Lying to the Holy Spirit
A man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?
And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?
Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart?
You have not lied to men but to God.”
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.
And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.”
And she said, “Yes, for so much.”
But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?
Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.
When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
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oes God expect the same standard of holiness from modern Christians as He did of saints during the days of the apostolic church?
God is holy, and He demands holiness of those who profess His Name.
What if every time a Christian lied, God killed the liar?
Would any professing Christians escape judgement if God so judged us? Undoubtedly, it is only because of His mercies that we are not consumed.
Focus on an incident that made an incredible impact among the early Christians.
The event was of such significance, that among all the occurrences happening simultaneously during the formative days of the Jerusalem congregation, this one was included in the written account of the first church.
Paul, recounting for the Corinthian Christians events from the days of Israel’s wanderings in the desert, says that /these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction/ [see *1 Corinthians 10:11*].
Similarly, the stunning event we will examine today happened within that early church as an example, but it was written down for our instruction.
Ananias, a member of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem, with the full knowledge of his wife, Sapphira, sold a piece of property—a rather innocuous, if not a mundane, act.
Together, this couple decided to give a portion of the profits they had realised to the church.
I believe all of us would agree that this is a commendable act.
However, they agreed to represent their gift as though they were giving everything from the proceeds of the sale to the work of Christ.
They sought to present themselves as more generous then they actually were.
Their actions brought swift condemnation from the Spirit of God.
In fact, their decision to lie cost them their lives, and they never were permitted to enjoy their wealth.
Let’s analyze this event and learn from it.
Would a Christian Actually Lie to God? I suppose we can imagine multiple reasons to explain why a Christian would attempt to lie to God.
Perhaps the individual is so obtuse that she actually believes that God does not know her heart.
Perhaps one lies because he is actually deluded.
Again, it is entirely possible that the Christian knows he is lying to God, but he actually believes that the esteem obtained fraudulently from fellow saints is worth the risk.
That appears to have been the case for Ananias and Sapphira.
To understand the motivation for their lie, it will be necessary to examine several previous verses.
Turn back to *Acts 4:32-37* and read what was taking place in the church.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
God was blessing the outreach of the congregation and the church was growing.
There was a spirit of unity evident among the members of the fellowship.
Among the members was a beautiful expression of compassion for their fellow believers in need.
Consequently, there was a spontaneous expression of love as many of the landowning members sold properties and brought the proceeds to the Apostles.
Those giving the gifts wished the moneys distributed to fellow saints who had proven need.
One of the members who brought a generous gift for the relief of the needy was a man named Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus.
In fact, the text leads me to think that this was not the only act of compassion Joseph had performed, because the Apostles had given him the name Barnabas.
Barnabas is less a name than it is a title.
Barnabas, translated into English, means “Son of Encouragement.”
Notice that the generosity was not organised; it was spontaneous.
This was genuinely a movement produced by the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of His people.
He touched the hearts of men and women who had the ability to give, and they responded to His initiative.
There is no indication that either the congregation or the Apostles requested the funds.
There was a general recognition of need, but there were no resolutions, no appeals, no organisational efforts to relieve need.
This is important because it demonstrates that the most effective response to need is that prompted by God’s Spirit working in the lives of His people.
In saying this, I am not disparaging efforts to mobilise relief efforts, nor am I unsympathetic to efforts to inform the congregation of a need.
In fact, I hold to the philosophy of informing the people and then trusting the people.
God’s Spirit is always at work among Christ’s people.
It is the role of the leaders to inform people of needs and then trust the people to respond as the Spirit directs them.
There can be no coercion if we will honour God.
The funds donated were delivered to the Apostles for distribution as they thought necessary.
The moneys were not tithes, but they were designated for a particular cause, and those bringing the funds trusted their leadership to administer the funds wisely and fairly.
The principle I would draw attention to is that once the funds were entrusted to the church, there was no further claim on it by those giving.
Perhaps you think this point is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned.
However, I have observed over the years of my service to the Lord’s people that there is a distressing tendency among the people to God to continue to lay claim to what they give.
This is not to deny the need for accountability in distribution of funds, but it is to caution that once we have given the funds, we have no further claim on the moneys.
At one time, I served a congregation that had previously been “run” by one man.
That man eventually created such trouble that it was necessary to remove him first from leadership and eventually from membership.
He was a wealthy man and he had donated numerous items to the congregation.
As I, together with a fellow servant of the church, dealt with him during our final discussions, he truculently asserted that he alone supported the church.
He was especially belligerent in insisting that he paid my salary.
To that, I applied *Acts 8:20* to him, using Eugene Peterson’s translation, *The Message*.
One would think that such a stinging rebuke would sober a Christian, but that same individual then insisted that upon leaving he would take the overhead projector, the hand dryer from the washroom, the CD player—every item he had donated to the church.
I told him to take it all, since we would not permit ourselves to be held hostage to money.
It may be true in the world of government that as goes government money so goes government control, but in the realm of the Faith, we hold no power over the church after we have delivered our gifts for the use of the congregation.
We have opportunity to participate in the budgetary process.
We have opportunity to make our desires known as the congregation decides how to distribute the donated goods.
We have freedom to decide what to give and even whether to give.
However, once we have given our gifts, we relinquish any further control.
This was a sin against the community of Faith; it was sin against the fellowship.
Literally, Peter asks Ananias why he “falsified the Spirit.”
What a powerful statement to affirm the holy nature of Christ’s Church!
We must realise that to sin against the church is to sin against God!
The funds given by those generous church members were employed to assist those who had demonstrable need.
There was no thought of promoting laziness or of relieving self-imposed hardship.
The gifts were intended to provide assistance, and the clear intent of the assistance was that it would be temporary.
Christian welfare is not intended to become permanent support, but rather Christian charity is meant to express compassion, enabling the needy to respond to the condition that has created an unanticipated need.
Ananias and Sapphira witnessed these events as they happened in that church.
They noticed the respect Barnabas received when he donated his wealth to the work of the church.
The implication conveyed through our text is that this couple wished to receive the same respect Joseph had received.
Perhaps they were envious.
Perhaps they simply wanted to be noticed.