The Temptation of Ananias and Saphira
June 21, 2020 Series: Temptation
Topic: Expository Passage: Acts 5:1-11
The Temptation of Ananias and Saphira
Good evening! Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 5:1-11.
How many of you know what the word on the screen means as a verb (“profane”)? Merriam-Webster online dictionary has the following definition: 1) “to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt: DESECRATE” 2) “to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use.”
Tonight, I want to talk about a temptation that not many of us would probably have thought about unless it was highlighted over and over again in God’s Word. And that is the temptation to disrespect that which is holy.
Let’s read together Acts 5:1-11 (Acts 5:1-11).
In order to understand what is going on in this passage, you have to understand what led up to it. Let’s read together Acts 4:32-37 (Acts 4:32-37).
So the early church in Jerusalem was radically generous. And Barnabas personified this generosity. Ananias and Saphira serve as foils for Barnabas. Their bad qualities highlight his good qualities, and vice versa. Let’s contrast Barnabas with Ananias and Saphira. In what ways are they opposites?
Ananias and Saphira
1. Loved others
1. Loved themselves
2. Wanted God to be glorified
2. Wanted their own glory
3. Heart not tied to his money
3. Hearts still tied to their money
4. Tried to buy
Alright, so that’s the background; now let’s get into the actual story.
The Sin (vv. 1-2)
This scene probably took place in Solomon’s Portico, which was a huge open area on the temple mount where the Jerusalem church would often meet in those early days. In other words, this event did not take place at a home fellowship group! No, we can assume that in order to get maximum mileage out of their publicity stunt, Ananias and Saphira would have chosen a time in which the most members were likely to be present. And that was most likely at one of the regular gatherings of the entire church.
Can you imagine the scene? The apostles are front and center, leading the church in singing and teaching, while Ananias sits patiently in the crowd, his bag of coins between his feet. Then it comes time for the offering. Ananias’s heart begins pounding. He eagerly stands up and begins to walk forward, trying to look humble, but also showing off his large bag of money. Somehow, he communicates to the church that he and his wife, like Barnabas, have also sold their land and are now giving the money to the church so that it may be distributed to the poor. And with one final flourish, he lays the bag down at Peter’s feet.
But Peter is not impressed. Unbeknownst to Ananias, God has spoken to Peter and laid bare all that is in Ananias’s heart. (Aren’t you glad that your pastors aren’t prophets!?) So Peter responds (vv. 3-4).
Now, let’s just stop here and have a discussion. What was Ananias’s sin? Was it selfish ambition? Yes, Ananias and Saphira wanted glory that belonged only to God, otherwise, they would never have sold their land in the first place, because no one was making them do it! Was the sin of Ananias and Saphira greed? Yes, that was part of it, too. If they were not greedy, then they would not have kept back part of the money.
But what sin does Peter specifically name in these verses? (Lying) Which tells us that somehow, Ananias communicated to the church that he and his wife were donating all of the proceeds from this land sale, even though he was only donating a part. Does that make sense? Are you with me so far?
But here’s the kicker: to whom did Ananias lie, according to Peter? He said, “Not to men, but to God,” which indicates two things. First, Ananias and Saphira were well aware of the fact that they were lying to men. That was all part of the plan. They conceived or “contrived” this thing in their hearts. It was premeditated.
Second, and what Ananias and Saphira apparently did not realize, was that by lying to men in this way, they were actually lying to the Holy Spirit, whom Peter refers to as “God” in v. 4!
So how did Ananias and Saphira lie to the Holy Spirit? Some have suggested that Ananias and Saphira made a vow to the Lord and then went back on it. They promised to give all of the proceeds to God, but then when they saw how much they actually made from selling the land, they decided, “You know what, I think we are actually going to keep some of this for ourselves after all.”
The problem with this view is that Peter says in v. 4, “After it was sold, was it not in your own control?” In other words, “No one was forcing you to give all of the money! In fact,” Peter says in v. 4, “You didn’t have to sell the land in the first place!” (Which is an indication, by the way, that what we saw at the end of chapter 4 was not Christian communism. It was totally voluntary. But that’s beside the point.) The point is that it doesn’t seem likely that Ananias and Saphira lied to God by breaking a vow because at no point along the way were they obligated to donate the money.
So then how did they lie to God? This is the best answer I found, and it was the answer adopted by almost all of the commentators I consulted. Ananias and Saphira lied to God by lying to His Church.
Notice that Peter says specifically that they lied to the Holy Spirit. And he mentions the Holy Spirit again in v. 9 when he is talking with Saphira. What is the significance of the Holy Spirit in this story? Well, what happened in Acts 2? The Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost. And what institution started that day? The Church!
This is exactly what Jesus said would happen in the Farewell Discourse in John 14-16! He said that after He left, He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. Jesus even said that it was going to be to the disciples’ advantage that He was leaving them, because then He would send the Holy Spirit! In other words, it’s better to have the Spirit in your heart than Jesus by your side! That’s amazing!
The point is this: the Holy Spirit and the Church are intricately connected in the book of Acts. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit creates the Church by regenerating (saving) individual believers. The New Testament talks about Spirit baptism, which is a picture of how you were joined to the body of Christ the moment you got saved. And it says that the Spirit now permanently indwells all believers.
Do you remember when Pastor Kit was preaching through the Olivet Discourse? Do you remember in Matthew 25 when Jesus says to those on His right hand, “Come, inherit the kingdom of My Father, for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” etc.? And then those on His right hand asked Him, “When did we give you food and drink?” Do you remember what His answer was? “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mat 24:40). In other words, any act of kindness toward a believer is an act of kindness toward Christ Himself!
It’s the same with the Holy Spirit and the Church. Just like any act of kindness toward a believer is an act of kindness toward Christ Himself, when you lie to the church, you are lying to the Holy Spirit.
By lying to the church and to God, Ananias and Saphira also disrespected the church and the Holy Spirit. You say, “Where do you get that from?” Well, I think it is implied by the fact that the church’s response was fear. Let me explain a little further.
Premeditated deceit is extremely disrespectful. This is one of the reasons people often feel so used when they have been lied to (for instance, a wife whose husband has cheated on her). One of the reasons premeditated deceit is disrespectful is because it is arrogant. You usually don’t lie to someone unless you think you can get away with it, which means you assume you are smarter than them!
The problem with this as it relates to Ananias and Saphira is that they were lying to God! Did they really think He wouldn’t find out? Did they think they were smarter than Him? I think we would have to admit that at the root of Ananias and Saphira’s sin was at least some level of unbelief.
Another reason premeditated deceit is disrespectful because it essentially sacrifices the person to whom you are lying on the altar of your selfish desire. One of the reasons it is so important to tell the truth is that it is impossible to have a meaningful friendship with someone who is fake. Deceit destroys relationships. Therefore, to lie to someone on purpose is to sacrifice that relationship for what may be gained from the lie. It is valuing things over people.
Ananias and Saphira were willing to sacrifice their relationship with God and His church for the praise of men and a few bucks. What a terrible exchange!
You say, “But maybe they didn’t think about it that way!” Probably not, and that was part of the problem! You see, they should have understood those things! They had no excuse! But they did not respect the church like they should have. Instead, they treated it like a tool to promote themselves.
Ananias and Saphira profaned God’s church. Can you think of any other Bible characters who profaned something sacred and were judged? (Uzzah, Nadab and Abihu, Achan, Esau, the church members in 1 Corinthians 11:30)
What are some ways that people today profane God’s church by using it as a tool? (Prosperity preachers, people who embezzle money, child abusers, people who use ministry as a platform for fame, pastors who use their churches as stepping stones for personal advancement, etc.)
God’s church is holy, so we must respect it as such. Ananias and Saphira failed to do that, which is why they were judged by God.
Before we go on, I should mention, who put it in Ananias’s heart to do what he did? (Satan) Ananias was tempted. Of course, he was still responsible, as the rest of the text makes clear! But it does pull back the curtain, so to speak, to reveal a world of spiritual warfare behind this incident. Satan hates God’s Church and wants to destroy it. Satan has two primary tools that he uses to fight the church: persecution from without and corruption from within. He used both of those tools in the early chapters of Acts.
Is it any wonder that the very area in which this church was so strong (their giving) is where Satan decided to attack first? He wanted to introduce deceit and false motives to spoil the good that was being done.
Brothers and sisters, this is why we must always watch and pray so that we do not enter into temptation, not only individually, but also as a church. Because wherever good is happening, Satan is bound to attack it.
Let’s talk next about the judgment.
The Judgment (vv. 5-10)
While Peter is talking, Ananias falls to the ground and dies. Did Peter kill Ananias? No. In fact, he may have been as surprised as anyone when Ananias dies! Some people have suggested that Ananias died of a heart attack, which is possible, but even then, God did it!
Now that really puts a damper on a worship service, doesn’t it? Look what the end of v. 5 says (v. 5b). No kidding!
So the service comes to a screeching halt, and some of the ushers come and wrap Ananias up and carry him out. But not only do they carry him out, they bury him! Before they even have time to contact his wife! (Which seems odd, but it is probably related to the fact that his death was seen as a judgment of God, which it was.)
Then, about three hours later, Saphira comes in. Everyone is still there. (Their gathering must have looked different and been longer in those days.) But Saphira doesn’t know what has happened to her husband! So Peter begins to question her, which seems to give Saphira a chance to repent! Perhaps God showed her more mercy since the plan was concocted by her husband; but unfortunately, Saphira shows herself to be a willing accomplice.
Peter asks, “Did you sell the land for this much?” Everyone must have been on pins and needles hoping she would tell the truth. And can’t you just hear the collective groan when she answers cheerfully, “Yes, for that much!”? Then Peter begins to condemn her (v. 9a).
Ananias and Saphira tested God by sinning against Him so egregiously. Sometimes God is merciful, and He saves or protects or withholds judgment, even when we sin and do stupid stuff! But this passage reveals that God is under no obligation to show grace or withhold judgment! When Ananias and Saphira tested God, they got killed!
Saphira falls to the ground dead just as those poor ushers are coming back in from burying her husband. And the apostles say, “Um guys, we’ve got another one for you.” And they carry her out and bury her as well.
Why do you think God judged Ananias and Saphira was so harshly? Do you think it was because their sin was worse than anyone else’s? Their sin was definitely bad, but I would have to imagine that many other people have treated Christ’s Church far worse than this and not been struck dead on the spot. So why didn’t Ananias and Saphira get away? I think we can imply the answer from the results of the judgment (vv. 5, 11).
What was the result of this judgment? “Great fear came upon the Church and upon all who heard these things” (v. 11). Now, just to be clear, the “fear” that God’s people experienced as a result of this incident was not mere dread. God is our Father; He doesn’t want us to shrink away from Him! Besides, we have no reason to cower because we are His children! So the fear that believers had as a result of this incident was more like a deep-seated respect.
But notice that the unsaved folks were afraid too! What is going on here? Well, God’s response to His Church being treated lightly very early in its history is to act decisively in order to show that His church is holy and to remind people both inside and outside the Church not to mess with His Church!
That seems to be the reason why Ananias and Saphira are judged so severely. First, they deserved it. But second, God could not show mercy at this point because He needed to send a strong message about the nature of His Church.
I was trying to think of an illustration to close out this lesson; but I was having a hard time, because I realized, there are few things left in our world that Americans respect these days! They don’t respect our country, they don’t respect our flag, they don’t respect the military, they don’t respect law enforcement, they don’t respect elected officials, they don’t respect private property–they don’t even respect human life!
So instead of giving specifics, I want to close with a thought experiment in which I am going to call upon you to use your imagination.
Imagine that you own an item so precious to you that you would consider risking your life to save it from harm. Maybe it’s a priceless photograph, picture, or letter that was given to you by a loved one who has now passed away. Maybe it’s some ancient document, artifact, or artwork that you have been charged with protecting. Maybe it’s even an urn that contains your loved one’s remains! But whatever the case, this item is almost as valuable to you as life itself.
Now, imagine that someone breaks into your house, steals that item, destroys it, and discards it on the side of the road somewhere, broken beyond repair. How would you feel?
For God, this wasn’t a hypothetical scenario. God gave His Son to die for the church. Jesus died for His bride! Is it any surprise, then, that God says in 1 Corinthians 3:17, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are”? The children of God are precious to Him! In Old Testament times, God would not put up with someone desecrating His temple! Nor will He will put up with someone destroying His Church today! If we say we love and fear God, we must honor His Church like He does.
Decades after the tragic deaths of Ananias and Saphira, Peter, on whose feet they had fallen, penned these words: “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:17-19).
Brothers and sisters, unlike the world around us, we must be a reverent people. We must conduct ourselves with godly fear. There are certain things in life we must never treat lightly because they demand our respect! Among those things are God and His Church.