But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,…
There is an old saying, "The corruption of the best is worst." The better a thing is, the worse is its spoiling. The greater the elevation, the greater the fall. And this is true both of profession and of reality. When a man who has talked loudly is at length unmasked as an impostor, his exposure is more terrible than if he had never affected great virtue. And when a man who has felt the truth and power of religion is overtaken by the enemy, it is sometimes found that he gives himself over more entirely to the grasp of evil than one who had never known what it was to serve another master. We look upon this scene almost as we look upon man's original fall; we seem to be reading of a paradise regained, when we are suddenly shocked and startled by the narrative of a paradise for the second time forfeited. Observe from the narrative —
I. THAT THERE IS SUCH A THING AS ACTING A FALSEHOOD.
1. Ananias did not expressly say that the sum was the whole price. It was his wife who told an express falsehood. Ananias only gave it to be understood. We have to do with a God of truth, and where truth is not, there in His sight is falsehood. We often think that, if we can avoid saying the exact opposite of the truth, it is enough. Learn, then, that wherever deception is, there is falsehood. And how many of our words are "an attempt to steer dexterously between the truth and a lie"!
2. But, even beyond this, there may be an acted falsehood. Ananias, witnessing the honest self-devotion of others. He, too, will seem to have counted all things but loss for Christ. Just as Barnabas brought the profits of his sale of land, so does Ananias bring his. Every one gives him credit, and he intends that they should do so, for a devotion which thinks only of things above, and a self-forgetfulness which cannot enjoy so long as others suffer. No word, it may be, is spoken, but the act itself says all this, and the doer intends that all this should be understood. Alas! how much of the conduct of many of us is indeed no better than an acted lie! How much is done to throw dust into the eyes of others as to our real motive, our real self! Even apart from the positive purpose of deceiving, how impossible it is to give others a true and just idea of us as we are! How does confession itself turn upon our lips into self-parade and boasting! It is so, perhaps, in mercy to others. We might draw others downwards if they saw how low are our own attainments; we might tempt them to acquiesce in imperfections against which God would have them struggle on in hope. God save us all from the falsehood of the tongue, and from the falsehood of the life, from the lie acted as well as from the lie spoken!
II. WHAT AN ILLUSTRATION HAVE WE HERE OF THE "LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." What made Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Ghost? Was the lust of money the wish to save something out of the surrender of their all to Christ? Thus it was that they lost both worlds, even by trying to gain both! What is it but the love of money which creates some of the most characteristic evils of society? I speak not now of that honourable industry in the business of a lawful calling, which is as much the duty as it ever can be the interest of a Christian. I speak of those precarious, adventurous, idle methods of gaining, upon which God's blessing cannot be asked, and upon which God's curse almost visibly rests. I speak of wants created by an expenditure habitually exceeding income, and supplied by the exorbitant profits of a single week in the year. I speak of examples set to the young of unlawful ventures, by which many a life has been drawn astray from the beginning, and many a hopeful career cut short by crime and infamy. I speak of a love of gain, which has made sons indifferent to a father's command and a mother's happiness, reckless in destroying the inheritance of sisters, and at last regardless even of a country's laws and the terrors of a wrath to come. Earnestly and affectionately would I warn the young of the fearful risks run by the first step into the region of chance.
III. WHAT A RESPONSIBILITY IS INVOLVED IN BEING BROUGHT NEAR TO GOD AS MEMBERS OF HIS CHURCH! Well may this be recorded as the consequence of the fate of Ananias, that great fear came upon all the Church, and upon as many as heard these things. Yes, there is a reality in our connection with Christ which must tell upon us for good or for evil. These means of grace, these opportunities of worship, have a meaning, whether we will or no, and we ourselves are fearfully and wonderfully concerned in it. We must spend our lives, think our thoughts, speak our words, and do our acts, in the sight and hearing of God.
IV. HOW TO CAST OUT THE FEAR OF ONE ANOTHER BY THE STRONGER AND MORE IMPRESSIVE FEAR OF GOD. Ananias and Sapphira committed this great sin in the hope of purchasing to themselves the good opinion of the Christian congregation to which they belonged. And they would have succeeded in this endeavour but for one consideration which they left out of sight. They would have succeeded in winning the esteem of man if they could only have kept God silent. And we also are daily tempted to live for the honour which comes to us from one another, and not for that honour which is of God only. When shall we give up this fatal habit of asking at each turn, What does the world say? what does the world do? — my world, I mean — the world of my family, my friends, my neighbourhood, and inquire rather, Is this right? Does Christ approve? Let me look up to Christ for direction. Let the whisper of His Spirit be my voice of admonition. And let me in all things thank the Lord for giving me warning.
Parallel VersesKJV: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,