By Christina Crumbliss
I have long struggled with the passage with Ananias and Sapphira. In the midst of a miraculous movement during which believers are selling everything they have to give to the poor and share as anyone has need, Ananias and Sapphira enter and act in a way that is not pleasing to the Lord. Like those around them, they sell their property and bring the proceeds to the apostles. However, they hold back part of the money for themselves while acting as if they are actually giving everything they have. Dismayed, Peter asks, “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? … You have not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). And with that Ananias just dies on the spot. Sapphira enters shortly after with an identical outcome.
In our Western culture, this is hard to comprehend. This seems like harsh justice. I have often found myself getting stuck on the picture of two people falling down dead just because they didn’t feel like giving away everything for which they had worked hard. However, we miss the point entirely if we get stuck on thinking the passage was about the house. Peter clearly says, “the money [was] at your disposal.”
The issue was deception. The issue was false pretenses and acting in such a way as to purposely deceive the church and the Holy Spirit and try to come across as something they were not. When I think about it that way, I can relate to Ananias and Sapphira and see more of myself in them than I would like to admit. What this passage prompts me to ask turns from, “how is that fair?” to “when have I acted similarly?”
I have acted this way every time someone has asked for help and I said, “I’m so sorry. I wish I could. I’m just so busy” when “so busy” meant I just didn’t feel like it deep down. I have acted this way every time I said, “I will pray for you” and then walked away, forgetting in the next moment with no intention to actually follow through. I have acted this way anytime I have said to myself, to God, or to those around me, “I just can’t” or “I did my best,” when this was not actually true.
The book of Jeremiah tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things” (17:9), and I see deceit similar to Ananias and Sapphira in my attitudes. In response, I find myself in a place of repentance and wanting to seek God more. I am left with two questions that I invite us to consider together. What does it mean when God clearly calls us to give cheerfully but also freely and not under compulsion (2 Cor 9:7)? When have we said something is our “best” when, like Ananias and Sapphira, we were actually holding back?