- Rev. Joseph A. Bias
A Story of Truth, Deception, Discernment and Judgment
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Acts 4: 32-35
There is a fairly well known story in the book of Acts concerning the couple, Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Ananias means - graciously given of the Lord (Yah) or Yah has been gracious. Sapphira means Sapphire (the gem stone) also clear, calmly composed. Likely, for the time it was a reference to a person of beauty and a quiet disposition.
As the church was in its infancy, the Apostles were getting the people organized in this community and teaching them to be gracious, loving and caring toward one another. As new converts to the faith, many were coming from all strata of life, economically, relationally, material, physically and of course, spiritually. Regardless of their station, all were afforded the same care and consideration, regardless of their wealth, poverty, strengths, weaknesses or abilities. They shared all things in common. This was not a commandment of the Lord. Each person was free to give whatever they determined to give to the common store of goods and resources for the benefit of everyone, as each had need. And they entrusted their offerings to the Apostles to distribute according to each one’s need.
It is important to say again, that no one was compelled or demanded to give anything, but all whose hearts were so disposed did so with great joy.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts 4:32-37
Not everyone was a possessor of lands and houses, but those who had possessions and houses “…sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles feet…”
Now let me ask you a question. When you read that, did you think that it said “everyone who had possessions sold all ofthem and brought the proceeds?” If you did you are not alone. But is that what the passage actually stated?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but, it is important to understanding what the phrase, “the proceeds of the things that were sold…” is actually saying. It is quite possible that not everything they possessed was sold. Things were sold. How much, we don’t know. What we do know is that whatever was sold, the proceeds (not half or a portion of the proceeds) from those sales were brought to the apostles for them to distribute as they saw fit.
There was one man, a Cyprian Levite named Joses, who the disciples called Barnabas, son of encouragement. He had land and he sold it. This is a specific reference to whatever land he had. He sold it. That land he sold and what he received for the sale of the land he brought to the disciples. This is what everyone was doing. Whatever they had that they wanted to sell they sold, and they brought the proceeds to the disciples.
Of all the people who sold possessions and lands only one was singled out and mentioned by name for what he did. Joses or Barnabas. So, what he did must have been rather extraordinary and he was likely publically recognized in some way for his generous offering. We do know that he has been memorialized from the time the book of Acts was penned.
But there is also mentioned in this account the story of a couple, Mr. “Graciously given of God” and his wife Mrs. “Beautiful and calm disposition.” They sold a possession, not all their possessions, not their house, not all of the trappings in their house. We only know that they sold a possession. But instead of bringing all the proceeds of that sale to the Apostles they kept back some of it. And that would have been fine, but instead of presenting the proceeds, as it was, just a portion of what they received from the sale, they said that it was all the proceeds from the sale.
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts 5:1-2
Peter, realizing their deception and their conspiracy to lie to the Apostles in order to gain some place of favor or perhaps a position of authority and leadership among those in the church, called them out and publically renounced them. Their scheme was discovered and when Ananias knew he was found out, he fell down immediately and died. Later when his wife came in she was questioned by the Apostles if the proceeds from the sale of their possession was the same as what they brought as an offering. Not knowing what had happened to her husband, she told the same lie and received the same fate as her husband. She fell down and died immediately. Each was taken out and buried side by side.
And the story tells us that because of this, great fear came upon all the church and upon those who heard these things.
Now someone may ask, why is this event recounted in the life of the early Church? Why was it necessary for them to die for their attempted deception? Was there no forgiveness? No compassion? No mercy? No grace? No second chance? What was it about this act that was so egregious that the only remedy for it was the death of Ananias and Sapphira?
This story does not appear in other account of the Scriptures, nor is it referenced anywhere else in the Bible. There is also no indication that the Apostles in anyway facilitated the consequence of their deaths. Their deaths were not assisted by anyone who observed what happened to them. However, one immediate result of this event was that it brought great fear on everyone of what could result from lying to God, The Holy Spirit. Peter made that clear.
“But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Acts 5:3-4
It is clear also here that Peter places the responsibility completely on Ananias for Satan’s actions through him. Why has Satan filled your heart…? In other words, what alliance did you willfully make with Satan to allow him access to your heart, to fill it with the decision to lie to God?
Everyone in the church at this time had seen a manifestation of the glory of God and were eyewitnesses to the presence of the Holy Spirit on and in the Apostles and all who had received Jesus and been baptized into His death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit bearing witness with them that Jesus is alive.
But Ananias and Sapphira had given themselves over to the spirit of Satan and from their brokered, warped perspective they sought to gain reward though lying. It is clear they had a motive behind their lie. They knew in their hearts what they had schemed to pull off and they knew it was wrong. What they did not expect was getting caught. In the midst of all the unity and common sharing of each other’s resources for the good of the whole, they were the only ones who sought to use the occasion for selfish gain.
Instead, they lost everything, and in the matter of a moment, their lives.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. James 1:13-15
God the Holy Spirit played no part in their deceptive scheme. Nor would it have been to the benefit of the church to pass over their sin lightly. How many countless others might have used it as an occasion to do likewise and justify themselves on the basis of Ananias and Sapphira facing no consequence for it; thus, ultimately, establishing the church on a false notion of God’s righteousness and holiness?
No. Their act had to be judged swiftly and decisively, leaving nothing to conjecture or debate. Even in the New Testament under the law of grace there was no tolerance or compromise when it comes to the truth and communion with God. Their offering was supposed to be an act of worship of God. But their motive was corrupt.
Just as with Cain who slew is brother Abel out of jealousy and revenge because his offering was not acceptable to God and Abel’s was, so it was with Ananias and Sapphira’s unacceptable offering of their partial proceeds from the sale of their possession, deliberately misrepresenting it to be a whole and sacrificial offering, knowing it was the fruit of a devil inspired scheme. It was not an offering given in joy and motivated by love of God or His church.
On their part it was an attempt to deceive the Apostles, but on Satan’s part working through them, it was an attempt to defile the church in its infancy.
Much of what inspires and incites people to ungodly behavior is that they have no fear of God. Their consciences have been seared over by rebellion and a continual dismissal of all things pertaining to God, the Holy Bible and particularly the person of Jesus Christ.
As this present culture has become more anti Christian in their posture, through the early indoctrination of children into the belief that science and secularism are the only legitimate sources of wisdom and truth, we have increasingly become a nation like that described in Romans 1 and in 2 Timothy 3.
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” Romans 1:28-32
Is this not a description of this present age?
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God…” 2 Timothy 3:1-4
So, knowing this, what do we do? How do we navigate to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a nation that has become increasingly hostile to the message of salvation?
First, we look not to ourselves but we look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. We consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself lest we become wearied and faint in our minds.
Secondly, we do not fret ourselves because of evildoers who prosper in their way. Their futures are bleak indeed. They will soon be cut down as the grass and wither away. But we who are the children of light we must walk in the light as He is in the light.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” John 1:7
What does it mean to walk in the light as He is in the light? It means we walk in the ways given to us in the Bible, the Word of God. We walk according to the truth and the commandments of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not guided by nor manipulated by the ways of evil men. We reject their lies and we embrace the Word and will of God. We fear God and do what He has commanded us to do, to live, to speak and to believe. We give no quarter to the ways of the devil, no matter how subtle or attractive his ways may seem. Nor do we surrender ourselves to follow the crowd no matter how many people are following after him.
As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.