But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Understanding And Applying the Text
This story follows on the right on the heels of Luke saying church members cared for each other. None of them were in need. He even gives the story of Barnabas selling land and bringing it to the apostles.
It did not take long for Satan to infiltrate the church. As He had done in the garden, he brought lies and death and fear to the church.
Careful note should be made of how Luke introduces Ananias, “But a man named Ananias…” It is certain Ananias was not a believer. All believers were of one heart and of one soul. It may be he came intending to offer himself for baptism.
What was Ananias’ and his wife’s motive to lie to God? The scripture does not say.
Ananias had seen the gratitude Barnabas received. Barabas sold some land and brought the proceeds to the church. The whole church admired him for this selfless act.
Here is how I see Barnabas justifying himself.:
“I could sell a piece of land. And I could give some of the money to the church. They don’t have to know how much I sold the land for. If I tell them I am giving it all, they’ll never know. Besides, it is my money and I can do what I want with it. It’s actually beneficial for everyone that they believe I’m giving the whole amount. First, they’re better off then if I don’t give anything. Second, they’ll feel more loved and cared for, if they believe it’s the whole amount. Third, by keeping some back I could give more later. That way they’ll feel that same sense of being loved again. Yeah, this is the right thing to do.”
Ananias was not condemned for giving only a part of the proceeds of the sale. God condemned Him for lying to God.
He may have justified it in his mind. But he knew what he was doing was wrong. He had contempt for God. There would have been virtue in giving half to the church. But that is not what Ananias did. He withheld what he claimed was holy. He had no respect for God’s judgment. The sacrifice of wicked men are an abomination to God. (Proverbs 15:8)
Christ made more of two mites offered by a widow than of the large sums given by others. (Luke 241:2)
Ananias was trying to buy a reputation from men. Well, he got a reputation. But it is not a good one. And it is one the whole church remembers through history.
Ananias and his wife died for their hypocrisy. I do not believe there is any other sin that is so universally hated. The world scorns Christians for hypocrisy. Even convicted felons despise the hypocrisy of a corrupt police officer. Yet there is also no sin which is more universal.
Peter pointed out Ananias did not need to lie. The land was his to do with as he desired. After he sold the land the money was his. He could do whatever he wanted with the money. He could have given only part of it. If he had done so, the church would have appreciated it. But no, he decided to lie.
Ananias thought he lied only to men. This is evident by Peter’s statement “You have not lied to man but to God.” He lied to the church. In lying to the church he lied to God. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20).
Some think this was too cruel a punishment. This is because we weigh Ananias’ sin against our own, not against God’s holiness. They believe Ananias’ sin was a minor infraction rather than the crime it was.
So, why doesn’t God strike us all dead? We have all committed offenses like Ananias. One word explains it, “mercy.” Why does God show us mercy and not Ananias? First realized mercy comes through grace. It has nothing to do with you or me. God will show mercy on whomever He decides to show mercy. He will withhold mercy from whomever He decides to withhold mercy. (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15) God gives His mercy by His grace. You cannot earn grace. (Romans 11:6).
So, do not try to find the great wickedness in Ananias that is so much worse than yours. Thank God for His mercy. Repent of your wickedness and rely on the promises of Christ for forgiveness. (John 6:37,40,47)