Friday, October 12, 2018

Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA (Acts 5:1-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Marriage involves countless decisions large and small, especially about things to buy or sell.
After many years of wedded bliss, Dorothy's original wedding ring had become worn and thin, so she asked her husband to buy her a new ring as her anniversary present. But this time she asked him to buy her one with a bigger diamond. They went to the jewelry store to pick one out. As they waited for the clerk, Dorothy said to her husband, "My eyes aren't as good as they used to be, so I'd really like diamonds I can see." Having overheard their conversation, a customer standing nearby remarked, "Sir, it would be cheaper...if you bought her better glasses."
Marriage involves countless decisions large and small, especially about things to buy or sell. "Ananius & Sapphira" decided to sell some property, but the distribution of the proceeds is problematic.

The early church (believing Jews and God-fearers) is a reform movement within Judaism that carries with it some of the practices of the temple, including a concern for the poor. One way the temple shows this concern is through the freewill offering. Other major offerings are obligatory and mainly support (feed) the priesthood. The freewill offering is optional and has a broader application (funneled through the temple treasury), and its varied substance is more easily convertible to meet different needs, including support for the poor. The early church exhibited a similar concern and took steps to alleviate those suffering in its midst. That effort is not always successful, though, as with one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible.

The gospel appeals to people from various socio-economic backgrounds, from the very poor to the very wealthy. James refers to this mix in his letter:
My brothers...don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (Jms 2:1-4)
The church in Jerusalem attempts to remedy this disparity by redistributing some of what people have. One couple that decides to participate, "Ananius & Sapphira," attempts to make its own rules, with disastrous results.

I. The couple tries to deceive the Lord, who responds accordingly (Acts 5:1-10).
A. Ananias could present a whole offering but gives only part (vv. 1-6).
1. He keeps some for himself.
Acts 5:1 A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
To help care for the poor in the early church, members combine their resources and dole them out as needed:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
In keeping with this practice, one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sell a piece of property they own, presumably intending to donate the proceeds to the needy in the congregation. Theirs is a selfless and generous act that is much like a free-will offering in the temple: giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you (Deut 16:10).
Like a freewill offering in the temple, a church offering is purely voluntary and variable in its value.

If one wishes to keep something he has (previously) dedicated to God as a freewill offering (e.g., through a vow), he may redeem it by paying its value plus a 20% surcharge:
If the man who dedicates his house redeems it, he must add a fifth to its value, or the house and the substitute become holy (i.e., subject to sacrifice). If the man who dedicates a field wishes to redeem it, he must add a fifth to its value, and the field will again become his.... If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. (Lev 27:15, 19,31)
There might have been a similar provision for a church offering (i.e., a way to redeem the offering or to vary its amount). Ananias and Sapphira could donate all or part of the proceeds without recrimination, but they try to game the system by lying about their offering, with disastrous results.
2. He tries to deceive God.
Acts 5:3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
The author does not explain how Peter knows about the deception (pretended piety), but attempting to defraud God is a futile endeavor.
3. God kills him for lying.
Acts 5:5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
Ananius' life comes to an abrupt end, and without further discussion attendants remove his now lifeless body and bury him.
B. Sapphira could present a whole offering but gives only part (Acts 5:7-10).
1. She keeps some for herself.
Acts 5:7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" "Yes," she said, "that is the price."
Some time passes ("three hour" v. 7) after the death of Ananias before Sapphira enters the room. Unaware of her husband's fate, Peter gives Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth about the sale of their property, but she 'doubles down' on the lie.
2. She tries to deceive God.
Acts 5:9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
Peter's explanation of her imminent demise as being related to her husband's sudden passing is not primarily for her benefit but for everyone else present, so they will not miss the connection between these two events.
3. God kills her for lying.
Acts 5:10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
As with her husband, Sapphira's life comes to an abrupt end, and without further discussion attendants remove her now lifeless body and bury her.

Application: Might God take your life if you renege on a commitment to Him? Probably not, but just to be on the safe side, do not put yourself in that position. As He says through Jeremiah, "Do what you promised! Keep your vows!" (Jer 44:25) In God's commitment to you, He will keep His word; so in your commitment to Him, you must keep your word.

Application: The support in scripture for what you believe does not all have the same strength. For example, there is considerable testimony for the deity of the Savior but relatively little testimony for the deity of the Spirit, that the Spirit is a living entity and not merely an impersonal force, like the line from Star Wars: "May the force be with you" (also Jehovah's Witnesses). Does it matter that only one passage (this one) specifically refers to the Holy Spirit as God? ...No, it does not matter because other passages make that identification clear, passages that show...
  • He possesses the attributes of God;
  • He performs the works of God;
  • He presents in associations with God.
What you believe about God may not all rest on the same support, but what you believe rests on sufficient support to warrant your faith. As Paul notes,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
What you believe about God has confirmation in the word of God.

Despite the efforts of Ananius and Sappira to conceal their transaction, nothing is hidden from God. "He knows everything" (1 John 3:20).

II. The couple fails to deceive the Lord, and people respond accordingly (Acts 5:11).
  • The whole church fears God.
Acts 5:11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Rarely is God's punishment so immediate. Usually it waits for the natural end of a person's life: "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb 9:27). Death's suddenness in this case marks the urgency God attaches to presenting a clear signal at the beginning of the Church's growth about the importance of truth. The group's reaction is certainly what God intends and supports the contention that "fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18). These early believers are rightfully concerned that a misstep on their part could invoke a similar divine response.

Application: Although "love drives out fear" (l John 4:18), there is a healthy respect that should characterize your appreciation of the Lord. To be sure, as part of the redeemed you no longer face punishment for your sin, but you may tremble at the prospect of one day being in the presence of a holy God, similar to Isaiah's response:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs.... And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." ..."Woe to me!" I cried.... "My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isa 6:1-5)
His reaction is like that of another prophet who has a similarly disturbing vision of God:
I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown.... (Ezek 1:27-28)
You may never have a vision of God in this life, and your initial encounter with Him might be your final encounter with Him in the next life, which will be after you are in your glorified body and free from the limited perspective here, as Paul says, "[you] shall know fully, even as [you are] fully known" (1 Cor 13:12).

You may not think that fear is an appropriate way for a child of God to respond to Him. But such an opinion betrays a poor view of God and a partial definition of fear. If His prophets, those who knew Him quite well, thought it appropriate to tremble in His presence, perhaps you should as well. Fear is a suitable response to God, because it is simply the recognition that you are not worthy. Bildad has it right:
"If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in His eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot—a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
 Application: Witnessing is not just telling others about Jesus. It is opening their eyes to God's presence in the universe. It is expressing wonder with the psalmist:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Ps 19:1-4a)
Witnessing can be as little as a brief observation or as much as an extended conversation: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Pet 3:15) Keep in mind the essence of what you are communicating—hope.

This event is probably not the only sinful act in the lives of "Ananius & Sapphira," one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible. It is merely the culminating episode in a series of bad decisions that ends with their early demise. It is also a cautionary tale for those who remain, a reminder to be honest in one's dealings with the church.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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Relevant and civil comments are welcome. Whether there will be any response depends on whether Dr. Manuel notices them and has the time and inclination to respond or, if not, whether I feel competent to do so.
Jim Skaggs