Sermon Passage: Acts 5:1-2
“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.” (Acts 5:1-11).
Joshua, the leader of Israel, responsible for getting the people into the promised land, led the first encounter into victory. The guiding hand of Jehovah conquered Jericho. Joshua and his army arose early each morning for seven days and marched around the city seven times. On the seventh day, the priests blew their trumpets, and the people shouted simultaneously. The walls of Jericho fell flat, and Israel marched into the city (Joshua 6).
From Jericho, Joshua sent spies to their second challenge, the city of Ai. The report from the spies was encouraging. Ai was a small city, and the Israelites would not need their entire force to conquer it. However, their attack was a disaster. The small force in the town of Ai utterly defeated the army of Israel. “Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads” (Joshua 7:6). They discovered that someone had sinned during the battle of Jericho. Achan confessed, “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21). Stoning was the penalty for disobedience; therefore, the people stoned Achan, his family, and sheep, and burned all his possessions.
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things” (Joshua 7:1). We must understand the words chosen to describe this tragic event. The writer used the Greek word “nosphizomai,” translated “took of the accursed things,” which is used often in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament originally written in Hebrew. But “nosphizomai,” used only three times in the New Testament, was used by Luke twice in the story of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5:1-11). The underlying meaning of “nosphizomai” is “to embezzle, keep back something, which belongs to another,” precisely what Achan did. Joshua commanded the people not to take any spoils from Jericho’s conquest, calling the spoils “the accursed things” (Joshua 6:17-19). All silver, gold, and bronze vessels and iron were dedicated to God and brought into the treasury of the Lord. Achan had stolen or embezzled from the Lord.
The writer of the story also says that Israel “committed a trespass regarding the accursed things,” using the Hebrew word “m’l.” It carries the idea of someone acting unfaithfully, used to describe a wife’s adultery (Numbers 5:12-13). The trespass is not a trite or superficial mistake, because this action embodies deep betrayal and rebellion, taking everything holy in God’s sight and treating it like trash. There are no words to describe further the evil they committed. This sin by Achan is comparable to the sin of Ananias and Sapphire.
Luke uses the Greek word “nosphizomai” to describe the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. This couple sold their land. “And he (Ananias) kept back part of the proceeds (nosphizomai), his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostle’s feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part (nosphizomai) of the price of the land for yourself’” (Acts 5:2, 3)? Luke used this word twice in our passage, and it means “to embezzle, keep back something which belongs to another.” The consequence of Ananias and Sapphira’s sin would end the same as Achan’s sin.
We must understand this spiritual concept. In spiritual experience, our physical possessions are involved. God designed the physical as the platform on which the spiritual demonstrates itself. Nothing is exclusive to the physical or the spiritual because of the interaction between the two. The physical actions of my life will always reveal my spiritual condition. That revelation is how I know who I am.
Let us investigate this concept of the physical revealing the spiritual as presented in our story.
The central issue of embezzlement is ownership. We do not embezzle from ourselves. Peter addressed this issue in his remarks to Ananias. “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control” (Acts 5:4)? These questions require the obvious positive answer. When Ananias and Sapphira owned their land, they could do with it as they pleased without the guilt of embezzlement. Even after they sold the property they possessed the sale price. They sinned when they shifted ownership of the land to Jesus but kept some of the selling price for themselves; that is embezzlement.
Ananias and Sapphire were in good standing with the church. They belonged to a group of people who were of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). We understand the context of their possessions for “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Ananias and Sapphire were professed members of this body of believers. Ananias brought the money from the sale of their land and proposed that the amount given was the selling price, but it was not. They proposed that the land belonged to the Lord, therefore, the total proceeds belonged to the Lord. They stole or embezzled from funds that were not theirs.
Our passage of study faces us with the concept of God’s call to total surrender and one hundred percent commitment. The early church believed that God is a Tyrant (Acts 4:24), in a positive, not negative, sense. “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them” (Acts 4:24). If you are a Christian, this Creator Tyrant will be Lord of your life. All of you will be His! A Christian cannot partially surrender, or divide his heart into compartments, some for himself and some for God. There is only one category of Christian, the person whose destiny, life, and physical possessions belong to the sovereign Christ. If you deviate from complete surrender, you are an embezzler.
Ananias and Sapphira isolated their hearts to their possessions. When discussing surrender, one issue consistently appears. Someone will always say, “I surrender something to Jesus, but then I take it back. How can I continually surrender it to Him?” The person asking this question suffers from the Ananias and Sapphire syndrome, which is embezzlement. When you commit your life to Jesus, it is no longer yours. You do not influence it; you do not own it or have control over it. If you steal it back from God, you are a thief! You have committed spiritual adultery and cheated on Jesus.
What if we do not surrender all to Jesus? Then we are not Christians, which is the primary idea of this passage. A human must involve all his being to merge with the Divine. God must possess everything to flow His resource through human personality. The Gospel must engage the entire life, or the person is not Christian. The Scriptures never present Christianity as half-hearted, part-time, or lukewarm. According to the Bible, there is no standard of knowledge we must achieve to be called Christian. There are no religious sacrifices, ceremonies, or mechanical actions to carry out to be Christian. Jesus calls us to completeness. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Christianity is all-inclusive!
Listen again to the admonition of the Apostle Paul. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19)? The members of my flesh are not mine and have no right to dominate my activities. My physical drives belong to God, and I must not embezzle them from God for self-satisfaction. If I do so, I am stealing from the Divine. On Pentecost Day, the disciples received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit did not fill a specific area but saturated their entire beings with the presence of Jesus. This merger with God is so complete that we are considered a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit. “To lie,” by its definition, is hiding the truth from someone. Such action paints a picture of the heart of sin. Sin wants to be done in secret, desiring darkness, which is in every activity and intent of sin. On the internet, it is the dark web; in the city, it is dark allies. Sin cannot tolerate the light. “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
Achan sinned when he took the valuable clothing, silver, and gold, and buried it in his tent. He did not wear the garments proudly but hid them. He did not pay his bills to debt-free but hid the money for fear of exposure. Ananias did not declare his cleverness in acquiring extra money; he kept it in secret. How ridiculous was Ananias to embezzle from God and think He would not know? How could Achan believe God would not recognize his embezzlement and reveal it to Israel? Yet, this is a consistent pattern in our lives. Consider this passage in Hebrews. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). Notice that the “word of God” refers to “His” and “Him.” The Word of God (logos) is the living Christ to whom all things are known! Is it not foolish to think that what we do not see in the physical world is also hidden in the spiritual?
The foolishness of thinking God does not know removes all excuses and rationalizations. A father, excusing himself, was quick to say, “What I do is my private business.” He believed his secret sin involved only him and was acceptable, thinking no one else was affected. Yet, he did not hide his sin. His sin exposed his wife and children to the evil he allowed in his home, which also affected his extended family and neighbors. Achan’s secret sin caused Israel’s defeat at Ai. Ananias and Sapphira’s secret sin affected the witness of the early Church to their community.
The Christian lives in the fullness of Christ’s Spirit, indwelling in a relationship of total openness. The merger of my mind, emotions, and will with God’s can only exist without secrets. He is involved in all my activities, with repentance as the first call to become a Christian (Acts 2:37-38). We define repentance as “giving up a former thought to embrace a new thought.” The former thought is my secret sin, where I determine all my thoughts, actions, and attitudes. The new thought is my openness to Jesus, now involving Him in every transaction of my life. We have no secrets!
Ananias and Sapphira said they had given all the proceeds from the sale to God, but they kept some of it for themselves. Achan kept some of the spoils from Jericho and hid them in his tent. In each instance, the money was not the issue. Did Ananias and Sapphira’s embezzlement deprive God of His needed funding? Did God need the silver and gold Achan embezzled? Was the sin of Ananias, Sapphira, and Achan from greed, embezzlement, unfaithfulness, or lying? We must understand the nature of all sinful deeds!
The deeds of sin are a symptom of sin’s nature. It is easy to focus on the activity and miss the heart of the matter. The deed cannot define sin, and the commission of the deed is not what places it in the category of sinfulness. If the act determined the deed as a sin, we could make a list of sinful deeds and avoid them. If I follow the list, I am free from sin. But the issue of sin is the nature of sin; the nature of sin is self-centered and self-sovereign. When this nature drives the deed, it is a sin. The best deed on our best day could be our most sinful act. The deed action is not the problem; the problem is the nature or motive causing the action.
Forgiveness is a major theme of the Gospels. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Jesus is the provision for the forgiveness of all sin. I would never belittle or demean the wonder of God’s forgiveness. His forgiveness is the core of His heart of love, which required His amazing sacrifice. God’s forgiveness of sin is constant, and I should never question it.
The second part of the verse is just as important. Jesus wants “to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing includes the profound, intertwined, selfishness that influences all my being’s attitudes and actions. Forgiveness becomes trite and superficial if God does not cleanse me. Paul referred to this cleansing as crucifixion or death. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Forgiveness does not resolve the nature of sin. This nature must die. Paul said this about himself, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The problem in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira was the self-centered nature of sin, and their embezzlement resulted from this nature. Self-centeredness is a destructive nature, and Ananias and Sapphira died as a result. Self desperately tries to win and save, but always loses and destroys. Jesus said. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Consider the depth of such a statement! The pattern of our culture is the opposite of Jesus’ declaration. We think we must fight for ourselves to save our lives, to guard, defend, and protect to survive in our world. BUT when Jesus is involved, everything changes. When we lose our lives to the One who holds our destiny, then we begin to live.
The death of Ananias and Sapphire was not simply embezzlement or an act of sin. It was not about a simple lie that God could forgive. Amid their exposure to the fullness of the Spirit and merging with God’s nature, they chose to live for themselves. No one can survive such a destructive decision. God calls us to examine ourselves. What is the purpose of my life? Do my selfish ambitions primarily drive me? There must be completeness in my surrender to Christ. I cannot merely surrender things or issues to Him; He must possess me!