I think if I was writing the book of Acts I would have just skipped this part. Things are on a role . . . gospel’s being preached . . . people are believing the word, being born again, and becoming part of the body of Christ. The church is growing . . . the momentum is growing . . . so why be a “Debbie Downer?” But it is included . . . God-breathed . . . the writer inspired and led of the Holy Spirit to include the incident as part of Holy Writ. And I think, at it’s essence, it’s a warning about playing church.
It’s the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. The story of the church’s first infection with hypocrisy. Community is growing . . . people are selling what they have and giving to those who don’t have . . . some, like Barnabas, are being noticed for their sacrificial acts of kindness (Acts 4:34-37). Enter Anania and Sapphira . . . enter the James 1:14-15 dynamic . . .
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15 ESV)
Their “own desire” was to be noticed like the others. Their “own desire” was to be regarded as “good church members” like some of their brothers and sisters in Christ were. And, their “own desire” was to do so at as low a cost as possible.
It was their land to sell or not to sell. Once sold, the money was theirs to give or not to give. Once they decided to give, how much or how little was completely up to them. And, the fact is, they did give a portion of it to the Church Body. Equally true, though, is that they determined to misrepresent how much they had given in order to gain a little of fame within the Family.
And so, they decided to play church. And so, they lied. And though they thought they were just putting up a facade before their brother and sisters, they actually lied to the Holy Spirit (5:3) . . . they lied to God (5:4). The deed that they contrived in their heart (5:4) . . . their desire, as James says, conceived and gave birth . . . Satan filling their heart to lie (5:3). And when the sin had fully grown . . . the Head of the Church determine to make it fully known . . . and it, quite literally, brought forth death.
And I think it’s a warning. A warning of how easy the “James dynamic” can come into play in the heart of a believer. How we need to nip those desires in the bud. When the temptation arises . . . the enticement starts to surface . . . how we need to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” . . . and not let the seed of temptation birth into sin.
And it’s a warning about trying to “play the part” in the Body. While we are to pursue the kingdom . . . to walk in a manner worthy of calling . . . we don’t need to be something we’re not. Each of us are “His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10) and those “good works” differ . . . our giftings and callings are different . . . we don’t need to “play the part,” we need to play our part.
I’m kind of thankful this form of “church discipline” was unique to the birthing of the church . . . but I’m also reminded of the dynamics and destructiveness of sin . . . and the danger of playing church.
That I might recognize the birthing of sin in my own heart and, by the Spirit within me, put it down. That I might recognize any temptation to pretend to be something I’m not in the church and, because of His grace, seek only to be who He has called me to be.
For His glory alone . . .