Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” 5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.
Acts 5:7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is really quite disturbing because the punishment was so severe. The young fledgling church was developing and people were sharing all they had for the community of believers. Ananias and Sapphira were ambitious individuals and wanted to be viewed as eminent disciples. They assumed a public posture which would gain them prominence among the believers.
As a part of the believing community they made the appearance of offering themselves wholeheartedly as living sacrifices to Jesus Christ and the church. When they sold their land they declared that the entire amount was God’s and thus sacred. It now belonged to God and to the community. By lying about what they had done they sinned against God and they stole from the entire community of faith. They were not forced to sell their land, nor were they forced to give all the money that they made. They had chosen from their own free will to appear to give generously. Somehow they did not realize that their commitment in and of itself was a promise and so in holding back the money, they were stealing from God’s sacred treasury.
The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira was huge and damaging. They wanted to appear as if they were great disciples when in fact, they were not disciples at all. It was all a charade for their hearts were not truly transformed. This serves as a warning to the church, for those who carry the name of Christian, that they must be the same inside and out. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not an image that we simply desire to carry, but we are to bear within us the very likeness of Jesus Christ who is the visible image of God. Both Ananias and Sapphira died because of the seriousness of their hypocrisy and the damage which they were doing to the entire community of faith.
We have always been a family that has listened to, read or watched the news. Researchers tell us that third-culture kids see the news in 3-D. In other words, it is incredibly real to people like me who have lived in multiple cultures because we see the reality of the news and it’s not just something happening “over there.” As a child I could never understand why, when I listened to the news, they would say that the Christians and the Jews are fighting. Or, the Protestants and the Catholics are at war. From what I had heard about Jesus from family devotions and Sunday School this kind of language was simply incongruous with what I was learning. If you were truly a Christian, you couldn’t be at war with another Christian! Or, so it seemed.
What Ananias and Sapphira did would have tarnished the reputation of the entire fledgling community of faith. Their corruption was not just individual but had the possibility of much more widespread corruption corporately. Having presented their bodies publicly as living sacrifices to Jesus Christ and then living as hypocrites was simply sacrilege. They had united with the holy and were now potentially contaminating that which was holy with the unholy. By their action they paved the way for their own deaths because the unholy cannot live in communion with the holy. The holiness of Christ has the power to destroy all that is evil. Hypocrisy is when we try to unite evil with God’s holiness and the result is amazingly destructive.
We have all experienced the destructive power of hypocrisy within our own lives. When Pastors and church leaders speak one way but then act another we are deeply disappointed. We expect there to be consistency throughout. That which is said outwardly is to be lived inwardly. Christianity does not begin and end on a Sunday. Christianity is lived day in and day out in relationship with family, friends and coworkers. Anything short of this may condemn us to the same judgment as Ananias and Sapphira, for if we pledge on Sunday that we are living sacrifices to Jesus Christ but then hold back during the week, we are stealing from his holy treasury. We committed to be entirely his and to give all that we have and all that we are to him. It is hypocrisy to say this with our mouths and not live it out daily in our actions.
The community of faith grew rapidly in those early days and I believe that it will again when God’s people commit themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord on a daily basis. There is not much worse than hypocrisy; for the individual, for the community of faith and for Christ’s witness in this world.
Lord, please help my life to genuinely reflect you in all things. Amen.
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