LESSONS FROM ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
T. PIERCE BROWN
Many persons seem to have the attitude of Ananias and Sapphira as recorded in Acts 5:1-11. They would like to “eat their cake and have it too.” They want to partake of the blessings that come from evangelistic efforts that require much money, but are not willing to make any commensurate effort to see that the program succeeds.
There are many congregations whose average members spent more on Christmas presents than the whole congregation plans to spend on all missionary or evangelistic programs. Yet they expect to receive all the blessings that result from others preaching the gospel throughout the world.
There are those in the church now who seem to glory in their “soundness” as they preach eloquently about the value of restoring New Testament Christianity. However, it is one thing to talk about it and another to practice it. When there was a great need in Jerusalem for funds so the gospel could continue to be preached to large numbers, the Christians there met that need with spontaneity, grace, liberality and power that is worthy of our emulation. That is very different from the cold chisel and wrecking bar that seems necessary today to cut people loose from their possessions. Often it does not seem to be the average church member who is unwilling to give. It is the leadership that has apparently absorbed the notion that if the congregation is told of some pressing need outside the local congregation it will detract from some project the leadership has planned. I have never seen it happen that way. Without exception, when Christians are allowed to hear and get excited about the fantastic needs and possibilities of doing what our Lord commanded, with some specific, workable plan, the local work never is hindered by it.
There were two great things that kept the church going, growing, and glowing in the first century. First, there was unity in doctrine and practice. Second there was liberality in meeting whatever need arose. They were of one heart and one soul (Acts4:32). Then there was no jealousy, strife, factions, covetousness, envy, hateful backbiting, and evil surmising. It soon arose and was manifested, but in our efforts to restore New Testament Christianity we should be concerned about restoring it as God planned it, not restoring it as it became corrupted. It is strange and sad when preachers make fun of the Restoration principles, asking such foolish questions as, “Which congregation of the New Testament do you wish to restore?” No one wants to restore the imperfect practice of any congregation, but the perfect pattern God ordained.
Let us notice some things about their sin. It was not a sin to keep back a part of the money they got for their property, for “while it remained” it was their own and they could keep or give whatever portion their love dictated. Their sin was first in attitude, then in action. They had greed. They apparently wanted to keep their money and benefit from the sacrifice of others. Is it possible that some of those who refuse to give for programs outside their own congregation have the same attitude? Is it that they want to use their money (the Lord’s) for ministering to their interests and yet want to partake of the value of the sacrifice of others? Some have cashed out or borrowed on their life insurance in order to give money to some mission effort. Some have given from their meager savings. Others want to make sure all they give is spent on their own selfish interests at home.
Their second sin was hypocrisy. Any time a person pretends he is primarily concerned about the winning of souls, but his actions show him to be concerned about building up his own following or project, or adding to his store of worldly goods, he is a hypocrite.
Related to this inward sin was one that was both inward and outward. When Peter said, “Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4), I understand him to be using an ellipsis. That is, Peter meant, “You think you have just lied to men. You have not. You have also lied unto God.” It is similar in construction to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” It seems evident that both Paul and Peter were using a common expression or grammatical construction to emphasize their point, for Paul did baptize under the commission of Christ, and Ananias did lie unto men. In both cases they are emphasizing by their negative statement that this was not the primary thing in the context.
These sins were actually symptoms of an inward disease, more basic than all the outward sins. There was a loss of proper sense of respect for and understanding of God. When we fail to realize His holy nature, His omnipotence and omnipresence, we become like a ship in a stormy sea without a rudder. We may drift into any sin. This trifling with holy things, this loss of spiritual values, this feeling that the inward life is not so important as long as one can put on a good show is more basic than any sin to which that leads.
The most serious part of this sin, and those like it is that they involve acts that appear outward Godly, but overlook divine power. It is the kind of thing Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 3:5, “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” There is always a danger that this will happen in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, leading songs, preaching or any other thing God ordained. It was the basic thing wrong with the Jews who tithed mint and rue and small herbs but omitted the weightier matters of the law (Matthew23:23). A song leader who is more interested in the mechanics of his directing than he is in singing with the spirit and understanding is doing this. This is one thing that is wrong with the mechanical instrument of music in worship. It is very difficult to conceive of how one would “teach and admonish one another” in spiritual matters by using a mechanical instrument. A preacher or teacher who is more concerned with eloquence, charisma, showmanship than the power of the gospel falls into this error. Any church that rests its plea and influence in human and earthly advantages, programs, plans and buildings, rather than in glorifying God and winning souls to submit themselves to the authority of Christ is doing this sort of thing.
Three other things made it particularly bad. First, the temptation was not resisted. Second, it was not only unresisted; it was premeditated and planned deception and hypocrisy. There is as much difference in this and ordinary sins because of ignorance as there was between Judas’ betrayal of Christ and Peter’s denial of Him. The difference is seen even in the word “repented” used about Judas, and that which Peter preached in Acts 2:38. Judas repented himself (metamelomia) and hanged himself. Peter repented (metanoeo) and wept bitterly, changing his life.
Third, it struck at the power and purity of the church and was dealt with immediately and forcibly. If one can deceive the Holy Spirit then the church could have neither power nor purity. Those who oppose efforts to get the gospel to every home in the world on the pretense that it is unscriptural, but cannot show anything unscriptural about it may deceive their blind followers. They cannot deceive the Holy Spirit.
We may learn from this story that the benevolence of the church is to be carried on by the liberality of its members, not by some fund raising schemes of men. The work of the church is to be done by the church. The giving of individuals should be liberal, sincere and honest. All we do must be done with the proper attitude toward God and man. It must be from a pure heart, with honesty, liberality, and concern for others as we seek first thekingdomofGodand His righteousness.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira has many lessons for us today. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Hebrews10:31) if we know that our lives are not in harmony with the will of God. Every person has a right to determine his priorities in putting his time and money into any particular work of God. No person has a right to oppose a work of God simply because it is not high on his priority list.