Yesterday we considered three lessons from the story of this unhappy couple. Today we can think about another four.
Firstly, we have here an example of Peter’s own words that he wrote later in 1 Peter 4:17: ‘For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’ The fact of the matter is that God is consistently righteous. He will not tolerate deceit in his house. One reason for his judgement may have been the possibility that outsiders would know that the church had been deceived by Ananias and Sapphira if nothing had happened. Such would have concluded that the God of the Christians either did not know what Ananias and his wife had done, or else did not care about their behaviour. The credibility of the Christian message was at stake. The Christian message is about a God who takes sin seriously, so seriously that he sent his own Son to the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of his people. Could he stand by and watch with inertia the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? God’s answer is clear – he will not stand by indifferently, instead he will act as he sees best. God intends that his church should be holy and he will not let unrepented sin persist within it.
Secondly, we should note that Ananias and Sapphira were judged as individuals. They consulted together about the deed (in passing, we should note that spouses should never encourage one another to sin), but they were judged separately. They came to church at different times that day, but each came with a deceptive heart. Sapphira could even have pretended that she had nothing to do with the action because she had not been there when her husband had pretended to hand over all the proceeds from the sale (in fact, she had been given an extra three hours by God in which she could have reconsidered her actions). The extreme fate that happened to them is a reminder that sometimes individuals can sin too greatly as far as God is concerned. This factor is the unknown one in any life that is dominated by sin. It is sobering to note that they were not given an opportunity for repentance once they affirmed their lie as the truth.
Thirdly, we do not know whether or not Ananias and Sapphira were backsliders or whether they were tares that the devil had planted among the wheat. Commentators down the centuries have differed on this question – of course, the reason why they differed is because the Bible does not say whether or not they were converted people. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that it is a very dangerous thing for anyone to attempt to deceive God. Whether we are professing believers or not, we have to ask God to search our hearts and see if there be within us any wicked way. This sin of Ananias and Sapphira did not begin on the day when they decided to sell the land. It had its roots in the characters that they were developing personally. If they had dealt with their sins of covetousness and tendency to deceive at the beginning, they would not have had a tragic end.
Fourthly, this incident is a reminder to us of the uniqueness of the true church of Christ. The church, whether seen as a congregation or as a group of congregations, is not merely one society among the range of societies found in a community. Instead, the church is totally different from all other groups because it is the dwelling-place of God. When we come here, we gather before God, and Hebrews 12:22-24 reminds us that we worship him as the One who is the judge of all. Therefore, in a sense we should not be surprised at what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. Instead we should be surprised that there are not many more similar cases. The fact that there are not these other cases is a reminder that God is a God of mercy.
Finally, we should note that this act of divine judgement did not hinder the growth of the church. But we will consider this in our next study.