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. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Let’s review what we have just read. We have a married couple who sold some property. They brought some of it to the apostles to donate for the work of the church. Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit by misrepresenting what had actually happened, and after the confrontation, Ananias fell down and died. His wife, Sapphira came to the same place, and not knowing what had happened to her husband, Peter asked her about the price they had received from the land. He asked her if what was given was what they had received, and she affirmed it was. At that, she also fell down and died. Those are some tough consequences. Let’s examine what exactly was going on.
Surely, it wasn’t expected in the early church that if you sold your property, you were to give all of that money to the work of the Lord. That couldn’t have been the reason Ananias and Sapphira fell dead. The issue wasn’t that they didn’t give all of the money to the Lord’s work, but it was that they wanted to appear as if they had. Ananias and Sapphira lived during that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was moving in powerful ways. Those who were turning to follow Christ were also turning away from self and were living at the direction of the Spirit. God was leading them to do ridiculously risky and generous things!
Those details are recorded at the end of Acts 4 beginning in verse 32: Acts 4:32-3732 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
These verses say this was an unprecedented time of togetherness. It was an all-for-one and one-for-all kind of situation. Everything they had, all of their possessions, were viewed as common property. They pooled all their resources. There was great boldness in their witnessing. God’s grace, which is a form of His power, was flowing through them, so much so that there was no needy person in their community. Imagine that…A community of faith in which there was no need! This didn’t happen because they were all independently wealthy and didn’t need or couldn’t use what they possessed, but it happened because they were being led by the Spirit of God to do what they were doing.
From time to time, once in a while, as they were moved by the Spirit of God, they sold land or houses and gave the money to those in charge of making sure everyone was taken care of. A particular person, Barnabus, was mentioned. He sold a field he owned and brought all the money to the apostles. I like how both verses 35 and 36 say that people who did this brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. It was literally an act of humility, not a demonstration of their personal greatness, but was an act of worship.
These were voluntary acts. No one said, “Sell what you have, and bring all of the money to us.” People were just moved by the Spirit of God to do so. This wasn’t a requirement of the early church. There would have been nothing wrong with Ananias and Sapphira selling property and giving some of the proceeds to the work of the Lord. Their sin wasn’t that they didn’t give all, but it was that they wanted to appear to have done so. There was hypocrisy. There was an air of tremendous generosity or sacrifice, when in fact, that wasn’t the case. It was as if Ananias and Sapphira were using the church fellowship to promote themselves, to pretend to be something they weren’t. They lacked sincerity.
Even though they were believers, even though they had a relationship with the Holy Spirit, Satan somehow gained entrance into their lives. They saw a way to gain something personally by pretending to give more generously than they had. We get the sense that the Holy Spirit had prompted them to do something differently than they had done, but instead of following the Spirit’s voice, they listened to Satan’s. Don’t make this about money this morning. If you do, you will miss the point. This isn’t about money. It is about following the leading of the Holy Spirit and living authentically and sincerely with God and others. It is about putting down pretense, about putting away hypocrisy.
A religious spirit, using Jesus to promote your own reputation, these are things that grieve the Holy Spirit. God will not tolerate being used by people who want to advance their own agenda. That is really what was at stake, here. If Ananias and Saphhira would have been given a pass and would have continued in their hypocritical and self-serving ways, it was going to compromise and harm the mission of the early church, so God removed them from the equation.
Ananias and Sapphira, like many in our day, have an agenda behind their actions, behind their talk, that is self-promoting and will sabotage the good that God wants to accomplish if left unchecked. That approach is contrary to a life that is controlled by the Spirit of God, and God will deal with those people.
So, as we continue through the season of Pentecost, what does God want to say to us about the Holy Spirit through the story of Ananias and Sapphira? I think I have boiled it down to one statement with two principles:
The Spirit-filled life is a life of trust and truth.
You can absolutely trust the Holy Spirit. Many believers have trusted Christ for salvation, but are the same number of people living in trust and surrender to the Holy Spirit? The people in Acts 4 who were led by the Spirit of God to give so generously, did so with great trust that all they had was God’s to use and whatever they surrendered would become a blessing to others and that in the process, God would take care of them as well. Ananias and Sapphira didn’t trust the Spirit of God. They trusted their own instincts which opened the door for Satan to step in.
Never once in Scripture do we read that God led someone to do something that turned out to be an epic failure or even a tiny failure. You can trust the Spirit of God. In order to know what the Spirit wants from you, you need to set your mind on the things of the Spirit.
Romans 8:5:5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
Get your mind off of trying to impress people. Get your mind off of advancing your reputation at all costs. Make up your mind to set your heart and mind on the things the Spirit of God wants for your life. Dare I even say that you need to get your mind off of being perfect? That may sound contrary to the Word of God or the historical teachings of the church, but I think too many people get focused on the notion that they have to be perfect in order for God to use them. Some conclude that they can’t be perfect, so they don’t try to serve the Lord. Some know they can’t be perfect, so they just pretend to be. Both will lead to the same self-centered and spiritually weak life. This may sound crazy, but don’t be focused on perfection, but be focused on cultivating a relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will perfect you AS you trust Him and let Him lead in your life.
It is AS you step out on the waters, AS you move out of your comfort zone, AS you take steps of faith that you will begin to discern the Spirit’s voice. This is something that is cultivated over time and through faithful steps to do what you sense God is leading you to do. Weekly, multiple times a week, I get promptings from the Spirit to reach out to people. I will let them know God laid them on my mind. I cannot tell you how many times the person will say, “Your timing is perfect. I just went through…” or “I am feeling so discouraged today.” It happened to me twice this past week.
Now, I could have debated reaching out. I could have reasoned that the people would think I was nuts or that it would be awkward or even offensive, but instead, I trusted the Spirit of God who put those people on my heart for a reason. Instead of worrying about how they would receive me, I obediently did what the Spirit led me to do and as a result, they had an opportunity to receive something from God. What if I hadn’t obeyed? What if I hadn’t committed my mind and life to know and do what the Spirit desires? What if I let worry about what they would think of me keep me from being used of God in that moment to give them what they needed? Was it other people’s perception that caused Ananias and Sapphira to listen to Satan and to lie to the Spirit of God?
Listen, I am just an ordinary person, but an ordinary person, who trusts the Spirit of God, becomes a conduit for the grace and power of God to flow into people’s lives.
How thrilled I was this week to hear of how someone recently stopped by someone’s house with money because when they woke up the Lord gave them direction and an amount to give, and they simply obeyed. Again, we aren’t talking about money, but about being sensitive to the Spirit’s voice and doing what is being asked.
You will know when it is the Spirit prompting you. If it involves speaking the Word to someone or providing for someone in a practical way, you will never go wrong. God is in the encouraging business. God is in the Gospel proclamation business. God is in the restoration business. He is in the reclamation business. When you get involved in any of that, the Spirit of God is at work in your life. When you go boldly into the places where Hell has gained access, in order to reclaim those people and places for the Kingdom of God, you can trust that the Spirit has led you to do so.
Jesus said He came to release captives. The Spirit can be trusted to send you to places where people are spiritually and even physically incarcerated in some way. He came to give good news to the poor. Don’t you worry about what “that part of town looks like,” if the Spirit leads you there, the Spirit will protect you there. Jesus came to give recovery of sight to the blind. Obviously, Jesus healed physical blindness, but more detrimental than physical blindness is spiritual blindness. Jesus came to lift the blinders off of people’s eyes spiritually. Don’t exit the conversation. Don’t bow out because you think someone is a lost cause. Don’t vacate situations because you are afraid of being labeled a Jesus’ lover or religious zealot. If the Spirit sends you, it is because He has an assignment for you to accomplish. Read on in the book of Acts and discover the times the Spirit moved the apostles to do certain things as well as how He kept them from doing others. Read about the ways the Holy Spirit gave words and boldness to people to speak for God. The Holy Spirit is real and personal and can be trusted.
The Spirit-filled life is a life of trust and truth. Here’s the truth part: God does not want you to act like you are something you aren’t. He doesn’t want you pretending. Hypocrisy has never helped to further the Kingdom of God. God just wants you to be real and responsive to Him. It is OK to be a work in progress! It is OK to be seeking. It is OK to have struggles. It is OK to not be OK!
Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. He lied to the church leaders, but because the Holy Spirit was living and active in Peter’s life, Peter was able to discern the truth.
II John 4 speaks about walking in truth, about living honestly before God and others. Lies, deceit, manipulation, misrepresentation, all of these have no place in the life of a believer. Lies and deception are tactics of the enemy. They represent the ways that Satan interacts and operates.
Remember, our text says that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. To lie to someone is to overestimate your power of persuasion or to believe that the person you are lying to is quite gullible. Did Ananias really believe he could lie to the Holy Spirit and get away with it? Listen, You will never be able to pull a fast one on the Holy Spirit.
Now follow me…If Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, there had to have been a conversation between the two. There had to have been an exchange between Ananias and the Holy Spirit in order for Ananias to lie to Him. How else is it is determined that someone is lying? When you are trying to determine the truth, you ask someone what is going on. You give them an opportunity to explain.
What I am about to say is what I believe. I didn’t read any scholar who corroborated this idea, but I believe the Holy Spirit attempted to deal with Ananias, to bring correction to his life, but Ananias rather than come clean and change directions, he was bent on maintaining his position and doing things his way. I think Ananias experienced the confrontation from the Spirit and instead of changing courses, instead of surrendering and being humbled, he went on with his plan to present himself in a light that was false. Are we ever guilty of the same?
I wonder, if to a degree, we lie to the Holy Spirit when we lie to ourselves. When we tell ourselves that what we are doing or what we are about to do isn’t that bad, even though we have a sense of uneasiness about proceeding, I wonder if we are lying to the Holy Spirit. I believe the case could be made because that uneasiness in your spirit, that check, that knowledge that what you are about to do is wrong is the Holy Spirit at work to keep you from calamity, friends.
Ananias and Sapphira’s actions weren’t a spur of the moment thing. Verse 2 says that Sapphira had full knowledge of what Ananias was going to do. They had talked about it. They had conspired together.
I can’t say for sure if the Holy Spirit was leading them to give all of the money and they disobeyed by just giving some, like if that was also part of the equation. Perhaps it was simply that they compared themselves to Barnabus and the love and affection he got from the brotherhood when he sold his property and gave all of the money. Maybe they were looking for the same kind of reception. But I do believe that the Holy Spirit was wanting to work in Ananias’s heart about why he was doing what he was doing and instead of giving the Holy Spirit access, Ananias tried to pull a fast one on the Spirit to skirt the correction.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira sure seems to suggest that when we pretend that all is well, but we know that God has been wanting to deal with us, we are in real spiritual danger. All God wants is access to your heart. All God desires from you is transparency before Him. He wants you to be real and honest with Him, so that He can work in you. Don’t resist the Spirit by pretending. Don’t lie to the Spirit by minimizing what you are doing or thinking about doing.
I really don’t believe that it was the sin of lying that cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives. I believe it was the sin of shutting out the Spirit of God who just wanted full control of their lives.
A stranger once entered the grand cathedral of Freiburg in Germany and asked permission to play on its world-famed organ. The organist in charge at first refused. But after much persuasion, and perhaps a gratuity, he was prevailed upon to allow this stranger to play, and he sat down before the organ. His fingers brought from the instrument the most wonderful music. At last the man in charge turned to this stranger who was playing and said, “May I ask your name Sir” “Mendelssohn”, replied the visitor, who was indeed no other than the great composer himself. “And to think that I refused YOU permission,” the man answered. My … just as Mendelssohn wished to play the Freiburg organ, so the Holy Spirit desires to produce music in our hearts and lives. But so often He is met by a refusal.”
How about we quit lying about our struggles, our sin, our situation, our hurts and pains and disappointments? How about we quit pretending and quit refusing to let God deal with what is really going on in the deepest parts of our lives? Can we cooperate with the Spirit of God today in ways that contribute to our spiritual growth and to the health of the Body of Christ and advancement of the Kingdom of God? Can we choose the life of trust and truth this morning? Can we choose the Spirit-filled life?