31 Days of Women from Scripture
Lessons from Sapphira
We are in the final week of our 31 Days of Women from Scripture! I hope that you have found the lessons to be beneficial. Today, we have our final negative example.
Our lesson today begins in Acts 4:32. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Many of the people who are now members of the Lord’s church (Acts 2:41-47) originally came to Jerusalem to observe Passover and Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 8-11). Once Pentecost was over they would have returned home. They have stayed on in Jerusalem, enjoying the fellowship they now have with one another in Christ (Acts 2:46-47). This created a problem – these people did not live here (no homes to go to) and they did not come prepared for an extended stay (not a lot of money left). We see in this context how freely these new Christians shared with one another, the connection that they had with one another. Acts 4:34-35 says, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” Not one person among thousands (Acts 2:41, 47) was in need. We are given the example Joseph of Cyprus – known as Barnabas by the apostles (wouldn’t you like to be nicknamed as one who encourages by those who know you) – who sold a piece of land that he owned. He sold the land and brought the money he received for it to the apostles (Acts 2:36-37). These are the circumstances in which we meet Sapphira and her husband Ananias (Acts 5:1).
Ananias and Sapphira are new Christians, just like everyone around them. They want to participate in the blessings being shared by giving of their own possessions to support the brethren. But there is a problem in their thinking. They sold a piece of property, received money for it. They kept back some of the proceeds for themselves and brought the rest to the apostles (Acts 5:2). Peter reprimands Ananias and asks why he chose to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3)! While the land was in his possession it all belonged to him to do with as he pleased. And when he sold it, he still had control over what he did with the money. Peter says, ” You have not lied to men but to God.” Ananias fell down dead right there!
Now, Sapphira was not with Ananias at the actual handing over of the funds to the apostles. Three hours after Ananias died, Sapphira comes over. She does not yet know what has happened to her husband (Acts 5:7). Peter asks her one question, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” Sapphira says that what they gave to the apostles was the proceeds of the sale. Peter exclaims, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” He tells her that the men who buried her husband were coming and they would carry her out to be buried as well. Sapphira immediately fell “at his feet and breathed her last”. She was carried out and buried next to her husband.
What a tragic end to what should have been a beautiful thing! We are not told why Ananias and Sapphira held back part of the proceeds of the sale – but it was theirs to keep (Acts 5:4). No one told them they had to give up every penny. They had choices though. They could have given every penny of the sale and then trusted the brethren to help them to cover whatever their own needs were. They could have not sold the land to give in the first place, just because Barnabas did so did not mean they had to do the same. They could have sold the land and given a portion to the apostles without trying to make it look as though they had given the full amount. Satan convinced them that misrepresenting the gift was unimportant, so long as they gave the gift (Acts 5:3). So lesson #1 – do not lie about your good deeds to make them seem better than they are.
Lesson #2 – do not go along with your spouse in wrongdoing. Acts 5:2 says that Ananias did this thing with “his wife’s full knowledge”. She knew how much they got for the land, she knew they were keeping a portion for themselves, and she knew Ananias was going to present the gift to the apostles as though it were the whole thing. Ananias did the actual handing over of the gift. He was her husband and the head of her household. This did NOT give her an out for participating in this. Submission to your husband does not mean going along with him in sinful behavior, ever.
Lesson #3 – when you have done something wrong, and someone asks you straight out if the lie is true, TELL THE TRUTH. Peter gave Sapphira an opportunity to repent of the sin she had participated in. She had a chance to confess the lie. The implication of the text is that she would not have died had she told the truth to Peter. Instead, Sapphira, held to the lie and she lost her life.
Lesson #4 – be very careful with your heart. Mark 7:17-23 records Jesus teaching about what defiles a man. He says that it is what comes OUT of the heart that defiles us. Somewhere in Sapphira’s heart there was room to allow for this lie to be told. Maybe there was envy over Barnabas and the appreciation the apostles showed for him (Acts 4:36-37). Maybe they begrudged sharing their property and were not cheerful about giving it up to the group (2 Cor. 9:7). Maybe they did not trust that God would provide for them (Mt. 6:25-32), so they had to hold on to a part of the sale. I do not know. But Peter said that Satan had a part in it (Acts 5:3) and he is the father of liars (Jn. 8:44). Peter said that the deed was “conceived” in their hearts (Acts 5:4). Somewhere a desire for something gave way to sin (James 1:14-15).
Lesson #5 – do not assume that you will do right when surrounded by Christians. Don’t misunderstand, we are very much to choose to be with like-minded people (Mk. 3:31-35; 1 Cor. 15:33). This is exactly what was going on in our context. People who were of one mind were choosing to spend their time together. Ananias and Sapphira were a part of that group. Being a part of the group, participating in the sharing and teaching did NOT guarantee they would do what was right. Do not presume that good people will not care what you do to be a part of them. It is not enough to say you are a Christian. It is not enough to place yourself among Christians. It must be a walk that you choose with every breath that you take (Gal. 5:16-18; 22-26; Rom. 12:1-2). It must be guided by faith that comes from the hearing of God’s word (Rom. 10:17). It must be a faith that works (James 2:14-26; Titus 2:11-14). Sapphira had done this. She heard the word, and she was obedient to it (Acts 2:38, 41; Rom. 1:5; Rom. 6:3-7) and put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). But she had left off part of her armor (Eph. 6:10-17). Being among those in the church, being married to a fellow believer, being in the presence of the apostles – those things meant nothing to the protection of Sapphira’s soul if she didn’t first protect it herself (Phil. 2:12-13; Ps. 119:2; Prov. 4:4; Phil. 4:6-7).
Lesson #6 – a lie will lose you heaven as surely as murder will, unless you repent (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:22; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10). Sin is sin – all are equal in that the result will be the same, separation from God. Do not be deceived (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 6:7; 1 Tim. 1:8-11; Rev. 21:7-8)!
It seems a bit extreme that God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for their sin. But it is only extreme if we forget who God is. Uzzah’s irreverence (2 Sam. 6:6-7) brought him death and David did not understand (2 Sam. 6:9). But David learned the lesson because he corrected his error when he brought the ark into the city the next time. David obeyed the law and had the ark carried as it should be (2 Sam. 6:12-13; 1 Chron. 15:11-15). God judged Ananias and Sapphira, but others learned from what happened to them (Acts 5:11). The seriousness of what they had done was made quite clear. Our job is to learn the lesson, not to question God about His methods (Rom. 1:16-17; Eph. 1:3-14; Eph. 1:18-23; Eph. 3:20-21).
Sapphira – with such a pretty name you would hope that she was attached to something lovely. She may have been before, but we will not know because this is the one thing she is known for now. That’s a lesson in and of itself; consider your actions and think “Is this the one thing I want to be known for from now on?” Even those closest to us can lead us astray, we have to be careful. Know what is right and hold to it, no matter what those around you are doing. We will each give an answer for what we do (1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 22:12-15). Learn from Sapphira’s misstep, and like David, go forward making the right choices.