30 Years That Changed The World
Acts for today...
Week 3: A cautionary Tale
Read Acts 5:1-11
If Stephen provided the church with its first martyr, his was certainly not the first funeral! The first funeral appears to have been that of a pair of hypocrites.
'But there was a man named Ananias, who with his wife Sapphira sold some property that belonged to them. But with his wife's agreement he kept part of the money for himself and handed the rest over to the apostles.' (Acts 5.1,2)
What do we make of this little story of sordid deception, culminating as it did in the sudden death of this couple (v5,10)?
Ananias and Sapphira, perhaps seeing the high esteem in which Barnabas was held, decided to bring an offering to the apostles. They sold a piece of real estate to make a monetary gift possible (verse 1). What follows is a sad story of human failing and folly.
They agree between them that the money is too much to give away; so they will give a proportion of it to the church but claim that it is the total amount received for the property they sold (verse 2).
Peter helps them (and us) to see that the sin is not giving less than the full amount, but pretending it is the full amount. Bringing a smaller offering than they could is not wrong; bringing a smaller offering than they claimed they were giving, is! (verse 4).
Ananias is struck dead. Perhaps he had a heart attack at the shock of being found out. If he did, Luke would see this as a secondary cause. For the writer of Acts the primary cause of his death is clear - the judgement of God (verse 5a cf. 12:23).
Sapphira then comes in and is given a chance by Peter to tell the truth. She responds with a blatant lie (verse 8). She too is struck dead (verse 10), and buried with her husband; ending her life just three hours after he has ended his (verse 7)! We hardly need to be told by Luke that this incident generated 'fear' among the believers, and in the wider community (verses 5, 11).
To us, reading this in our culture 2000 years later, this story comes as something of a shock. Part of this lies in our failure to understand the seriousness of the situation which Luke records.
Peter saw two people, motivated by envy of Barnabas (and others), manipulating God's people for their own ends; they had lied to God (verses 3, 4) and attempted to deceive the apostles (verse 2). This betrayal of trust could not go unchallenged: If it had, the new Christian movement could have been derailed in the first stages of its Journey. Deceit of this kind would poison relationships, compromise the Christian community and reduce the thrust of its witness. A decisive act is called for.
The word' church' (verse 11) is used for the first time here In Acts, in this passage. A 'mixed-bag' group of believers from many, backgrounds and age groups is being welded together as the 'church’. If the new-born church is not to be the still-born church, tough action is necessary against sin of this kind.
1. In what ways are we tempted to try to fool God or our church leaders?
2. Peter exercised the first church discipline for unacceptable behaviour. Do you think church discipline ought to be exercised more? In what circumstances?
3. Do you think we should treat sin more seriously than we do? Why? What would the result be?
If you have time you may wish to read and compare a parallel story in Joshua 7:1-26
Bob Kiteley, 03/06/2013