Deceit is used throughout society to manipulate, persuade and control others. But just because it is commonplace, that does not make it right. God would have us question our honesty levels.
In Acts Israel is seen to have two sides: one alive, one dead. The living side is Jesus’ followers, filled with the Spirit, with God’s law on their hearts. The other is those rejecting Jesus who, if they won’t repent at the apostle’s preaching, will lose everything (Ac 4:11,12). Our verses bring that to life in a solemn incident which occurs in the Jerusalem church. Many are being drawn into the community, but some join not having truly repented. As can happen in churches, they are present for selfish reasons.
A couple appear to donate all the proceeds from a land sale to help the poor, but actually they keep some back (v1,2). Maybe they hope to have influence like Barnabas (Ac 4:36) whilst clinging to the money they love. But whatever the reason, Peter sees through the deception when the husband brings the gift (v3) Ananias is not filled with the Spirit; he is filled with Satan, just like Judas (Lk 22:3). The man has opened the door to the evil one through his greed and pride, and now he commits a heinous sin: lying to the Spirit. There was no obligation on him to hand over the cash but he thought he could exploit the church. This is folly for the church is the people of God (v4). Ananias has not repented and left Israel’s sinful ways; his heart is still trapped by them. He’s inviting God to judge him as he did others in the past (eg Jos 7); he is despising Peter’s warnings (Ac 2:40); he is forgetting Judas Iscariot. Death, therefore, strikes him (v5).
Ananias was no passing visitor. He was a part of the church, as his burial shows (v6). He tasted of the goodness of the Spirit (He 6:4-6) but then abused what he received. So God responds, showing the reality of Peter’s warnings, by pruning away what is rotten in Israel (Jo 15:1-6). The Bible regularly shows that God is long-suffering and slow to anger (Ps 103:8). But those who exploit his patience to indulge their sins, are playing a dangerous game. The selfishness, pride and greed seen in Ananias, can be the seeds of sins which lead to ruin. We must take warning.
But the story isn’t over: one fearful scene remains. Peter knows what he must do. Is Sapphira in league with Ananias & will she repent of their sin? When she arrives after 3 hours, Peter puts the question to her: is this the full amount (v7,8)? It’s like the tense moment when a courtroom waits to hear the verdict: guilty or not? Sadly, Sapphira condemns herself with a lie and Peter has to pronounce judgement (v9; Lk 22:29,30). Satan once tested Jesus (Lk 4:2), she has tried to test the Spirit. So just as Satan was driven away afterwards (Lk 4:13), so will she be but in a more final way (v10). This leaves all who hear awestruck (v11). God will be worshipped in Spirit and in truth (Jo 4:23). Those who despise truth, cut themselves off from God.