response was, "Yea, for so much" (Acts 5:8). There was the lie!
Ananias and Sapphira were neither the first people, nor last, to lie. They certainly were not the only married couple that has concocted a lie together. And, sadly, they were not the last members of the church to tell a falsehood, even about the amount of their giving to the Lordís Cause. God still hates a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:17), and His standard for telling the truth is still set very high: "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour" (Ephesians 4:25). The lie of Sapphira and Ananias cost them their lives. In this matter there is no room for beating around the bush: if we are liars, our lying will cost us our souls (Revelation 21:8). While Satan would try to convince us otherwise, the bottom line is this: lying does not pay!
If Satan filled the heart of Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3), could Ananias really be held accountable for the untruth that he told? This account reminds us of what happened in the case of Judas: "Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3). The truth is, in the cases of both Judas and Ananias, they were responsible for not allowing the devil to enter and dwell in their hearts. They could have "closed the door" to Satanís temptation to lie by saying, "No." Remember, it is not a sin to be tempted. Sin takes place when a person "is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14). It is true that Satan tempted Ananias and Sapphira, but they committed sin when they fulfilled their own lusts.
According to the Bible text, to whom did Ananias and Sapphira lie? Acts 5:3 says that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, while verse four says that he lied to God. Thus, we see that the Holy Spirit is called "God." Note carefully: the Holy Spirit is not God the Father, but since He possesses the qualities of deity, the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus is God, and the three of them (Spirit, Son, and Father) combine to compose what the Bible calls "the Godhead" (Acts 17:29).
What happened to the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira? Both of them were taken by young men and buried (Acts 5:6,10). In fact, they were buried next to one another, which is also a common practice today in our part of the world for husbands and wives. Surely all of us recognize that where oneís physical body is placed after death has absolutely nothing to do with his/her spiritual status or where he/she will be in eternity. Walking with God takes priority over grave selection.
While reading anew the text of Acts 5:1-11, I was struck with the thought of, "I wonder if there was any type of funeral service for these two, and if so, I wonder what was said." If this couple were to live and die in the 21st century, I could almost guarantee that their surviving family or friends could find somebody that would talk about how wonderful Ananias and Sapphira were, and, as it is said, "preach them right into heaven." Liars have an eternal abode awaiting them all right, but it is not heaven (Revelation 21:8). I cannot think of anything that is more uncomfortable or more upsetting than having to sit through a funeral service for non-saints or unfaithful members of the church, and have to listen to the "preacher(s)" tell falsehoods that provide a false sense of comfort to those in the audience that are ignorant of what the Bible teaches about salvation and proper preparation for the day of judgment.
When Gehazi, the servant of the prophet Elisha, practiced deception and lied to Elisha, he was stricken with leprosy (2 Kings 5:25-27). Rather than get leprosy, however, Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead. While some might consider that as overly severe action, we must count it as appropriate punishment for this reason: the God of infinite wisdom always does what is right. Furthermore, consider this. What if this couple, by their deception, had been able to pull the wool over the eyes of Peter and the other apostles and "get away with" lying? Would that not have cast a reflection on the knowledge and authority of the apostles? For the good of the church, as well as for any others that would hear of this matter, it was important to send a strong message, not only that the Lord would not tolerate sin, but also that His apostles and their authority must be respected as well.
Did you notice what the Bible says about how people reacted to the death of Sapphira and Ananias? "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things" (Acts 5:11). The punishment of this dishonest couple had its affect: people took note of it and were filled with fear. Did the carrying out of such discipline on these two disciples thwart the work of the church? Not hardly! Just three verses after we read of the fear that this coupleís death struck in the hearts of others, we are told, "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14). The way that the Lord dealt with Ananias and Sapphira could be called the first recorded case of church discipline recorded in the Bible. It may not have met with the approval of every member of the church, but it was the right thing to do, just as the Lord expects the church today to deal appropriately with those that continue to walk in a disorderly manner (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14).
It may be that Ananias and Sapphira were successful in temporarily deceiving some people. No one, however, deceives God. Never. Let us learn and apply these lessons from the tragic history of Ananias and Sapphira.
-- Roger D. Campbell