The Account of Ananias & Sapphira
(What does God want us to know?)
When you read and study the book of Acts these accounts we have of Christians
acting together are a great pleasure to read: “…they continued steadfastly in
the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in
prayers,” (2:42). “And all who believed were together, and had all things in
common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as
anyone had need,” (2:44-45). The next verse says, “…they ate their food with
gladness and simplicity of heart.”
In the third chapter, the healing of the lame man, followed by Peter’s sermon
delivered from Solomon’s portico. In the fourth chapter there is the sad
account of Peter and John being arrested and told not to preach . . . but,
there is the commendable boldness of Peter and John; and, what could well be
called “a prayer meeting.” Acts 4:31 says, “And when they had prayed, the
place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled
with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of god with boldness.”
Then – this account of benevolence, in Acts 4:32-37.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one
heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed
was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the
apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace
was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who
were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the
things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they
distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas
by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the
country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at
the apostle’s feet.”
It is a pleasure to read about God’s people involved in sincere sacrifice, to
help each other, to the glory of God. No wonder it says in verse 33 that
“great grace was upon them all.”
Then, after reading about this unprecedented liberality of good people working
together and helping each other (in response to God’s grace), something
1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and
brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said,
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep
back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4While it remained, was it
not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have
you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great
fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6And the young men arose and
wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what
had happened. 8And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the
Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are
at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10Then immediately she fell down at
his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead,
and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11So great fear came upon all
the church and upon all who heard these things.
Why did the Holy Spirit tell us about this? The gospel is “good news” - why
not just tell us the good news? People today seem to agree – It is important
to have a positive attitude; to feel good and be happy. This doesn’t make me
feel very good!
We know this is not a good example given for our imitation. Why not just tell
us the good things? Just give us the good examples!! What does God want us to
There is a verse right in the middle of this passage that answers these
questions. Verse 11: “And great fear came on all the church, and on all who
heard these things!”
One of the great dangers to our spiritual existence is a failure to fear God!
It has become very easy, almost routine, to adopt a very casual attitude
toward God that has no component of “fear and trembling” at all. The world
calls us every day to fall in line with the culture around us; to develop a
lazy ritualistic approach to religion, not take spiritual things seriously
(until right before you die if there is time) and to dismiss the possibility
of suffering consequences from our sin. Passages like this should move us in
the other direction.
If this account does not strengthen my reverence for God, and sober me – to
the bone – I have missed the point! The courage to pursue God with singleness
of purpose cannot be effectively applied, in the absence of this fear. Our
hearts should be so well trained, we are able to sincerely and consistently
say, “teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to
fear your name.”
It is a serious thing to lie to God! It should strike us with the deepest kind
of fear to even consider any plan that would offend God in any way.
In this reference to the event here in Acts 5, I want to take us in these four
directions of application:
Peace in Marriage may be Enmity Against God!
Based on the account given by Luke it is clear, Ananias and Sapphira were in
agreement; this is something they did together.
Together, they “sold a possession.” Ananias “kept back part of the proceeds,”
but it says his wife was aware of it. So far, everything reflects husband and
wife in agreement; working as a team.
More directly to this point let me ask you to look at verse 9, where Peter
said to her: “…you have agreed together …” In the Knox translation, Peter is
saying: “What is this conspiracy between you?” It reminds me of the modern
legal term: Complicity. So this is something they did together – united;
together in this deception.
NOW: This was voluntary benevolence. No specific amount or percentage was
demanded. These needs were to be filled by the generosity of Christians like
Barnabas. Ananias and Sapphira took this occasion to give, to help others but
let Satan intrude, resulting in an agreement to lie. Essentially, it was the
acting of a lie - acting to imply more generosity than they really had in
Though it may be considered a secondary lesson, this illustrates how peace in
a marriage can be enmity against God.
Common wisdom is – it is good for husband and wife to be agreed, and do things
together! Virtually every book on the subject of marriage, and all the advice
you may hear from all the experts say – WORK TOGETHER, BE AT PEACE, BE A TEAM.
The message is – husband and wife need to be agreed and work together.
My point is – Before husband and wife agree to do anything together, they
should first consult God! Subject every decision to the test of the
Scriptures. Be certain – when you agree with your spouse to do something, it
is right in the first place; it has God’s approval.
Sin cannot be dismissed by virtue of any agreement or unity with anyone! This
is so simple, it is profound. The fact that you have a friend, and your friend
agrees to do something with you – does not mean the joint activity is approved
People come together in local churches, and may agree together to do things
the Scriptures teach against! Human agreement in joint activity is not a sign
or proof that the behavior is right.
It is a good thing for husband and wife to be agreed, but the thing they agree
upon needs to have God’s approval.
As a general rule – it is good for husband and wife to act together, as a team
– but first, all decisions and plans should be objectively submitted to the
test of the Scriptures. “There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel
against the Lord,” (Prov. 21:30).
Deception Is Always Detected By God
You are familiar with The Polygraph Machine. I don’t know if you have any
personal experience. But we all know about the concept, of detecting the
strong possibility of deception – with a Polygraph Machine – by measuring a
variety of demonstrable responses.
The Polygraph Machine is confirming testimony – proving that humans do not
enjoy the power to read the minds of other humans!
In 1 Cor. 2:11 you will find this rhetorical question: “For what man knows the
things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” You cannot know
my thoughts unless my spirit wills to reveal them. (Granted, my behavior may
reveal my thoughts, but that is indirect and subjective in most cases).
Mind-reading is a power men and women may claim – but in fact, do not have. We
cannot objectively and absolutely detect lies!
The Polygraph Machine is an attempt to monitor certain measurable human
responses, in an effort to discover when there is the strong possibility of
deception. They are not infallible.
God has no use for a Polygraph Machine. One aspect of God’s Godness is – the
perfect ability to detect deception. I may tell a lie, and live a lie and you
may never know. God knows and He knows from the earliest commencement of a
Ananias and Sapphira were free moral agents – they agreed together to deceive;
at the earliest formation of that lie – God knew it.
God didn’t have to wait for them to say anything – to each other, or to Peter.
God wasn’t depending upon the apostles to investigate. In fact – God knew and
told Peter! McGarvey was right; he said: “Peter’s knowledge of the deception
was the result not of human information, but of the insight imparted to him by
the Holy Spirit.”
Can you imagine? You and your wife agree to carry out this deception. You are
careful not to show your hand. But Peter already knows what you’ve done - -
you have not lied to men but to God. And after you hear these words you go to
room temperature: He fell down and breathed his last! He fell down and died. I
heard an old black preacher talk about this one time and he said - - When
Peter got done talking, Ananias got done living!
You cannot keep a lie from God! You may keep a lie from your parents. You may
lie to your spouse, and it is never discovered. You may lie to brethren; you
may lie at work; you may lie to yourself. You may live a lie. But you cannot
conceal anything from God!
Whoever you are, whatever your age, regardless of your beliefs – God knows
everything about you at the moment you are reading this. What you think, say,
do – all of it. Nothing is left out. This account in Acts 5 should cause us to
remember this very practical truth about God’s perfection.
The Agency Of Satan Is Part Of This Story, And
Part Of Every Sin
If you just had this story in Acts 5, without the rest of the Bible – without
everything else God tells us about sin, about temptation, about man ~ It might
seem to be unjust: Ananias is rebuked for what Satan did!
Look at verse 3, and notice – Peter is directing the question to Ananias, but
it is about what Satan did! “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie
to the Holy Spirit, and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?”
If we had no over-all Biblical context, we might be justified in asking – Why
did the apostle Peter ask Ananias about what Satan did? If you rebuke me,
about something someone else has done ~ my response might be, “go ask them!”
But we have – not just this account – but the total revelation of God to man
about temptation, and how temptation works. So the justice in this is answered
by the fact that Satan had no power to fill his heart, without his consent;
without his cooperation!
The agency and power of Satan in this case depended upon the man letting Satan
into his heart. So it was Satan’s work – wrought
in the heart of a man, who was not determined the keep Satan out of
Every sin, in whatever form – can be attributed to both Satan and the sinner.
Satan is the deceiver but it is not unavoidable to be deceived. Satan sets up
the trap but there is no force compelling us to be trapped.
Satan offers mental suggestions to move us away from God – but we have the
capacity to reject those thoughts and not act on them. Satan approaches us
through a variety of circumstances, thoughts, attitudes, people and false
doctrines - - - but there is no work of Satan against man that reduces or
eliminates human responsibility!
There is no situation Satan can set up against you that God cannot take you
through clean, if you’ll trust and obey God!!
This truth is empowered by the gospel of Christ. Forgiveness is offered to
sinners, then instruction, motivation and strength to say “no” to Satan moment
by moment. The gospel supplies redemption, but also – the drive, the
discipline and desire to refuse Satan any entrance into our hearts.
And I hope we all realize the battlefield is the human heart. The tempter
seeks a home within us; he wants us to let him in our hearts to do his work of
corruption. To the extent we allow our hearts to be turned from God toward
Satan, we allow evil to gain victory. This is why God said to Cain: “Sin lies
at the door,” and this is why Peter’s rebuke to Ananias about the work of
Satan – was justified.
Every Biblical Account Of God Reacting To Evil
Should Help Us, By Christ, Check The Influence of Satan
We are back where we started: “And great fear came upon all the church, and
upon all who had heard these things.” This doesn’t mean nobody in the
Jerusalem church had any fear or reverence for God before this happened. It
means this got their attention, put them on alert and shook them up. This
should be the result every time we
read anywhere in the Bible, of God reacting to evil. The expulsion of Adam and
Eve from the Garden of Eden. The banishment of Cain. The flood and the tower
of Babel. The history referred to in 1 Cor.10 - - written in Exodus 32, where
“in one day 23,000 fell” because of their lust for evil things and involvement
in idolatry. The reaction of God against His people – in the time when the
Judges ruled. The expressions of God’s displeasure against Saul, David and
Solomon, when they fell. Israel falling to Assyria; the Babylonian capture of
Jerusalem; the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, the effect of this should be no
less, than if you had witnessed it. The failure of dishonesty and greed is
clear. The result of one wrong choice, one lie is a lesson we easily get. Our
personal response to this ought to be – as expressed by David who wrote one
time: “Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked
way in me,” (Psa.139:23,24).
Every time this account in Acts chapter five is brought up in preaching and
teaching: Someone wants to know, if God would take such action today. I could
give you my opinion, and the reasons for my opinion, but I’m not going to do
that now. Because I want to text to stand as it is, with the impact it was
intended to have.
You see - whether God would take such action today or not, the impact of the
text should be exactly the same! If God would take such action today, or if
God would not do so in the post-apostolic era – the answer to that question
should not change, one way or the other, the personal impact of the text.
Whatever interests we may have in such questions, there is this objective
truth we have to admit: We can fear God and keep His commandments, and we
must. So many questions of curiosity, so many of our issues and debates tend
to overshadow the simple matters of individual practice, in response to God.
We need to take responsibility for what we know. We know what the Lord
requires of us - - - as written in Deut. 10:12 - - - to fear Him, to walk in
His ways, to love Him, serve Him - - obeying Him moment by moment. We can fear
God and keep His commandments, and we must.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 17.9; September 2010