Acts 4:32-37 π Acts 5:1-10 π Acts 5:4 π Acts 5:11 π Acts 5:12-16 π Acts 5:13 π Acts 5:17 π Acts 5:17-33 π Acts 5:26 π Acts 5:34-39 π Acts 5:40-42 π Eph. 4:25 π Eph. 4:29-30
There are many stories within the Bible that, because we have read them so often or because we were exposed to the "Sunday school" version of the story at a young age, have lost their ability to move us. As we learn how to hear and obey the Holy Spirit however, we will find ourselves being struck with a new perspective on an old story. There will be a new depth to the story that we just have never seen before.
Ananias and Sapphira has been one such story for me.
The story truly begins with how the Holy Spirit was moving upon everyone shortly after the Day of Pentecost. Luke, the divinely-inspired historian who wrote the book of Acts, writes:
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 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 4:32-37; top )
Such love! Such generosity! This is the passage that many have misunderstood and misapplied, thinking it some sort of basis for communism. No, these people were simply - and honestly - being led by the Holy Spirit. This is the usual result of being filled with the Spirit of God, of being a recipient of God's great grace and of responding in honest, simple obedience to the moment-by-moment leading of the Spirit of grace. You give and you share - simply, honestly and whole-heartedly.
The story takes a twist though. Seeing how well respected the ones were who gave all, Ananias and Sapphira hatched up a scheme whereby they could be well-respected by everyone and still have wealth upon which they could rely. In essence, these became the first Christian hypocrites. Luke writes:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 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. 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? 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."
Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" And she said, "Yes, for so much."
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." 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. ( Acts 5:1-10; top )
This first lie to the Holy Spirit brought death - instantly.
There are those who misunderstand this passage so let's put some of the misconceptions to rest now. Some believe that it was because Ananias and Sapphira did not give all the money that the Holy Spirit killed them. This was not their crime for Peter said, "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?" ( Acts 5:4; top ) In other words, Peter was saying, "Ananias, you could have brought only a portion and, if you had said so, it would not have been a lie." Ananias' sin was not in keeping back part of the money - his sin was in lying to the apostles and to God, attempting to appear as something that he was not.
Now let's look at the result. Luke writes:
So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. ( Acts 5:11; top )
People were afraid! How different this is from the modern "church"-marketing schemes! People were afraid to be dishonest! Today, "church" politics are the same as the world's politics - many a "pastor" seems to have read Machiavelli's The Prince more than they've read 1st and 2nd Timothy! Deception is not only acceptable in "church" business practices, it's the preferred norm for gaining promotions!
From the assistant "pastor" who has no opinions of his own to the average layperson who puts on the fake "Christian smile" for "church" to the couples committing fornication and adultery, dishonesty is rampant in the "church." Why? Because the "church" has no power of the Holy Spirit that causes men to fear God.
But let's look more closely at the results and see what happened next. Luke writes:
And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. ( Acts 5:12-16; top )
Many signs and wonders, healings, many added to the Lord, multitudes gathering. This is what the "church" marketeers drool over. This is the fulfillment and aim of all their schemes and strategies - more people, more excitement, more involvement.
But there is a phrase buried in the middle of that description that ought to draw every believer up short. Hear it from the Amplified version:
And none of those who were not of their number dared to join and associate with them, but the people held them in high regard and praised and made much of them. ( Acts 5:13 Amp. - emphasis added; top)
Let's keep this in context now. It was not because the apostles were doing great miracles that none dared join the assembly - that was what was drawing the multitudes who brought their sick to the apostles! It wasn't because there was persecution - that wouldn't start until later in the chapter. In fact, there were crowds of thousands of people meeting at Solomon's porch at this time. They were the majority - even the soldiers would be very careful how they treated the apostles in front of the crowd. ( Acts 5:26; top ) And in fact, it was the popularity and large crowds that stirred the envy of the high priests. ( Acts 5:17; top ) So why were the people so hesitant to join the assembly? In a word: Ananias and Sapphira.
They knew that to join the assembly meant they had to forsake all manner of dishonesty. As Paul would later write, "Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." ( Eph. 4:25 , 29-30; top ) To us who, after so many years of reading such instruction and being exposed to the "church's" impotence, these words have not the power and impact they would on someone who had known Ananias and Sapphira.
And what "church" marketeer would ever want to scare away those who don't know the truth? They think the worldly and unsaved and undiscipled can be brought under the influence of "God's Word" (mainly through expository Bible teaching and other entertaining programs) and will slowly but surely become well-rounded, mature Christians. Unfortunately, just the opposite is true. From personal experience, I know that years of expository Bible teaching in the average "church" setting will leave you unspiritual, immature and unprepared for any activity that requires obedience to God alone. It is more likely to provide a place of comfortable apostasy than it will provide a place that changes the hearts of unbelievers.
Nor is this the end of the story. Though there is an interlude where attention seems to drift away from Ananias and Sapphira, the outcome of the story indicates that Ananias and Sapphira were still exerting influence through the end of this chapter. Luke writes:
Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life." And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught.
But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, "Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.
Then one came and told them, saying, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!" Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!"
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." When they heard this, they were furious and took counsel to kill them. ( Acts 5:17-33; top )
Such boldness! Such passion! Such "rebellion" against authority! Needless to say, Peter's less than subtle response did not engender a kindly reaction from the high priests - in fact, they were ready to kill the apostles.
The next thing that happens is a bit unusual. Gamaliel, a nationally recognized teacher, rabbi to all the best and brightest of the next generation such as Saul of Tarsus, is going to give some advice. Luke writes:
Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: "Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it - lest you even be found to fight against God." ( Acts 5:34-39; top )
Here's a man who was strictly teaching the law of Moses. There is no indication anywhere that he was ever connected in any way with the apostles and believers. And yet he is afraid to pass judgment on these men - so afraid that he will openly confront and oppose the murderous intentions of the council.
Gamaliel is a well-connected man in Jerusalem. There is no reason to believe that he did not know of the miracles the apostles were doing. There is no reason to believe that he did not know of the crowds that gathered to hear the apostles at Solomon's porch. And there is no reason to believe that Gamaliel had not at least heard the reports of Ananias and Sapphira. In fact, it is indeed even possible that he knew them before they died. Whatever it was that Gamaliel saw in the recent events in Jerusalem, it was sufficient to motivate him to openly and publicly oppose the council - the same council who had approved of Jesus' death.
Those who see and hear the events of modern "churches" are barely motivated to return next week! Why is it that we cannot see the problem with our "church" methods? The main reason is because of the entrenched status quo. The "pastors" feel no compunction to recognize that they're doing anything wrong. Business is good so why rock the boat? In addition, they have convinced themselves that because a few people are helped in some visible way, they are doing God's work. But all those who fall away from our denomination "were never of us" - so there's no great loss anyway.
And in the pews (or the more modern chairs), the people have grown soft and lazy and are quite content to leave all that "spiritual stuff" in the hands of the "experts." The "church" needs its fragile, helpless converts (job security for the professional staff) and these converts are quite content to remain where they are never challenged - nor permitted - to grow. It is only when, contrary to the intentions of the status quo, someone manages to reach some level of spiritual maturity and recognizes the trap they're in, that conflict emerges. Often these young ones are still immature and only know that something is wrong with the "church" they attend. Often they will abandon God when they abandon the "church" because they want nothing to do with a God who is like the "pastors" and people they have just recognized the truth about. "Church" is a very effective scheme of the devil.
But let us return to the story in Acts. Upon hearing Gamaliel's advice, the council agrees. Luke writes:
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. ( Acts 5:40-42; top )
Here the apostles are commanded to be silent and then flogged. They leave rejoicing! And then they go out and preach and teach even more! You won't find this methodology included in any "church" marketeer's strategy book, that's for sure!
My point is not just to belittle the "church" marketeers for their blindness. My prayer is that we will all begin to recognize the "church" paradigm - that set of assumptions through which we filter everything we read in the Bible - as the abominable lie that it is. The "church" paradigm is one of the devil's best lies and it keeps us from walking in the full liberty of the Spirit of truth.
I also pray that God would find us worthy enough of His Spirit that He would bring Ananias and Sapphira back to the assembly. We need to have more people afraid to join the assembly because they don't want to risk their lives by bringing their sin into our midst. This is not to say that unbelievers and sinners would not be welcome - far from it! But those who intend to stay and call themselves Christians would have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk as is so prevalent today.
Indeed, may we all learn what it means to fear the Lord and to hate all evil.
I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!