Acts 4:32-37, 5:1-11 | Job 34:21,23,33
“How could you do a thing like this?”
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is easily one of the most troubling in the Bible. (There are worse, but…!) If you have read it, you understand. If you have not, take a moment to read it now in Acts 5:1-11 and/or watch our Superbook Show episode to see Emma’s clever retelling of the story.
If you go back to the end of Acts 4, everything sounds delightful:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. […] There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.Acts 4:32,34-35 NLT
People were living together harmoniously, and even sharing all their stuff. Nobody was ‘doing without’ because if they needed something, others would share. What an ideal set of circumstances!
The chapter even ends with a nice ‘for instance’ to illustrate this sharing.
For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.Acts 4:36-37 NLT
Then the story takes a horribly dark turn in the first verses of chapter 5 when Ananias and his wife Sapphira literally drop dead before the apostles. What happened?!
What happened were a few things: dishonesty, hypocrisy, and maybe even a little envy or coveting. Let’s break that list down… Ananias and Sapphira were pretty obviously dishonest about how much money they received for the house. Pretending to be more generous than they actually were was hypocritical. And perhaps they did it because they saw how well-received Barnabas’ contribution was…and wanted some of that kind of attention.
But the troubling part is: why was their punishment so severe? Apparently, this was troubling to the early believers as well. Right after Ananias died…
Everyone who heard about it was terrified.Acts 5:5b NLT
People were understandably frightened.
Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.Acts 5:11 NLT
Let’s face it, we have all lied, been hypocritical, and coveted. When you think about it that way, the next logical question is: “Am I going to drop dead next?!” That’s a troubling thought!
Matthew Henry, 17th century pastor and Bible commentator (he wrote a book of explanations of all the scripture in the Bible), writes that God may have been thinking more of protecting the early church from an early wave of hypocrisy.
And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so.Matthew Henry, from Commentary for Acts 5:1-11
You may even find yourself wondering what happened to Ananias and Sapphira after death. Did they get to go to Heaven, or what? The scripture does not say. But we know that God is not only just; he is also patient, kind, and loving. And in the words of Job…
“For God watches how people live; he sees everything they do.”Job 34:21 NLT
“We don’t set the time when we will come before God in judgment.”Job 34:23 NLT
“Must God tailor his justice to your demands?”Job 34:33a NLT
So take the story of Ananias as a cautionary tale–because it seems that was God’s intent–and examine your own heart. If you find dishonesty, hypocrisy, etc., confess it to God and ask for his help.
Questions for Group Discussion
- How do you feel after learning about Ananias’ and Sapphira’s demise? Does it seem unfair? How do you wish it would have happened?
- Can you describe a situation in which you at first disagreed with how something was handled, but later supported the response? What changed–did you get more information on the situation? Has this ever happened regarding your parent(s)?
- Why do you think it was such a big deal that Ananias and Sapphira lied about the money?
Challenge: You Be the Judge
The account of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s death in Acts 5:1-11 seems a little anemic. You read it and, after the initial shock, questions emerge like soda bubbles. “Why was their punishment so harsh?” “Were they really trying to trick the apostles?” “Were these two really believers?” It’s easy to feel that if you could only get more details, you could make more sense of the story.
God knows all the details of any situation. That is why he alone can be completely just. That–and knowing he is good–is why we can trust his judgement.
Your challenge is to create a sort of social experiment. It actually could turn out to be a fun party game, if you do it right!
- Write a one- or two-paragraph scenario in which someone requires punishment for their actions.
- Remove some important details from the scenario, and list them separately.
- List a few suggested punishments, ranging from lenient to severe.
- Read your scenario (minus the details you removed) to a group of friends and have them start judging which of your suggested punishments is appropriate.
- Once they have chosen, offer them the details you withheld and see how their judgement changes.
You are the judge in this case. The defendant is a 30-year-old man who caused a traffic accident. What is the appropriate punishment?
Victim 1 was driving an SUV on the highway, doing the speed limit. Suddenly the defendant’s car sped by, swerving into Victim 1’s lane so close that Victim 1 had to run off the road and slam on the brakes to avoid the defendant’s speeding car. As a result, Victim 2’s car slammed into Victim 1’s SUV, damaging both vehicles. As the defendant sped onto the exit ramp, Victim 1 saw the offending driver looking intently at his cellphone, oblivious to the accident he caused. Defendant admits to being distracted by his cellphone.
A police officer witnessed the event and stopped the defendant, who was then speeding down the highway off-ramp. The officer then investigated the accident.
- Written warning
- Traffic ticket and payment for damaged vehicles
- Felony reckless driving charge, payment for damages, plus 30 days jail time
- The defendant’s 4-year old daughter was in the back seat having an asthma attack.
- The defendant was using his cellphone to get directions to the nearest hospital.
- Victim 2 was writing a text message when they slammed into Victim 1’s rear bumper.