Ananias and Sapphira: Lies and Deceit


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Ananias and Sapphira

Acts 5: 1-10

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’

Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

  • Is it ever right or acceptable to tell a lie?
  • Is lying ever justified?
  • Is there any circumstance in which lying (“falsehood”) is preferable to telling the truth?
  • Have you ever told a deliberate lie? Would you like to share the details with us all!

Indeed, what exactly IS “a lie”? What IS “lying”?

  • One definition of a lie is “the intent to deceive”… so that the lie comes as much from what you don’t say, as what you do say!

The issue of lying and truthfulness is not always straightforward… Consider these situations:

Scenario 1

Your best friend confides in you that he has been told that he’s got a terminal illness and insists that you say nothing to his wife, who has a weak heart. Later that week, you bump into the man’s wife in the supermarket.

“I’m worried about my husband. He doesn’t look himself lately but tells me that he’s fine. He hasn’t said anything to you, has he?”

How should you reply without lying or deceiving the man’s wife?

Scenario 2

A man with a history of violence approaches you and asks if you know the whereabouts of his ex-wife. You do know but suspect that he means to harm her and the children. How should you answer?

Less seriously and more commonly…

  1. Your lady asks you if her new dress makes her look fat! It does! How should you answer her?
  2. Someone takes you out for a meal— the food tastes horrible. Afterwards, he asks you if you enjoyed it!
  3. Your eight-year-old son (or grandson) asks if Santa Claus is real!
  4. You try to organise a surprise party for a relative and have to “spin a yarn” to him/her about what is happening to deflect suspicion!

Now some trickier ones…

  • An unwanted visitor comes to the door… and you hide in the back room and pretend you’re out! (Deceit!)
  • Your boss’s wife telephones the office to speak to him … You pick up the ‘phone … He scribbles on a notepad, “Tell her, I’m not here
  • Someone desperate for employment puts a false qualification down on an application form to enhance his chances of being appointed!

~ I once interviewed a man for a position as a teacher, who also needed to speak French… but it quickly became obvious that he couldn’t! He did not get the job.

~ On the other hand, a friend’s son put down on the application form that he had passed his mathematics exam … but it wasn’t true! The employer did not check and he got the job.

The issue of MOTIVE is of central importance…

  • Someone may lie for personal gain… but someone else may lie to help a friend avoid pain or distress
  • Someone may deceive another person to protect the person from harm … but someone else may deceive to do damage

So…

  • Is lying wrong, full stop!
  • Is deception wrong, full stop!
  • Or are there occasions when it is acceptable, even desirable to tell a lie or to deceive another person?

Are there categories of lies?

  • Big lies… little white lies… bad lies… good lies?
  • Or perhaps deliberate lies … and unintended lies?
  • Or premeditated lies … and lies that ‘just slip out’?

IN TODAY’S READING, we have a very difficult situation to understand and interpret… the deaths of two early disciples, Ananias and Sapphira because they withheld money from the Apostles

What do we make of it all?

The Background:

  1. The early church witnessed miraculous healings… including a man of more than 40 years of age, lame since birth
  2. Peter and John were jailed for preaching about Jesus and ‘tried’ before the Sanhedrin (religious council)
  3. The church grew to about 5000 men
  4. Peter and John were warned to stop their preaching and released from jail
  5. During a subsequent prayer meeting, the house was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly
  6. Possessions were pooled and distributed evenly
  7. Joseph (also called Barnabas), a Levite from the island of Cyprus, sold a field and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for use in the work.
  8. Then we have the episode involving Ananias and Sapphira

Note that there are three main characters… Ananias, Sapphira and the Apostle Peter…

  • Peter’s role in the episode is often overlooked
  • He discerned that the couple were lying and behaving deceitfully
  • Peter must have been given supernatural insight to have known what was going on and to pronounce God’s judgement

This message does not focus on Peter’s role … but please note the way in which God uses individuals and gives them spiritual discernment… something we should all be seeking

Two key questions arise from this Bible event:

  1. Did God kill Ananias and Sapphira or did they die of shock?
  2. What does it mean to “lie to the Holy Spirit”?

On the basis of the answers to these questions, two further questions:

  • What will happen to me if I lie to the Holy Spirit?
  • Will God end my life prematurely?

POINTS TO NOTE…

  1. Luke included this event in his account of the early church because it contains significant lessons for us…
  • They may be uncomfortable but they need to be taken seriously because God takes them seriously!
  1. There are instances in the Bible of deliberate lying that seems to be acceptable…
  • Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh about the birth of babies to save their lives (Exodus 1)…
  • Rahab lied about knowing the whereabouts of the spies (Joshua 2) …
  • Jeremiah lied to the court officials about discussing with the king the possibility of surrendering to the enemy (Jeremiah 38: 24-27)
  1. And deception is quite common throughout the Old Testament in one form or another
  • Jacob is possibly the most devious person in the Bible, yet God honours him and changes his name to “Israel”
  1. Telling a lie does not normally bring God’s wrath upon us, though He hates lying and a deceitful spirit….
  • Peter lied about knowing Jesus at the time of the crucifixion but Peter didn’t die!

So the issue of lying and deceit is not quite as straightforward as it might appear initially.

There are, however, three things we can state with confidence…

  1. It is God’s will and desire that we are as open, honest and transparent as possible
  • With the Holy Spirit’s help, we need to go beyond mere compliance with the ninth Commandment and make honesty as natural as breathing!

In fact, the 9th Commandment actually says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”, which is highly specific.

  • If we are walking in step with the Spirit, our nature will naturally become more like Jesus and we will become more truthful and open as a result.
  1. We need to look to Jesus, who was “without guile”… that is, without any trace of deceit or falsehood in his nature…
  • Jesus was gentle and patient with those who were genuine … but as fierce as a lion with those who were acting from wrong motives!
  1. As a rule, it is wrong to lie or to deceive others; but it is extremely serious to try and trick God or imagine that we can “manipulate” Him
  • Ananias and Sapphira learned that lesson the hard way!
  • They gave the impression of being followers of Jesus but their motives were highly suspect

They lied to the Holy Spirit in that, it seems, they believed that God is gullible… someone to be manipulated and deceived

But remember that SATAN is the Great Deceiver… the Accuser… the Father of Lies

  • To lie to God is to give your allegiance to Satan, not to God

Finally, compare and contrast two men of the same name… Ananias in Acts 5 and Ananias in chapter 9…

The Ananias in Chapter 5 was:

  • A member of the church
  • One of the early believers
  • Willing to give some of his money to the work of God

AND YET, sadly… he was also devious and untrustworthy…

His “reward” was premature death and becoming an object of fear for the early Christians

The Ananias in Chapter 9 was also:

  • A member of the church and one of the early believers… but he was faithful to God’s calling and obedient to His will (welcoming Saul into the community of believers)…

His reward was to see Saul become God’s Chief Apostle (Paul) and a pioneering missionary, as well as writing a large portion of what we now call The New Testament.

So what’s it to be? The Ananias of Chapter 5 or of Chapter 9?

ONE FINAL THOUGHT…

  • You might feel that Ananias and Sapphira paid an unreasonably heavy price for their “indiscretion”
  • Yet, we are reminded that without Christ at the centre of our lives, we are already “dead in trespasses and sins

THE END RESULT OF SEPARATION FROM GOD TODAY IS ETERNAL DEATH IN THE FUTURE!

 Being part of a fellowship is important

  • Turning up and participating in the church’s activities is good
  • Giving your money is commendable
  • But THESE THINGS are not sufficient of themselves to ensure your salvation

Don’t be a “convincing actor” … giving the appearance of sincerity but inwardly uncommitted … preferring what the world has to offer instead of putting your hope and trust in the Lord…

Why not make TODAY the day when you ‘come clean’ with God through submission to Christ and give yourself fully to Him.

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