God’s immediate judgement upon Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most feared passages in Holy Scripture (Acts 5:1-11). The couple sold a piece of land and claimed to have donated all the proceeds to the church. When questioned, they persisted in their deception, and both were struck down by God before the apostles’ feet.
It is a terrifying read, but to fully understand what is going on in these verses we need to approach them within the wider context of the previous chapter (Acts 4:32-37). By stepping back, we can see that Luke is showing the disparity between the damned couple and the believers who were ‘one in heart and mind’ and ‘shared all that they had’. We also see there was no obligation to sell property and give all the proceeds to the church. All members retained the right to private ownership, but because of God’s great blessing, they felt compelled to support the work, resulting in extravagant gifts from time to time.
Let us be clear: Ananias and Sapphira’s swift judgement was not because of the amount that they gave. If they prayerfully gave a proportion of the proceeds to God’s work, the church would have accepted the gift gratefully. But instead, Ananias and Sapphira presented the donation to the church as the full sum of money obtained from the sale, while keeping some of the proceeds back for themselves. They deceived the Holy Spirit.
Luke places the judgement of Ananias and Sapphira straight after informing us about Joseph the Levite (Acts 4:36-37). This is no coincidence. We are told that Joseph the Levite (Barnabas) also sold a piece of land and brought the funds to the church. We can safely assume that this exchange was completed in good conscience. Barnabas did not suffer the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira and was subsequently used by God. In light of this tragic comparison within the narrative we see the crux of the issue that damned Ananias and Sapphira, it was pride.
Ananias and Sapphira were trying to buy position within the church. Through deceit, they conspired together to gain standing among God’s people, they wanted to be seen as special, compared to Barnabas, so they presented their gift in much the same way.
I know from experience such dirty tactics do work very well in the world; a false sense of sincerity mixed with pride can get you places. But as we have read in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, this attitude does not work in the church.
The church is not a business that you can work your way up, serving the Lord is not a promotion. The church is not a social club where the biggest donors receive greater privileges. The church is the bride of Christ; we are all sinners that He has redeemed. As we meet, we are to leave our pride at the door and submit humbly to Jesus as one people.
In their pride, Ananias and Sapphira were willing to share in God’s blessing and in the generosity of others, but in their bid for position they withheld worldly riches for themselves. As a result, God judged them immediately, and this historical event (yes it really did happen) should challenge us as we battle with the pride that exists within ourselves.
This haunting tale can also encourage us as we are reminded that God protects His church from those who use worldly tactics to gain position within it. The couple were judged accordingly for their pride and ambition. We can also thank God that He continues to raise up leaders like Barnabas for His people, humble servants who do not rely on themselves (pride) but solely on the Power of God, giving all to His work, for His Glory.