Summary: Yes they were hypocrites, pretending to give all but in actuality only giving part. But how could they receive a death sentence just for that?
There are two approaches to presenting the gospel. One is a positive approach and the other is a negative. An emphasis on the positive is good for making a long term impact. The negative side sometimes instills a more reactive response. This passage is about the negative side of sin. It is a harsh passage of scripture, but it is God’s Word and serves to warn us. Sin invites the judgment of God.
In this passage a married couple Ananias and Sapphira meet their death because of sin. This passage finds an Old Testament parallel in Joshua 7, where Achan who was exposed for his sin is stoned to death.
“When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.” Acts 5:5 is not one of the verses of scripture you find in the promise box or scripture memory pack.
We find here in the Bible, side by side, a positive and negative example of Christian living. The Positive is Acts 4:36-37, Barnabas, Son of encouragement. He was not like Peter and John who walked away from business and their livelihood. Barnabas was a man of means. He sold a field and put it at the apostle’s feet.
Apparently Barnabas won the immediate affection of the early church. He did not do this out of duty, but out of love. People must have talked about what a wonderful man Barnabas was.
Chapter 5 of Acts begins with a contrast to the selfless deed of Barnabas. Ananias and Sapphira also sold a piece of property. They too laid money at the apostle’s feet. Both sold property. Both laid money at apostle’s feet. But there was a difference. We see the obvious difference if the outcome. Barnabas is praised but, Ananias and Sapphira die.
Barnabas made his sacrificial act out of a loving heart. Ananias and Sapphira wanted the praise of men that Barnabas had. But they did not want to make that kind of sacrifice.
They were under no obligation to sell their land. After they sold it they were under no obligation to lay all the money at the Apostles feet.
But after they sold the land and laid money at the apostle’s feet, they could not lay part of it at their feet and then falsely claim to have laid the whole amount at their feet. That is hypocrisy. It’s like wearing a mask and pretending to be what you really are not. Hypocrisy was Jesus’ rub with the Pharisees. They wanted to look spiritual, but they were not so concerned about really being spiritual. They offered up long, loud public prayers in conspicuous places. They were putting on an empty religious show.
Ananias and Sapphira, not only coveted the money from the sale. They coveted the honor they would receive for giving all of it. They lied about it. They lied to the Holy Spirit, which is lying to God. This was a serious sin. Satan filled their heart. Sin is serious. It is more than fooling those around you and pretending like you are great. It’s lying to God.
But wasn’t the punishment extremely severe? Yes they were hypocrites, pretending to give all but in actuality only giving part. But how could they receive a death sentence just for that?
God was working mightily in this early church. There had been many open manifestations of God’s power and glory that brought many to Christ and directly confronted those who worked to manipulate the legal system to protect their own religious status.
God demonstrated his power at Pentecost and three thousand turned to Christ. A lame man was miraculously healed and a large crowd at the temple turned to follow Jesus Christ. Many of these same people were very possibly the same ones in the crowds yelling crucify him just three months previously. These visible manifestations of God’ power were dramatic. The church had just been physically shaken and there was a holy and reverent fear of God. In the same way God’s judgment at this time were visible and dramatic.
The death of Ananias and Sapphira put a reverential fear in God’s people. Sin is serious. Even today we need to remind ourselves just how serious sin is to God. It is serious even for what we might call a little sin.
We can expect those of the world sin and live as an affront to God. They don not know God. They are spiritually dead and belong to darkness. The worse tragedy is when church members live in sin. We lose the power to proclaim the gospel. God uses Ananias and Sapphira as a warning to us about serious nature of hypocrisy, pretending we are something we are not.
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?