Acts: Lying to the Holy Spirit – Hypocrisy in the Church

Read: Acts 4:36-5:11

The story of Ananias and Sapphira are a vivid contrast to the euphoria surrounding the birth of the new church. Up to this point, we are given a great sense of unity and joy filling every gathering of the apostles and hundreds of new believers (over 5,000 from the latest report). The harmony in which they lived is something we desperately seek, definitely a beautiful picture of faith that seems elusive in today’s modern businesslike church.

Barnabas is introduced with little fanfare, almost as a “by-the-way” kind of sentiment:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:36-37

No big deal, right? Just an example of another heartfelt donation to the church. Barnabas was highlighted for selling what appears to be one of his properties and offering it to the disciples, to the church. There was no requirement to sell every field he owned, for all we know this was one of many, but what he sold for the church was offered to the church — 100 percent.

Was it pride?

This didn’t seem like a big deal. No bands were assembled, no song was written to honor Barnabas, but were people looking with envy? We know from the ensuing narrative throughout Acts that Barnabas was a man of great character. His action here is no surprise looking back. What I’m wondering about was the true character and nature of this couple. Were Ananias and Sapphira a threat to the church? If their approach to superficial giving was allowed, would this undermine the church that Jesus began with His small group of disciples?

Perhaps Peter’s ears were still ringing with the lengthy discourses from Jesus on actions by the Pharisees that He did not tolerate. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he saw through the hypocritical actions of Ananias:

Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied just to human beings but to God. Acts 5:3-4

Results of Lying to the Holy Spirit

Luke makes sure we know there was no doubt Ananias and Sapphira were intentionally withholding some of the money. We don’t see the entire dialog, but I’m sure he had ample opportunity to change his story. He did not.

he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Acts 5:5

Three hours later Sapphira enters and the same questions are asked by Peter along with the same result.

Ananias and Sapphira both died as a result of their selfish actions. Whatever the full motivation, what we know is that they intentionally tried to deceive the church, not just Peter, and the leadership team.

Fear in the Community of Faith

The sudden deaths have an immediate impact on the community of believers.

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. Acts 5:11

Some commentators like to point out that where there is strong discipline for actions the community gets stronger. While I’m not disagreeing with that concept, immediate death is a bit beyond rebuking poor behavior or self-righteous attitudes. This is a “touching the cart” (2 Samuel 6:1–7) moment that is difficult to understand. I’m not about to deny that God has a right to remove any of us at any time, but I’m also not going to sit here and say that I completely understand.

Results

Tomorrow we’ll explore what happens to the church as a result. Spoiler alert: the church continues to grow like crazy. Given these results, perhaps we should begin to public execute liars, right? Hmmmm. Probably not.

Perhaps we should look critically at the superficiality that plagues the body of Christ in organizations we call churches. The local church cannot be healthy by accepting half-hearted gifts from its people. This includes time, talents, and resources. To move beyond the checklist mentality, we have to build deep relationships based on sincere transparency.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I believe that if Ananias and Sapphira had real friends, true brothers and sisters in Christ, they would not have made the critical error in the presence of Peter. They had no accountability and therefore paid the ultimate price.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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