We come to the second half of Luke’s example of generosity in the early church. This half doesn’t end well like the previous example did. The reason is the heart of the giver not the gift itself.
Meet Ananias and Sapphira. They are land owners just like Joseph in our previous example. And like Joseph they sell their property and give the “proceeds” to the apostles for the use of the body. But unlike Joseph, they are deceitful in their giving.
Let’s start at the beginning. They were not required to sell their property and give the proceeds to the apostles. It was something that had become common among the believers but God had not commanded it. We aren’t told if the Spirit prompted them to do this or if they decided to do it because everyone else was. But we can see from their actions that they didn’t really want to give up their lifestyle completely. They had one foot in the church and the other in the world.
Ananias came to where Peter was and made a big show of giving all he had received from the sale to the church. I believe he would have been fine if he had let it be known that what he brought was not all he received. But instead he pretended he was giving all. Peter didn’t care about the amount of money he brought but the amount of his heart he brought instead.
Ananias wanted to be seen by man as generous. He wanted to look like all the rest of the new believers; all in for the good of the group. But he wasn’t. He was holding back his heart as well as his money. He knew the truth when he laid his gift at Peter’s feet. And so did the Holy Spirit.
The new church wouldn’t be destitute without all the proceeds Ananias received. But the deceit in Ananias’ heart made him destitute. His was an outward show without an inward change.
If we were dealt with so severely in today’s churches I bet they would be half empty. In the early church God had to set an exacting standard to erect a firm foundation for us to build upon. Ananias wasn’t punished for his gift but for his deceit. He was punished for lying to the Holy Spirit and putting on a pretense of belonging.
Hours later Sapphira comes looking for her husband. He was supposed to drop their “gift” off and then come home. She was wondering what had become of him. So she goes to the last place she knew he went; to where Peter was. She too perpetuated the same lie. And she too suffered the same result; instant death.
Sapphira was in on the whole scheme from the beginning. Peter knew the whole account because the Spirit revealed it to him. As the shepherd of Jesus’ new flock he was charged with protecting them. Peter didn’t have either of these people killed. He didn’t ask God to strike them dead and he didn’t tell the new believers to pick up stones and give them a “rock shower.” He left their fate in God’s hands.
God protected His Son’s new bride. He kept her pure so she could begin without the cancer of deceit. The new church wouldn’t remain without issues, as is evident in Paul’s address to the different churches but that day God dealt with that sin decisively. This example became well known and impacted how others would behave in the future. The church wasn’t just another social club but a body of believers who gave their hearts to God, fully and completely. They were accountable to Him for their actions and their motives.
I am not going to pretend to know these two people’s whole hearts. I wonder where they stood on the other side of eternity. We know their sin was found out but did they step into Jesus’ arms or receive a hot blast of “welcome” on the other side? Did they truly accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior or was it all for show? I find it hard to imagine anyone joining the church in the beginning for show since the government was out to squash it, permanently.
Father God, I KNOW I have lied in my past; to others, to myself, and surely to You too. I have not received the punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira. I deserve no better but You gave me mercy instead. I believe that if they would have come clean they would have been restored to fellowship. I also recognize the need for a strong foundation to be laid on which to build Your church. Without that the whole building is unsound. I know You still hold us accountable for our actions and motives today but I’m SO glad I have had more time to get mine in order than they did.
Please forgive me for my sins Lord Jesus; especially those that endanger others who are watching me. I am NO expert on You word and never want to draw others into errors. I believe this is where You have taken me today but if I have hurt another’s walk with You because of my actions/words, PLEASE remedy it Lord. I only want YOUR truths to shine through. Help me show Your love in all I say and do. Again I pray that You create in me a clean heart Lord.