Summary: Our attitude in giving is more important than the amount. If we’re giving out of pride, to impress others, God isn’t impressed.
“Truth and Consequences” (Ananias & Sapphira) Acts 5:1-11 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (Stewardship Sunday)
Have you ever kept a gift that you intended to give away? You maybe had second thoughts and said to yourself, “Hey, this is pretty good; I think I’m going to keep it!” Acts 5 tells of such a gift. This incident shows that even in the earliest days of the Church, believers were not a society of perfect people. We tend to elevate the “Early Church”, to put it on a pedestal as if it were especially holy; yet it consisted of folks pretty much like us. There has never been a perfect church, not in Jerusalem…not even in Saugus. And I can assure you that our church will remain far from perfect, so long as I am your Pastor!
The early church, just like today, depended on financial assistance. The Bible word “offering” means, “to carry to”. The word was used to describe the blood offerings in the Hebrew Temple. The blood of the sacrifice was “carried to” the altar. We carry our gifts to God, placing them before Him, for His use. At our church ushers collect the offering, then bring it forward, but in some churches, the congregation walks up to the front with their offerings. Verse 2 states that Ananias placed his offering at the feet of the Apostles. In context, the previous chapter records the generosity of other believers, particularly a man named Barnabus. In light of Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, many believers were cashing in their material assets and contributing to the church. This became a source of envy for Ananias and Sapphira, who yearned for the praise of others.
This couple had some valuable real estate, which they sold. But their offering was tainted by deception. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be acknowledged as spiritual people. George Macdonald wrote, “Half the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not.” Churches need support, and the Bible teaches that 10% of our income is an appropriate amount to contribute. However, our attitude in giving is just as important as the amount. If we’re giving out of pride, to impress others, God isn’t impressed.
On the surface, this incident is about giving, but it’s mainly about pride and hypocrisy. We need to examine our motives for giving. The best attitude is one of near anonymity. This is a good reason for using the envelope system—you not only get info for tax preparation but no one needs to know how much you’ve given. We shouldn’t make a big deal of our generosity, or any acts of Christian service. We simply give and serve, without any fuss. If you teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, serve on a board, or visit people in the hospital, you’re simply grateful for the opportunity to help. You’re not expecting a medal. If giving God a tithe is just part of your budget, it becomes a non-issue. You simply do it, without any fanfare, without any hidden agendas. The Pharisees made a big show of their giving and were criticized by Jesus for calling attention to themselves. God may well reward our generosity, but that should never be our motive for giving.
Money can assume a god-like quality in our lives. Some philanthropic acts are attempts to achieve immortality, to perpetuate one’s name. I drove by an impressive church in New Jersey where the primary donor’s name was inscribed in huge letters over the entrance. How much reward in heaven might such a benefactor receive? It’s tempting to seek a higher reputation than we deserve. Low-profile generosity usually keeps us from pride. God knows our hearts. He understands our motives. He knows how much we should give (of money, time, talents, and resources), what we’re actually giving, and why we’re giving.
Bible scholar Dr. Bruce Lockerbie urges ministers to “stop saying ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ and start preaching why giving is not optional.” Church giving is not an admission or membership fee; it is an act of love. We might do well to ask ourselves in what ways do we tend to hold back from the Lord, and why.
It’s very important to understand that no one made Ananias and Sapphira contribute to the Church--there was no coercion, no pressure; they were under no obligation. And they had every right to retain part, even all of the price for their land, for their own use. Their sin was in presenting the balance as though it were the total purchase-price they’d received. It was a deliberate deception. They didn’t give as much as the sales price, but they pretended they did, to make people think they were extra-spiritual. They hoped to give a little but get credit for a lot. They were right to equate giving with spirituality, but wrong to think giving was a substitute for spirituality.