It was in the first weeks of Christianity that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. They enjoyed the power and the presence of the promised Spirit of God and launched into ministry wherever He led them.
Not only did the early church enjoy this new dimension of God’s presence but they began to experience persecution. This was a “new” religion and looked on with suspicion and hatred. After spending some time incarcerated for their faith, Peter and John lead the church to pray for boldness and courage. The Bible says that when they prayed that prayer the place was shaken by the Holy Spirit and they preached with great boldness and no fear.
To really understand the context and what happens in Acts 5 we need to go back a chapter to Acts 4:
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. Acts 4:32-37 NLT
This man Barnabas was representative of all the qualities that were found in the early church. He was a man that practiced prayer, unity, community, grace and service. He especially was known for his caring service to others. In Acts 4, he sells his real estate on the island of Cyprus and gave the entire proceeds to the disciples.
Things couldn’t have been better in the first few days of the early church. They were heady and awesome times. Always the enemy of God’s plan, Satan had already begun a counter attack of outward persecution through government and Jewish religious leaders. Now he attacks the church from within. The players in this drama are a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira.
They had watched as Barnabas gave his financial gift to the church. Perhaps it was jealousy over the attention he received but for whatever reason they conspired together to lie about the gift they were giving. Kent Hughes writes, “If this happened today, Ananias would probably wait until the organ was playing “I Surrender All” and then haltingly come forward and dramatically give his check to Peter.”
This was a premeditated deception. It was a religious sham, simulated holiness and Christian fraud. Do you know that there are some things that God hates?
There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent 18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, 19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.
Proverbs 6:16-19 NLT
Spiritual deception is a critical subject that all of us should pay close attention to. God takes it seriously and so should we. Centuries ago Baily wrote these words:
“In all the Holy Scriptures I never read of a hypocrite’s repentance: and no wonder; for whereas after sin conversion is left to cure all other sinners, what means remain to recover him who has converted conversion itself to a sin?”
Today we are seeking to learn from the story how to avoid hypocrisy and making a mockery out of our faith. We will do this by looking at the actions of Ananias and Sapphira.
1. They made a foolish choice:
Lying never leads to anything good
1 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. Acts 5:1-4 NLT
2. They exhibited a flawed concept:
What I do in front of people is important
God is your only audience
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said or done something in front of me and then quickly apologized to me because it dawns on them a pastor is in the room. Usually this includes cussing or an off color story of some kind or they are bragging about cheating the government or mistreating someone. To be honest I am always taken back when this happens. It’s not the cussing or the nature of some story but the fact that there is a power much more holy and higher then me that they completely ignore while making some half hearted apology to me.
It is the same flawed concept that happened in this story. This couple figured that they would lie to some people in the church but it really wasn’t a big deal.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”
The way you live your life in front of others is very important but not so much for their sake. God is the only audience in your life that ultimately matters. The fact is God is the only one that sees you 100% of the time. He knows you. He really knows you.
Spiritual pretence and deception diseases our relationship within the church. Ephesians 4 includes perhaps the most comprehensive study addressing this problem.
“With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[d] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:17-32 NLT
The bottom line is simply this: Whatever you do with your life and however you choose to act you have an audience of One and only One that really matters.
3. They received a fearful correction:
God takes hypocrisy seriously
5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”
“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”
9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”
10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.
Can you imagine the effect this must have had on the early church? Many knew this couple. No doubt friendships had developed with them. Now they were dead by God’s own hand. Luke writes that great fear gripped the entire church.
This was a healthy fear. It was the kind that would make you stop and examine your own life. We could use a dose of that kind of godly fear in our lives.
God was sending a message to those calling themselves Christfollowers. Honesty matters. Hypocrisy matters. The future of the church was truly at stake. If we knew today the kind of hidden and secret sins that are no doubt represented this room today we would probably be in shock.
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
Dr. Barnhouse would never let his congregation sing the third verse of the old song At Calvary: “Now I’ve given to Jesus everything; now I gladly own Him as my King.” “You see,” he said, “if God acted in the same way today that He did in the fifth chapter of Acts, you’d have to have a morgue in the basement of every church and a mortician on the pastoral staff.”
“And he kept back part of the proceeds” Acts 5:2 KJV
I am made to wonder today what we are keeping back from God in our lives. I wonder what kinds of things will come out on that great day when we stand before God.
Deceiving the church
Is allowing Satan to fill and control your heart and life instead of God.
Is lying to the Holy Spirit
Is lying to God
Cuts the heart of God (God loves the pretender/hypocrite as long as he or she has a tender heart that is soft enough to respond to the message and the gospel of Christ.)
It is not trusting God
During the conversion, her three massive smoke-stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted. But on the dock they crumbled. Nothing was left of the 3/4-inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed. All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years. The steel had rusted away. Those stacks looked so good from the outside, but inside there was nothing but rot and rust.