Study 5 THE SIN OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 4 – 7)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 5:1-11
The early Church was growing rapidly and it is not surprising that we read of the Devil being on the warpath! He was doing all in his power to stop it! And so he entered into these two people, and what a tragedy it was that they yielded to his devilish suggestions! It is not surprising that after God’s judgment fell on Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear seized the whole church” (verse 11). It was enough to fill everybody with a sense of awe, as it would today if such a thing were to happen. This incident divides into four sections:-
1. The Sin of Ananias and Sapphira
What was their sin? It must have been great when we think how God judged it. These two were husband and wife and were known and probably respected in the church. They had witnessed the power of God’s blessing; they were not outsiders or enemies of the church – they were a hindrance inside it! From Acts 4:36-37 we learn of the generosity of these early Christians, particularly that of Barnabas. Ananias and Sapphira were impressed by this and quite genuinely wanted to play their part, so they decided to sell a property or some land and give the money to the apostles for the Lord’s work. So far, so good – but then we read that Satan tempted them (look at verses 1-4). They sold the possession for (say) £500 and gave (say) £400 to the Lord; then having done this they pretended they had given all of it. They need not have given anything; they could have kept it all (look at verse 4); but they kept back part, and fell into the sin of pretence, of hypocrisy, of deception, of insincerity, of lying, and of unreality. It was a sin against God (verses 3-4), and of course it was a sin against the church because it affected the church’s work. It was conceived in their hearts, where all sin begins (verse 3). They opened the door to the Devil; it was premeditated, deliberate, intentional and planned; husband and wife were partners in deception. They need not have succumbed to the temptation (see 1 Corinthians 10:13), but so far as we know their sin was unconfessed, unforsaken and unjudged by themselves. What a pity they did not act on Proverbs 28:13 and 1 John 1:9!
2. The Courage of Peter
This is brought out in verses 3, 4, 8 and 9. Notice that Peter was not responsible for the judgment which fell on Ananias and Sapphira; that was God’s doing. All Peter did was to unmask their sham, to uncover their hypocrisy and to display their insincerity, unreality and deception – their lying; and he did this because God gave him special discernment to recognise the true state of things. Mighty things were happening in the church and Satan was doing his best to upset the work of God; so it took great courage for Peter to act as he did.
But in Acts 4:29-30 we read that at this special prayer meeting they had prayed that they might have courage to do God’s will, and now God was answering their prayers. A true servant of the Lord has to be willing and available to the Lord for whatever ministry He dictates, and sometimes he has to speak solemn words and to challenge deeply things that are wrong in the church. For being utterly faithful to the Lord, Jeremiah, Daniel and the apostles landed up in prison, John was banished to the Isle of Patmos – and Stephen was martyred. Today many around the world are displaying the same courage as they face the enemies of the Faith.
3. The Judgment of God
This is clearly stated in verses 5-6 and 9-10. Notice again that this was not Peter’s action but God’s. How terribly solemn it is to read of the way in which Ananias and Sapphira were judged for their sin! If God judged His people today in the same way for sin in their lives – for insincerity, hypocrisy, lying, pretence – how many would fall down dead? It is so easy to profess more than we possess, to make out that we are holier than we really are – look up Matthew 15:7-8. Why did God’s judgment fall like this? Maybe because it was the first appearance of this sin in the church; maybe because it was to be a solemn warning to the church that God is not mocked and that He desires truth in the inner parts (Psalm 51:6); maybe it was done according to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 – what John called “a sin that leads to death”. Does God work in this way now? Maybe He does; one thing is certain: we cannot, dare not, remove these verses from our Bible. They are there to warn, to instruct and lead us to walk carefully and humbly with God.
4. The Reaction of the people
What effect did this intervention of God have on the people? Well, there were two classes of people – believers and unbelievers. In each case they experienced “great fear” – as we learn from verses 5 and 11. A great sense of awe fell on them, a great sense of the presence and the power of God – look up and compare 1 Samuel 11:7; 2 Chronicles 14:14 and Proverbs 23:17. What is this fear? To the unbeliever it is the fear of God’s judgment – look up Hebrews 10:27 and 31. To the believer it is the fear of grieving the Holy Spirit and of securing God’s displeasure – look up Ephesians 4:30.
It is significant that when the sin of Ananias and Sapphira had been dealt with, and the offenders had been removed, Gods blessing came down – just read Acts 5:11-14!