During the early days of the church, the apostles witnessed with great power to the resurrection of Christ. At the same time, the believers were of one heart and mind. They made their property available for usage by all the believers. When special needs arose, they would sell their property and bring the proceeds to the apostles. Funds would be distributed to each, as they had need. However, the problem of deception soon arose. So our topic today is “Deception in the Early Church.”
Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, appeared to be members of the “congregation of believers.” With the knowledge of his wife, Ananias sold a piece of property, kept back part of the price, and brought a portion of the price to the apostles. Luke does not record what their motive was, but we may surmise that they sought the honor of being donors who had given all. It may be, also, that they thought they needed the money or just did not want to release it. In any case they acted in a deceptive way.
One, Ananias and Saphirra tried to deceive the church.
Like them, some people today are tempted to deceive.
The people had all things in common, but they were not required to this. It was a voluntary decision. Perhaps peer pressure was building for all people to participate. Everyone was having a part. Ananias and his wife Saphirra wanted to be a part of what was happening, but did not want to pay the price.
Many times we are tempted to appear to be what we are not. We want to measure up to the generosity and practices of the church in public perception. Then, we may do things privately that do not match the perception. As a result we are deceptive and untruthful.
This can happen in many areas of our lives.
Two, Ananias lied to God who judged him severely.
If we lie to God, He will discipline us according to His love and justice.
Ananias without his wife came to meet with the apostles. Peter’s comments let us know that Ananias only pretended to give all the proceeds from the land. With boldness and great certainty, Peter asked (verse 3): “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (NASU)
Peter continues his inquiry with these questions (verse 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.” (NASU)
According to Peter, Ananias and Sapphira owned the property. They did not have to sell it and give any of the proceeds to the church. Instead of being honest, Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. Peter declared that the lie was not to men but to God. As Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed His last. He paid for his lie with his life.
Three, Saphhira collaborated with her husband.
We cannot do wrong things even to collaborate with a spouse.
Three hours later, Sapphira came into the meeting without knowing what had happened. Peter questioned her about the price of the land. She said that the money given by Ananias was the full price of the land.
Peter asked, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” According to Peter, they had agreed “to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test.” Then, Peter declares, “Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” (NASU)
Although the text does not explicitly say that God put Sapphira to death, this is the clear implication. The cause was more than some natural emotion such as fright. Peter’s declaration is a prophecy of what was about to happen. Also, we may view it as a pronouncement of judgment upon Sapphira. This judgment was immediately done.
Four, great fear came upon the church.
We must respect God as well as love Him.
Today, the popular message is that God loves you. Sometimes it is implied that God will not judge or discipline you. In other words, whatever we do, God will love us. The early church learned that it was a very serious matter to lie to the Holy Spirit.
The judgment of God in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira was very severe. Even if they had lived, they would have been judged. This case should suggest to us that acting with integrity in the sight of God is extremely important. God does not always execute judgment in the same way, but we must know that there are consequences to our actions.
The result was that (Acts 5:11) “great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.” A reverential awe filled the believers. They knew they were serving a holy and mighty God. We must have that same reverence today.
Ananias and Sapphira died at the hand of God. This is a very unusual judgment, but in God’s time, it was an important step in the early church. God will judge all of us in His time and in His way. Also, He makes a way for repentance and restoration. This is the far better path for us.