Tuesday, October 16

Lessons from Ananias and Sapphira

Scripture: Malachi 3-4, Psalm 148, Acts 5


The story of Ananias and Sapphira intrigues me on several levels.

First, this passage (Acts 4:32-5:11) has been used as proof that the early church was communistic.  However, the passage clearly refutes that idea.  “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common.” (Acts 4:32)  That sounds communistic: no private property, all property held for the common good.  But in the story of A & S, Peter says, “Wasn’t it (their property) yours while you possessed it?  And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal?”  Clearly, the property and the proceeds from its sale belonged to A & S and they were free to keep it, give all of it or part of it as they decided.  In communism, the state holds all property supposedly for the common good; the individual has no claim on the property.  In the early church, individuals owned property, but willingly shared it for the common good.  This wasn’t communism; it’s Christian generosity, which is not enforced top down, but offered bottom up.

But if that’s true, why were A & S punished?  (Sounds like top down enforcement!)  

Second, they were punished for lying to God.  The punishment had nothing to do with the amount they gave or kept—they were free to give all of it or none of it with impunity.  The problem wasn’t what they gave, but that they lied about it.  They lied to Peter and to the church—but that equated to lying to God!  Notice that when Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, He asked, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  (Acts 9:4)  Saul had never persecuted Jesus—just His followers.  But to persecute them was to persecute Jesus.  “What you do for the least of these…you do for Me.”  (Matthew 25:40)  What we do to Jesus’ followers, we are doing to Jesus.  And in this case, A & S agreed to lie to Peter and the church, and so, to God.  

But what motivated them?

Third, this seems to be a tragic case of image management.  The only motivation I can imagine for keeping part of the proceeds but claiming to give the whole thing is image management: to look good before people.  They wanted to appear better, more generous than they really were.  Sadly, if they had simply been honest about what they gave, they would have looked good—what they did was very generous.  They didn’t need to pad their stats!  But their image management had tragic consequences.


First, I want to view everything I have as belonging to God to be used as He directs for the common good.  (A friend recently told me that he was considering cashing in his retirement and using it to help a needy friend.  “It’s God’s money and He’ll take care of me.”  I have to admit that I was stunned…and nervous!)

Second, I want to make sure I treat everyone as if they were Jesus!

Third, I want to abandon my image management and care more about the reputation of Jesus and the good of others.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for this challenging passage.  Help me…especially with the image management which is always an issue for me.