In Acts 4, we read for the first time about persecution against the early disciples. That challenge to the Lord’s Cause came from without. The first segment of Acts 5 paints a different picture. It shows the church facing an internal challenge, a mess caused by two of its own members, the husband and wife duo of Ananias and Sapphira. Let us consider some lessons from this memorable historical account.On the human side, it is pretty clear that not everything was smooth sailing in the early church. In contrast to the beautiful unity and sincere generosity which we see at the close of chapter four (4:32-37), Acts 5 begins with the word “But.” Here we will see a different mindset and course of action. Just as the Bible records the appealing and pleasant stuff, it also reveals instances in which children of God acted in a deplorable manner.
Ananias and Sapphira had a possession, and that possession was land (5:1,3,8). There was nothing wrong with having material possessions.
Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession (5:1). There was nothing sinful about that, either. Other disciples had done the same thing (4:34). Jesus once commanded a man to sell his things (Mark 10:21).
Before they sold that land, it was theirs (5:4). How they obtained the land, the Bible does not say. But, it was theirs. We understand that, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness” (Psalm 24:1), so all which we possess came from the Lord and belongs to Him; we are mere stewards of those things. Yet, at the same time, the Bible employs language that shows that it is correct to refer to material, earthly possessions as belonging to a person. Andrew and Simon left “their” nets (Mark 1:18), and Jesus told a paralytic to take up “your” bed” (Mark 2:11).
After Sapphira and Ananias sold their land and collected the money from that sale, the money was still under their control. Peter’s question to him shows that to be the case: “And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:4).
After the couple received the proceeds from selling the land, they “brought a certain part” and laid it at the apostles’ feet (5:2), at the same time keeping back a portion of the of the land’s price for themselves (5:3). Just as it was not wrong to possess land or sell land, neither was it sinful not to give to the Lord (via His apostles) one hundred per cent of the money which came from selling their possessions. If they had decided to give all the proceeds from that sale to the Lord’s work, that would have been acceptable. But, be clear about this. It also was acceptable to retain for themselves some of the money from the land sale.
Where did Ananias and Sapphira go wrong? They lied (Acts 5:3,4). Just what that lie was is seen from Peter’s question to Sapphira: “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much” (5:8). Here is the crux of the matter: those two deceitful disciples wanted the brethren to think that they had given one hundred per cent of the money they received from selling their land. In fact, they had not done so. Sapphira, did the two of you sell the land for X amount, then turn around and give that X amount to the church? Her answer was, “Yes, for so much.” Now, that was a lie, and the two of them were co-conspirators: “you have agreed together” (5:9).
Deceit is one of the evil things that comes out of the heart and defiles a person. That is what the Master said (Mark 7:20-23). Sure, Ananias and Sapphira spoke untrue words with their tongue, but it was a heart issue. Peter asked him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie . . .?” (Acts 5:3). Ananias failed to resist the devil properly. Ananias sinned after he was “drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). Ananias and Sapphira were responsible for their own conduct. This was “on” them, not Satan.
Sapphira and Ananias did not pass away because they were old and their bodies wore out. No, the Lord took their lives, and He did so then because of their sin (lying to God). What if those two could have been successful in fooling Peter and the other apostles? Would that not have compromised the position and authority of the apostles? And if those two could “get away with” lying, perhaps others would see their “success” and follow that same course of action. In His infinite wisdom, the Lord took the action that was merited by the situation.
Word spread about the demise of Ananias and Sapphira. Members of the church and non-saints
alike heard the news, and their reaction was unmistakable: “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11). Did God’s discipline get people’s attention? Did it ever!
Sometimes people seem to feed off of one another’s evil scheming. At other times, they may “fly solo” and come up with a wicked plan on their own. Whatever it was that motivated Ananias and Sapphira to practice deceit, it was not worth it. They learned that too late. May we all learn from their foolishness.
— Roger D. Campbell