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.
Acts 5:1-5 ESV
When I read this, it first strikes me that the death of the couple Ananias and Sapphira is violent.
It’s in keeping with the supernatural powers of the Book of Acts.
But it’s about death, not life.
“You have not lied to man but to God.”
But this lie was to have “kept back for himself some of the proceeds.”
What do I make of it?
God wants us to be transparent to Him
After all, was not the death of Adam and Eve — the expulsion from the Garden of Eden — in part due to a lie?
But the lies are about not coming forward to God with the bad parts of ourselves.
And that’s because for us to truly know God, we have to be able to see and repent our own moral failures.
It’s less a punishment for lying, in the way a strict teacher or parent would strike their child for lying. But more of an inevitable outcome of not presenting the truth in transparency.
Because if we can’t come forward with Godly sorrow, we cannot repent. And if we cannot repent, we cannot truly need help (because we see ourselves as without any problems.)
And if we cannot see ourselves without any problems, how do we come to God?
God wants all of us
This is the second outcome.
And I believe The order of operations does matter here.
Once we face the truth of ourselves, a natural outcome is to give it all to God.
But when we don’t realize the extent of our emptiness without him, that ask seems too demanding.
It’s not as if the couple denied God of all of the fields. They just held back part of it.
The Gospel is about:
- Truth -- particularly facing the truth of our flaws
- Life vs Death -- the death is less direct punishment about lying, but is the outcome of failing to be set free in the truth
- Total commitment -- Jesus later shares how he desires total commitment, all of us; and this passage illustrates this concept
Application in real life
I think the litmus can be to ask, first, “Am I holding anything back?”
It could be money or time or thought-space (the amount of space we devote to God in our thought life.)
And if you’re holding something back (as I may be), the question is first, am I lying to myself and to God about it.
This passage is partially why I am frank with myself and maybe too much so with others who much I question my devotion and commitment, my level of sacrifice.
I’m hesitant to give it all.
But I don’t lie about it.
I often tell God, “I’m withholding from you. I’m stuck. Help me. I know in my head that I’m completely dependent on you. But what’s going to happen if I go all in?”