Summary: The Church is to be a place of honesty and integrity. Satan plants the seed of dishonesty in order to disarm and distract the church.
Some of the strongest language used by our Lord while walking the earth in ministry was reserved for religious people who were masters of deception in the sense that they deceived others in making them think one way about themselves (holy/pious) when in reality they were something altogether different (wicked/evil/malicious). These masters of deception were the religious people of Jesus’ day, largely leaders and authority figures within the religious system, who worked hard at making others think of them in a way that was not really true. Jesus minced no words and often referred to them as “white-washed tombs,” “a brood of vipers” and even “sons of Satan.” Jesus often used these masters of deception as examples of how not to pray, give, serve, worship, etc… when He was teaching His disciples the ways of Kingdom living.
The most frequent word Jesus used to describe these people was the word “hypocrite.” Our English word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word that was used to identify an actor on stage that would wear a mask in order to live up to the role he or she was assigned. The mask was not who the person really was but only a false representation of who they really were. That is really what hypocrisy is—wearing a mask so that others think one way about me but in reality I am something or somebody totally different.
As we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus interaction with the hypocrites of the day we quickly conclude that He certainly was not a fan of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was a major issue during His day and He addressed it openly and honestly. Hypocrisy was one of the first major internal issues that the early Church had to face and our passage lays out in detail how it was dealt with.
While Ananias and Sapphira are the primary players of Acts 5 we cannot truly understand their actions until we look at somebody who is largely overlooked in the story. His name is Joseph. He was a Jewish man who became a follower of Christ through the preaching of Jesus by the early church. There was more to him than the name Joseph could communicate for the Scriptures say that Apostle’s called him Barnabas. So faithful and Spirit filled was this man the Apostle’s changed his name to reflect who he really was—an encourager. He was an encourager both to the Apostle’s and to his fellow believer. Joseph was the real deal. These passages of Scripture that describe the early activity of the Church are not hypothetical, “pie in the sky” hopes of what they wanted to be but was actually descriptive of what was actually happening in the early Church. So pure in spirit was Joseph/Barnabas he willingly sold a piece of valuable property on the island of Cyprus for a price and brought all the proceeds from the sale to the Apostle’s so that those who had need may be served by the Church.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira…
BUT. Every word that God chooses is purposeful and powerful. The first word of chapter five reveals to us that there is going to be a shift in what we are reading. We have just read about all the awesome stuff that was taking place in the Church and a personal example was given to us in Joseph/Barnabas. Now, however, something is about to change. There are a lot of times in the Bible where the word “but” marks a shift where something positive, promising and powerful is revealed such as in EPHESIANS 2:1-5. This time, however, the word “but” is used to introduce to us a couple whose actions are not positive, promising or powerful but wicked, evil, deceptive and hypocritical.
ANANIAS, SAPPHIRA AND GENEROSITY. These too were Jewish people who became followers of Christ through the ministry of the early Church as well just like Joseph/Barnabas. Their names are interesting because Sapphira means “beautiful” and Ananias means “God is gracious” and few people’s lives have contradicted their names so blatantly as these two. In response to what others were doing, namely Joseph/Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira decided to sell some of their own personal property and bring the proceeds from the sale to the Apostle’s for the sake of funding the ministry as well. The problem was, however, that they conceived in their own hearts to lie about what was given to the Church. They sold the property for one amount yet gave the Church another. The discrepancy between the two amounts is because they decided to keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with what they did in keeping back a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Nowhere in the Book of Acts do we find there to be a command for the Christians to sell off all they had and bring all the proceeds to the Church. The generosity that arose in the early Church was a voluntary response to the salvation they had received from Jesus. A lot of times we hear teaching and preaching from the Bible about generosity and assume that it is a command where in reality the generosity that arises from those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus is a natural expression of our gratitude, thanksgiving and submission to Jesus as both Savior of and Lord over our lives.