Sermon Passage: Acts 5:1-11
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’ She said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things’” (Acts 5:1-11).
Our passage is the first paragraph in Acts chapter five, and Luke connects it to the ending of Acts chapter four. He visualized for us the state of the early Church in the two illustrations at the end of Acts four and the beginning of Acts five. These new believers clustered in Jerusalem, were converted Jews, who populated the early Church. Luke reported that they ate together in their houses, used the temple as their base for evangelizing Jerusalem, and found favor with the people there. These believers sold their possessions and shared with everyone who had a need. There was tremendous growth among their numbers for God added to the church daily those whom He saved (Acts 2:43-47).
Luke gave an update to his first report (Acts 4:32-35), writing that the members were continuing in the same pattern. The early Church was of one heart and one soul, had all things in common, and, with generous hearts, sold their lands and houses, distributing the proceeds to anyone who had need. “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Then Luke gives two illustrations to picture this for us. The first one is Barnabas (Acts 4:36- 37), a Son of Encouragement, who sold his land and brought the money to the apostles for the Church’s use. The second illustration is Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), who had a different outcome. The first illustration is positive, and the second one is negative.
Luke’s report, on the state of the early Church, reveals the captivating theme of their complete commitment. This commitment is a consistent theme accepted throughout the history of the Church. Ture examples of this commitment are the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:54-60), and the killing of James (Acts 12:2). Saul of Tarsus captured men and women and brought them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). Despite the persecution, the early Church continued to expand and won multitudes to Jesus. Everyone understood that involvement with this Jesus must be total and without compromise.
The dedication of these Christians to Jesus was CONCRETE. Their physical lives became the platform upon which God demonstrated their faith. One expression Luke highlighted was the early Church’s dedication to God in the selling of their houses and lands. The issue in the lives of Ananias and Sapphira was a condition of the heart (Acts 5:4), but the catalyst for the condition was money (Acts 5:3). Complete loyalty to Jesus engages the materialistic life. That firm commitment interacts with every physical activity. Because of the total dedication of the early church to Jesus, no one said that any of the things he possessed was his own (Acts 4:32).
COMPASSION dominated the Christian’s relationship with others. While compassion is a condition of the heart, we express it in the physical realm. The early church expressed the sincere desire to help those among them who had need. Luke showed the extent of this compassion by saying, “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked” (Acts 4:34). Seven men “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” were appointed by the early church to oversee the daily distribution (Acts 6:3). Their complete dedication to Jesus gave them God’s compassionate heart for others.
We see the same completeness in their COMMUNICATION. The driving force of the Christian’s heart is the proclamation of the Gospel. Everyone must know the truth about Jesus. Luke described the early Church’s proclamation as bold (Acts 4:31), with great power (Acts 4:33), and with signs and wonders (Acts 5:12). The persecution from the Sanhedrin was because of their proclamation. The threat was “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). The leaders of Israel were not upset that they were preaching, but that their preaching focused on Jesus. The Sanhedrin would not tolerate such dedication and complete focus on the resurrected Lord. However, Peter’s response was, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The Christian’s commitment to Jesus was not merely a belief system, but their belief engulfed them! They had to share Jesus with everyone they met. The Person of Jesus dominated every area of their lives.
We have to understand that the Good News about Jesus must engage every area of life, or we are not Christian. Christianity is never half-hearted, part-time, or lukewarm. A lukewarm Christian is like dry water. Listen to the words Jesus declared to the Church. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). Jesus will not tolerate lukewarmness. The Bible does not have a standard of knowledge we must achieve to be called Christian. The New Testament does not list a renewed ten commandments for Christianity. We no longer have to meet religious activities such as sacrifices, ceremonies, or mechanical participation to be Christian. The beginning and ending steps to become Christian, and to remain a Christian, are the same. We are to be complete. Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Can anyone read this and conclude that God accepts partial surrender? We must focus entirely on Jesus!
Luke’s concern was that we understand the passionate state of the early Church. They were wholly committed to Jesus. Everything in their lives was controlled by Him, even their safety. These believers never wavered in their response to good or evil, and their love for Jesus took dominance over their financial security. Luke writes to convince us of this by presenting the two practical illustrations in our study, one positive (Acts 4:36-37) and one negative (Acts 5:1-11). Each illustration informs us of the necessity of a complete response to Jesus. Why is a radical response necessary? Why does Christianity demand totality?
Nature of the Relationship
Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. You must understand this truth completely! You are not a Christian because of what you do, but because of whose they are! If we view Christianity as things we do, we will allow “better” and “worse” Christians. You might say, “I am not the best Christian in the world, but I am Christian.” That statement comes from a person who thinks they are Christian because of the things they do or not do. Those persons determine their Christianity by how much of the list they achieve. Christianity is not activities to do but a relationship with Jesus!
Relationships vary in levels and degrees of intimacy. However, God established the criteria of Christian relationship by His nature. John wrote, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Light is the nature of God, not an activity or something He created. John did not propose two opposite forces – light and darkness. In the context of the verse, darkness is merely the absence of light. In other words, within the nature and character of God, light is never absent. In God, there is “no” (meaning “not”) darkness “at all” (in the Greek language, a compound word – “not” and “one,” means “no one,” “nothing,” or “not at all.”). Darkness has no place in a relationship between God and me. If darkness is the absence of light, there is no place in the relationship where God is not! The relationship is complete!
The early Church held Ananias and Sapphira in high esteem. Luke included them in the description of the believers and considered them to be a part of everything. They felt the leadership of the Holy Spirit in sharing their finances for the needs of others. This couple was a part of this body of believers, but we cannot measure their relationship with Jesus by their outward actions. Their hearts were incomplete, and that incompleteness was darkness, which is the absence of light, the nature of God. When a person has a vacancy of Jesus’ presence, something else will fill that hole. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Satan loves the heart that has an absence of light. The problem was in Ananias’ heart. The problem was not his action but the incompleteness of his heart.
You cannot have a relationship with Jesus and be half-hearted. When we allow God to merge our helpless nature with God’s Divine nature, He brings completeness in the fusion, creating a new creature. This relationship requires both God and I abandon ourselves, surrendering totally to each other. If God’s love is complete for you, your love must be complete for Him. If He opens Himself to you, you must open yourself to Him. The nature of this relationship demands unreserved commitment.
Nature of the Reality
When we understand the merger of the relationship, we will see the reality of this intimacy. Ananias and Sapphira were involved in a business transaction. Peter said they controlled the land they owned, and the proceeds belonged to them. They could do whatever they wished with their profits. A problem arose when they allowed deceit into their spiritual relationship. It seems Ananias and Sapphira viewed their relationship with God only in the physical. They were physically involved in the general beliefs of the church, the activities of fellowship and worship, and wanted inclusion in the generous giving. However, they forgot that the merger in the spiritual relationship is with One who knows everything. It is not that God knows everything because He is omniscient. He participates in the activities with the one with whom He merges.
In a discussion about sexual immorality, Paul said, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17). The Kingdom person is beyond one with a particular belief system. This person is not one who participates in certain acceptable activities. The essence of Christianity is a merger with the Trinity God!
Luke used the terminology, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8, 31). The Greek word “pimplemi,” translated “filled,” regarding a person, means to be wholly imbued, affected, influenced with, or by something. John used “pimplemi” to describe the action of the soldiers at the cross. “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled (pimplemi) a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth” (John 19:29). This Greek word is a saturation concept. You cannot partially fill a sponge. The substance you place the sponge in will permeate its entirety. It will be complete!
Peter confronted Ananias with the deception. Ananias was not merged with Jesus because “Satan filled” his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Peter used the Greek word “pleroo,” which is the idea of a container being filled completely. Ananias was not merged, under the control of, or influenced by the Spirit of Jesus, but by Satan. This filling is focused on the “heart,” the core of the spiritual life. It is the determining factor of all that happens throughout the person. The demonic nature of self-centeredness completely saturated the heart of Ananias and influenced his physical actions. A merger with Satan allows him to compartmentalize our lives. Its control system affects each compartment. In other words, the financial culture influences my finances, my cultural pleasures control physical habits and activities, and the norms of my world dictate my sexuality. None of this is true in the spiritual realm if I wholly merge with Jesus. When I am under the control of Jesus’ Lordship, He will not delegate anything to compartments in my life. Jesus is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
We cannot have a relationship with Jesus unless we merge with Him in total abandon. Intimacy and oneness with Jesus only come with total trust, total surrender, and total reliance. There are no half Christians, no partial disciples, or somewhat spiritual Christian people. The relationship with Jesus demands a total commitment of the heart, which brings every area of life under the control of His Lordship!
Nature of the Results
Luke presents two illustrations to give us a visual picture of the complete Christian experience. Barnabas, Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36-37), is the first illustration. Barnabas was the image of life, fulfillment, and destiny, mentioned twenty-three times in the Book of Acts. He was a vital part of the missionary endeavors of the early Church, fulfilling the destiny God created for him. He played a crucial role in shaping and molding the life of the Apostle Paul. None of this could have happened in his life if he were not merged with the Divine nature and completely abandoned to Jesus.
In contrast to the positive illustration of Barnabas, Luke gives the negative illustration of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Luke gives no information about the details of their lives, but he indicates they were heavily involved in the functions of the early Church. Others looked on them as “good people,” without judgment or suspicions about their Christian lives. The fact that they sold their property and made a donation to the ministry indicates some level of commitment. However, they were not abandoned to Jesus, leaving their merger incomplete. This incompleteness ended in, “Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:5).
Please do not focus merely on the physical death of Ananias. His spiritual death proceeded his physical death. Satan filled Ananias’ heart (Acts 5:3). Everything that happens in the spiritual realm displays itself in the physical. Ananias and Sapphira did not fulfill God’s destiny for their lives. They eliminated themselves from God’s plan to evangelize their world because they were not completely committed. Their lack of commitment removed them from the scene. They may have served the church on earth for a few years, but because they did not merge with God in abandonment, that affected their eternal lives. When we do not abandon our lives to Jesus, absolute death is our outcome. No one survives the condition of half-hearted or lukewarm! Get in or get out is the cry of the Christian faith!