A HARD LESSON

Scripture Reading:  Acts 4:36-5:11

“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.’” (Acts 5:3,4)

One of the characteristics of the early church was the generosity that believers showed to one another:  “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (4:34,35).  These early Christians so appreciated all God had done for them that they willingly sold their possessions to provide for the needs of other fellow believers.  They joyfully served one another and welcomed opportunities to share what they had.

Barnabas was an example of the love and generosity that characterized these early believers (4:36,37).  He sold a tract of land and laid the money at the feet of the apostles.  The apostles appropriately named him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.”  Barnabas willingly gave his possessions out of his love for Christ and his love for fellow believers.

In stark contrast to Barnabas, Luke tells us about another couple in the church — Ananias and Sapphira.  Up to this point in the development of the early church, things were going very well.  However, these new believers had to learn a hard lesson.  Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of land but they kept back some of the money for themselves.  Nothing was wrong with doing this.  They were free to give what they wanted to give.  But they lied about it and pretended to give all the value of the land.  They were dishonest and deceitful.

Evidently the Holy Spirit revealed the deceit to Peter and he confronted Ananias with his sin (5:3,4).  God’s righteous judgment fell upon Ananias and he died (5:5,6).  Likewise, Peter confronted Sapphira with her sin (5:9) and she also lied to Peter and God’s judgment fell upon her (5:10).

Why was God’s judgment so severe upon this couple?  Ananias and Sapphira lied to God.  We may be able to fool other people but we cannot fool God.  And their sin was an offense against the spirit in which the early church was founded — the spirit of love, unity, sharing, and generosity.  This was a pivotal time in the development of the early church.  God used this incident to instill fear and reverence in the hearts of those early Christians.   “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard these things” (5:11).  

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I fail to do what I said I would do.  Forgive me for my many times of hypocrisy.  Forgive me when I fail to be generous and when I don’t show love to my fellow believers.  May I learn to revere You and to honor You with all I have.  May I learn how to be generous and hospitable to others.

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