We looked at this passage when we were talking about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, but there’s a lot more to be learned from this story. Let’s see what we can glean.
I’m a biblical conservative, meaning I take Scripture to mean what it says in the most natural means of interpretation. I've noticed that among a lot of my fellow conservatives, both biblical and political, there’s a strong tendency towards nostalgia, which I contend is largely well-meaning but wrong-headed. A case in point is the common bewailing of the current spiritual state of the church and attempt to compare it unfavorably to the first or second generation of believers. “Oh, if only we could be more like the early church! They were so pure, so close to the Lord, so wholeheartedly devoted to him! Not like today, when people are such phonies and there are so many problems!”
With all due respect, this is nonsense on stilts. People don’t really change. Human nature hasn’t changed. People are the same now as they were 2,000 years ago. Hopefully the influence of the indwelling Spirit has been a positive force, but the fact remains that the early church had pretty much the same problems we do. Sexual immorality running rampant? Factions threatening to divide the Body? People caring more about boosting their own egos rather than benefiting the church? Christians who just can’t seem to get along with each other? Heresy and denial of basic biblical truth spreading thru the church? I just described the things Paul was castigating the church in Corinth for.
And today we see another blatant example of human depravity. This is in Acts chapter five, so we’re talking about just a short time past the birth of the Church, while it was still supposedly not as “corrupted.” God had moved the hearts of his people to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the Apostles to help the Church and whoever was in need. And whenever the Lord starts to do something, you can count down the minutes before the Enemy puts forward his own counterfeit to sabotage what the Lord is doing.
The Tempter moved the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira to pretend to be more generous than they really were. The ones who'd sold all their property were extolled as heroes of the faith, and they wanted that adulation. But they wanted the praise without making the sacrifice others had made. They sold the property but kept part of the proceeds for themselves.
Now we need to notice a couple of things. First, please see what Peter did not condemn them for. If they had done what they did and had just been honest about what percentage they'd kept for themselves, apparently that would've been fine. God calls some of us to give up all our possessions and live a hand-to-mouth existence, completely trusting in his everyday providence. Most of us trust the Lord as we go about our jobs and give just a portion of our income to God’s work. That’s the norm: We give (as a bare minimum) 10% to God’s work, acknowledge that all of it belongs to him, and we maintain an attitude that if he called us to give up everything, we'd do it with a smile on our face.
No, the problem was that they'd lied about it. They were pretending to be more holy and generous than they actually were. And they had not just lied to men (which would be bad), but by doing this in the name of the Lord, they were bringing him in on their deception, and were in effect lying to him as well. Just a thought: Putting aside morality for a moment, how stupid do you have to be to attempt to lie to an omniscient Being?
And this deception and hypocrisy carried a pretty heavy price-tag, didn’t it? Every indication is that both of them were true believers, and based on what we know from the rest of Scripture, no one “loses” their salvation. But if a believer publicly and repeatedly and blatantly rebels against God and thus brings dishonor on the Name, he invites harsh discipline on himself, up to and including physical death. We see this repeated when some in the Corinthian church were abusing the Lord’s Supper.
One other thing I’d like to point out. In that culture, it was very uncommon to assign any responsibility to women. A wife was under the spiritual authority of her husband. Jewish culture frowned upon teaching women about God’s word, which made Jesus’ habit of teaching them so radical. This tells me that, contra the thinking of that day, the Lord holds each person, male or female, slave or free, no matter what ethnicity or cultural background accountable as an individual. When Sapphira came in and repeated the lie she and her husband had conspired to, neither Peter nor the Lord let her off. They didn’t say “Oh, you poor thing! I’m sure your husband coerced you into this.” No, they held her just as responsible for her decisions as they did her husband. When I get to heaven, and God asks me about something, I won’t be able to say “But God, my parents raised me that way,” or “But God, everybody else around me was doing the same thing!” Nope, won’t work.
So what have we learned from this? Lying to make yourself look good is never a good idea, and especially don’t bring the Lord’s Name into it with you. Each of us is accountable before him, and even as a believer I’m not exempt from harsh discipline if I’m being disobedient. Any questions?
Lord Jesus, to be brutally honest there have been times--as a believer--in which I deserved the same fate as this couple. I’ve pretended to be more devoted to you than I really am in order to get applause from men. Please forgive and change me. By your grace.