God’s People, part 235: Ananias & Sapphira

Read Acts 5:1-11

“Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people.”  (Proverbs 11:3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Ananias_And_SapphiraPart 235: Ananias & Sapphira. In a previous devotion, it was discussed that the Jerusalem church shared everything in common not in order to establish and eco-social-political system of wealth redistribution, but in order to express the love of Christ to each other and to survive the persecution they were experiencing. It was a necessary act of sacrificial love that each member of the Jerusalem Church displayed by giving up their “rights” over property, money and goods in order to share it with the whole. What’s more, the entire church (including the leaders) took a vow of poverty in that they vowed that they would not individually own a single thing but that it would be part of the common good of the whole.

The passage we read for today’s devotion, we come across another one of those Scripture passages that seems harsh and hard to swallow; however, it was written to convey an urgent message regarding the importance of Christian charity. We learn of a man named, Ananias who was married to a woman named Sapphira.

At some point, this couple became members of the Jerusalem Church and sold their property in order to share the money with the larger community; however, instead of being honest, they kept a portion of the money for themselves and gave the difference to the church, claiming that they were giving all that they had. In other words, they entered into the social contract of the Jerusalem Church dishonestly under false pretenses.

Somehow, Peter found out about the deception and he approached Ananias to question him. He told them how shameful their action was, and how sad it was that they allowed Satan to enter their hearts in such a way. Peter said, “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” (Acts 5:4)!

Instantly, Ananias dropped dead. Sapphira, who was not in the room at the time came in, and saw what had happened. Peter questioned her if the amount they gave was all that they had to give and she, too, lied about it. As such, she also dropped to the floor and was dead. Both Ananias and Sapphira were dishonest people and paid with their lives.

This seems like an awfully harsh sentence for God to carry out on a couple of lying swindlers. Certainly, God could have just let Peter hand their money back to them and kicked them out of the community. Yet, this couple died as a result of their dishonesty, which is a hard pill for many of us to swallow when reading this passage.

Still, it doesn’t really matter if the pill is a hard one to swallow. You should wrestle with these types of challenging passages and it is okay if you have a hard time believing God would actually carry something like that out. Such struggling with Scripture does not make you less of a Christian, but actually shows how serious you take the Bible, how much you desire to understand it, and how compassionate you are.

Still, we can look beyond the macabre details and find the Biblical truth behind what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. They were a couple who wanted to accept the lavish grace of God and the radical hospitality of the church community; however, they did not want to give such grace and hospitality in return. Instead, they allowed their greed to be their god and they chose to lie, and ultimately hurt, the church community.

Whether or not they physically died, their death also equates their spiritual death. They allowed their hearts to be poisoned and taken over by Satan and, as such, they separated themselves from neighbor and from God. Even when they were given a second chance to be honest, they chose the path of dishonesty. This death, physical or otherwise, was not brought on by a cold, vindictive God; rather, it was brought on by their own poisoned, necrotic hearts.

This should challenge us as Christians? Who do we serve? Do we serve ourselves? Do we put our own interests over God’s and the churches? Do we pretend to be people of God, but deep down are children of Satan? Or are we sinners who are redeemed by our merciful and just God? Do we strive to follow God and, when we do wander off the path, do we strive to own up to our mistakes and repent of our sins? I pray that we all reflect on these questions and allow the Holy Spirit to continue to perfect us in God’s grace and love.

“Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.” – Eartha Kitt

Lord, help me to be a person of integrity and open my heart to accountability when I am not. Amen.

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