“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
This chapter deals with the attacks on the early church. In the first half of the chapter we have the attack from within—Ananias and Sapphira, and in the last half of the chapter, the attack from without from the scribes and the Pharisees and the religionists. In verses 1-11 we have the case of lying to the Holy Spirit, a sin of false motivation which was a special attack within the church, and in order to head off that attack and to give the church a chance to grow and to consolidate we have the sin unto death in connection with Ananias and Sapphira.
The background for this passage is found in chapters four, verses 34-37 where Barnabas did a great thing. This is not communism, this is charity; it was done of one’s own volition. But there was a special case in verses 36-37. The point is he brought all the money. He didn’t have to; he did it of his own free will. There’s nothing in the Word of God that says you have to give everything you have away or you are really not a “spiritual Christian.”
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
There was a couple in the congregation who were very wealthy. Both were believers. But into the picture of the church comes Joseph, later on known as Barnabas the apostle and he sold a tract of land he owned in Cyprus, brought the money to Jerusalem and presented the money as unto the Lord. Obviously this would cause some stir in the congregation, and perhaps for the first time since their salvation Ananias and Sapphira were being outdone (as far as they were concerned). The day came when Ananias and Sapphira were jealous because for the first time someone had eclipsed them. Now Barnabas, unknowingly and unwittingly, was that person. As a result, Ananias and Sapphira decided to duplicate the feat of Banabas, but they decide to cheat. Whatever they did, they decided to hide it, but they were going to give the impression that the actual price of the property was much greater and, as a result, they were going to try to pass this off as a greater feat than that of Barnabas. What they were really after was approbation and praise. It should be understood from the start that no one said they had to do this. Whatever they gave was between them and the Lord and was really no one else’s business. So, Ananias and Sapphira were making a most vicious attack on the church, and at this point they were enemies of the church. And this is often true: the worst enemies of the church are often found within the church. They were starting the game of “king of the mountain” because they were jealous. Barnabas sought no approbation or any advancement in the local church; he was simply doing it as unto the Lord. But because of the tremendous praise that came his way Ananias and Sapphira became jealous.
In their jealousy they entered into this transaction where they were going to sell a valuable piece of property and were going to bring it and give it just as Barnabas did, but they were going to hold back part of the price. However, they were giving the impression that they are giving the entire price. They desired the praise of the Jerusalem church. Their mental attitude which was behind this was envy and jealousy; they lived by status symbols and receiving approbation from others ignoring their spiritual lives. This was dangerous territory with God.
They lied. The sin was lying. There is nothing wrong with giving part of the price but there was something wrong with giving part and saying it was all. It was a sin motivated by approbation lust. They desired to appear to duplicate the feat of Barnabas. There is no regulation as to how much a believer should give. The sin was in telling the lie, in the envy and jealousy, the mental attitude behind it. They “lied to the Holy Spirit” because they wanted the church to think they had duplicated the giving of Barnabas. Hence, behind everything was approbation lust, one of the greatest enemies of the believer. It causes believers to serve in the energy of the flesh and to produce human instead of divine good.
The church would be destroyed from within if approbation lust gained control right from the start. There are two ways to break false motivation and approbation lust. First, maximum divine discipline—the sin unto death which removes the persons involved immediately. Secondly, the teaching of Bible doctrine, so that people will understand that approbation lust is a part of the sin nature and that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and do things as unto the Lord.
“But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?”
Peter somehow became aware of their scheme and lie. Neither any demon nor Satan can indwell the body of a believer, but Satan can fill the minds of any believer through approbation lust. The “heart” is the thinking part of the mind. In the mind of Ananias there was envy and jealousy. In his approbation lust he committed what was called here lying to the Holy Spirit. This means that his motives which originated with Satan are now found in Ananias, a believer.
There are five sins in the New Testament which are said to be sins specifically against the Holy Spirit.
“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?” and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
This is an important question because it indicates that whatever belongs to you, you have free will to do with it as you see fit, as long as it remains in your possession. The Bible recognizes the right of the individual to own property and to dispose of his own money and assets as he sees fit. After it was sold and he converted his property into cash which belonged to him. It was his money, therefore he could dispose of it as he saw fit.
He gave his money to the church, but he gave only part of it when in reality he was holding back part of the money. He wanted to hang on to his money and give the impression that he was doing what Barnabas had done, that he had given all of it. The interesting thing is that the punishment fitted the crime: God parted him from his money by death. Lying against the Holy Spirit is always false motivation. The motivation comes from approbation and power lust—always from the sin nature.
“And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out they buried him.”
Peter himself did not administer the discipline, it came from God. Peter exposed the deceit which he had to do as an apostle. He estimated the situation, he saw the danger to the local church, he brought this sin out to Ananias, and it was God who administered the sin unto death. Peter didn’t say anything about dying; he simply stuck with the case. God did the judging. Ananias “gave up the spirit” – means he was a believer, he had a human spirit, and his human spirit went to be with the Lord.
The great fear which came over everyone was very important because this was recognition of authority. Every local church must have authority. The final authority in any local church is the pastor, but his authority must be connected with the teaching of the Word of God. So there was great fear in the congregation in the sense that they recognized that God’s hand was in what occurred. And the local church was saved from destruction from within.
Behind the story in Acts 5 is the principle that the early church which struggled to get going obviously had to be strong doctrinally on the inside. Troublemakers are a hindrance wherever you find them. Ananias and Sapphira were suffering from one of the greatest maladies in the spiritual life: approbation lust. They desired to give the appearance of having given all when they had only given a part.
Lust comes in many categories and is a sin which we all should be on guard for because it can be very subtle. Lust is the overwhelming desire for something; a passionate desire; an illicit, uncontrolled, overwhelming desire which originates from the sin nature and gains the cooperation of your volition. Pleasure lust is a destroyer of honor, virtue, and integrity through sin and perpetual carnality. There is nothing wrong with pleasure as long as that pleasure does not involve sinful activity. Pleasure of the moment is not worth the displeasure of God. Sexual lust can destroy a marriage. Social lust often destroys relationships. Approbation lust is arrogance and destroys the spiritual life. Monetary lust is simply greed. Chemical lust includes drug addiction and the abuse of alcohol. Crusader lust is Christian activism which is an attempt to whitewash the devil’s world system. Revenge lust is attempting to play God. Criminal lust includes any crime against society and is therefore contrary to the laws of God.
“Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.”
Peter did not pronounce the judgment on Ananias, but he does on Sapphira because she was a part of the same situation. When they buried her we had the end of the case. Both were believers, neither of them lost their salvation, and both of them entered into the presence of the Lord. The very thing they sought to gain—approbation—is the very thing they lost. The principle is either do it God’s way or don’t do it. If you can’t serve as unto the Lord, don’t do it.
The objective of a local church is not to have people frightened—of God, the pastor, other people, or the sin unto death. But there is a principle here. This was not a fear in the sense of terror; it was recognition that a local church which represents God must have discipline. Discipline is necessary for the function of any organization. The local church is an organization. This fear developed a discipline necessary to carry the early church through its many stages of growth. It gave them a respect for Peter, which was absolutely necessary because the one who teaches must have the respect of those whom he teaches or he can’t teach. This fear included the realization that to fail to live by grace or to utilize grace meant loss of opportunity to truly serve the Lord. This fear included the awareness of mental attitude sins plus the clarification of the individual’s motivation. A right thing must always be done in a right way.