The Consequences of Deceit

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!

About Online Interactions

You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. You must stay away from people like that. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NLT)

Is it just me or do people seem angrier and more polarized these days?

Two hallmark characteristics of Christianity are love and forgiveness. Jesus raised the bar by telling us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to forgive others an unlimited number of times (Matthew 18:22). Yet even among Christians it’s sometimes difficult to see these qualities of Jesus expressed.

Social media, in particular, has contributed to an environment where it’s easy to argue with and even slander others with whom we disagree. If you spend any amount of time on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor, you’ll quickly see conversations devolve into the equivalent of a digital junior high food fight. It often seems as if kindness and civil discourse no longer exist. We can often fall into the trap of arguing with others to prove our point.

Alan Jacobs, in a 2017 blog post (https://blog.ayjay.org/vengeance/) warned about the dangers of vengeance and vindictiveness online:

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors.

Paul’s words to Timothy are especially relevant to us today. Given the environment in our culture and on digital platforms, it’s often easier to look like the people Paul describes than the people Jesus invites us to be.

Reflection

In what ways do you find yourself mirroring the people Paul describes?

What would help you to maintain the loving and forgiving posture of Jesus in your interactions with others?

As we enter 2021, my prayer is for an extra measure of self-control so my  engagements with others will be seasoned with grace, love and kindness!

A Wise Person Thinks About Death?

A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume. In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born. It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now.  – Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 (NLT)

At first glance, this passage seems kind of morbid. How in the world is it better to spend time at funerals than festivals? Who in their right mind likes going to funerals? With all that’s going on in the world, why would I want to intentionally think about death?

At closer inspection, this passage has profound wisdom that is especially appropriate as we begin a new year.

The author might have communicated his point in a different way, by inviting you to ask yourself this question: when you get to the end of your life, what do you want to be true of you? Or to put it another way, how do you want to be eulogized by others?

The fool only thinks about the here and now (verse 4) and what kind of fun they can have (festivals). But the wise person thinks about what kind of person they want to become (their reputation) and what will be said about them by others when they die.

As we embark on another year, it’s only natural to think about the things you want to accomplish in the coming year. Perhaps you want to lose weight and get healthy. Or maybe you want to advance in your profession or develop yourself educationally.

It’s ok to set material and professional goals but don’t neglect your character and your reputation. The wise person realizes that this is the most important area to think about and reflect on.

What steps can you take this year to move toward becoming the kind of person you want to ultimately be known as? What resources do you need to help you get there?

If you’re a Young Adult, contact us about coaching and other resources that can help you grow and develop in all areas of your life.

Here’s to a Happy and blessed New Year!