1There was also a man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2He brought part of the money to the apostles, but he claimed it was the full amount. His wife had agreed to this deception. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God.” 5As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6Then some young men wrapped him in a sheet and took him out and buried him. (Acts 5:1-6, NLT)
I don’t know about you but I’ve read this story dozens, if not hundreds of times over the years and I always thought the punishment seemed kind of extreme. I mean, I know God doesn’t like lying, but to see these two fall dead for their deceit always seemed a bit extreme (Verses 7-10 tell of a similar fate for Sapphira).
My standard explanation has always been the idea that God is really holy and any sin is deserving of death. We really can’t be surprised when peole get what they actually deserve. Theologically, that’s true, but we don’t tend to see the consequences of lying play out this way normally. Perhaps there is more at play here.
So what’s going on?
A few thoughts:
- The sin was not in selling the property or even keeping part of the proceeds. Peter says that the land was theirs to sell or not sell as they saw fit. The sin was deceiving others regarding how much they gave (see Acts 5:2).
- They (Ananias and Sapphira) wanted to give the impression that they gave everything when they really didn’t. This is religious charlatanism. It is projecting an outer image that doesn’t match what is really true.
- If you read through the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spoke of this often with the Pharisees. He often pointed out their hypocrisy and the true nature of their heart condition. So it’s not surprising that this kind of attitude and religious impressionism is dealt with swiftly in the early church.
Honestly, it’s much easier to object to the outcome of the story as being unjust instead of reflecting on my own heart and thinking about the myriad of ways in which I do the same thing. The truth is, we all want to be liked and it’s very easy to stretch the truth or bend the facts of my situation in order to make myself look better to others. This is what John Ortberg calls “impression management.”
In what ways are you tempted to make yourself look better to others than you are?
What are the areas in your life where you struggle to present your real self?
What is keeping you from sharing your real struggles and honest thoughts with those closest to you?
I’m thankful that this story is not normative of how the Lord responds to those who engage in the sin of deceit, for I know if that were the case, I would’ve been hauled out in a wrapped up sheet long ago!