Lesson Fifteen | Devotion #6: Sapphira
Holly Wells | Assistant to Lead Pastor Jim Combs
Let’s Be Honest
The account of Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts chapter 5 is sure to instantly increase your reverence for the Lord. It is important for us to remember that it takes place during the formative days of the early church. Here is a quick fly over. The first chapter of Acts opens with Jesus giving His final words and promising the Holy Spirit before ascending to Heaven. Then, the disciples and other believers meet in the upper room, dedicate themselves to prayer, and choose Matthias to replace Judas as the twelfth disciple. Acts chapter 2 takes us to the day of Pentecost, where the believers were together when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, they began speaking in other languages, and Peter preached his first sermon exhorting the crowd to repent and be baptized which led to a total of 3,000 conversions. Then, this newly established, first church, devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, in food and prayer, and they had all things in common. They sold their possessions and shared what they had with those who were in need within the household of faith. They had generous hearts, worshiped God, had favor with one another, and God added to those who were being saved. Acts chapter 3 opens with Peter healing a lame man at the gates of the temple and preached another powerful message of repentance and forgiveness found only in Jesus. By this point, the church was 5,000 strong, but then Peter and John were arrested and had to appear before the high council (Acts 4:1-22). After they were released, they went back to the other believers and prayed, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:31-32). Finally, Acts chapter 4 concludes that those who had land or homes sold them and brought the proceeds to the apostles where it was distributed to anyone in need. This was the early church. These believers were united in heart and mind as well as fellowship and teaching. These believers were pure in love and dedication to each other and the Lord. It was God who established His church and desired to protect it in its infancy from the hypocrisy that soon followed.
Sapphira followed her husband’s lead, Ananias, into a decision that would end their lives. They gave into the fleshly desire of praise and appearance over reality. They pretended to be more dedicated and spiritual than they were. They sought to have others think more highly of them than the truth they hid (or so they thought). What did they do? Ananias and Sapphira collaborated on selling their property and withheld some of the profit for themselves, but what is the big deal? They intentionally allowed the church to assume they donated all the money received as an act of surrendering their resources to Jesus.
Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, first called out Ananias, apart from his wife, and he died instantly. About three hours later, Sapphira is on the scene, not knowing what happened with Ananias, and Peter confronted her saying (Acts 5:8-11), “‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said, ‘Yes for so much.’” He called her out by asking, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Then, Peter pronounced her death, and she immediately died “and great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” They did not just lie to Peter, but ultimately, they lied to God, and He exposed their hypocrisy. They conspired to receive praise from the church, but instead, their scheming led them to sin and ultimately death. In God’s holiness and righteousness, He demonstrated His deep hate for sin and hypocrisy. Further, the dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served to purify and warn the church (then and now) that hypocrisy and dishonesty were not (and will not) be tolerated among His church.
So, how is their story relevant in the church today? While it always comes more naturally to identify shortcomings, character flaws, and sin in others, let us instead focus on evaluating ourselves, acknowledging and dealing with the log stuck in our eye, according to Scripture and before the Lord. Can we just be honest? In the quietness of our hearts and before the Lord, can you admit and identify areas in your life where your motivations are ultimately to be seen, esteemed, praised, or chosen by pretending to be someone you are not? Is it about giving more money, leading a ministry, or serving more than anyone so that others will believe you have “arrived?” Maybe instead you are trying to hide areas of sin or dysfunction in your life, so no one finds out. Know that while the true character is seen over time, true intentions are known by the One who matters the most.
Ask the Lord to reveal truth, sin, and genuineness within yourself. Where there are misplaced motivations, ask Him to help you trade the covetous heart for one of contentment, pride for humility, acts for authenticity, and selfishness with servant-mindedness. Focus on being the right person, the person God desires you to be according to His Word, and let Him handle the rest. You are living, loving, and serving for an audience of One. Allow the example of Sapphira be a reminder to you and me that we cannot hide the truth from God, He hates the sin, and He is most concerned with the purity the of His church (Psalm 36:2; Romans 6:23; 1 John 5).
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV).
What does God see when He looks at your heart?