075. Why was God so hard on Ananias and Sapphira?

Message 75 of 79 in the series BuildingUp

While the Bible does not give us a definitive answer as to why God chose to do this, there are some clues in the text that will help us understand this passage and how we can apply it to our own lives.

075. Why was God so hard on Ananias and Sapphira?

Series: BuildingUp (75 of 79)By David McConnell

Podcast BuildingUp August 20, 2021

Audiences: General

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, 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 breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Expand Passage …
Acts 5:1-11, ESV

075. Why was God so hard on Ananias and Sapphira?

In Acts 5 we find one of the most mysterious, even frightening passages in all of the New Testament. A story about members of the early church who lie to God and the LORD immediately deals with them and they perish. While the Bible does not give us a definitive answer as to why God chose to do this, there are some clues in the text that will help us understand this passage and how we can apply it to our own lives.

Audio Transcript

Hi everyone. Welcome into Episode Number 75 of the BuildingUp podcast. I’m David McConnell. As always, thank you guys for being with us. I’m the lead pastor of Agape Church in Pinson if you’d like to learn more about our ministry, please visit us on our website agapepinson.com. That’s A-G-A-P-E pinson dot com. Also, if you’d like to send in a topic for a future episode of this podcast, maybe a question you have about faith, or the Christian life or even a question you have about a Bible passage, you can email us buildingup@agapepinson.com. We’d love to know that you’re out there that you’re listening to the show. We’d love to hear from you and also, perhaps you will have a question that’ll become a future episode topic.

All right. This week, we’re dealing with a question that came in from a listener and they wanted to talk about Acts chapter five, one of the most mysterious, even frightening stories in all of the New Testament a story about a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. And their question was this. Why was God harder on Ananias and Sapphira than other people in the New Testament whom he showed much grace to when they sinned?

Alright, so if you know the story we’re gonna look at in just a moment, but Ananias and Sapphira sin by lying to God and lying to the church, and God immediately deals with them in that sin and they both perish. And so this question of why did God do that? Why did God discipline or judge them immediately in their sin rather than show them Grace? As he did so many other people in the New Testament when they sinned? What was the difference? What was happening in this story?

I think that’s a great question. It is probably the primary question people have when they read this text. So exactly what is happening? And what can we learn from it? And I’m going to tell you up front, I’m not going to give you a definitive answer to that question, because quite simply, the Bible just doesn’t tell us why God did what he did. But I do think there are some clues in the text that we can look at that will be helpful for us, not only in understanding more of what was happening in this passage, but also how we can apply it to our own lives.

So if you have a Bible, please go to Acts 5. But to look at this, we’re going to start actually in Acts 4, because I want us to get the context of what is happening because that’s going to be really important to the story. So please understand that when we read this passage, this is happening in the early days of the church. This is probably just a few months after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to heaven of Jesus Christ. So this is very early in the church. Within a year of Jesus’s ascension, this story is taking place.

And so what we learn from Acts 4:32-34 is a picture of that early church. And that is that it was filled with the power of God. Luke, who wrote Acts says that all of the people who believed and were a part of the church were of one heart and soul. They had unity. So much so that none of them claimed that their possessions were simply theirs. But they were willing to share their possessions with other people — other people in the church to make sure that they had enough, as a matter of fact, the people in the church who owned land or houses, which was a really big deal back then they were selling their land and selling their houses and they were bringing the profits, the money, to the church and laying it at the feet of the Apostles so the apostles could then take it and distribute it to poor people in the church who didn’t have anything. That’s the type of unity that was happening in this early church. And Luke says that this church was operating with great power, that the apostles were teaching about Jesus, and it was growing in great grace was upon all of the church.

So we have this beautiful, magnificent picture of this early group of believers. This church that really hasn’t left this primary location yet. That church is walking in the power and the anointing of Jesus. It is walking in God’s Spirit. They are loving each other. They are of one heart and one mind, and so much that they’re radically selling their possessions and giving the money to the church so that it can be distributed so that nobody in the entire church would be in any kind of need.

So that’s the framework of where we get to Acts 5, and I’m just going to read what happens next. Beginning in verse 1.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, 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 breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Expand Passage …
Acts 5:1-11, ESV

You can kind of see listening to the story, why it actually seems a little out of place in the New Testament, a little out of place in this picture of Acts of the church, and the grace and the glory and the patience of God, working its way into people’s lives and bringing salvation.

So what’s going on here? First of all, I think it’s important to say that the sin issue in this story is not that they didn’t give all their money to the church, Peter made it clear that land was yours, Ananias, you could do whatever you wanted to with it. And even after you sold it, like it was at your disposal, like you could have done whatever you wanted to with that money. You could have brought a third of it to the church, you could have brought a half of it to the church, you could oh kept it all for yourself.

The issue was not that Ananias only gave part of the money to the church. What is inferred here is that Ananias only gave part of the money to the church, but he said he was giving all of it to the church. What that tells us is that Ananias wanted recognition. He wanted to be known as a generous person. He wanted to be thought well of in the community, or at least among the leaders of the church. He wanted to be seen in a good light, yet he didn’t actually want to sacrifice all that he had. So he told them, I sold the land, and here’s all the money so that they would think well of him. But in actuality, he was keeping some of it for himself, because he didn’t want to sacrifice all that he had.

This is pride. And that pride would have been divisive in the church. It would have been the opposite of the spirit that was working in that early church that was causing everyone to have unity, and love, and sacrifice for one another. So this was going to be a problem, a big sin, that if it permeated the church, and it grew in the church, it was going to divide and conquer that church.

We don’t know much about it. Ananias and Sapphira. We don’t actually know if they were true believers, that passage that says, Satan filled your heart to lie. Some people think that means Satan was in them, and therefore they were pretending to be Christians, but they really weren’t. But that text could also mean that they were tempted or influenced by Satan, so they could have actually been believers. If they were unbelievers, God judged them in that moment in their sin. If they were believers, God disciplined them in that moment. Which means he brought them home to Jesus. But they were disciplined in their death. We don’t know which one it is.

But we do know that God moved swiftly to deal with them. So swiftly that this story stands out in the New Testament, it seems unique. And it causes us to ask the question, why was God so hard on them? When he seems to show grace to other people when they sin? Let me say that we could flip that question around. It might actually be helpful. We could say, Why does God show us so much grace when we deserve for him to be really hard with us? And the reason that I pose the question that way is just to remind us that God doesn’t owe us grace. He doesn’t owe us patience. He offers it to us as a free gift in Jesus, but God is always just in what he does. And sin, if God chooses to deal with it swiftly in discipline or judgment, he is right in doing that, because he’s a good judge. We don’t deserve grace. And when God shows it to us, we should always ask, Wow, why is God so gracious to me, when I deserve for him to be really hard with me?

But it still is worth asking what happened in Acts 5? Why did God choose to do this? And again, as I said earlier, the Bible doesn’t tell us. But I think two important verses need to be mentioned. First of all, chapter 5, verse 3.

But Peter said Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. You know, in the Bible, not every sin is accounted to Satan. Certainly, Satan tries to get people to sin. He uses the world and the temptation of man to try and get them to do wrong things. But ultimately, ultimately man is responsible for what they did. So it’s interesting, Peter used this language. And it shows Satan was at work, whether they were unbelievers or believers that Satan was tempting. Either way, this was his influence. Satan was trying to get into this early church. This church that was walking in so much power and so much love. And so much unity was about to explode all over the globe. The gospel was about to move out of this region, and it was going to spread to brand new places. And this small group of believers in this small part of the world, they were getting ready to be a part of a global movement of the gospel. And Satan wanted to stop that.

He wanted to divide and conquer the church. He wanted to introduce pride. The same pride that it caused Adam and Eve to fall, he wanted to divide the church. And so he was working to infiltrate and overcome the Spirit of God in the move of God and what was happening in that body of believers. And God intervened, he would not let Satan accomplish his work. And the result, according to verse 11, the result of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was a great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

And we talked about in our last episode, the fear of the Lord. And that while perfect love casts out fear of condemnation for Christians, there is still a constructive use as a constructive reason, excuse me, for the fear of the Lord, it’s actually good for us to have a healthy fear of the Lord. It is a constraining influence in our lives. It helps us to live rightly to pursue God rightly. We know it’s the Holy Spirit in us that is sanctifying us and changing us and we’re growing in holiness because of the Spirit. But God still uses the fear of the Lord as a constructive and effective influence in the lives of his people. To help them live holy and upright lives in this age.

And so at a time where the church was experiencing great power, and the enemy was trying to infiltrate that church and create division, God judged or disciplined, Ananias and Sapphira, and the result was a fruitful, constructive, effective fear of the Lord. That no doubt helped constrain the church and show them the importance of unity and the importance of staying away from sin. And even other people who heard these things were brought under the fear of the Lord. Maybe even unto salvation.

So while we don’t know exactly why God did what he did, we don’t know the background of their lives. Look, maybe Ananias and Sapphira had been doing something like this for a very long time. And maybe this was, you know, they had been using God’s patience to continue to sin. And Gods simply said, no more. That’s complete speculation on my part because the Bible doesn’t tell us. But what I do know is this was a unique time in the life of the church, there was a unique move of God that was happening. And Satan was trying to stop it and God moved to thwart the enemy, judge or discipline these individuals, and bring a constructive fear of the Lord upon the whole church.

What do we take away from this? I think we have to remember sin is serious. In our own lives today, right now, sin is a serious thing. And we need to deal with it through confession and repentance. We also should strive for this unity and love and power in our own churches. And we should watch out for the work of the enemy in our own lives, that would cause us to be prideful in such a way that would introduce division into the church. I’m not saying God would deal with us the same way He did with Ananias and Sapphira. I’m simply saying it’s worth us heeding the seriousness of these things. God wants us to live in unity and love for one another. That is where we experience His power, His fruit, and we see the move of the gospel. And that’s what we want in our church and in our community.

I hope this has been helpful for you as we’ve answered this Bible question or at least tried to give some answers around this Bible question. If you have further thoughts on this or if you want to ask more questions about it, please email me using the address I gave you earlier. If you found this helpful, share it with other people on social media, and please go to iTunes, give us a review. That will help people find the show. Thank you for being with us today. Until next time, Grace and peace to your family.

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