Ananias was a man whose first duty was to worship God with all his heart, mind, and strength. Secondly, he was to love his neighbor with self-sacrificing fervor, and his closest neighbor was his beloved spouse. Ananias was to prioritize and protect Sapphira. He was to love, lead, and lay dow his life for his bride. Such was the duty of every man who took into his arms one of Christ’s precious girls.
However, Ananias was an epic failure. He fleeced the flock of the Lord and used his wife to pad his wallet and puff up his ego. This “man of God” failed to shepherd Sapphira well, and as a result of his pitiful leadership, she was widowed, executed, and forever her name was associated with his as a willful practitioner of sin and recipient of divine discipline.
Their tragic account goes as follows:
Acts 4:32–5:13 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “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.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.
So, why did Ananias lead Sapphira down this tragic path? Scripture does not tell us, but two possible reasons seem fair to consider. First, Ananias initially planned on giving away all the proceeds from the sale, but then he got cold feet. Perhaps he suffered from “sellers regret,” and this resulted in his reneging on giving all the proceeds away. Or secondly, perhaps Ananias desired the same honor and prestige as Barnabas. He too wanted to see his name on the “Gold Level” of the church’s philanthropic list. He also wanted to be called a “Son of Encouragement.” Who knows? Perhaps it was a combination of these two reasons. However, for whatever reason, Ananias’ pride and/or materialism encouraged him to be dishonest and blatantly hypocritical. He willfully played the part of a two-faced charlatan in worship. He determined he would say one thing and do another. And worse than this, Ananias intended to lead his wife astray. He was the Lucifer in this worship scenario. Like Eve he would do his spouse wrong, and he would do so in order to keep more of his wealth and further increase his fame.
However, on that particular day, God determined to make great his own name by lessening the name of Ananias. On that day, justice was merited fairly, quickly, and harshly. By sunset, much had changed. The local membership drive of Jerusalem’s First Presbyterian Church had lost all momentum. Two founding members had been slain by the Holy Spirit, and many more from the Inquirer’s Class were found second-guessing their joining of this particular body.
But ultimately, it was a good day for God and his flock. God’s justice was augmented. God’s mercy was presented — for one has to think there were many others who deserved similar discipline for being arrogant and/or materialistic. God’s honor was upheld, his family was purified, and his church was taken very seriously. In addition, one has to hope that Ananias and Sapphira were true believers found enjoying undeserved paradise with their gracious Savior. Perhaps their heavenly situation was divine even though their earthly legacies were permanently damaged.
So now, from the first century to the twenty-first, how does this scriptural account affect our lives today? From meditating on this passage for a time, five questions of application come to mind:
First to husbands, are we leading our wives and children down the road of destruction? What sins are we willing to personally tolerate, and how are we including our family in our willful transgressions? Will we role the divine dice much longer?
Secondly to wives, are you making it easier for your husbands to lead you down the road of destruction? Are you willing participants and cheerleaders in his sin, or are you willing to confront and encourage your man to change course? Do not be like Eve. Do not be like Sarah. You must obey God rather than man. You are a helper who just might save your husband and your household if you speak the truth sweetly, consistently, and in love.
Thirdly, have we checked our arrogance today? The pride of Lucifer led him to rebel, and the same tendency is found in all affected by Adam’s sin. Let us not underestimate God, and let us not overestimate ourselves. Let us be meek and humble, and this attitude will keep us from many other sins with devastating consequences.
Fourthly, have we checked our materialism today? Let us hold loosely the things of this world. We should not overvalue the satisfaction that will come from more money or things. Let us not love money. Let us not cherish earthly things that rust and fade. Instead, let us lust for better worship, encouraged brothers, and the expansion of Christ’s church. Use money and do not worship it.
Fifthly, have we thanked God for his eternal and earthly mercy today? Too often we have been duplicitous, hypocritical, and trite in our worship. Perhaps it will do us good to meditate upon the following prayer before we enter the house of worship this Lord’s Day:
Psalm 139 O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you … Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Let us thank the Lord for his mercy from eternal judgment and also for his patience in meriting out much deserved, earthly discipline.