I can still remember my dad telling me that the only thing I have in life is my integrity – you can either have it lead your life or you can give it away and once you do, you cannot get it back.
Luke is insistent on two words used extensively since about chapter 2 of Acts: ALL and TOGETHER; “they were all together”, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”, “all things in common”, together they prayed, together they worshipped, together they broke bread… And in the passage on Ananias and Sapphira, one cannot read 5:1-11 without including 4:32-37…why you ask? Because 5:1 begins with a hugely important word, “but”.
Every time I lead a Bible study I talk about paying attention to context and grammar and regarding Ananias and Sapphira, this is especially true. This ‘but’ says 5:1-11 is tied to something else – there is a contrast to be made. Luke has made it clear from nearly the beginning that the hallmark of this group was that they were of “one heart and soul” and “great grace was upon them”. None were in need because it was, to quote Alexandre Dumas’s 3 Muskateers, “all for one and one for all”. This is why I included 4:32-37 as part of today’s material.
So, let’s get right to it…when most people read about Ananias and Sapphira, they see the words, ‘you lie, you die’. Be honest, this is hard to avoid in this passage. But Luke’s emphasis is not on the deaths of these two well-to-do members of the early community of faith. The point of this passage comes in verse 11- “and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things”. This, by the way is the first use of the word “church” in Acts and Luke makes it known that constructive fear is what is important about Ananias and Sapphira regarding how easy it is for evil and dishonest to creep into a community of faith – God’s people…the church.
How do you know this…look at how Luke writes 4:32-5:11…Luke contrasts the upstanding Barnabas against the sinful Ananias/Sapphira. Luke makes it clear that Satan is at work in Ananias/Sapphira and not the Holy Spirit. Luke makes effective and dramatic use of opposites in these verses: life/death, Holy Spirit/satan, truth/deceit, need/freedom, harmony/fear. Luke, of all the gospel writers provides the strongest words on the dangers wealth brings to the table regarding the sin of individuals involving material possessions.
Barnabas is a source of comfort we are told, (his name means “son of encouragement”) and later we will see all the good that Barnabas will do in Acts. Ananais and Sapphira take us back by allusion to Achan in Joshua 7 or Nadab and Abihu, (Aaron’s sons) and by these Old Testament allusions I am reminded of the phrase that was tied to many a king – you know, the ones with wealth and power…that phrase? “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. There is no getting around the fate of Ananias and Sapphira but remember, Luke is interested in the integrity of the individuals within the church. We see Barnabas’s integrity on display…We see Ananias and Saphhira’s integrity on display. Both Barnabas and Ananias are of the same social class – wealthy landowners.
Luke begins this passage with “those who believed were of one heart and soul” and here he challenges us by spotlighting our own integrity. How do we value others and what they need? Do we place a higher priority on our own possessions and what we want? Or, do we think of what we own as common property? Integrity…we can value it or we can “sell it”…each day our integrity is on display.