If we’re honest with ourselves, God’s punishment in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) seems a little harsh.
After all, their “little white lie” didn’t really hurt anyone, did it? They still gave a ton of money to their local church — what’s the problem with exaggerating the numbers a bit?
It seems even more hypocritical that Peter was the one who pronounced judgment on them, since he was the one who denied Jesus three times at His crucifixion. What if his punishment had been as swift as Ananias and Sapphira’s?
When you zoom out, the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 creates a notable counterpoint to the beauty of Acts 4:32-37. Whereas it may seem like everyone in the church is hospitable — sharing all things in common — you still have people like these two that are less than honorable.
Why Were Ananias and Sapphira Struck Dead?
So what was their sin? If you ask several people, you may get several different answers, but these four are the most common.
Make no mistake about it: Their motivation for lying was in trying to appear holier than they actually were.
We see this type of posturing from people all the time. People brag on social media about their achievements, politicians lie about which school they went to. It happens all the time.
In fact, according to a study by ResumeLab, 36% of people admitted to openly lying on their resumes. If you expand the definition of “lying” to include just “stretching the truth” a bit, the number jumps to 56%.
To safeguard against this potentiality, Jesus instructs all of us to make sure that our giving is done in utmost secrecy. There should be absolutely no desire to improve your own position when you give to help others. We should “not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Jesus takes this seriously. If we “give in secret,” then God will see that secrecy and reward us for it (spiritually-speaking). If we give only to be seen of men, then we have our reward the moment people notice us.
Surprisingly, Luke has a lot to say about the nature of money in the Kingdom of God.
- Rich Young Ruler who hated the idea of giving up everything to follow God (Luke 18:22)
- Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8)
- Silversmiths who were angry that Paul’s preaching cost them revenue (Acts 19)
- Owners of demon-possessed girl who was healed by the Apostles (Acts 16)
- Counting the cost of following God (Luke 14:25-33)
You might wonder why it is that Luke spends so much time talking about the intersection of money and God — that is, until you read what Jesus says about how money can cause us to have an identity crisis:
“Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one is affluent does his life consist of his possessions.”Luke 12:15
That’s really the problem here. Despite being members of the early church, Ananias and Sapphira cared more about shaving some money off the top than they did giving it to others. Their riches defined them — it made them who they are.
Does it define you?
By far, the most common reason given as to the punishment for Ananias and Sapphira is that they lied.
From this point, people will immediately spring into one of two actions. They’ll either (a) defend the lie, saying it wasn’t that big of a deal, or (b) they’ll try to claim that the Bible has a double standard when it comes to lies in the first place.
Remember Rahab? In Joshua 2, Rahab receives the Israelite spies that were sent into Jericho to search out the town. When she’s confronted by local officials, she lies to their face: “Yes the men came to me, but I did not know where they are from.”
That’s a lie. No question about it. She knew exactly where they were from, because her mini-speech in Joshua 2:8-14 reveals that she not only knows exactly who they are, but that she fears their God, as well.
So why is it that Rahab is rewarded for her lying — to the point of being included in the lineage of Jesus and heralded as a paradigm of faith and works in James 2 — while Ananias and Sapphira drop dead on the spot?
The answer, in my opinion, is two fold.
First, Rahab didn’t lie to benefit herself in any way. As a prostitute who lived in the outer walls of Jericho (traditionally where the poorest people lived), she could have dramatically enhanced her station by giving up the spies. She chose not to, at potentially a great expense to herself.
Second, she had already thrown in her lot with God. She knew that to betray the spies meant working against God, and it’s clear from her later statements that she didn’t want to be fight against Jehovah.
Conveniently, both of these points are seen in the story of Achan (Joshua 7). In this story, Achan takes a few items that he wasn’t entitled to, which causes God to punish the Israelites by making them lose the battle of Ai.
He lied (by not admitting his sin) to save his own skin, and in the process, worked against God and His people.
As a general rule of thumb, you always want to work with God, rather than against Him. Achan chose not to, whereas Rahab committed to Him no matter the cost.
In Acts 5:9, Peter gives us a major insight as to Ananias and Sapphira’s thinking:
“Why have you decided together to put the Lord to the test?”Acts 5:9
At this point, you have to wonder: Did they really not think God would find out about their lie? Did they not think He would care?
This type of posture shows that they were essentially trying to make a mockery of God by challenging His omniscience and authority. If they could flaunt his church for their own gain, what’s to stop them (and others) from doing the same?
“Testing God” places us in the driver’s seat of our relationship with God, where we are the ones that are in control and God needs to prove Himself to us. It’s the inverse of what God was trying to achieve with Abraham when He asked him to sacrifice his son. Would Abraham do it, and thus demonstrate his faithfulness, or would he falter?
When we “test God,” we’re demanding God demonstrate His faithfulness, which isn’t how this relationship works.
You see this also in the Israelites at the waters of Massah and Meribah. After they had wandered a ways, they issue a challenge to God: “Did He bring us out here to die of thirst?” Their implicit argument was that despite the fact that God had brought them out of Egypt, carried them all this way, that He still didn’t really care for them in the end, and would rather watch them die than give them water to drink.
Or, even worse, that God wasn’t capable of providing for them.
Before we test God and His faithfulness, we should take a long look at the promises that He’s made and kept. We’ll see, if we’re honest, that He’s batting a thousand. Every single one of his promises has come true, and the ones that haven’t will be fulfilled in the future.
Ananias and Sapphira tried to make a mockery of God by openly flaunting His rules and leveraging His people for their own gain. Anyone with a modicum of respect for God wouldn’t have dared try that.
Do we?Last modified: September 5, 2023