I’m sure like me, you’d like to thank Heather for the notes this week, they have been highly thought provoking and challenging. What is more, they have been produced at what is a very stressful time for Heather and her family. I’m reminded of a verse from Hebrews;
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16)
The passage can be read here.
Luke’s apparently ‘rosy’ picture yesterday of the early church was true – they were standing firm, despite persecution from outside; they were living out the faith in all they said and did…. but human life is, well, ‘human’…… and Satan is always ‘prowling round….seeking someone to devour’, (1 Peter 5:8) as Peter knew only too well from his own personal experience (Luke 22:60-62) Here we see Satan, after trying to use violence and persecution as a means of destroying from the outside, seeking to destroy the church from the inside!
God’s kingdom was spreading and the devil never likes that!
The verse that sprang to my mind when I read this was Paul’s warning ‘Let him who thinks he stands firm take heed lest he fall..’(1Cor 10:12) It’s all too easy for us to think we’d never do anything like this…!
The tragic events of this story may seem to us to be extreme over-reaction on God’s part – all Ananias and Sapphira did, it seems, was to give the impression to everyone in the church that they had donated all the proceeds of their land sale, whereas in fact they had put a plan together to donate only a part of the money and keep the rest back for themselves. Why then was God so ‘heavy-handed’ in his judgement on them?
Peter is given discernment here to see the real truth of the situation – they had allowed Satan to ‘fill their hearts…’ so that they lost perspective ….and were motivated not by the needs of the poor but by a desire to bolster their own ego and reputation among the Christian community. What should have been an open and honest attitude towards their fellow believers turned into dishonesty and deceit, leading to a consequent lack of integrity. Their desire for credit, prestige and esteem amongst their fellow believers because of apparent generosity so consumed them that they couldn’t distinguish right from wrong any more. Was it jealousy and envy of Barnabas’ good standing among the community that led them to pretend, and to try to deceive their fellow believers? Envy can do a lot of damage though we are often unaware of its presence in our hearts. Whatever it was, they couldn’t fool God.
We can more easily see the seriousness of their action when Peter describes it as ‘lying to God’ (v4) and this brought God’s judgement on both Ananias and Sapphira. We are not told whether Peter gave Ananias the opportunity to repent, as he did to Sapphira, but it seems fair to assume that he did, but neither of them took the opportunity to do so and so were subject to God’s judgement. Had they acknowledged their wrongdoing and guilt, we know that God would have had mercy on them and graciously restored them (1 John 1:9); as it was, the whole affair was a salutary lesson to the early church (v11 – ‘great fear…as in ‘the solemnity which is experienced in the presence of a holy God’)
If their sin had not been publicly exposed, (as it was a public sin) and punished, the open fellowship/sharing attitude of the church community, which we saw in yesterday’s reading, would have been ruined, but Satan’s attempts to stifle the growth of the church were thwarted (v14) and it continued to grow apace. God is able to build his church and not even the gates of Hades (ie Satan) will overcome it’. (Matt 16:18)
God hates all hypocrisy, deceit and envy– let’s examine our own hearts and pray that God will deliver us from these things and enable us always to act with integrity.
Let’s keep a clear conscience before God always, or, as John puts it – ‘walk in the light’ ( 1 John 1:7) ie. living a transparent life which maintains fellowship with both God and with other believers, repenting and putting right any wrongs between us.
‘Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’ Psalm 51:10