Sermon Passage: Acts 5:3-4
“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” (Acts 5:3).
“Counseling” is a significant business in our society. Whatever your difficulty, there are specialized counselors to meet every need, such as marriage, addiction, abuse, eating disorders, and trauma. The list is inexhaustible. Counseling defined refers to guidance or advice provided to help someone resolve difficulties and decide issues. The heart of such counseling is to discover “why?” How did I get into this trouble? What is the core reason for the decision I made creating my problem? I need to know, “why?”
In a sense, we might consider Peter counseling Ananias, who was not a willing participant. The Holy Spirit used Peter to confront Ananias with “why?” How could Ananias, with his spiritual experience, living in a spiritual atmosphere, decide to disobey? What caused his response? Undoubtedly Ananias saw miracles daily, shared in ministry, and knew God’s power in him to affect others. He had embraced the praise and worship of the early Church. Then he was caught in the act of embezzlement. How did he get there?
One of the first things we learn about counseling is that we do not judge or condemn the counselee. The person may have committed a horrible act, but the counselor does not tell them how bad they are but asks questions to lead the person to a conclusion. That is what Peter did with Ananias. Listen to the conversation. “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 control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).
The grammar formation of Peter’s question is crucial because it gives us the structure of our study. Peter’s intension was to bring Ananias to the heart of his problem to find the “why?” Peter’s aim was not to blame or cause guilt but to discover the core of Ananias’ problem. Peter’s concern was not about not receiving the full sale price or the amount of money embezzled. We must not read into the passage a motive of destruction or punishment from Peter. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and had the heart of Christ. He wanted to be redemptive to Ananias. Although Ananias’ death was immediate, there is no indication in our passage that Peter caused it. In fact, “the revelation of truth” is attached to the end of Ananias. “Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:6). Ananias’ response to the convicting revelation of truth caused his death.
In our sentence, “Ananias” is a proper name used as a vocative, a noun used for direct address. The actual subject of the sentence is “Satan,” and the main verb is “has filled,” a translation of the Greek verb “pleroo.” “Pleroo” is the verb used to describe the filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:2). This verb is in the aorist tense, which focuses on the action of the verb, not when the filling occurred. The Greek word “kardia,” translated “heart,” is an accusative, which acts as a direct object. The “heart” received the action of the filling. “Pseudomai” is the Greek word translated “to lie to,” the first infinitive verb in the sentence, giving purpose to the principal verb or the filling of the heart. “To keep back part for yourself” is translated from the Greek word “nosphizo,” also an infinitive verb. “Nosphizo” points to the second purpose of the heart filling. Peter directly addresses Ananias in the form of a question. Satan is the prime mover. He acted on the internal core of Ananias’ being. Ananias’ sin did not come from without but from within him. The internal movement in Ananias’ heart stimulated his physical action, which had a twofold purpose. Ananias’ deception enveloped his relationship with others, but ultimately he tried to deceive God. Although Peter’s statement was bold, he intended to ask, “why?” Why would Ananias allow Satan to fill him? Why would he respond to Satan’s prompting? We need to carefully view Peter’s question and apply it to our lives.
In the previous study, we discovered “The Great War” that rages between God’s forces and the forces of Satan. We must never lose sight of this real battle. It is easy for us to become enthralled in the physical circumstances of life and forget the spiritual warfare. We see the war between the forces of good and evil fought on the stage of our physical conditions. Peter’s question to Ananias presents the proposition of the principal enemy. We do not battle against a mere force or even an attitude. Although the power and attitude of evil are factors in the battle, the problem is Satan. We can easily focus on solving a physical problem or correcting a physical circumstance, but good and evil have enlisted us in the war, an actual reality. Though we blame our responses on the things that surround our lives, that is misplaced blame. We have an enemy!
There is no way we can legitimately ignore the statements of Paul. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians6:10-12). That which happened in Ananias’ life was not an attitude of greed he should have conquered or a financial need he should have solved. It was not even that he chose the wrong thing. Ananias participated in the war between God and Satan!
When the leaders of Israel threatened the Christians, the battle raged in persecution. Would this change the focus of the early Church as they tried to survive? Would it not be more profitable to create a program where they could embrace Jesus as a side issue? Maybe they could take a less offensive approach to evangelism. As the early Church prospered, the war raged on. Satan will allow anything as long as Jesus is not central. The battle is not about methodology, materialism, theological differences, or organizational structure; the war is between Satan and God! There are only two sides, and we have allegiance to one or the other. Ananias realized the truth as stated by Jesus, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Peter highlighted Satan as the prime mover in Ananias’ spiritual battle. We discover Satan’s role or function in Ananias’ war in the main verb “has filled,” a translation of the Greek word “pleroo.” “Pleroo” describes a container and content. Someone places content into the container until it is full, which is the Greek word used consistently for the fulfillment of prophecy. In the beginning of his Gospel account, Matthew records four Christmas narratives, interpreting each narrative to tell us the Christmas story completes or fulfills (pleroo) prophecy of old (Matthew 1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, and 23). The prophet Jeremiah records the Trinity God saying,
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord,
“And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the Lord;
Do I not fill (pleroo) heaven and earth? Says the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
However, perhaps the most meaningful use of the word is in Peter’s description of Pentecost! Luke pictures the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a sound that comes from heaven, “and it filled (pleroo) the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The believer is the container, and the Spirit is the content. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Did Ananias and Sapphira not experience the filling of the Spirit? What would have changed their lives from the usual Jewish practice to embrace Jesus as the Messiah? Did they not believe they were in one accord with the early Church (Acts 4:32)? They were participants in the early Church’s ministry, which was why God prompted them to sell their property and give the proceeds to the ministry. What changed the condition of their hearts?
The main verb in our sentence is “has filled,” which is in the indicative mood (Acts 5:3), a simple statement of fact without argument. We will not debate that Ananias and Sapphira embezzled and lied to God. “Has filled” is in the aorist tense, focused on the verb’s action instead of the time when it happened. Peter’s concern was not about when Satan filled Ananias’ heart, but that it happened. Peter used the active voice of this verb. Satan was responsible for filling Ananias’ heart. Satan’s act does not negate the response of Ananias but highlights the aggressive plotting of Satan to infiltrate and destroy. We are at war!
The imagery of “has filled” (pleroo) is “coming under the influence,” true for the evil of Satan and the goodness of God. “Pleroo” describes a person controlled by that which fills him completely. The early Church’s event described in the New Testament completes the foretelling of the Old Testament. When we complete something, we do not look for future or additional facts. We complete it! Again, we face the fact there are no half or partial Christians. Satan and Jesus cannot fill you at the same time. Our filling is all or nothing! We are either all in or all out!
Satan filled the “heart.” The “heart” is the platform or the stage upon which the spiritual battle takes place and where the spiritual displays itself in physical activity. We know who we are inside by our outward actions, but the war’s battlefield is the “heart.” Luke verifies this by his sentence structure. The Greek word “kardia,” translated heart, is in the accusative, comparable to the English direct object, which receives the action of the main verb. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Satan filled the container (their hearts), and their hearts received the effect of the filling. “Kardia” is never used in the New Testament for the physical organ we call the heart, but “kardia” represents the core of the human being figuratively. The heart (kardia) is the seat of affection and expresses the appetite of the person.
It is significant to note that Satan did not fill Ananias’ heart with himself. We must make a distinction between “filled with Jesus” and “filled with Satan.” Satan cannot fill us in the way Jesus fills us. Jesus’ Spirit is omnipresent, everywhere at one time. Satan is a created angel and does not have this attribute. Therefore, Satan is limited to space and cannot possess everyone at one time. Think of the wonder that the Spirit of Jesus can fill you and me simultaneously! Satan can only fill one heart at a time.
It is essential to understand that because of Satan’s selfish nature, he does not give himself to anyone. He may possess us, but we never possess him. In contrast, the Trinity God opens His redemptive nature to us and invites us to be a part of who He is! In openness, Jesus shares His personhood with us; He has us, but we also have Him. The merger between who Jesus is and who I am forms the new creature. God births sons! Satan never has sons, only slaves. Although Satan can indeed father us, he can never birth us (John 8:44). We do not have his nature in the sense that he shares it with us. We have his nature when we are the re-enactment of his disobedience. Therefore, our fallen self-centered nature is like his. It is a mystery that we can become the sons of God!
Something dramatic happened in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira. Satan implemented his thought and intent through the hearts of this couple. He did not fill their hearts with himself, but in the process, they reverted to their rebellious, self-centered natures. Temptations no long came from without; their temptation came from within them. The self-centered greed that Jesus’ Spirit conquered within the believers (Acts 4:32) now dominates the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira again. The spiritual war staged itself in the hearts of this couple, the result of many decisions and acts of disobedience before their fall.
Peter said that Satan “has filled” (pleroo) the heart of Ananias. Ananias “heart” received the filling. Because Satan could not be the content of what filled Ananias’ heart, what did he put into the core of Ananias’ being? The answer is in the next phrase, “to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). The Greek verb “pseudomai,” translated “to lie to,” is an infinitive verb, used in this case to give purpose to the verbal action of filling. Satan filled the self-centered heart of Ananias with the temptation to lie. Jesus said the same about the Pharisees. “You are of our father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Satan’s interaction with Ananias was deception.
The “Holy Spirit” in our verse is in the accusative. Ananias received the action of this infinitive verb, “to lie to” (pseudomai). Peter restated David’s cry as he wept over his sin.
“For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight” (Psalms 51:3-4).
All sin is an act of rebellion within the context of the war between God and Satan. Indeed, Ananias’ sin harmed the early Church. Ananias lied to Peter, but ultimately in the spiritual realm, the sin and rebellion were against God!
There is a second purpose to the filling, as stated by Peter. He said, “and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself” (Acts 5:3). The Greek word “nosphizo,” translated “keep back for yourself,” is also an infinitive verb, which gives purpose to the main verb “has filled.” Satan’s action on Ananias’ heart caused him to lie to the Holy Spirit, and his physical demonstration was embezzlement. “For yourself” is added because the infinitive verb is in the middle voice, meaning the action is on behalf of self. The consistent pattern is all sin and rebellion are against God and influenced by Satan. Every sin is deception and is an expression of the person’s heart. Sin is expressed on the physical stage of life and is always self-centered, which is the motive and nature of all sin.
The Scriptures are clear that the death of Ananias and Sapphira is not the response our redemptive God desires. What was true for Ananias and Sapphira is also true for you and me. This story of rebellion is not sinning from the streets; it is a revelation of incomplete surrender in the hearts of church people. God does not tolerate sin from the street or in the pew. The forgiving, redemptive Jesus is reaching out to us again.