After spending five months in the gospels, we are finally leaving them behind and moving into Acts. Today we look at Sapphira, the first woman mentioned by name who was part of the early church. Though her name means beautiful, her actions were not so lovely.
We meet Sapphira in Acts 5, but in order to fully appreciate her story, we need to first put her in context.
In the first four chapters of Acts, we are introduced to the early days of the Christian church. In Acts 1:8 right before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus commanded the believers to be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. It was a serious command and not one to be taken lightly.
After Jesus’ ascension, His disciples, which included His mother and other women (Acts 2:14), returned to Jerusalem to the Upper Room where they were staying, and met with prayer and supplication. It was there, on the Day of Pentecost, that they received the Holy Spirit.
As the apostles spoke in tongues so that Jews from other nations could understand their words, the crowds were amazed and perplexed. Peter preached and thousands were saved. The Christian church grew.
Acts 2:44-45 tells us: “Now 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.” (NKJV)
They met daily in the temple, ate together, and praised God. And the Lord added daily to those who were being saved.
Of course, the religious leaders became aware of what was going on, and after Peter and John healed a lame man in Jesus name, the leaders grew concerned and arrested them, ordering them to no longer preach in the name of Jesus.
This only emboldened the apostles and believers in their desire to spread the truth.
In Acts 4:32, we’re told again, “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.” Those who had land and houses sold them and gave the proceeds to the apostles who then distributed as needed.
Acts 4:36-37 we learn of a specific believer named Barnabas who sold land and gave the money from it to the apostles.
Now, before I continue, let me make a quick note. For some reason, in my episode on Pilate’s wife, I called Barabbas Barnabas. I have no idea why I did that, as I certainly knew his correct name. Fortunately, a faithful listener pointed it out to me so that I could correct it.
Immediately following the example of Barnabas’ generous contribution, we have the story of Sapphira and her husband Ananias.
Acts 5 tells us that they had a piece of property and sold it. Then they kept back part of the proceeds and took the rest to the apostles, presenting it as the full amount. It says they were both involved and aware of what they were doing. But when Ananias took the offering, Peter questioned it.
“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?”
Peter pointed out that no one asked Ananias to sell the property. No one told him he had to give it all. He could have kept it. He could have acknowledged he was only sharing a portion. Instead, he chose not to just lie to men, but to lie to God.
Ananias immediately fell down and died.
All those who heard what went on, were scared. Young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
Three hours later, Sapphira came in. She had no idea what had happened to Ananias. She probably entered expecting to be praised for their generosity. Instead, Peter asked her if they had indeed sold the property for the amount they’d given to the church.
“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.”
Immediately she, too, fell to her feet and died. Those same young men came, wrapped her up, carried her out, and buried her next to her husband.
As word got out of their deaths, great fear came upon the church and all who heard what happened.
The Rest of the Story
Wow! Pretty dramatic story, isn’t it? So what was going on here?
First, let’s start by discussing the whole communal living. This was not an early example of modern day communism or socialism. This lifestyle was not thrust upon the individuals, but rather church members made the choice to give and to meet the needs of the others. It worked for the time because it developed community and support for each other. The early Christians became like family.
Because the world was watching, the witness of these early Christians was important. They were representing Jesus and His teachings. It was crucial that they set a good example.
I can imagine the atmosphere among the believers as their numbers rose and as they grew together in their spiritual walk. It was a time of excitement. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira got caught in that excitement. They saw others like Barnabas giving generously, and they wanted to do the same. But something held them back.
Was it fear? Were they afraid that if they gave it all, they wouldn’t have enough for themselves? Was it greed? Were they torn between the desire to give and their love of money? Was it pride? Did they give so that they could receive the accolades from their fellow believers?
Whatever their motivation, they deceived themselves in thinking that they could give a portion and present it as a whole.
They probably saw it as a little white lie. They were doing a good thing giving to the church. It made up for the little sin of holding back.
What they didn’t account for was that while they might have been able to fool the people, God is no fool! He will not be mocked. He made that clear to all when He brought on death to the double-dealing couple. He showed how serious it is to take lightly our dealings with God.
Just as the early Christians were filled with fear when they heard what happened, so should we, too, take this story to heart lest we think we can somehow sin without God finding out.
Though you may think you’re being discreet. Though you may think no one else knows. You cannot hide sins. Even if no one else knows what you’re doing. God knows, and He will deal with you.
I say this not to scare you, but rather to encourage you to make right any wrongs that you’ve committed.
Sapphira had a chance to redeem herself. She could have admitted what they’d done. Instead, she dug herself even deeper by lying to Peter.
If you are living in sin, today is the day to get right. If you are a believer, the world is watching you. When they see you doing what they know is wrong, it hinders their chances of discovering the truth. Make it right by repenting of your sin. Admit your failures to Christ, asking Him to forgive you.
We serve a God of second chances. He has unending mercy and grace. But in order to receive that mercy and grace, we must repent and ask for forgiveness.
Please, don’t delay. Do it today.
Lord God, You are a good and kind God, but we know that You will not be mocked. I ask, Lord, that You will awaken us to all that we’re doing that is displeasing to You. Forgive us. Give us the strength to fight the temptations to do wrong. Guide us so that we might know they way to go. Thank You for Your love, Your mercy, and Your kindness. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Tune in next week when we look at Dorcas, a talented and generous woman.
Backstory: Acts 1-4
Her Story: Acts 5:1-11
Bible Study Review
- What was unique about the lifestyle of the early Christians?
- What did Barnabas do?
- What did Sapphira and Ananias do?
Thoughts to Ponder
- What was wrong with what Sapphira and Ananias did?
- How did Peter know what they did?
- How did the other people react to their deaths?
- Do you let fear or greed keep you from doing more for the Lord?
- Do you ever try to hide things from God?
- Are you afraid of God? If so, why?
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