Monday, September 26, 2022

Anonymous Asks (216)

“Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying?”

The first eleven verses of Acts 5 tell the story of Ananias and Sapphira, two married professing Christians in the early days of the first church in Jerusalem. As we find out at the end of the previous chapter, these early Christians were in the habit of sharing “all things in common” in the sense that they sold excess possessions and properties and gave the proceeds to God by laying them at the feet of the apostles, who ensured they were distributed to believers in need.

The Part and the Whole

Ananias and Sapphira conspired to enhance their good name among the believers by pretending to do the same. They sold a piece of property, kept back part of the proceeds of sale, and brought the rest to the apostles, representing it as the whole amount. All of this may be inferred from Peter’s rebuke of Ananias: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Challenged independently of one another, Ananias and Sapphira stuck to their lie and were stricken in some miraculous way. The text says they fell down and breathed their last.

The problem was not in keeping back part of the proceeds, but in representing it as the whole in order to seem more generous. Nor had the two merely attempted to deceive the Christian community — that would probably occur plenty of times later on without the same sort of miraculous reprisal.

So then, the issue was not that they lied, but who they lied to. They behaved as if successfully deceiving the congregation would surely have been the end of the matter, failing to account for the all-seeing eye of God. Peter begins with the question “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” and finishes with the accusation “You have not lied to man but to God.” It is quite understandable if the brazenness of Ananias and Sapphira causes the reader to question whether the two were really believers at all.

Great Fear Came Upon the Whole Church

So why did this incident have to be treated so severely compared to other sins? One suggested is discussed here. Whenever God is instituting something new, the penalty for violating his will is correspondingly more devastating than usual, in order to ensure others do not follow the offender’s example. Think of Nadab and Abihu right after the consecration of the Israelite priesthood; of the stoning of the first offender for blasphemy in the Israelite camp (though in a later day it was said that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter”); of the consequences of Korah’s rebellion (the first external challenge to the priesthood); of Achan’s sin at Jericho, the first city conquered in Canaan; of Uzzah’s death as the ark of the covenant was being brought up to Jerusalem for the first time.

Like the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, each of these violations were “firsts” of a sort. God’s instant response showed his holiness was to be taken seriously as Israel embarked on a new stage of God’s plan for his nation. And as much as some might question the severity of the penalty, it is evident the punishment produced precisely the result God intended: great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

The Consuming Fire

The writer to the Hebrews finishes chapter 12 with the words “Our God is a consuming fire.” Note the tense. It is not that God was a consuming fire in the Old Testament, but has now been revealed in Christ as a “tame lion” (to steal from C.S. Lewis). No, even in the church era, where by the Spirit the sons of God cry “Abba! Father!”, Christians very much need the lesson of Acts 5.

You can lie to men, but you cannot lie to God.

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