And Great Fear Came upon the Whole Church
We come now to the awful account of Ananias and Sapphira. John Calvin tells us that this passage is about the great offense of hypocrisy, which here is equated with lying to the Holy Spirit, and the beauty of sincerity, which is a prized ornament of a true believer (Commentary on Acts). I agree. It is not accidental that this account follows immediately after the report of Barnabas who gladly parted with a field and laid the money “at the apostles’ feet.” The generosity and sincerity of the one is juxtaposed against the conniving and pretense of the other. And through it all we are reminded that God will not be mocked, toyed with, or treated with contempt, and especially by those who call upon His name: “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He” (1 Corinthians 10:22)?
So in walks Ananias pretending that what he laid at Peter’s feet was the full price of the property he had sold. Now we know two things from this passage: 1) That the Holy Spirit occasionally supplied the apostles with knowledge supernaturally, for how else would Peter have known what Ananias was up to; and, 2) That the giving of one’s property to the church was a voluntary act, for Peter said to him, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” The problem with Ananias was not that he held back some of the proceeds but that he lied about it. And what is worse, he lied to the Holy Spirit, a deed that Peter could only attribute to Satan filling Ananias’ heart. And like Adam and Eve before them, husband and wife contrived this pact together, Sapphira affirming that she and Ananias “sold the land for so much” when directly asked, lying before the Almighty and His church with abandon.
The passage tells us twice, after the passing of each spouse, that “great fear came upon the whole church” upon hearing these things. God designed through this that the whole church would know how much He hates hypocrisy, insincerity, impurity, lying for good show, dissimulation of every sort. Those who worship God must do so in sincerity and truth (John 4:24). Calvin says, “The faithful do never so perfectly fear God, but that they profit yet more, being admonished by his judgments,” and “Our flesh must be bridled every now and then after this sort, because one bridle will scarce serve the turn.” This is a good lesson: that we approach our Lord and Savior with humble and sincere hearts, for God hates not our having sinned as much as our boldly sinning in His very presence. And Ananias and Sapphira is not an Old Testament story but a New, every bit as relevant now as ever.