Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ananias and Sapphira

Yesterday we examined the lives of Aquila and Priscilla. We saw how abnormally gospel-centered they were and pray that more such couples let go of their claims on this world in exchange for eternal joy. Today I want to contrast the heavenly-mindedness of Aquila and Priscilla with the skewed priorities of another couple in the early church - Ananias and Sapphira.

In the first chapters of Acts we read of the beginning of the church. In Acts 4:32 we read: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." Why did the believers have everything in common? We read on in verse 34: "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." The first believers had everything in common because they loved each other, and as John Piper once said, "Love cannot be satisfied with need." The church is the earthly outpost of heaven. The church is the invasion of the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of man. The first church was simply living out the heavenly ethic of love for one another.

Rather than operating out of selfish ambition, the first believers were motivated by delight in God. How do we know this? Well in Acts 2:46 we read: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people." What was the source of their joy and generosity? It's obvious that the source of their joy was God because he's the object of their praise. If their joy was to be found somewhere else, they would have praised that instead. The believers were living out the heavenly ethic of Jesus, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:32-34). We see something amazing in the writings of Luke. In Luke's gospel, we read the instruction of Jesus on how to be eternally prosperous. Then in the book of Acts, Luke records how the first church actually obeyed.

But all was not well in the first church. Ananias and Sapphira were part of the first church. We read about them in Acts 5. As the early believers were selling their possessions, giving to the poor, and providing treasure for themselves in heaven; Ananias and Sapphira decided heavenly treasure wasn't good enough. They, too, had a piece of property to sell and they sold it. But rather than giving all the proceeds to the apostles for loving distribution, they kept back part of it. The problem is that they paraded around like they contributed the entire sum. In other words, they lied about the amount of profit they made. "Yeah Peter, this property brought $5,000. Here it is." Actually, it brought $10,000, but Ananias and Sapphira kept back some for themselves. (The text doesn't actually give the amount.) They pretended to be heavenly-minded while firmly anchored to this world.

Somehow, Peter knew better and confronted Ananias. "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 men but to God" (Acts 5:3-4). Peter points out the obvious - the property belonged to Ananias. He was under no compulsion to sell it. And once sold, he was under no compulsion to give the proceeds to the church. The apostles weren't communists. They expected love to do its amazing work in the hearts of believers. When there is a greater hope than that offered by the trinkets of this world, love is free to flow.

Out of delight in God, with an eye to heaven, believers are free from the tyranny of worldly possessions. Jesus tells his disciples not to fear. God is giving us his Kingdom. We don't have to provide it for ourselves. And at the end of the day, the accumulation of possessions flows from a fear of lack. We fear life won't be as complete without possessions, so we hoard. The only thing worse than such faithlessness is pretending that we have faith. That's what Ananias and Sapphira did. Before Aquila and Priscilla traveled all over the Roman empire, advancing the Kingdom of God, Ananias and Sapphira pretended to have that kind of faith. But one can't fool God. God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for their hypocrisy.

How many today claim to be friends of God? How many in the church today fake faith? I'm not talking about those who long for greater faith, but fall short. I'm talking about those who long for earth, but want to look like they long for heaven. How many husbands long for a more comfortable life with their wife here and now? How many wives yearn to be the center of their husbands' affection? One cannot fake heavenly-mindedness! Heavenly-mindedness overflows in love for the advance of God's Kingdom on earth. That kind of passion is going to find outlets in daily life. If there aren't any outlets, there isn't a flow of passion.

It is debated whether Ananias and Sapphira were truly Christians. When Ananias and Sapphira breathed their last breath on earth, was their next breath in heaven? It would seem strange that God would reward disobedience with promotion. However, God is incredibly gracious through Christ. After all, the name Ananias means, "God is gracious." How gracious? Do you want to be the one to test him?

1 comment:

Antonio Romano said...

Apostasy is not what frightens me. The proverbial monkey on the back is an attempt at hidden hypocrisy. I say "attempt" because it is truly impossible to fake heavenly-mindedness as you said. Love for the city of God is displayed outwardly by loving those still delighting in the city of man. We can be guilty of the hypocrisy you speak of without ever outwardly lying to the church. We can give our money, give some of our time, learn the right phrases....learn how to speak about our hearts as idolatrous and to loathe loving the world so much. None of these things mean we are heavenly-minded. In fact, our lack of love in them displays our worldly-mindedness. I can fake many things; love for people that flows out of satisfaction in God cannot be faked. That's a show I can't put on. My life will display where my heart delights by how free I am to love others. When we are busy hiding our true loves, we don't have time to love anything else. The American dream is so deadly for marriages in light of this passage. It isn't that we are called away from Christ by these massive doctrinal slips or is that we are lured away and enticed by the little trinkets that make love so hard to flow. We would rather increase our own sphere than Christ's. But thank God for Jesus Christ! In Him we find the sum of all beauty. He is the only place we can go to be free from all that holds us here. And He has made Himself available through the Cross forgiving sinners. Even those who know better. Good post....