By Steph Nickel
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most tragic recorded in scripture. Here, Steph unpacks the story to give us a better understanding of what went wrong.
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We gravitate to the uplifting stories in the Scriptures—at least the ones with happy endings. But that wasn’t always the reality in the 1st century anymore than it is in the 21st.
Let’s read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
“But 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 man 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” (ESV).
No Fairy Tale
This is definitely no fairy tale, but the Lord chose to include it in His Word, and, therefore, there are lessons we should learn from this tragedy.
How was Sapphira just like us?
We likely all know how it makes us feel when someone expresses admiration for us, when they say something nice about us, when they praise us for our spirituality. It’s tempting to let others know, even in subtle ways, about the good things we’ve done. But the Scriptures warn against doing deeds so others will praise us.
Matthew 6:3 says, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (ESV).
Sapphira Should Have Done What Was Right
According to this passage in Matthew, this principle applies to all the good things we do.
Sapphira should have done what was right even though her husband urged her to lie.
It isn’t easy to stand up for what’s right—especially when those closest to us are urging us to do something wrong. However, our primary responsibility is to obey God. We must ask for the desire and strength to do so.
I’m fairly certain that neither Sapphira nor her husband thought of what they were doing as lying to God, but that’s what it was. Too often we forget that the Lord is truly awesome. We forget that we are to fear Him.
We forget Proverbs 1:7, which says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (ESV).
How can we apply what we’ve learned from this passage to our life?
We are to give generously.
It is our responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to give of our time, talent, and resources to those in need, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, as Peter pointed out, it is between us and God how much we give.
We must give with right motives.
Unlike Sapphira and her husband, we are to give motivated by a desire to honour God and bless others. It’s evident this was not their motivation—at least not their primary one.
We must not seek to impress others.
As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (ESV). It is not our responsibility to draw attention to ourselves or impress others. It is definitely not supposed to be what motivates our acts of service.
Perhaps Sapphira thought she was honouring her husband. Perhaps she had second thoughts about lying. But even if that was the case, the end result was the same. She lied to the church—and she lied to God. And the Lord punished her severely.
No matter what pressure we’re under to do what we know contradicts God’s commands, we must call upon Him to give us the strength and determination to obey Him.
We must not take God’s holiness for granted.
There are many wonderful passages in the Bible that speak of God’s great love for us. However, we must be careful never to underestimate His holiness and His call to obey His commands and directives.
Let’s not avoid or explain away difficult passages like this one. Instead, let’s prayerfully study and learn from them.
Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance writer and editor. She is the coauthor of Paralympian Deb Willows’ award-winning memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances, published by Castle Quay Books.
Steph is a member of InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship and The Word Guild. She and her husband of over 30 years live in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.
Steph’s goal is to nurture and inspire. She blogs at Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests. She also guest posts regularly on the topics of Christian living, writing, and fitness. You can visit her website, stephbethnickel.com, to learn more about her.
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