Ananias and Sapphira were active members of the early Jerusalem church (Acts 5). Please notice that I did not say that they were faithful, but that they were active (5:1-2). They were active hypocrites, and God killed them for their hypocrisy (5:5, 10). Yes, “God is love,” but He is also a just God (I John 4:16; Revelation 15:3). I trust that some have not reached such a sinful frame of mind that they would accuse God of not having enough love in His dealing with this sinful pair. All would do well to remember Paul’s comment, “yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). To be a hypocrite is to live a lie. The original word means an actor, i.e., one who acted out a part or pretended to be that which he was not. As hypocrisy relates to religion, Webster defines it as, “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1963).Remember how that Ananias and Sapphira sold their land and gave some of what they received to the church for a worthy cause (Acts 4:32-37; 5:2). J. W. McGarvey, in his sermon on “The Jerusalem Church,” had these comments about Ananias and Sapphira’s contribution.
If the disciples at that age had been as demonstrative and irreverent in the Lord’s house as are some of our modern assemblies, I think there would have been general and very hearty clapping of hands at this deed (253).
McGarvey said this in the summer of 1893! It is, however, as fresh and applicable for today as if it had been uttered this morning! Both husband and wife wanted to be seen of men to be praised for their false generosity. This character flaw is typical of all hypocrites (Matthew 23:28).
So it is that our Lord warned: “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Their lie to the God of glory brought about His swift and sure retribution (Acts 5:5, 10). McGarvey again comments:
What awful work this was; and how quickly done! No tears, no prayers, no delay. Nothing but solemnity and awe like that of the judgment day, and whose work was it? Not that of Peter; for he seems not to have known that Ananias was to fall dead; and although he knew that Sapphira would, he expressed no will of his own in the matter. It was the work of the great Head of the church, who thus exercised discipline in His church, so as to show those to whom it would afterward be entrusted, the promptness with which crying sins must be rebuked if the church would please Him. This is divine intimation on the subject of discipline. Shall we learn the lesson, or shall we continue, as so many churches have long been doing, to keep the ungodly in the church, under the vain delusion that we are exercising forbearance and mercy which heaven will approve, or under the idle impression that we have a better hope of saving a wicked man in the church, than if we cast him out? (254).
I am constantly made to marvel at how some things never change. You may be sure that if Ananias and Sapphira “agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord” before an inspired apostle (Acts 5:9), that in our age of worldly pride and “supposing that gain is godliness” (I Timothy 6:5), the same sinfulness will run rampant in the church. How many churches really want sermons preached that deal with the sins of the brethren? The present “positive preaching” concept would have us angry at God and Peter and cooing like doves over the poor unloved and mistreated Ananias and Sapphira. Beloved brethren, we must open our eyes to the sad state of affairs so many in the church have come to and realize the importance in godly discipline and its place in the saving of souls (I Corinthians 5:4, 5, 10-13; II Thessalonians. 3:6).
David P. Brown