But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,…
The sin and punishment of this pair of hypocrites present the first trace of a shade on the bright form of the young Church. As in Eden the enemy could not assert his evil sway in his proper form, so in his efforts in the Church he assumed a guise suited to effect his purpose — the guise of goodness. K foe within is more to be dreaded than a foe without. But no sooner did evil reveal itself within the Christian circle than the Spirit detected and judged it. The word "but" put the conduct of Ananias and his wife in sharp contrast with that of Barnabas. Matthew Henry calls it the "melancholy but. We pass suddenly from the warm sunshine of the son of consolation" to the gloom of hypocrisy and fraud. Evil is often a close neighbour to good. "The sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them." How near to each other are chaff and wheat! but the chaff is not wheat, and is finally separated from it. Teaching by opposites is an impressive method of instruction.
I. THE SIN OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. "Lying unto the Holy Ghost." In vers. 3 and 4 the personality and deity of the Spirit are asserted in an incidental way. Peter varies the charge of lying to the Spirit in the third verse to lying to God in the fourth. It is noteworthy that a similar exchange of expression occurs in Psalm 78:36 — "lied unto Him," and ver. 41, "tempted God." Numbers 11. and 14. clearly show that the righteous judgment which Israel's "lying" to God and "tempting" Him provoked was quite analogous to this of Ananias and Sapphira. Their case was aggravated far beyond that of Simon Magus or of Elymas. It resembles more closely that of Nadab and Abihu, of Achan and of Gehazi (Leviticus 10.; Joshua 7.; 2 Kings 5:20-27), but was more criminal, because committed against greater light and intensified by a more preferred hypocrisy. Let us note some of its aggravations.
1. Their act was gratuitous.
2. It was marked by covetousness.
3. Unbelief also entered into their guilt.
(1) They distrusted God. "Suppose this community of goods should become exhausted, what then?"
(2) There was the feeling that they would not and could not be detected in their deed.
4. The sin was preconcerted. They "agreed together" to deceive the Church and the Spirit in the Church. The plan was concocted deliberately and dispassionately.
5. The devil's agency in the sin. The question "why" implies that resistance to Satan's influence had been possible. Ananias is addressed, not as a helpless creature whom the enemy had made his tool, but as one who had made him his partner and abettor. "Filled thine heart" means something more than to suggest or to encourage; it means affections engrossed and will dominated.
II. THEIR PUNISHMENT. It was instantaneous. As their sin challenged both the omniscience and justice of God, He at once vindicated the holiness and majesty of His character. But why were these persons so swiftly and severely judged? Have not men lied to God since? Let these points be noted —
1. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was peculiarly heinous and odious.
2. At their death "great fear came upon all." To produce this was doubtless one of the objects intended. It was important also as a permanent testimony against similar offences in every age of the Church.
3. This judgment connects with God's dispensational ways. At the opening of an economy a standard is established designed to characterise the entire period. At the beginning any gross departure is immediately punished. The first sabbath-breaker, the trespass of Nadab and Abihu at the first founding of the priesthood, and that of Achan at the first entrance into Canaan, were punished with death. Such inflictions are at the start the exhibition of God's thoughts as to what the economy should be. Nothing false, hypocritical, or presumptuous is to be tolerated in it.
III. THE LESSONS.
1. The Divine abhorrence of prevarication. If falsehood kindle among men the deepest resentment, what must be God's feelings toward the hypocrite?
2. The certainty of the exposure of hypocrisy. All that is required is some pressure. "Be sure your sin will find you out"
3. Religious enthusiasm without grace is dangerous. People run fearful risks when they profess more than their spiritual strength can carry. In times of great religious excitement men pledge themselves to what they cannot fulfil. Or remarkable experiences are claimed; then trials are encountered, and failure succeeds. Pride forbids the acknowledgment of failure; professions are as loud as ever. And for all this there is no basis in fact — it is a mere mask to hide the true state of the heart. How much safer and nobler is the honest confession of a breakdown than such loud and hollow protestations!
(W. G. Moorehead, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,