With the exception of Priscilla and Aquilla, it is hard to find husband and wife teams in the New Testament. Given the fact that women were suppressed in that era, this is to be expected. Although Christian wives may have stayed to the background, they were then, as they are now, the backbone of the Church. With the current decline of strong marriages, the case of Ananias and Sapphira can teach us where many couples go wrong. The first persons to suffer for their sins in the early Church was a married couple. And this pair can represent husbands and wives in any age group, ethnicity and era.
We know nothing about this couple except what we are told here. In Greek, Sapphira means “beautiful,” for it is a name that represents this precious stone. But a beautiful name does not guarantee a beautiful character. This marriage ended in tragedy.
Acts chapter four shows how persecution served to bind the early church together. However, the word “But” at the beginning of chapter five suggests a change, a new danger—a contrast to what has previously happened. As this chapter opens, Luke’s focus is still on the Jerusalem Church. He has recorded a number of events, such as the Spirit’s activity in the Upper Room, and the first persecutions. Now he records the first Church problem and the first Church discipline. In the previous chapter we find that there is danger outside the Church in the form of external persecution. Now we discover a danger within the Church—internal deception—a danger that threatened to abort the baby Church in the womb. Knowing how Satan works, it should not surprise us to find him deceiving the saints.
The facts of their case are as follows:
<>They were a married couple.
<>They owned some land and sold it.
<>They gave part of the proceeds of the sale to the Church but not all of it.
<>They conspired together to say that they had given the Church all of the proceeds
(when, in fact, they had not).
<>They were confronted by Peter.
<>They both lied about it.
<>They both were struck dead by God because of this.
<>An awesome fear of God came upon the entire church as a result.
The precious Holy Spirit does not want Church unity violated by lies and deception. This passage depicts a situation and shows how it was handled by God Himself. It also tells how the aftermath helped determine the direction of the early church. As a result of God’s judgment upon this married couple, there was a new and healthy fear (v. 11) but also a new power was unleashed (v. 12). Out of this tragedy came great triumph.
Barnabas had set a great example (4:36-37). He had land, sold it and brought the proceeds to the disciples for distribution to the poor. An atmosphere of selflessness prevailed. There was faith, honesty, and clarity concerning what needed to be done.
But a married couple is soon killed. The reason is clear: they were dishonest before God and man. How much money was involved we do not know. How old this married couple was is not known. Concerning their real motive Scripture is silent. All that we need to know is what God did and why.
Both Ananias and Sapphira met separately with Peter. They were each confronted concerning the proceeds from the land. They both lied and they both died. Many read this passage and think God is unfair. After all, they did give some of the money. Their sin was not in refusing to give, for they were under no obligation to give anything. Their sin was not a question of how much they gave; their sin was pretending. They were not struck dead for being stingy, but for refusing to admit the truth. Honesty is the point of this passage, not the amount.
When confronted, they lied. Note that they each met with Peter separately about three hours apart (v. 7). They had plenty of time to think it over but neither of them repented nor admitted the truth.
Lies and pride are deadly, but giving and tithing pleases God. If this couple were merely greedy, they would have given nothing. But if they gave nothing, they might appear as cheapskates. If they did give all the land proceeds, they would have less money in the bank. So what was the solution? Give some but pretend it was all. Their true sin was hypocrisy – not greed.
Note that “they agreed together” in this lie. How can married couples survive if they are dishonest about giving to God? When your giving has mixed motives, it displeases the Lord. As married couples, we must be honest before God concerning finances. We may look good as we drop our offering in the plate on Sunday morning. But this passage is a warning about strict accountability to God concerning our finances.
Certainly there should be equal rights for women. There should also be equal pay for women. But it follows there should also be equal punishment for the sins of women. This passage proves that wives are not exempt from judgment. Jezebel influenced her husband Ahab to sin, but both were punished separately. We may sin as a pair but we will be judged as individuals.
Ananias and Sapphira “agreed together” (v. 9). She was “privy to it” (v. 2). Just as Satan lied to Adam and Eve, so Satan prompted Ananias to lie (5:3). Satan seeks to ruin marriages through his lies today, especially in the area of finances.
We must be honest. Note that this couple “kept back” (v. 3). To “keep” or to “hold back” is a term meaning “dishonest appropriation.” Jesus never tolerated this sin among the Pharisees and He doesn’t want it in His Church. His severest words were reserved for those pretending to be spiritual. Jesus said “I am the truth” and He was continually honest in all areas of His personal life.
Peter had to see how deep the deception went, so he questioned this couple individually. The scene here does not concern a wife’s loyalty to her husband. She did not lie just because she was married to him. Sapphira did not know her husband had died three hours before (5:7). Had she known, she might have felt some compulsion to tell the truth. But would that have been true repentance?
Although she did have more time to think about her deception, she continued in the lie. Her answer, when she was confronted, showed her determination to prolong the deception. This couple was consistent in their attempts to deceive Peter. They were responsible for their actions: God does not strike people dead for their ignorance. In fact, Peter did not strike these people dead: he merely declared their penalty. Although Peter did pronounce the death sentence, he did not kill them. God did. In this holy, selfless atmosphere of the early Church, a lie could not live. Judgment came swiftly, severely and immediately. By this judgment, God made a clear statement about lying to God. That which costs you your honesty will ruin you spiritually.
God wants honesty and purity to prevail in His Church. This couple could have enjoyed the blessings of God. But they were not allowed to enjoy their marriage while living a lie. They wanted to keep part of the money but they lost everything. They might have lived to enjoy their great-grandchildren, but they died prematurely. We sin individually and will be judged individually. On judgment day, there will be no one to hide behind.
But giving and withholding is only one aspect of this story. Financial stress is still the number one cause of divorce in America. God demands that we be up front with Him concerning our finances, for dishonesty in any area can rip a couple apart.
This severe object lesson in this passage is timeless. What you give to God won’t kill you: what you withhold and lie about might. There is only one place in the Bible where God refers to pouring out blessings upon you from the windows of heaven and it concerns how you handle His money (Mal. 3:10). If you want His richest blessings, practice honest financial accountability as a Christian married couple.
1. From what you can surmise from their story in Acts, when did this couple begin to go wrong?
2. What does Proverbs 21:6 state concerning dishonesty in financial matters?
3. Paraphrase Leviticus 19:11 regarding stealing and lying.
4. According to First Timothy 5:8, what must be our attitude regarding charity?
5. What does Jesus teach in Mark 8:36 regarding monetary gain?
6. What does Jesus state about giving and receiving (Acts 20:35)?