Forthright Magazine

Doing good for the right reasons

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35 NIV)

What a wonderful time it must have been to be a Christian! All was going well. Their fellowship in Jesus permeated every aspect of their lives. In fact, “they shared everything they had”. Everyone had what they needed to survive. One particular man – we know him as ‘Barnabas’ – seems to have sold just about everything he had and was commended for it (see Acts 4:36-37).

Great generosity can be abused in many ways. On this occasion it came from someone wanting the accolades without making the sacrifice.

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 5:1-2 NIV)

At first reading we may be thinking “what was the problem?” – they had a piece of land, they sold it, and they gave part of the profits for the use of the Christians. The problem was that they indicated that they had given it all, that they had made a greater sacrifice than they really made. They lied about the amount they had received. Peter pointed out that they had not lied to people but to God’s Holy Spirit.

When we first read about this we may have been shocked at how God dealt with this situation: “’When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5). Wow! Instant retribution for his lie.

We might wonder why God took such a severe action, when many others lie – ultimately to him – and don’t fall down dead. I would suggest it had to do with showing this new community of believers that you couldn’t fool God nor his chosen representatives, the apostles – God’s Spirit in them could not be deceived. No wonder “great fear seized all who heard what had happened”! But to make matters worse, his wife tried to keep the deception going.

“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5:7-11 NIV)

There would seem to be two obvious lessons for us in this event. 1) We can’t lie to God. Perhaps it will seem we have deceived all around us, but God still knows the truth. Our deception may not be discovered in this life but God knows and he will deal with it. 2) We need to be generous in helping those who are in need and especially the family of God (Galatians 6:9-10). Wouldn’t it be great if these words could be said about our local community of Christians: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them”.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)

Photo by Antoni Shkraba from Free for use.

Readings for next week: Acts 3-7


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