Summary: Ananias and Saphira were right to equate giving with spirituality, but wrong to think giving was a substitute for spirituality.
“Truth and Consequences”(Ananius & Sapphira) Acts Rev Dr Robert G. Leroe
Have you ever kept a gift that you had planned to give away? Acts 5 tells of such a gift. This incident reveals that even in the earliest days of the Church, New Testament believers were not a society of perfect people. We tend to elevate the “Early Church”, yet it consisted of people pretty much like us.
The early church--just like the church at the end of the 20th century--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. In some churches, the people walk up to the front with their offerings. Verse 2 says that Ananias placed his offering at the feet of the apostles. The previous chapter records the generosity of other believers, particularly Barnabus.
Ananias and Sapphira had some real estate, which they sold. Many Christians were giving generously to the Church, and they apparently didn’t want to be among those who gave little. Giving is important. The Church needs 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. If we give out of pride, trying to impress others, God isn’t impressed. Ananias and Sapphira didn’t want to appear less spiritual than the others. George Macdonald wrote, “Half the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not.”
This incident is about giving, but it is primarily about hypocrisy. We need to examine our motives for giving. The best attitude is one of near anonymity 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, work on the finance committee, serve as church photographer, or visit people in the hospital, you’re simply grateful for the opportunity to serve. You’re not expecting a medal. If you prepare your budget with regard to giving God a tithe, it becomes a non-issue. You simply do it, without any fanfare, without any hidden agendas. The Pharisees used to make a big show of their giving and were criticized by Jesus for calling attention to themselves.
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus critiques those who give for sake of appearances, rather than out of compassion. Their actions are noble, but they give with ulterior motives. Some ministers even urge generous giving, saying that God will reward us with more than we give—which is only encouraging ulterior motives for giving. God may well reward our generosity, but that should never be our motive for giving. I contribute to my mutal fund because I want to make a profit, but I should not contribute to the Church because I hope to profit from my giving. Our “benefit” should be the satisfaction we gain, knowing that we have been blessed to be among those able to give. Listen to our Lord’s warning:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
When you see concert halls named after benefactors, and educational foundations named for philanthropic contributors, it’s tempting to appraise the motives of the givers. I saw an impressive church in NJ where the primary donor’s name was inscribed in big letters over the entrance. How much reward in heaven would such a benefactor receive? It’s tempting to seek a higher reputation than we deserve. Private, or at least low-key generosity usually prevents hypocrisy, for the most part. The point is, God knows our hearts. He understands our motives. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how much we should give (of money, time, talents, and resources), what we’re actually giving, and why we’re giving. We would profit from some personal reflection on whether we’re giving in order to gain undue credit or recognition.
The Baby Boomer generation is not as generous as earlier generations in support of both Christian ministries and secular charities. Generation X is described as being downright selfish. This is according to extensive sociological studies by the Barna Institute. Reformed scholar Dr. Bruce Lockerbie urges ministers to stop saying “I’m OK, you’re OK and begin preaching about why giving is not optional.” Church giving is not a membership fee we pay to belong; it is an act of love. We would do well to ask ourselves what we tend to hold back from the Lord, and why.