The episode of Ananias and Sapphira came at a time many would not have expected. The church was experiencing phenomenal growth, care, love and unity among believers at a level that almost reflected what a perfect church should be like. Persecution did not stop the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it emboldened the believers to spread the Gospel even more.
Many believers were added to the community. We read in Acts 2:41, “So those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls”. And in Acts 4:4, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” It is possible that the number could be even more, if we include the women and the children. In fact, there was numerical growth every day (Acts 2:47). There was a common bond that the believers shared, and they had everything in common (Acts 4:32). Living out the commandment to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31), the believers were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:45). There was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:34). The scene must have been quite amazing even to the outsiders, for we read in Acts 2:47 that the church community was gaining favour with all the people.
And then in Acts 5, something unpleasant happened that brought great fear to both the believers and unbelievers (Acts 5:11). Prior to the incident, we read of a certain man, Barnabas, who sold a field he owned and brought all the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4: 36-37). Immediately, after this, we read about a couple, Ananias and Sapphira,
who also sold a piece of land (Acts 5:1). However, as badly as they wanted to be known as sacrificial givers, they were not prepared to give everything. They playacted and told Peter that the land was sold for a lesser amount, giving the impression that they had given all to the apostles (Acts 5:8). In doing so, the couple had acted hypocritically, effectively cheating the church and testing the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9). It is significant to note that Peter charged Ananias for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Ananias thought he was lying only to men, but Scripture informs us that when one lies to the community of believers, he/she is lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:4). Because of their deception, God judged them and struck them dead immediately after Peter confronted them about their lie.
This incident reminds us that Satan is actively working inside the church, even in churches that are spiritually strong and faithful in the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. Satan will continue to attack the church until the end of ages. Unsurprisingly, one of the tools that Satan uses often is lies. After all, Satan is called the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan used lies to cause the downfall of men in Genesis 3. In this incident, Peter said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” And in Revelation 2, Satan is mentioned as having his throne in the church of Pergamum, where erroneous and false doctrines were taught (Revelation 2:14 -15). Satan knows how to deceive the minds and hearts of church members, even genuine Christians, and get them to follow his orders. No wonder Peter in his Epistle wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
The account of Ananias and Sapphira reminds us that we need to pray for the purity and holiness of our church. We need to pray for our leaders to be shepherds after God’s heart, and also for one another to live our lives in pursuit of God’s holiness. Paul exhorts us to put on the whole armour of God so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of Satan (Ephesians 6:13). The account also reminds us to always check our motives in all that we do. As commentator John Phillips said, “Most of us have some of Ananias about us – the desire to be thought better or more holy or more spiritual than we are.” We should regularly examine ourselves to see if our professions are backed by our actions and lives.
God help us all. Amen. - Elder Sim Chow Meng