Sometimes I wish they had broken chapters in the Bible up differently. Keep in mind that chapters and verses are not part of the inspired Scriptures. They are later additions to make it easier for us to find what we need. Many times, the chapter and verse designations make sense. But not always. Such as the chapter break between Acts 4 and Acts 5.
When we start reading Acts 5—the account of Ananias and Sapphira—that new chapter makes it seem like the very beginning of this story. But it really isn’t. The end of chapter 4 helps us understand what follows in chapter 5.
An Example of Generosity (Acts 4:32-37)
The early church was growing, but not without adversity. In a way, the early opposition the church faced was a gift from God. It would later spread the church out to fulfill Christ’s instructions in Acts 1:8, but more than that, it strengthened the unity of the church. This is what we see as Acts 4 comes to a close.
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. 33 With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas (which is translated Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. — Acts 4:32-37 (CSB)
Notice the unity of the church. One heart and mind. Shared possessions. Taking care of the needs of others. Beautiful, isn’t it? Many people debate whether Acts should be read prescriptively (showing us what to do) or descriptively (showing what the early church did), but here, at least, it is both. This is how the church should be. The church should display a generosity that aligns with God’s generosity toward us. A generosity that prompted the Father to give His only Son so that we might be given forgiveness and life in full.
But then, amidst all of this sacrifice and love, someone stood out. Barnabas’ generosity seems to have stood out from all of the other generosity. Barnabas sold a field and gave the proceeds to the church. Such an act didn’t go without notice. Which leads into what follows next.
An Example of Pride (Acts 5:1-11)
1 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.” 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him.
7 About three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the land for this price?”
“Yes,” she said, “for that price.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree 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.”
10 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things. — Acts 5:1-11 (CSB)
Ananias and Sapphira likely knew of Barnabas’ generosity and the attention it received. If I had to guess, I would guess that Barnabas was embarrassed by any accolades he received. He didn’t give to get—He was glad he got to give. But Ananias and Sapphira where a different story.
We see here a sharp contrast Luke sets up for us between these two accounts. Ananias and Sapphira seemed to have seen giving as a way to get what they wanted—attention like Barnabas had been given. They knew they had to give something, but they didn’t want to give what it would take. So they gave a gift that had the appearance of generosity, but that was really not. Yes, they still gave, but their motives were wrong.
Peter, filled with the Spirit, saw right through the charade. He knew what was going on and rightly stated the obvious: Ananias and Sapphira didn’t have to give anything, but if they did, they could have, and should have, been honest about what they gave.
Ananias and Sapphira were not guided by what was driving the church in Acts 4:32-35. Love and unity were not primary for them. Pride was. Their gift was less about the recipients and more about the givers.
Why Such a Dramatic Discipline?
Many people wonder why Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead—the kids you teach might ask about this. The punishment seems disproportionate to the “crime.” It was just a lie. Right?
Ananias and Sapphira’s conduct was a threat to the unity and spiritual vitality of the church. Had their root issue of pride been allowed to go unchecked, who knows were it would have gone. Pride would have likely ended the sharing of property. It would have severed unity. It likely would have stopped the mission. At this stage of the church’s infancy, the foundation cement was still wet. Had God allowed any blemish to stand, the foundation would have crumbled. So God acted. He was right to do so. He was just to do so. God removed Ananias and Sapphira—contaminants—so that the purity of the church might stand.
A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God’s.” — Timothy KellerTimothy Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 91.
Tips for Teaching this Week’s Session
Every week, Karen Jones and I offer guidance to help you as you prepare to teach every session of The Gospel Project for Preschool and Kids. Listen in as we discuss:
- The big idea of the session
- Any areas of caution or requiring additional prep time
- What we hope God will do through this session
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