Do you think the title of this post sounds harsh? I think it sounds very harsh. That’s why I put a question mark at the end of the title. But what does it refer to? If you lie, you die? It refers to the next section of Acts that we’re studying.
So far this week, we’ve seen how amazingly generous the earliest Christians were with one another. What I’ve asked in each of the previous two posts, though, is this: Isn’t it possible that at least some people in the church are having trouble with all this generosity?
In fact, there were. It took a while (see the previous two posts that set this up here and here), but now we’re ready to read the passage that we’re studying this week, and it includes the first of three crises that we’re going to going to learn about through this and the next two posts. The first crisis is found in Acts 5 verses 1-11. Please read that section of verses. You’ll want to read them before continuing with this post, because what you will read there is a freaky situation. Then come back to this post, and we’ll talk about it.
So what do you think about that? If you lie, you’ll die. Really? What is happening in this weird, and kinda scary story of Ananias and Sapphira? The first question that comes to my mind is this: Did Ananias and Sapphira have to sell their land? Considering what we already read in Acts 2 and Acts 4, are we to understand that everyone in the church had to sell off everything they owned? No.
Remember that time where Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor”? Could it be that the first Christians, as they were organizing the church, said, “OK everyone, Jesus said sell everything you have, so that’s what we’re all going to do, period. Get out there, sell all your stuff and bring us the cash.”? Doubtful they said that. Remember that in Acts 4:32, we read they only sold off property “from time to time.” It seems best to understand that the sold the properties on an as-needed basis. But keep in mind that they were clearly ready to sell when a need arose.
Next, look at the questions Peters asks in Acts 5, verse 4. It seems Ananias and Sapphira did have the freedom to choose how to use the property. They could have chosen to keep the property, or if they sold it, they could have chosen to use the proceeds how they wanted.
But they voluntarily chose to sell. And that is great, except for one thing: they didn’t handle it right.
The issue here is that they lied. They said they gave all, when they did not give all. It was a lie. But why lie? It seems they wanted to look good, to keep up appearances, so the rest of the people in the church would think that Ananias and Sapphira were generous people like Barnabas. If the lie worked, they could still benefit financially from the sale of the house.
But God knew. You cannot lie to God.
And then it gets crazy. God steps in and kills Ananias and Sapphira. Or does he?
What does the text say? Not that God killed them. Just that they died. Was it a heart attack, possibly from the shock of getting caught in a lie? Like natural consequences? Maybe. Or maybe Peter killed them. He was an impetuous guy who once cut a man’s ear off. Or maybe Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths were just an author’s literary way to compare the early church to Adam and Eve and their sin in the Garden (see Genesis 3)? There is much scholarly speculation about this. Google it and you’ll see what I mean; you can go down a worm hole for hours. In the end, we don’t really know the answer of how they died. The text doesn’t explicitly say, but the insinuation of the text is that their deaths were connected to their sin.
Am I saying that the moral of the story is, “If you lie, you’ll die”? It rhymes, and it is kinda catchy and memorable, but that’s not what the story is saying.
My personal opinion is that their deaths weren’t God’s doing because God is not like that. Instead I think it is best to focus on what is clear in this passage, and that is the sacrificial love the church had for one another. We can have that same kind of generous love for one another. Likewise, let us avoid deceit, avoid self-righteousness, and avoid making a show of generosity.
So after this first crisis takes place, what happens in the church? You’d think people might be freaked out and get far away. People dying at Peter’s feet? When word got out about that scene, people could easily have been thinking, there is some weird stuff going on with these Jesus people, and want to have nothing to do with them. So far chapter 5 sounds almost cultish. In your Bible, read Acts 5 verses 12-16 to see what happens.
In this brief historical interlude, we learn that the church grows, in spite of the fear. Why? Because God is at work! I love the difference between verses 13 and 14. People are kinda freaked out, not daring to join them, and yet the Christians are so compelling, and God’s power is so clearly manifest in them, that the people can’t help but want to be a part of it all. As a result more and more men and women become followers of Jesus!
It wasn’t happily ever after though. Take a look at the next post for crisis #2.