Some stories in the Bible are meant to strike fear in our hearts. This is one of them. Not because something eerie goes bump in the night, but because the Holy Ghost displays his mighty power.
You may remember when Aragorn asked Frodo, “Are you frightened?” The wee Hobbit’s answer was “Yes,” but Aragorn warned him, “Not nearly frightened enough.”
The apostle Peter had a similar conversation with a woman named Sapphira. Was she frightened enough to speak the truth? Alas, she was not.
Chapter 6: Generous to a Fault
Our story begins with a magnanimous gift and ends with a miraculous expansion.
The scary bit is in the middle, where we meet a couple who ignored God’s teaching: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Instead of being fearful, Ananias and Sapphira were foolhardy.
They were members of the early church, the first body of people to worship the risen Christ. “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them” (Acts 4:33), this growing group of new believers shared all they had with one another. People who owned lands or houses sold them and gave the money to the apostles, who distributed it to “anyone who had need” (Acts 4:35).
Wow. You can imagine how grateful people were, praising generous givers like Barnabas, who sold a field “and put the money at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37).
Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property too. So far, so good. Then Ananias kept part of the money for himself, “with his wife’s full knowledge” (Acts 5:2). True, this deception wasn’t her idea, but Sapphira was privy to it from the start, and willingly went along with her husband’s plan.
When Ananias stood alone before Peter, the apostle asked him, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3) Clearly, the evil one had “influenced” (CEB) and “tempted” (DRA) Sapphira’s husband, such that he’d “let Satan take control” (GNT).
Jesus once charged the Pharisees, “You appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). In the same way, this man’s heart and mind were filled to the brim with the Adversary’s lies, crowding out the truth of the Holy Spirit.
How can we be sure the same thing will never happen to us? By filling our thoughts with God’s Word, so we recognize the truth when we hear it. “Listen and hear my voice” (Isaiah 28:23), the Lord says to us. “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3 KJV).
Other voices may be louder, but none are more loving. Other voices are more demanding, but only One deserves our undivided attention.
Peter reminded Ananias that the land was his own to do with as he wished. Same thing with the money he earned from the sale of it. The problem wasn’t the silver that Ananias pocketed; it was the fact that he lied about having it.
Whether on the page or the computer screen, we sense the heat in Peter’s accusation: “What made you think of doing such a thing?” (Acts 5:4).
But Ananias and Sapphira didn’t think. Or reason or consider the consequences. Instead they listened to the enemy of their souls, and ignored the One who loved them, who came to earth for them, who gave his life for them.
“You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4) Peter told him. How could Ananias and Sapphira do that? Because they’d ceased believing in God’s sovereignty, in God’s omnipotence, in God’s knowledge of all things.
Ananias and Sapphira thought they could get away with lying because they’d decided God wasn’t powerful enough to know the difference. Satan had convinced this couple that God couldn’t discern their thoughts, couldn’t know their motives, couldn’t discover their secrets.
Something had to be done. An example had to be made. The newborn church needed to know that the Spirit of God wields the power of life and death, and will not be tested. Not in any season and not for any reason.
We hold our breath, waiting for Ananias to fall to his knees—confessing, repenting, begging for mercy, something. He fell down, all right. “And died” (Acts 5:5). Right there. On the spot. No second chances.
Told you this was a scary story.
His neighbors and friends were frightened too. With Ananias’s dead body still lying there, “great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5). Truth is, “everyone who heard about his death was terrified” (GW).
I believe this was exactly the reaction God wanted.
His followers had only recently been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). These men and women needed to know what kind of supernatural power they were dealing with.
The Holy Spirit is serious business. He isn’t a messenger of God, a servant of God, a friend of God: he is God. We cannot escape his presence. We cannot keep things hidden from him. We cannot lie to him.
Though this is a unique scene in the New Testament, it serves as a reminder of Satan’s determination to mislead the flock. Paul warned the church, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
Ananias was deceived, and now he was dead, carried out and buried by a devout group of young men.
As for Sapphira, her own reckoning was drawing near.
About three hours later Sapphira came before Peter, “not knowing what had happened” (Acts 5:7). That’s odd. If everyone else got the news, why was Sapphira out of the loop?
I think they were all too scared to tell her. Clearly God was putting this couple to the test and their neighbors were not about to interfere.
When Peter asked Sapphira, “Is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” (Acts 5:8), her life hung in the balance. She didn’t know that. But everyone present did.
Can’t you see them, with their strained expressions? Wanting to stop her. Wanting to help her. Choose wisely, Sapphira. Speak the truth.
Now imagine the faces of your friends. Do they ever look concerned for you, fearful for you? Have they been cautioning you lately, urging you to draw you closer to God?
Hard as it is for us to confess the truth, it’s far more dangerous to spill out a lie.
“Yes,” Sapphira said, “that was all we got for the field” (Acts 5:8 ERV).
One very frustrated apostle steeled himself for what he knew was coming next.
Sapphira was as guilty as her husband, and Peter knew it. “Why did you people plot to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9 CJB).
In the first century, a wife could insist she’d merely obeyed her husband’s orders, and she would forego any punishment for his wrongdoing. But Peter held Sapphira responsible for her sin, even as God holds us responsible for ours.
No more hiding, dear sisters. Not behind our fathers, our husbands, our bosses, our friends, our foes. Men and women both sin; men and women both need a Savior.
But for Ananias, and now for Sapphira, it was too late.
“Immediately” (ASV), “all at once” (KNOX), “straightaway” (GNV), she fell down at Peter’s feet, and “breathed her last” (ESV).
The same young men who’d carried away her husband’s body now buried her beside him. A tragic story, steeped in regret. If only they’d donated all the money. If only they’d spoken the truth, instead of a lie. If only they’d asked for mercy.
But they did none of the above. Instead, they listened to the wrong voice. They exchanged the truth for a lie. If you’re thinking, “Wasn’t Ananias the true Bad Boy in this story?”, he was indeed. But Sapphira was led astray by the same evil voice. She did nothing to stop her husband. She did nothing to stop herself.
Yet, even this gruesome story has a redemptive ending.
The closing verses of Acts 5 tells us what happened after Sapphira’s downfall: “Everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God” (MSG). And well they might!
Although two lives were lost, thousands were saved for eternity because of Ananias and Sapphira’s example of what not to do. The Bible tells us, “More and more men and women [woo hoo!] believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5:14).
That woo hoo is entirely mine, of course. Still, it is exciting that women, who seldom counted in that culture, were now numbered among the “throngs of believers” (CJB).
Though Sapphira was Bad for a Moment, her first-century sisters learned an important lesson from her mistakes. So has every generation since.
Here’s a Discussion Question
What excuses do you suppose Ananias and Sapphira gave each other to justify their subterfuge? What are some practical ways you can prevent yourself from falling into an excuse-making mode when the temptation to lie strikes?
Excuses? Sadly, I’m very good at coming up with those. Here are some possibilities for A & N:
“No one else knows.”
“It’s our money, isn’t it?”
“Look how much we did give.”
“Others probably set some aside too.”
“This will be our little secret.”
“God knows we need the money.”
How can I keep from going down the same road? Call an excuse what it really is—a lie—and speak the truth to myself. Aloud, if necessary:
“God knows, even if people don’t.”
“It’s all his money.”
“No one can out-give God.”
“What others give is between them and the Lord.”
“With God, there are no secrets.”
“God will provide for my needs.”
Keep bringing these to mind, Father, and a thousand more. Help me exchange Satan’s lies for your truth. Make yourself known to me, so I am ever aware of your presence. Remind me that I cannot hide, and because of your grace, I don’t need to.
Now it’s your turn
How would you answer the same two-part question: 1) What excuses do you suppose Ananias and Sapphira gave each other to justify their subterfuge? And 2) What are some practical ways you can prevent yourself from falling into an excuse-making mode when the temptation to lie strikes?
Share your thoughts under Post a Comment below. You can be sure I’ll read and be blessed by each one.
And do take a peek at Sapphira’s green-with-envy Pinterest board. It’s a gem.
Next week, we’ll get to know one of our favorite Former Bad Girls, Rahab. Oh, the stories that woman could tell! Until then, bless for you making time for God’s Word in your busy life.
Your sister, Liz