Unmaskd: Devotional Commentary for July 11-17
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet.
The church at Jerusalem continued with its practices of mutual support, prayer, and worship. The author highlights two examples to show us how members contributed to the welfare of the needy among them. The first one was Joseph Barnabas who was introduced to us in last week's meditation. Barnabas sold his property and brought the proceeds from the sale to the Apostles.
Here in chapter five, we are introduced to a couple who did what Barnabas did. Like Barnabas, Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property intending to help the needy within the church. But unlike Barnabas, they kept a portion of what they earned from the sale and gave only a part of the proceeds from the transaction. In other words, they withheld an unspecified sum from the exchange and gave less than what they pledged. The couple first offered to sell their property and bring the proceeds to the Apostles. But later they changed their mind and kept a portion of the sale for themselves and gave the leftover to the church, contrary to their initial vow to God.
3But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?
4"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
Ananias and his wife conducted themselves in a questionable way. They contrived a devious scheme to carry out their deceitful plan. They probably felt confident that their plot could never be uncovered. But Peter knew. He was inspired and informed by the Holy Spirit Who exposed their lies, dishonesty, and pretentious facade.
Peter confronted Ananias directly and unflinchingly. His questions were not inquiries looking for answers from the deceiver. They were more of a statement of fact voiced as interrogatories intended to underscore specific points; deception, lies, dishonesty, and greed.
Peter asked Ananias, why!? Why did satan fill your heart with lies? Why did satan provoke your heart to lie to God? Why is your heart saturated with greed? Why did you surrender your heart to greed and steal from your pledge to God?
Was not the property yours before you decided to sell it? No one pressured you to sell your property. Was not the money in your possession after the sale? No one compelled you to give your money away. Why did you conceive evil in your heart? Your transgression is against God. You did not fool men. You lied to God, said Peter to Ananias.
5And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
6The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Peter never passed any judgment upon Ananias. He simply declared what the Holy Spirit exposed. After being publicly confronted, Ananias dropped dead at Peter's feet. God confirmed Peter's words with His Judgment.
It was a swift Judgment. The people witnessed that lying, deceit, greed, and breaking vows made to God are consequential. Ananias sinned against God and God judged sin without delay.
Satan used Ananias to infiltrate the community of faith with deceit and greed. Hence, Ananias served evil instead of honoring God with obedience and faithfulness. God judged him with an immediate death to remove evil from the midst of His people.
Ananias lay dead with his money and the young men in the area removed the body and buried him. It was necessary for the people to see God's Judgment over sin. He is Righteous and Holy.
7Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price."
9Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well."
10And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
Completely unaware of what had taken place, Sapphira arrived at the church about three hours later. Her husband had lied, died, and was already buried. She did not know any of this. She probably wondered why she did not hear from her husband for so long.
As soon as she arrived at the scene, Peter asked her whether the property was sold for a certain price. We do not know if he mentioned the actual selling price or the money Ananias donated to the church. At any rate, Sapphira corroborated her husband's words. She answered in the affirmative confirming what Peter said to her.
Sapphira's words were the same as Ananias. They had agreed to say and do the same thing. This arrangement was revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit. So he confronted her about her complicity with her husband and his lies before God.
Peter asked Sapphira, why did you and your husband conspire to test the Holy Spirit of God? Then he pronounced God's Judgment upon her. He alerted her that the young men who took the dead body of her husband and buried him are at the door to do the same to her. That was it! Sapphira breathed her last and dropped dead at Peter's feet. The young men removed her body and buried her beside her husband.
People inside and outside the church were terrified by this turn of events. In three short hours, a husband and his wife dropped dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. The consequences for lying to God and attempting to deceive Him are swift, immediate, and irreversible. Now the people know that the God Who granted healing, the God Who raised Jesus from the dead, the God Who sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the God Who redeemed them from eternal Judgment is also the God of wrath and Judgment over sin. He does not tolerate falsehood, deceit, and greed.
The church at Jerusalem began with a superb testimony of Christian solidarity in the love of God. However, its witness was marred by the blemish inflicted upon it through lies, deceit, and greed. Whereas Barnabas underscored the magnificent quality of Christian unity, love, and care within the church, Ananias and Sapphira contradicted, through their lies, deceit, and greed, the good that was flourishing within the community of faith.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira exposes a chronic problem that continues to trouble the church. Their willingness to give was commendable. However, they were hypocrites, dishonest, and greedy. They broke their vows to God and gave less than what they initially pledged. They gave less while pretending to give all the proceeds from the sale in its entirety. They had no integrity.
Some among us might find the severity of the punishment disproportionate to the gravity of the offense. The crux of the matter was not the nature or the manner of the offense. It was not what was given or withheld either. Nor was it Ananias' hypocrisy, dishonesty, or even lack of integrity. The offense was against God. Ananias was serving satan's subtle purposes of undermining the unstoppable work of the Holy Spirit within the church of Jesus Christ.
Peter was keenly aware of this particular problem. He asked Ananias, why did satan fill your heart? Ananias did not walk in the light of his redemption. He was still groping in the dark with satan. He became the conduit of evil.
This is typically true of satan's strategy against the church of Jesus Christ. He always resorts to subtle means when his open attacks fail to bring the church down. That is, when satan fails to succeed using external means against the church, such as persecution and other hostile practices, he resorts to engaging weak-minded members in unwholesome behaviors and actions that are contrary to the Word of God. In this way, he attempts to undermine from within what he could not destroy from the outside.
Consequently, our churches continue to wobble on with unsteady steps dragging members through endless spiritual privation. We are divided and unfaithful to the truth. We profess but do not practice. We sin but disregard the Spirit's convictions to repent. It does not seem we have learned our lessons either from Peter or Ananias, or both. Therefore, our Peters remain quietly critical while the Ananiases continue to play in hypocrisy without restraint. What then!? Should we continue to assist satan in his persistence to undermine the Body of Christ while continuing to test God's patience and mercy? God forbid! God's Judgment over sin is swift, but His Mercy and Grace toward the sinner endure forever. His Love is everlasting.