The Game is Over Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The Game is Over
As children, many of us played a game called let’s pretend. My granddaughter and I still play the game. Last week, we pretended to be veterinarians and we would treat her stuffed animals for various physical problems. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, many continue to play let’s pretend spiritually long after the time for games is over. In Acts 5 we are given the account of two people who played the game of pretending to be Christians. It is one of the most dramatic stories in the New Testament. The story clearly demonstrates the high price of hypocrisy.
Let’s begin by reading our text for today from Acts, chapter 5.
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 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?
4 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.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 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.”
10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
What is pictured here is deception. There are three things to note about this situation:
1. First, the act of deception.
2. Second, the discovery of the deception.
3. Third, the price of deception is high.
Let’s begin our Bible lesson today by looking at the act of deception that took place on this occasion.
Ananias and Sapphira had a scheme for misleading the apostles and getting the admiration of their fellow believers. They sold some land, but they only brought a portion of the proceeds to lay at the apostle’s feet. They intended to keep the rest. Why did they do it?
Why was the land sold in the first place?
It was because they were following the example of a man called Barnabas. We are told about him in the previous chapter. Barnabas had sold a piece of land and had brought the money to the apostles. The writer of Acts wrote, And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)
Barnabas was well-known for his generous monetary gifts to the Early Church. This is one of the characteristics of the Early Church; it was a praying church and it lacked selfishness. Each member of this Jerusalem church was interested in the welfare of every other member. They were described by the expression, of one heart and of one soul, which shows the remarkable harmony of this Spirit-filled community. Richer members of the Church made provision for those who were poor. No one was in want or hunger. Those who had houses or land sold them in order to see to the welfare of others. Money was brought and laid at the apostles’ feet and distribution was made to everyone according as he had need. No one made windfall profits; no one was impoverished. Barnabus had no doubt brought an impressive sum to the apostles; and this act of commitment and devotion had, without a doubt, been exciting to the young Church. Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed the excitement that this gift had brought to the Church, and their trouble began with their jealousy of the reaction to Barnabas’s generous offering. They sought, from that moment on, to be honored members of the Church, and to be admired for their generosity.
God had been good to Ananias and Sapphira. They were important people in their community. Ananias literally meant “one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.” Obviously, God has blessed them, and Ananias was a man who had done good things.
But the lesson is clear. God is not impressed with what we have or how good we are. He is not impressed with what others think of us, but what interests God, is what is happening inside of us; and the more respect we receive from others, the more God expects of us.
The interesting thing about this occasion is that even though they set out to deceive the Church, they wound up deceiving themselves. We are told in verse 1 that they sold the property on their own initiative. It says…
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. (5:1)
The story of Ananias and Sapphira shows that the Early Church consisted of imperfect people. Luke, the writer of Acts, compared the generosity of Barnabas with the selfishness and deceitfulness of Ananias and Sapphira, who were members of the early Jerusalem church.
When this couple sold private property, they purposely did not give all the proceeds from the sale to the fellowship. But that’s not what they did wrong; they didn’t have to give it all away. They could have tithed or even given more, and that would have been good. But, here is the problem; they conspired together to deceive the Church, and in the process, they lied to God.
Verse 2 says, And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
As members of the early Jerusalem church and devoted disciples of Jesus, they had joined themselves to the apostles. Sapphira and Ananias apparently had a pleasant marriage and they supported each other, and they were popular with the other believers. And on this occasion, they came with confidence, and with a great show of piety and devotion, and they laid the money at the apostles’ feet as if it was all they had. They then lied by saying they had given the full amount. They lied because they loved the money, and they couldn’t trust it all to the apostles.
They couldn’t take God’s word that they would be provided for, so they thought that they would be wiser than the others and lay up some for a rainy day. In that way, they supposed they could serve both God and Mammon—God, by bringing some to the apostles and laying it at their feet, and mammon, by keeping the rest in their own pockets.
Ananias and Sapphira may have given more than Barnabas, but that was not the point. They lied to both the Holy Spirit and to the Church leaders. It’s clear that they lacked self-control. The key to gaining self-control is yielding control of the self to the control of the Holy Spirit and they were never willing to do that.