The Story of Ananias and Sapphira or “Straddling The Fence”- from Acts
15-Second context: Jesus is gone, all the new Christians are living together in a hippie commune where no one claims private ownership of any possessions, and anyone who did own land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds to be shared with everybody.
“But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died.” Acts 5:1-5 FAIL. The only man in history to literally die of awkwardness. [btw his wife also dies]
Did God kill Ananias as punishment for being selfish? No. Fortunately/Unfortunately God does not murder people for being selfish.
Did he die of embarrassment at being found out in the midst of his brilliant li’tle scheme? No. That would be awesome, but ridiculous.
So then why did he die? What purpose does his death serve?
I think the answer lies in the words “he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part to lay at the apostles’ feet.” This passage shows us that you cannot hold yourself back from the Lord and expect to be saved. Ananias was loath to give himself wholly to the church community- to the body and spirit of God. In the face of having Jesus in his heart, Ananias wanted to hold onto a part of his old self, and this story uses a rather extreme example to tell us that this is not going to work.
A partial commitment to God is the same as no commitment to God. It’s useless, personified here as death. The money Ananias held back could really be any area of life where God is not a factor. For me personally, it’s lust. For other people it might be school or work or their gym membership or- like Ananias- the joy of holding money in your hand. My sexual appetite, while not rampant or particularly egregious, takes into no account the will or love of Jesus Christ, and even that is keeping me from the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a part of myself that I have not given away, I guess because I’m just not ready yet. Reading this passage made me realize that I am heading toward a confrontation with some very ugly end results. Having this knowledge, however, Jesus and I have begun to work on this issue, and I’ll tell you progress is being made already to take my heart and my self-appreciation to a place I have always dreamed of being, but honestly never thought I would.
My old boss used to say “When you jump out of a plane, you’re dead until that parachute opens.” That’s the same with life. We are born dead, and only begin to live when we pull the cord and commit our whole selves to God. You can’t open a parachute part way, and you can’t straddle the fence when it comes to God. It’s an all-or-nothing type thing. Either your whole self belongs to Him and works along with Him, or your whole self dies. Why? Because God is Life, and everything else is worthlessness, futility, literally just death. If we expand this lesson outward, the take-away here is that nothing in life can be done half-heartedly. If there is some commitment, some decision on which you are waffling, heed the warning of Ananias and jump off the fence for yourself before you fall and crack your head.
This story teaches us another thing that I think it’s valuable to be privy to. It shows us the subtlety of Satan’s inner workings, and being aware of this, I think, can really tip the scales when we struggle against sinning or making the right decision. Rather than admit his heart wasn’t ready to commit to God, Ananias chose to lie and say that it was. See he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Peter says it himself “While [the land] remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?” That land was Anny’s to do whatever he wanted with. Nobody was forcing him to sell it off and give it away? Peer pressure may have played a small part in this, b surely this man is no fool. He must have known that it is impossible to lie to the Holy Spirit. Why not be honest? Why not say “You know, I’m just not ready to commit to all this yet?” Something screwed up his brain noodles so badly that he thought living a huge lie would be better than just being honest with himself and God? He sounds like George Kostanza. Peter saw immediately where Ananias had gone wrong. “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Satan’s work here wasn’t so much in getting Ananias to lie, but in tricking Ananias into thinking his lie would work. See this gives us a sneak peek into Satan’s backstage operations. The verse gets behind the more obvious blunder of “You should lie!” to the really poisonous motto “lies work.” It was Ananias who chose to lie, but Satan led his heart astray and led him to believe that an impure heart could still inherit the Kingdom of God. Lucky the Bible makes this information available to us! Knowing that 3-Card Monte is a scam you might still be tempted to try to win it. After all that other guy in the crowd just won; it seems to be a game of chance. But if you know that the deception goes much deeper, and that the audience members who appear to be winning are actually working with the dealer, and the whole thing is a clever rouse, you will know that the game can’t be beat and you’ll avoid playing it all together. Same here: If you know how Satan works, you’ll know how to avoid his trickery. What’s further, the story also goes ahead and lets us know, again in a very extreme way, what will happen if we let ourselves be fooled by the likes of Satan- a bad idea never ends up good.
So to what kind of practical applications can we put this story and the understanding it brings us?
1) Search your heart to figure out where God is and where God is not in your life. Once you know you can start to work together to make some changes.
2) Make whole decisions. I’m bad at this. I like to be everywhere at once. But eventually I came to see that straddling the fence is just not sustainable (it killed Ananias). When you have a decision to make, gather the facts, listen for the word of God, and shut the door behind you. Life is a lot less mentally exhausting when you’re decisive.
3) Remember that the danger of Satan isn’t that he urges you to sin, but that he tells you that your sin won’t hurt you. Be aware that evil works better below the surface, and keep watch for hidden lies.
4) And finally: do not carry a lie in your heart. Expunge it. Do it right now. Think of some kind of lie you’re living or something you’re not dealing with. Stop right now and go take care of it.