The Odd Couple of the Early Church
1. I have always thought that if I were telling the story of the early church in order to favorably impress people with it, I might have left out this account of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira.
2. However, I was the one who was impressed when, as I was doing my Bible reading, it dawned on me that something very similar happened in Joshua 7 when Israel began to take the promised land: Achan sinned and God judged him.
3. There are some obvious parallels between these two events.
a. Both occurred in the shadow of significant steps forward for the people of God.
b. In both cases, a man put something back for himself and tried to leave the wrong impression.
c. And both actions threatened the cause of the Lord so seriously that God judged them immediately and completely.
4. It seems clear to me that there must be matters at stake here which, if not taken to heart, will cause us to develop in a deformed manner until we are finally ruined. We should note carefully what they are.
1. Our enemy will make every effort to plant a small seed of evil in the early stages of a movement forward by the people of God.
a. Satan had filled the heart of Ananias to do what he did (v. 3).
i. In other words, Ananias had “come under his control.”
ii. This comes right after we have been told of the beautiful things done among those who believed when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31f).
iii. Interestingly, Achan’s ugly deed also come right after the wonderful victory at Jericho.
b. Satan does not care how big his accomplishment seems at the moment; he is interested in where it will lead in the long term.
i. The tempter instigates things that he knows will end in death (James 1:14, 15).
ii. Neither of these actions seemed so terrible.
iii. Either, however, could have led to disastrous results among God’s people: disrespect, distrust, disunity, and disaster.
2. All sin is a threat to the people of God because it is first an act against God himself.
a. That is why the point emphasized to Ananias and Sapphira is that their wrong had been done to God, not to the apostles or to the rest of the people.
i. “To lie to the Holy Spirit” (v.3)
ii. “Have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4)
iii. “To test the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 9)
b. To be trusted and respected, God had to show that he is always offended by behavior like this.
i. If he can’t know what is going on within men and do something about it, how can he be depended upon to give any victory or to hold any enemy accountable?
ii. How could his guidance ever be reliable, or his teaching trustworthy, or his warnings worthy of being heeded?
iii. What happens in this account is nothing but the proper application of the way God was addressed in Acts 1:24 – “And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all...”
3. God highly values truth because it is in keeping with his nature and because it is consistent with his authority.
a. The sin of which Ananias and Sapphira were guilty is lying.
i. Their wrong was not that they had sold the land, or that they had made a gift which was less than the total sum, their sin was the lie.
ii. They had deliberately planned together a way to leave the wrong impression, and they had done it for selfish purposes.
iii. They were guilty, not just of a mis-statement of fact, but of hypocrisy–an intentional effort to deceive others about what they intended to do.
b. Throughout the scriptures, lying is regarded as dishonorable and unacceptable conduct.
i. It is like the character of the devil (Jn. 8:44)
ii. It a contradiction of the very being of God, who is faithful and therefore cannot lie (Num 23:19; Prov. 30:5; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18).
iii. It is always considered to be a transgression of the commandments of God (Ex. 20:16; Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:25).
c. Against that background, it should not surprise us that God would want to guard the truth of his word.
i. In both the cases of Achan and Ananias, what was really at stake between the lines was whether the spokesmen God had given to lead his people–Joshua in the first case and the apostles in the second–were to be taken seriously.
ii. Notice how this episode played out in verses 5, 11 and 13.
iii. God did then, and he always has, insist that the authority if his word not be undermined.
4. Jealousy and envy are so dangerous because they do not operate out in the open; they secretly erode truth and integrity.
a. This is where we get to the motives behind the deception that took place.
i. We’re not told specifically, but we can see.
ii. Barnabas and others had gotten attention and praise for their generosity of spirit (4:34-37).
iii. Ananias and Sapphira made a gift not motivated by generosity of spirit–one calculated to gain attention and acclaim without the cost of complete commitment to the Lord.
b. Motive as well as action is important in the service of the Lord.
i. He doesn’t measure by amounts, but by honesty of heart in light of knowledge of his revealed will.
ii. He wants us comparing ourselves with him, not with each other.
iii. “Jealousy and selfish ambition” operates on the basis of untruth, and disorder and every vile practice comes in its wake (James 3:14-16).
5. A healthy attitude toward our stewardship of material possessions is exceedingly important in our relationship with God and his people.
a. This fact was emphasized when Peter spoke to Ananias (v. 4).
i. “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?”
ii. “And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”
iii. “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart?”
b. The point is that something other than using the good gifts of God for the good of the kingdom of God was happening.
i. God does not want us using giving as manipulation.
ii. He wants us being faithful as if we were using his goods for him (1 Cor. 4:2).
iii. 2 Corinthians 9:7
1. This is context in which the word “church” appears in the narrative (v. 11), and where the standing it is meant to have in a community becomes clear.
2. “The Dead Sea”