The Deceit of Ananias and Sapphira Part 2 of 4
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Ananias means “God is gracious,” but he learned also that God is holy; and Sapphira means “beautiful,” but her heart was ugly with sin. I know some people who don’t think a loving God could kill two people just because they lied about a business transaction and about their church giving. But when you consider the features connected with this sin, you have to admit that God did the right thing by judging them.
It is worth noting that the Lord judges sin severely at the beginning of a new period in salvation history. Just after the tabernacle was erected, God killed Nadab and Abihu for trying to present “false fire” to the Lord (Lev. 10). He also had Achan killed for disobeying orders after Israel had entered the Promised Land (Josh. 7). While God was certainly not responsible for their sins, He did use these judgments as warnings to Israel, and even to us—“Now all these things happened unto them FOR EXAMPLES: and they are written FOR OUR ADMONITION, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10.11, 12). He was letting everybody know that He would not tolerate deception in His church.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was energized by Satan; and that is a serious matter. If Satan cannot defeat the church by attacks from the outside, he will get on the inside and go to work (Acts 20.28-31 ). He knows how to lie to the hearts and minds of church members, even genuine Christians, and get them to follow his orders. We forget that the admonition about spiritual armor (Eph. 6.10-18 ) was written to God’s people, not to unbelievers, because it is the Christians who are in danger of being used by Satan to accomplish his evil purposes.
The men whom Ananias attempted to deceive were men in whom God dwelt in the person of the Holy Spirit, men whom God appointed as His undershepherds. Therefore, Ananias and Sapphira lied—not only to men, but to God and to the Holy Spirit. The sin of this couple was especially wicked because it was directed against God’s church. We have reason to believe that Ananias and Sapphira were not believers (see verse 11). The spiritual level of the church at that time was so high that it is doubtful that a mere “professor” could have gotten into the fellowship without being detected. The fact that they were able to lie to the Spirit and tempt the Spirit (v. 9) would usually indicate that they had the Spirit of God within, but in their case, they lied to the Spirit in Peter and the other believers.
God loves His church and is jealous over it, because the church was purchased by God’s Son (Acts 20.28 ; Eph. 5.25 ) and has been put on earth to glorify Him and do His work. Satan wants to destroy the church, and the easiest way to do it is to use those who are inside the fellowship. Had Peter not been discerning, Ananias and Sapphira would have become influential people in the church! Satan would have been working through them to accomplish his purposes! The church is safe so long as Satan is attacking from the outside, but when he gets on the inside, the church is in danger.
4 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.
There are people today who deny that the Holy Spirit is God. Certainly, from what Peter says here, he believed He was God. First, he says, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” Then he says, “Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” The Holy Spirit is God.
It was fortunate for this primitive Christian community that the incident came to light. Peter told Ananias that he lied to the Holy Spirit. This is equivalent to lying to God and tempting the Spirit of the Lord. The incident brings to mind the teaching of Jesus on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3.28 ). The sin against the Holy Spirit is calling good evil and evil good. When a person is so morally wicked that he cannot tell the difference between truth and a lie, he has blasphemed against the Holy Spirit.
Their sin was motivated by pride, and pride is a sin that God especially hates and judges (Prov. 8.13 ).No doubt the church was praising God for the generous offering that Barnabas had brought when Satan whispered to the couple, “You can also bask in this kind of glory! You can make others think you are as spiritual as Barnabas!” Instead of resisting Satan’s promptings, they yielded to him and planned their strategy.
Jesus made it clear that we must be careful how we give, lest the glory that belongs to God should be given to us (read Matt. 6.1-4, 19-34). The Pharisees were adept at calling attention to their gifts, and they received the praises of men—but that’s all they received! Whatever we possess, God has given it to us; we are stewards, not owners. We must use what He gives us for His glory alone (John 5.44).
Daniel Defoe called pride “the first peer and president of hell.” Indeed, it was pride that transformed Lucifer into Satan (Isa. 14.12-15), and it was pride (“Ye shall be as God!”) that caused our first parents to sin (Ge. 3). Pride opens the door to every other sin, because once we are more concerned with our reputation than our character, there is no end to the things we will do just to make ourselves “look good” before others.
“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” Notice there was no pressure put on Ananias to force him to sell his property. The only thing expected of him was honesty in reporting what he had done—and even if he felt led to sell his property there is no suggestion that he was expected to give the entire proceeds to the church. Such a gift was between him and the Holy Spirit. This is certainly implied in the words of our text which declared that the money received from the sale of any property was at the seller’s disposal until he, led by the Holy Spirit, gave the money into the treasury of the young church. He was not obligated to donate all the money received—but he was duty bound to be honest in what he did!
“Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” This is an expression used several times in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament—as in Haggai 1.5, 7: “Consider your ways.” The meaning is “Lay it deep in the heart, decide after deep deliberation.”
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
What is described in this passage is not a case of church discipline. Rather, it is an example of God’s personal judgment. “The Lord shall judge His people. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10.30, 31), but they agreed to lie and God had to deal with them.
There are those today who think that Simon Peter caused the death of this man, Ananias. They even blame him for his death. I want to absolve him of this crime. Simon Peter was probably just as surprised as anyone when Ananias fell down dead. I don’t think he knew at all what was going to happen. Do you know who struck Ananias dead? God did. Do you feel you want to bring charges against God? Do you want to call the FBI to tell them that God is guilty of murder? May I say to you, if you can give life, you have the right to take it away. This is God’s universe. We are God’s creatures. We breathe His air. We use bodies that He has given us. My friend, He can take our bodies any time He wishes to. God is not guilty of a crime. This is His discipline within the church. God is the One who is responsible for Ananias and Sapphira’s death. He cut them off in severe judgment as an example to His infant church to discourage others from committing the same sin. God increased His church through miracles—healing of the sick, raising of the dead, feeding of the hungry. In like manner, He sent sudden Judgment to save His church from the hypocrisy of evil men who would turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness (Jude 4). Even in spite of such judgment, there were those in the Corinthian church who were gluttons at the Lord’s Table, drinking to excess, making mockery of the Lord’s Supper. To the Corinthians, therefore, Paul said, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (are dead)” (read 1 Cor. 11.17-30).
Some people attempt to explain these deaths on natural grounds, saying that this couple died from the horror of being found out; but it is certainly unreasonable to suppose that a man and his wife would be of the same temperament and thus die in the same way because they were caught in an act of despicable deceit! No, there is no natural explanation for the death of Ananias and his wife.
What a dark shadow this couple cast upon this infant church! How many people might there have been who, when they heard about the couple who cheated, said to themselves, “If that is the best these Christians can do, it is not for me.” There is no answer to that question, but when we bring the question down to our times, it loses some of its theoretical abstractness. What did they do to that church? They cast upon it the shadow of hypocrisy. They confirm the suspicions of the cynical and alienate the loyalty of the young. The incident caused great fear to fall upon the community outside as well as upon the church; upon all the city, and upon all the leaders of men that packed the city. The sudden and swift and awful judgment became a flaming sword barring the entrance and holding men away. Verse 11 says, “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” This confirms the seriousness of hypocrisy and sin in the church. The people learned that death can be the consequence of sin (1 Cor. 6.19, 201).