Acts 5:1-11 is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. It is the story of their sin and the swift judgment from the Lord that followed it. Twice in the text we are told that “great fear” came upon everyone who heard about it (v.5,11). In his commentary on this passage, Derek Thomas says that this is one of the most terrifying stories in the New Testament (p.122)! If it does not at least frighten us a little bit, perhaps we are missing its point.
Acts 5:1 is a marked transition. We go from the godly example of Barnabas, (4:36) to his counterfeit, Ananias. The description of their outward actions is nearly identical.
In Acts 4:36 Barnabas sold a field and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
In Acts 5:1-2 Ananias sold a piece of property, brought money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But he kept back part of the money for himself.
Barnabas was so well-loved and esteemed by the Apostles themselves that they gave him a nickname of sorts. His given name was Joseph, but the Apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” Ananias probably thought he would get the same reception as Barnabas. Maybe he even wondered what his new nickname would be! He certainly did not expect to hear the words that came out of Peter’s mouth! His hypocrisy was exposed. In v.3 Peter says,
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.
So rather than being called something like “son of encouragement”, he is instead told that his actions were the result of his heart being filled with Satan instead of the Holy Spirit!
What was the sin of Ananias and his wife? Their sin was not that they failed to give everything to the apostles. Peter clearly tells him that the proceeds from the sale of their field were theirs to do with as they wished. (The charity of the early Christians was not forced or coerced.) The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was hypocrisy. Their “charity” was all about them; it was all about appearances and self-righteousness. Rather than doing it for others, they were doing it in order to exalt themselves over others!
And the words of the Apostle Peter in v.3 show us that there was even more to this sin than what meets the eye. This was the work of none other than Satan trying to disrupt the peace, purity, and unity of the church.
And see how Satan takes a good thing (charity – selling one’s property to help the poor in the church!) and twists it into a source of sin and division in the church! No wonder the Apostle Paul warns us about the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11)!
How many churches have been divided over good things? How many have split over building programs? How many have divided over differences in views on “God’s way” to raise or educate our children? And here Satan uses even an act of sacrificial charity to disturb the church! He turned the act of giving toward God’s work in the gospel and the relief of the poor into a brazen, self-righteous act of rebellion against Christ! He used it as a means to pollute and divide the church! Think about that for a moment.
Are we really any different than Ananias and Sapphira?
Do we too not often do things for the sake of appearances as well? Do we too not practice deceit and hypocrisy? Do we too not engage in secret sins when no one else is around, as if the Holy Spirit could be fooled? Do we too think that God does not see all? What if everyone around us could see our thoughts & knew exactly what we were really thinking at any given moment? (Even in church!) We certainly would not be so tempted to self-righteousness, judgmentality or gossip, would we? How could we? But we often are.
We must beware of the wiles of the devil. We must be careful not to allow even good things to become a source of sin and division in the church! It is no wonder that in the Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray for deliverance from the evil one (Matthew 6:13)!