But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,…
Eden hardly puts forth its flowers before sin enters to cast a blight over everything. The Church is hardly founded before punishment falls on two of its members for their crimes. The fate of Ananias and Sapphira may seem hard. Their sin was not so heinous as some others that went unpunished.
I. SOME CONSIDERATIONS WHICH SERVE TO MITIGATE THE SEEMING SEVERITY OF THE PUNISHMENT.
1. The Church was in its infancy. Influences brought to bear upon it at that time were more effective than later on, when its character was more fixed. A sin was more consequential then. To have permitted Ananias and Sapphira to do wrong with impunity would have soon resulted in the corruption of the whole Church. An example must be made to deter others from repeating the sin.
2. The complete character of the sin is undescribed. Peter twice refers to it as a sin against the Holy Sprat (vers. 3 and 9). This would suggest that the main element of the sin lay not in the external act, but in the condition of heart back of it. Sins are like icebergs — the larger part of them is unseen. We must not estimate the sinfulness of Ananias' sin by its external impression upon us.
3. The Apostle Peter, in his relations with these unfortunate people, was under the immediate direction of the Holy Spirit. There was nothing of spitefulness or malice in Peter's conduct. The will he obeyed was the will of another: The outcome was therefore due wholly to the immediate interposition of God.
4. All life is God's, who gave it, and who may take it back to Himself whenever and in whatever manner He pleases without doing any injustice to any rights of the creature. That He took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira would have involved no injustice even if they had not sinned.
5. The loss of two lives was a means of saving many more. Others were deterred from sin.
II. THE SIN ITSELF.
1. The action which turned out to be so wrong originated in a praiseworthy motive. To give up one's property in part or in whole for the helping of the other Christians was a noble sacrifice. The act was praiseworthy.
2. We are led to suspect, however, that their whole hearts were not set on this disinterested view of the matter. They felt the force of others' example. The approbation of the Church which followed such gifts was worth securing. There was a considerable enthusiasm aroused in their hearts. They could anticipate the happiness of hearing others praise their noble giving. But their hearts were not truly in the gift. The act conveyed the idea of a higher type of feeling than they really had.
3. The difference of extent between his good feeling and the larger deed was at once filled up by another feeling, a bad feeling. How often in producing good actions are two quantities of diverse kinds thus at work!
4. In the heart of Ananias selfishness grew until it predominated, and correspondingly unselfishness diminished until it was outweighed. The formal act of benevolence of Ananias was a good act, but it was made bad by the preponderance of vanity among the feelings which led to it. He wanted to seem more generous than he truly was. There was more of vanity than benevolence in his gift. He sinned really, therefore, in doing what was formally good.
5. For his act was a falsehood. The two persons were not brought to death for telling a falsehood so much as for acting a falsehood. They pretended to be giving a whole estate when they were giving but a part of it.
6. Their act was purely voluntary. True, Peter recognises the agency of Satan in the matter (ver. 3), but this is to be recognised in every sin. He is the tempter. He cannot compel us to sin; he can only suggest. Sin is null and void until of our own volition we affix our sign-manual to it.
7. Hence we are not surprised to find that Ananias and Sapphira were perfectly deliberate in their wrong-doing. Peter said to her, "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?" (ver. 9). That word "agreed" points to a plan. This is not an instance of a man's yielding to a furious onslaught of temptation when he has let himself be caught unprepared by it. Ananias and Sapphira show a fox-like shrewdness in their sinning. They planned it deliberately, and they carried out their plan. Their sin was not as light as it seems before we analyse it.
III. THE BEARINGS OF THEIR SIN.
1. It immediately affected men. Ananias defrauded his fellows. By not doing as he declared he intended to do he was defrauding others of that which, to be sure, had once been his, but had now, by his own voluntary profession, passed out of his ownership. He virtually acted the part of a thief.
2. His sin was also against God. He lied to the Holy Ghost (ver. 3); he tempted the Spirit of the Lord (ver. 9). His soul was in a certain relation to God, and every sin of whatever character was a violation of that relation. We owe obedience to God. Duty is obligation heavenward. Sin, whatever it be in act, has its determining element in the heart. It is the heart's rebellion against its obligation to do the will of God. It is an offence against the sovereign Lord.
3. The two are identified; sin against man is sin against God. Ananias lied to the apostles; they were acting under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit. Whatever he did toward them he did toward the Spirit which was in them. A man who shoots a prince strikes at a kingdom. Whoever sins against a fellow-man aims a blow at God. Lying, stealing, adultery, murder, are sins against men, but at the same moment they are sins against God. God hides Himself, as it were, in humanity, so that what we do to men we do to God.
4. Ananias' sin affected the Church. The importance of Ananias' sin is raised to a higher power by the fact that it concerned the welfare of the Church of Christ. His punishment is interpreted by this special bearing of his sin. Sin is thus reduplicated. Every man has special functions and relations, and every sin committed against him passes on and has an unlimited reach in these relations. One man shoots another. He sins against that man. But he does more. He makes a wife a widow; he makes children fatherless; he bereaves parents, relatives, and friends; he removes a man from the community who has a special function in it; he offends against the whole commonwealth, against all humanity indeed. Oh, the awful reach of sin! No man liveth to himself, and no man sinneth to himself.
5. The sin returned upon Ananias and his wife, who connived with him, in terrible retribution. Its wages were paid to the last farthing. As these unfortunate people were carried out to burial how impressive the reply to the heart's question, "Does sin pay?"
6. Yet this affliction was made to bear good fruit under the providence of God. The effect on the Church was salutary. There were no more Ananiases.
IV. THE INFERENCES from this study.
1. Man's accountability for sin. Satan suggests it, but man accepts his suggestion and is responsible for the result.
2. The folly of sin. As we look at Ananias and his wife, with their silly vanity, they seem almost irrational. To sin is truly, according to the plain-spokenness of the Book of Proverbs, to be a fool. To escape it we must be made wise by God.
3. Sin reaches to God. "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight," says the most heart-searching confession of sin ever penned.
4. The consequences of sin are more than we can anticipate — more as they develop after we have planted them in the field of the world's life, more as they come back to us in the harvest of retribution.
5. Lying is an especially bad sin. So bad is it, that among sins which specifically exclude from heaven lying is particularly named. God is truth Himself. We are made to be like Him.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,