It can be difficult to navigate through the intersection of personal finance and Kingdom ministry. In the book of Acts, we meet Ananias and Sapphira, a couple who made the mistake of lying to God about their generosity. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that it cost them dearly.
In this series, we’re examining the accounts of biblical figures whose lives were marked by slavery to money. As Jesus warned, if we don’t master our money, it can make slaves of us. We’ve met several money slaves in the New Testament so far, including the Rich Young Ruler, Zacchaeus and Judas Iscariot. Today, we’re going to see how greed and pride enslaved Ananias and Sapphira in the early days of the church.
Our text for this story comes from Acts 5:1-10, but before we get there, let’s start with a little bit of background. The passage immediately preceding Acts 5 explains that in this period of time, the early church was being supported by the generosity of its members. “No one claimed any possessions as their own,” it says, “but they shared everything they had.” From time to time, people who owned land would sell the land, and then bring the money to the apostles to help meet the needs of the church and its ministry.
Now, let’s pick up the story from Acts 5:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
To me, the interesting question here is this: Where did Ananias go wrong? You may answer that he went wrong by holding back some of the money from the land for himself, but I don’t think that’s what the text says. The key is in verse 4, where Peter points out that Ananias had a right do do whatever he wanted to with the land and the money. He wasn’t obligated to give the money to the church. But when he brought in only a portion of the money, claiming that it was the whole amount, he lied not only to the church, but also to the Holy Spirit. Sapphira came in later, making the same claim. It cost them both far more than the money they made on the transaction.
I believe there are two things at play here: Greed and pride. It was greed that compelled these two to hold back some of the money for themselves. The church at that time was living in an incredible spirit of generosity, freely giving of their possessions to meet each other’s needs. Greed, though, is the opposite of generosity. Instead of fully participating in what God wanted to do with their land and money, Ananias and Sapphira allowed greed to infiltrate the transaction. Greed and generosity can’t coexist. You can’t serve two masters.
Greed is only part of the equation, however. For Ananias and Sapphira, their pride lead to their ultimate downfall. You see, they really wanted the apostles and the rest of the church to believe that they were generous. They really wanted to look good in front of their peers. They really wanted to look like they had given the whole amount of the money they got from the land. Perhaps they even wanted to “earn points” with God doing a good deed, and figured that He wouldn’t notice if they took a little bit off the top.
It was this pride that motivated them to lie to the apostles and to the church. From the text, we can even surmise that they were lying to themselves in their own hearts, and hoping that the Holy Spirit would buy it as well. But He didn’t. And although the punishment seems severe to us, God made a statement here: Greed and generosity don’t mix, and it’s futile to lie to the Holy Spirit. Better to be honest about your sins and shortcomings than to try to present yourself as blameless before a God who knows better.
Of course, we don’t live in such a utopian church culture today, but the lessons here still apply. Greed and pride can enslave our hearts if we don’t make sure that we’re walking in full submission to God. When that happens, it not only interferes with the Kingdom, but it also has a detrimental affect on our own lives. We can try lying to the Holy Spirit, but it never does any good. The ones who end up paying are us.
Photo by Lenore Edman. Used under Creative Commons License.