Summary: When Ananias and Sapphira lied about their contribution and were punished by God - the church grew. Why?
OPEN: I always loved Church camp. And I especially loved the camp songs. I’m going to sing one of them today, and if you know the song – sing along:
"Ananias and Sapphira got together to conspire
a plot - to cheat - the church and get ahead,
They knew God's power – but did not fear it, tried to cheat the Holy Spirit
Lied to Simon Peter and they both dropped dead!”
(I paused and smiled broadly) Now, isn’t that cute little children’s song. We teach our youth that at church camp… “They both dropped dead.”
You know, there’s lots of folks that have a problem with that part of this story – where Ananias and Sapphira die – because it doesn’t seem like God should do things like that.
ILLUS: After I graduated from Bible College, I settled into my home church for a while and started a Bible study in my home based on the book of Acts. Part of the group was a friend of mine who attended a liberal church in the community, and he got uneasy when we got to this story. The other guys in the group were talking about God killing Ananias and Sapphira and my friend abruptly said, “No, God didn’t kill them.” That took the rest of a little bit by surprise and so we tried to point out why it was obvious God did do just that. He just grew more and more agitated. He believed their deaths were a just a result of their shame at being caught, or perhaps it had been a coincidence that they both died with hours of each other. But his main reasoning was that he believed in a God of Love… not a God of judgment.
Now (to give the guy credit) the text doesn’t actually SAY that “God killed them”… but there’s no question that’s exactly what happened. In fact, that’s pretty much what everyone at the time thought. Acts 5:11 tells us that “… great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”
And the story even affected folks who weren’t even IN the church. Acts 5:13 tells us that “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem” (apparently, folks used to hang around the church folks when they went to the Temple… but not anymore).
ILLUS: Even in our modern day, that story can still have an effect of folks. One preacher recalled that when he was a child he thought church boring. In fact, one Sunday, he slipped out of the church and went to the local candy store where he spent his offering money on Tootsie Rolls. He returned to church just in time to hear sermon, about (you guessed it) Ananias and Sapphira. After the service, he remembered praying passionately for forgiveness, and he even stayed up all night chanting "I love Jesus, I love Jesus" over and over again in the hopes that God would spare him. ("Home Town Tales" by Philip Gulley).
Now, we need to realize that the stuff in Scripture is there for a reason. God deliberately put this story about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts for a purpose. There were probably lots of other things that happened in the early church but God never shared that stuff. But he did share this story. The question is WHY?
Before get to that question, however, we need look at the history of what led up to our story. Just a few days (or maybe a few weeks) before this, Peter had stood before a large crowd of Jews gathered for the feast of Pentecost. Peter preached such a powerful sermon that day, that over 3000 people were convicted of the need to change their lives, and were baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
Now, the Jews in crowd had come to Jerusalem from over 14 different countries. And once they became Christians, nobody wanted to leave. Everybody wanted to stay in Jerusalem and enjoy the fellowship. Of course, that was great… except for one thing: many of these new Christians didn’t have jobs or homes or food for their tables. They were struggling financially. And so, many in the church responded by selling personal property and bringing it to the Apostles to be distributed to the poor and needy among them.
In the church there was one man, named Barnabas, who sold a field he owned to supply for needy. This is the first time in Scripture that we read about him and (interestingly enough) his was the only name mentioned in Acts 5 selling property for needy. The fact that he was mentioned this way leads many to believe that he was the one who began this practice, and that his selfless act inspired others to do the same. If so, his benevolence may have led to his becoming a leader in the early church, and he even went on to join with Paul on some of his missionary journeys.