There are many lessons in the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). The very nature of Scripture points to an everlasting Intelligence far beyond human capability Who was responsible for documenting and preserving it. At our fingertips we have access to thousands of years insights into human experiences, and supernatural wisdom to help us navigate this life with love, joy and peace. What would change in our lives if we were continuously mindful of the LORD’s presence in every situation of life? Ananias and Sapphira’s tragic failure teaches how to see through our cloudy motives and identify tests that may appear as desires.
The Setting – A Kingdom Mindset
Jesus had ascended, the Holy Spirit has been imparted into the hearts of believers, and there were many people joining the newly created church. Peter and John were actively witnessing and preaching in the name of Jesus despite having been imprisoned and warned by the Sanhedrin to stop. Rather than comply with the warning, they prayed for boldness to continue proclaiming the gospel (Acts 4). The branches in the vine (John 15) were multiplying in quantity and producing quality fruit.
The believers were united in heart and thinking because of the power of the Holy Spirit who testified to them about Christ inwardly (John 15:26) . Being so grateful for their spiritual rebirth and their fellowship with God, the believers no longer viewed their possessions as their own.
What a liberating place to be! Understanding that everything is the LORD’s. We simply steward His possessions and reap the benefit. As such where He desires increase, He gives it (this applies to everything).
The gospel is well defined in by these two passages of Scripture: the what – John 3:16-18 and the proof – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.
Paramount to the proof are the prophecies within the Old Testament Scriptures that were statistically impossible for an imposter to fulfill.
The process is also well defined: Romans 10:9-10; Romans 10:13
- The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1 NKJV)
- As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10 NKJV)
- “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. (Luke 12:43 NKJV)
- And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:14 NKJV)
- Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, (2 Corinthians 9:10 NKJV)
The early church viewed their blessings as the means by which they were to bless others. The LORD so fulfilled every longing, they did not strive after things. Their mission was clear; they were working for the Kingdom of God – making disciples of Jesus Christ. If a need arose for another believer, someone would sell something and share the proceeds. A great example of the was Joseph (nicknamed Barnabas which means “Son of Encouragement”) who sold a field and donated the money to church.
The Account: Ananias and Sapphira – Self Mindset
An adversative continuative word is used to introduce Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1 . From this introductory word (“but”), we can understand the prior chapter has contextual implications to the Scripture that follows it and whatever is to follow contrasts the prior Scripture (namely: Barnabas’ transaction in Acts 4:36-37).
- But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. (Acts 5:1 NKJV)
Barnabas donated the proceeds of the sale of his field, while Ananias and Sapphira decided to give to the church a percentage of something they had sold. There was no mandate for believers to sell their possessions and donate 100% of it to the church. In fact, Scripture states:
- A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. (Proverbs 13:22 NKJV).
In instances where Jesus told people to sell all of their belongings, Jesus was testing the heart of an individual to reveal to them their true priorities (such as in the case of the rich ruler – Luke 18:18-23). Scripture also states that we should provide for our families and therefore we need the means of doing so (1 Timothy 5:8).
It is interesting to note that “Ananias” Strong’s Number G367 matches the Greek Ἁνανίας (hananias) is of Hebrew origin: H2608 חֲנַנְיָה (ḥănanyâ) which means God has favoured. “Sapphira” Σαπφείρη Sappheírē, is of Greek origin and means Sapphire or a precious gem.
I wonder if Ananias was Jewish and had earlier exposure to the law. Whether he was or wasn’t, these converts to Christianity were eye witnesses to the wondrous power of the LORD through the inward change (presence of the Holy Spirit) and the miracles that were frequently occurring in the name of Jesus. By all reasoning, they should have known better and yet, they failed to recognize the omnipresence of the LORD and His righteousness.
Our LORD asks us to have no other priority (that becomes a god/idol) ahead of Him; He is to be first place. This means there can be times when something we hold dear to us (family, friends, community, employment, finances, etc.) conflicts with His call on our lives and in these cases, we are to pick up our crosses and follow Him regardless of the cost (Matthew 10:37-38; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23-24; Luke 14:27; Matthew 10:39). If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
It was not a sin for Ananias to keep a portion of his possessions. When Ananias met with the apostles to drop of his donation, the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter a deception that the LORD would use as a public display of His power, omnipresence and justice while increasing the faith and reverence of the body of believers.
- But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4 NKJV)
Peter’s reference to Satan tempting the heart of man is cross referenced as follows:
- Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.‘ ” (Matthew 4:8-10 NKJV)
- “You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. “You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you “(for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:13-15 NKJV)
- Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, (John 13:1-2 NKJV)
Peter confronted Ananias to reveal hypocrisy and in doing so, it thwarted its further development in the newly birthed church. This couple had premeditated lying to the church (the body of Christ) and tested God who was indwelling believers through The Holy Spirit. The church was growing rapidly and miracles were being witnessed. Yet this couple’s desire for earthly things (the money held back) and their desire to be admired or respected (pride of life) outweighed in this couple’s minds any consequences for sinning. They probably did not question why they were willing to lie, or what was motivating their desires.
Up to this point the church did not have the hypocrisy that was very evident with the Pharisees. Jesus had taught:
- “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1 NKJV)
- Matthew 23 details the Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees
The enemy had managed to tempt this couple through the lust of the mind’s eye and the pride of life:
- Pretense: They desired to be viewed highly by others in the church community so they were willing to lie to achieve a favourable reputation since their offering would have appeared to be very sacrificial (as Barnabas in Act 4:36-37);
- Lesson: Our identities are in Christ. We were designed and predestined to be His and He values each of so much that He laid down His life for us. When we are tempted to do something to gain the approval of another human being, we need to evaluate whether these desires are Godly or selfish. Our actions should be for the love of God and the love of others.
- Presumption: Whether they understood it or not, they had gambled God’s grace against His righteousness and believed that they could get away with lying to the LORD’s people (the odds were that no-one would find out, or there would be no consequences);
- Lesson: Presuming grace as a license to sin takes Christ for granted and insults the value of His atonement. This is a trap because the sin that is valued over your relationship with Christ becomes bondage and grieves the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:15-16; Ephesians 4:25-32)
- Perfunctory: they did not regard the LORD’s omnipresence, omniscience and treated His command not to lie casually despite the very evident power of the LORD among them.
- Lesson: Scripture warns that taking the LORD and His Word casually cause drifting away from Him which results in unhappiness, lack of peace, and other consequences of sin – some very final (Hebrews 2:1-4)
Scripture tells us that as soon as Peter told Ananias he had lied to God, Ananias dropped dead and was buried by the young men who were present. Three hours later Sapphira entered and Peter asked her if the amount the presented to the apostles was the amount the property was sold for. She confirmed the lie as being the truth. She had an opportunity to tell the truth, but did not.
- Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (Acts 5:9 NKJV)
- No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV)
Peter was quite clear about what this lie was doing; it was testing the LORD’s goodness, His grace. The enemy had tempted this couple with the pride of life through the thought of gaining high regard. This was the same test Satan tempted Jesus with when he told Jesus to throw Himself off from the pinnacle of the temple to prove His identity (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus’ response was to quote from the book of the Law (Deuteronomy) which referred back to the incident at Massah where the children of Israel questioned God’s grace because of their thirst.
- Lesson: The pride of life can be so misleading. It can masquerade as legitimate right or claim – but – it has its roots in presumption, arrogance, conceit, haughtiness and self-centeredness in the manner in which it plays out.
First Example: The Testing of Jesus (Matthew 4)
- Jesus was indeed the Son of God (legitimately) but He did not need to receive the enemy’s affirmation to validate His identity; and,
- He also did not need to invoke supernatural power to overcome the natural laws (gravity) that He had put into effect in the beginning prior to His incarnation simply to gratify His flesh/ego.
- who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 NKJV)
- Lesson: He overcame the enemy by quoting scripture in proper context whereas the enemy had quoted Scripture out of context.
Second Example: The Children of Israel at Massah (Exodus 17)
- The Children of Israel: (1) were delivered from Egyptian slavery after being preserved safely during the 10 plagues sent on Egypt; (2) witnessed the mighty hand of God work supernaturally to part the Red Sea; and, (3) were accompanied by the LORD’s presence evident by cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 14).
- Then God sustained them with daily portions of manna (bread from heaven); a double portion for the sabbath rest (Exodus 16).
- But when they were thirsty (Exodus 17), rather than pray and trust the LORD, they grumbled and contended with Moses about the goodness of God. Implicit is this argument: if God is good and if God is with us, then why don’t we have water?
- Desiring water was appropriate and believing God would provide it was appropriate.
- The presumption that they could complain about God’s goodness and be spared from reprimand was arrogant.
- Lesson: Being arrogant with God and others leaves us blind to areas that need to be corrected, tests, misaligned desires, and our own weaknesses.
Both Ananias and Sapphira had a clouded perspective in the midst of a test and they did not have a developed fear of the LORD so the were fell prey to their desire.
- And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20 NKJV)
- The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 NKJV)
Sapphira shared the same fate as her husband as each person is responsible for their own actions regardless of their role. This principle applies in all of humanity.
- Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5 NKJV)
- But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, Or take My covenant in your mouth, Seeing you hate instruction And cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, And have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. … These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes. (Psalm 50:16-19, 21 NKJV)
- So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12 NKJV)
- For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:5 NKJV)
Whether consequences are experienced immediately or delayed, ultimately each human being will give an account to the LORD for their words and actions. While heaven remains the believer’s destination, how we have stewarded our lives, time, money and knowledge of the Word of God will have an impact on our eternal rewards and assignments. The LORD is merciful and when children of God humble themselves and ask for forgiveness, they are forgiven.
- And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. … Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:13, 16 NKJV)
- He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:10-13 NKJV)
The Penalty: Consistent
Scripture states: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NKJV); The labor of the righteous leads to life, The wages of the wicked to sin. (Proverbs 10:16 NKJV).
God’s grace provides eternal life by freely imparting His divine influence on our heart so that we may sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God raised Him from the dead. This begins the surrender to Jesus Christ’s Lordship over every aspect of life through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This is the goodness of God!
The righteousness of God, dealt immediately with the pride and hypocrisy to demonstrate:
- His holiness in that He would not allow His Holy Spirit to be disrespected;
- His omnipresence (ever present) and omniscience (all knowing) by revealing to Peter the couple’s pretence;
- His justice in allowing the test (freedom of choice) and the consequence of the choice;
- His love for the church which provided a clear warning to the church to avoid pretense;
- His immutability (unchanging character) by showing that the God of grace is also the God of Holiness;
- His grace by sparing the church from being further corrupted by sin;
- His omnipotence (all powerfulness) by suddenly and abruptly ending their lives;
- His immanence by being directly involved at any moment when He chooses;
- His sovereignty over all life;
- His goodness by using this account to increase the fear of the LORD and grow His church;
- His mercy by having this account written down for all future believers as beneficial instruction.
The Outcome: Perfect
- So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, (Acts 5:11-14 NKJV)
Reflection: Look Up
As we grow in the knowledge of our loving and merciful LORD, we will love and fear with our Father who so graciously has given us everything needed for life and godliness. His divine influence on our hearts not only saves us, it gives us the ability to be overcomers. We will reap greater victories in this life when we think less about ourselves (status, worldly positions, fleshly lusts, etc.). Self-centredness has never reaped a harvest of sustainable joy.
When we intentionally set our minds on Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, His influence will help and comfort us as we become more effective in whatever God has called us to do. When we realize that He is in us at every moment of our lives, our behaviour and attitudes change because of fear of the LORD. He is the eyewitness to all we think, do and say.
When remind ourselves of who He is, we will remain humbled by His grace and love. We will not seek to boast in anything, not gifts, not power, not wisdom. When I reflect on what the LORD has done in my life – I can not help but boast in Him. Thank you LORD for Your clarity, for Your witness in me!