(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This is not a passage that has much appeal to me. If I was not dealing sequential with the book of Acts I would ignore it. Ananias and Sapphira were not given the opportunity to repent. They were confronted by their sin and died immediately. The reasonable thing for Peter to have done was to return their money and expel them from the church. The severe treatment God meted out to Ananias and Sapphira is not easy to understand. However, like all Scripture, the first eleven verses of Acts chapter five are there for our guidance.

(B) The wrong committed. Ananias and Sapphira displeased God because:

    (a) The motive for their gift was bad.
    They had observed how Barnabas was honoured for selling a field and bringing the proceeds to the apostles. Perhaps, Barnabas the Son of Encouragement, was something of a favourite with the apostles. Ananias and Sapphira envied Barnabas because his generosity made him the centre of attention. He was appreciated by the leadership and may have been held up as an example by Peter. So they decided to do as Barnabas did and buy them selves into favour.

    It is hard to bear with the popularity of others. Children have been known to steal money to buy their way into favour with their peers. Popular teachers are not always loved by their colleagues and can be the victims of spite and vindictiveness. Some pastors do not cope well with the greater popularity of a neighbour and succumb to malicious gossip.

    (b) They gave less than they promised.
    It was wrong of Ananias and Sapphira to keep for themselves what they had promised to the church. It was a kind of theft. The Greek word translated in the NIV, 'kept for yourself', means to, 'misappropriate'. The only other time it is used in the New Testament it means, 'to steal'.

    It is easy to make promises to impress others. Whenever a pupil at school got sponsored for charity a few children would promise considerable sums - but never pay up. Christians, too, make promises to be well thought of. Two of the worst are: "I'll pray for you" and "I'll come to see you." The last promise is often broken and I have heard not a few say with bitterness, "So and so said that they would come and see me - but they never have."

    Never, never, make a promise you cannot keep. It robs people of their trust. See the football match. I used to get up staff cricket teams in the three schools at which I taught. It was only at the last that colleagues promised to play and then failed to turn up. I was disgusted.

    The worst thing we can do is to make God promises that we do not keep. God is neither impressed, nor can he be bribed to help us in times of trouble, by pledges we have no real intention of keeping. Paul says Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal6v7.

    (c) They were deceitful.
    Ananias and Sapphira wished to give the impression of being more generous than they were. They were even prepared to lie about it. Both husband and wife were acting false. They were hypocrites. Jesus hated hypocrisy more than most sins.

    Jesus provides advice on giving in Matt6v1to4 that Ananias and Sapphira did not heed. All Christians should try and act on the Master's words: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Mt6v1.

    (C) Why was the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira so severe?

    There is no doubt that the treatment of Ananias and Sapphira was extremely severe. It does not happen today! A church where anything of this sort did happen would soon be under investigation! I am not sure why God treated Ananias and Sapphira so harshly but I will make a few suggestions:

      (a) They held God in contempt.
      Ananias and Sapphira did not want other people to know about their duplicity but it did not matter to them that God knew. I suppose they thought it didn't matter that God knew. What was he going to do about it?

      I am afraid that is all some Christians care about - what others think. Each year I write an annual letter. I try and tell it as it is. Some of the things I write are not to my credit - but then some of my behaviour is discreditable. It is no good pretending we are better than we are. God knows all about us, and his is the opinion that counts.

      Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Mt10v28. Many Christians no longer retain a healthy respect for the Supreme Arbitor of their ultimate destiny.

      (b) They sinned against God.
      Jesus said in the parable of the Sheep and Goats: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Mt25v40. He also said: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Mt25v 45. When we lie to a fellow Christian we lie to Jesus and to his Father in heaven. Ananias and Sapphira were guilty, in particular, of offending against the Holy Spirit. It was God's Spirit that had kindled a unity of purpose and mutual love and helpfulness amongst the members in the Jerusalem church.

      (c) The behaviour of Ananias and Sapphira would undermine the early church if it became widespread.
      The tendencies that husband and wife exhibited are peculiarly destructive of the church:

        (1) They used the church for their own ends. They were on an ego trip. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to parade their generosity and thereby win popularity and gain power and influence. Many have made the same mistake since and have always done untold damage to the church as a consequence. People with wealth or talent are always in danger of using the church to enhance their own prestige. It is a tendency that needs to be carefully watched and checked.

        (2) They lacked openness. Ananias and Sapphira had a hidden agenda. They were like Judas - secretive and furtive. Judas wanted to use Jesus for his own ends and this led eventually to his betrayal of the Lord of Glory.

        As I have indicated before in these expositions - I dislike secretiveness. Jesus said to Nicodemus who came to him by night: "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." John3v20and21.

        Jesus had things out in the open with his disciples. If they were muttering behind his back and among themselves he confronted the issue. (See Mark9vs33to37.) It is wrong of us to hide things from our fellow Christians. Cliques, cabals, intriguing, plotting and manipulating are all of Satan. He it was who had a secret meeting with Eve where he asked the question, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat fruit from any tree from in the garden?'" Gen3v1. The serpent went on to assure Eve that if she ate of fruit of the tree that was in the middle of the garden, "You will not surely die." We all know where that first secret meeting led.

        (3) They played a part.
        Ananias and Sapphira were not genuine. False professors have through the centuries played havoc with the churches' witness and reputation. Nothing is more damaging to a cause than the enemy within. On this occasion God removed the rotten apples from the barrel. The dry rot in the house was detected early and ripped out.

    (D) Conclusion.

    God was severe at crucial periods in the history of his people. He was severe with the Israelites in the wilderness. He punished Achan and his whole family with the utmost rigour to teach Israel a lesson as they began the conquest of the Promised Land. God frightened and upset David when he struck down Uzzah for grabbing hold of the ark when the oxen stumbled. David was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem - but not in the way laid down in the law of Moses. It was being bumped along in an open cart! We read: Then David was angry because the LORD'S wrath had broken out against Uzzah. 2Sam6v8. David and his advisers needed to be taught a lesson. The ark was more than a talisman. Next time he moved it David did so according to regulations!

    So God, at the very outset of the church, warns men against presumption. He is warning about slackness and indiscipline. Luke writes: Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. v11.

    It is essential that the church puts its own house in order. There is a necessity for discipline within the church. I am afraid that many leaders do not like to exercise it and relatively few Christians are willing to accept it. As a schoolmaster I used to discipline my pupils day after day. It was the most demanding duty of my professional career and in the end I wearied of it. However, I never gave up. On the whole my pupils responded to discipline and did not bear me any ill will. In the end they usually accepted my authority. Such has not been my experience in the church. It is hard to discipline wayward Christians if their reaction is to leave to worship somewhere else.

    John Stott gives some good advice about church discipline in his thorough, sound but staid commentary on Acts. He writes: It is a good general rule that secret sins should be dealt with secretly, private sins privately, and only public sins publicly. Churches are also wise if they follow the successive stages taught by Jesus. (See Matt18v15to17.)