Acts 4:32 (CSB) — 32 Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common.
Attention to what authentic Christian community looks like:
- They were united in prayer (1:14)
- They were devoted to Christian living (2:42-47)
- They were united in heart and mind (4:32)
- They shared their life needs together (4:32)
The incredible fervor of Christian love was burning deep within their hearts and caused many of those who possessed material prosperity to sell their lands in order to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is where Luke introduces us to Barnabas: read Acts 4:34-37.
- Barnabas is filled with the love of Christ in his heart: Acts 4:34-37
- Barnabas takes a chance on Paul: Acts 9:26-29
- Barnabas strengthened the Antioch Church: Acts 11:23-24
- Barnabas and Paul bring assistance to Judea during the famine: Acts 11:30; 12:25
- Barnabas accompanies Paul during his first missionary trip: Acts 13:1-3
- Barnabas accompanies Paul to Jerusalem during the dispute over circumcision: Acts 15:3
- Barnabas gives Mark another chance: Acts 15:36-39
Many early Christians saw this love and unity as the realization of God’s promise:
Deuteronomy 15:4–5 (CSB) — 4 “There will be no poor among you because the Lord is certain to bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance—5 if only you obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow every one of these commands I am giving you today.
Luke is answering the question about what authentic Christian community looks like by showing us that our sense of community is rooted in the same kind of love that Christ showed on earth: holy love.
Ananias and Saphira’s story contributes to this understanding by demonstrating the holiness of Christian love.
>>> READ ACTS 5:1-42 <<<
The Holiness of Love: Acts 5:1-4
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God.”
When we understand that these great acts of love were inspired by their burning love for God, then we can begin to understand what happened when Ananias and Saphira were struck down by the Holy Spirit.
Ananias and Saphira can be seen in a parallel light to what happened with Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, when they entered the temple with unauthorized sacrifices and presented counterfeit worship to God:
Leviticus 10:1–3 (CSB) — 1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them to do. 2 Then fire came from the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has spoken: I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.” And Aaron remained silent.
Ananias and Saphira offered a counterfeit sacrifice of love as worship to God. We’ll see what this means in a moment.
WHY HAS SATAN FILLED YOUR HEART?
3 Peter asked, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land?
Peter immediately comes to the point: their heart was filled by Satan rather than by God.
This begs the question that the world rarely asks itself: “what fills your heart?”
Luke 6:45 (CSB) — 45 A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.
Now, we might say, “but didn’t Ananias and Saphira do good?”
Peter’s question begs us to return to one of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith: even the good deeds of the wicked are unclean before God (Isa. 64:6).
Ananias and Saphira were not producing holy love:
1 John 2:15–17 (CSB) — 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.
Their love-offering was polluted by their love for the world. Ananias and Saphira offered a counterfeit sacrifice of love as worship to God because the love that burned in their heart was not the love of Christ, but the love of “self” that burns for the world.
We err when we think that we can simply “go through the motions” and be acceptable to God without first being “turned away from their wicked ways” by Christ (Acts 3:26).
Isaiah the prophet warned about this error and Paul confirmed it:
Isaiah 29:13 (CSB) — 13 The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service— yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me.
1 Corinthians 13:3 (CSB) — If I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Ananias’ and Saphira’s fundamental problem was that their heart was filled by Satan rather than by God.
YOU HAVE NOT LIED TO PEOPLE BUT TO GOD
4 Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God.
Peter’s conclusion demonstrates another error in their thinking that caused their worship to be defiled: their actions were being performed in their heart before people rather than before God.
They were not pursuing God with the sacrifice of their love, but people.
It seems that Ananias and Saphira’s actions were calculated to purchase the reputation of a saint without suffering the loss of a saint.
- Their possessions were legitimately theirs while they retained them
- Their profits from selling their property was legitimately theirs while they retained them
- They could have acceptably given this exact sum to God if they had done so with the right heart
Instead, they disregarded the holiness of God and used the love-offering that was supposed to be holy to him for selfish gain.
We will again see this behavior in Simon the Sorcerer:
Acts 8:18–23 (CSB) — 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”
Matthew 6:1, 3–4 (CSB) — 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Luke 21:1–6 (CSB) — 1 He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” 5 As some were talking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “These things that you see—the days will come when not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”