Acts 4 wrapped up with a touching story of how Barnabas sold a parcel of land and laid the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles. We assume that his gift was given so that the church could use it however was deemed necessary. It was also known among the people what he had done—otherwise Luke could not report it, could he?
On the heels of the accolades that Barnabas likely received, others followed suit. The story continues in Acts 5 (link) with a couple that follows partly in his footsteps. Ananias and Sapphira also sell a piece of land and donate the money to the church.
Except they do not donate all the money. They keep part of the money to themselves. The end result? Peter confronts them and they are both struck dead by the power of God. This is a somewhat terrifying story.
Especially when it’s misapplied. Most frequently, this passage gets taken apart and used over and over to insist on bigger financial contributions to a church or ministry. The preacher or speaker is using the text as a manipulative tool to get what he wants rather than to express the truth of the Word of God.
Which is one of my personal pet peeves: the Word says what it says. You can like it or not like it, but you do not get to change it.
This passage is not about the money. Keep that clearly in mind. Repeat it as necessary: this is not about the money.
The Ananias and Sapphira passage is about these things:
1.) Honesty. This is the first lesson here. Honesty. If we are not honest within the church, then we are doomed. It is truly that simple, no matter what our modern sensitivities tell us. We must be honest about what we have done, what our intentions are, and what our struggles are. Many of us are dying spiritually because we are trying to present ourselves as different from who we are. That is neither helpful nor Biblical.
We need to develop our honesty between each other, and even further, in our communication with God. That was Ananias and Sapphira’s major error here: they thought that their deception would go unnoticed. Yet it does not: they lie to their fellow believers and fail to understand that doing so will be noticed by God.
2.) Community. This is the second lesson here. Community. If we do not acknowledge that what happens to one of us happens to the whole community, then we will never develop the unity we need to function as God’s people. Moreover it is critical to understand that nothing within the community of faith is ever between just the people. Those actions involve God, whether we like it or not.
3.) Individuality. This is the third lesson here. Individuality. While this may sound contradictory to the previous point, bear with me on this. It is a mistake to think that community and unity come from everyone being alike. That is not the case—that’s blandness, not community. One can guess at Ananias and Sapphira’s motivations, though not with certainty, and see that they were trying to be just like Barnabas.
Yet believers in Christ are different from each other. We have unique personalities and varied skills. It is wrong to attempt to force ourselves into the same box another person has carved for themselves. To assume that because Barnabas took a specific action that this action ought to be copied is a mistake on their part.
What should be similar among Christians is what type of people we are, not the precision of what we do. Ananias and Sapphira should have taken their cue from Barnabas’ generosity and attitude and seen how that should be expressed by them in their own way, rather than just ripping off his actions without learning the attitude.
This is not to say that we should not do similar things, but copying the exterior actions is not where we start. We start by emulating examples of the type of character we should be rather than just copying the actions.
Be yourself. Examples are good. Examples are inspiring, encouraging, but the church cannot become what we ought to be if we are focused on copying one great example instead of growing into what we ought to be as individuals.
The fatal damage in the activities here was the dishonesty, but there is more going on here than just that.
And the money? That’s nowhere on the radar.