Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 15, Sapphira Dies For A Lie/The Apostles Heal The Sick

Yesterday we found a man named Ananias dying for telling a lie about money he vowed to give to the Lord's work. We talked about why the judgment for such a thing was so harsh during the early days of the church and we will take a deeper look at the reason for this today as the wife of Ananias meets the same fate. The clue to why their sin had to be dealt with so harshly is given to us when Luke describes how much the community (even the unbelievers) admires the apostles and church members.

"About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened." (Acts 5:7) Sapphira is probably wondering what's taking Ananias so long. He left the house three hours ago to donate the money he promised to the church and he hasn't returned. I doubt she's concerned that something has happened to him; they believed they would get away with lying to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:3) Maybe she's impatient because he's needed at home. Or maybe she thinks he's in the process of being honored by the apostles for his generous gift and she wants to be credited for her generosity as well.

She likely inquires about the location of her husband, but instead of answering her right away, Peter asks her a question. "Peter said to her, 'Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?'" (Acts 5:8a) Sapphira is presented with an opportunity to confess the truth. I think at this point she still doesn't suspect anything is wrong, so she sticks to the story she and her husband came up with together. "'Yes,' she said, 'that is the price.'" (Acts 5:8b)

"Peter said to her, 'How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?'" (Acts 5:9a) Sapphira and Ananias conspired together in this matter. We sometimes have a tendency to think that in a patriarchal society women are never treated as equals in marriage. But in the Bible we find many examples of strong and courageous women who are admired and respected by their husbands. For example, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is just such a woman: one who works both inside and outside the home, who has the freedom to think for herself and make decisions for herself, who is outgoing and active in her community, and who makes her husband proud to be known as the man lucky enough to be married to her. If Ananias were the type of man who treated his wife as a subordinate and as someone who must obey his every word, Sapphira would not fall under judgment. If she were a battered or emotionally abused wife, she could not be held responsible for fearfully sticking to the story her husband concocted. But Peter says the two of them conspired together, so we see here a marriage of equals in which husband and wife make major decisions jointly. Therefore they are both responsible for the sin they've committed.

When he hears her lie Peter pronounces a fearful verdict. "Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.' At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." (Acts 5:9b-11) A number of Bible scholars believe that Ananias and Sapphira were saved but that they committed a "sin that leads to death". (1 John 5:16-17) The Apostle John speaks of believers who fall into sin, and we know he's speaking about believers because he calls them brothers and sisters. He states that some sins are so bad that the Lord takes the brother or sister out of the world. He indicates that this is the mercy of God, that He would remove a believer from the world so that this person does not fall deeper into trouble or so that the church is not contaminated by the presence of sin. The Apostle Paul seems to agree with John, for when he speaks of those who celebrate the Lord's Supper in a sinful manner he states that some have gone to an early death because of such things, not because they have lost their salvation but so they can be disciplined in order to keep from being condemned along with the unbelieving world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) Who knows to what further depths of sin Ananias and Sapphira would have sunk if allowed to remain on the earth? Who knows what they might have influenced other church members to do? God knows, and He handled the matter in the way it had to be handled in that particular season of the church.

The church continues to grow as the apostles go bravely out into the community and preach the name of Jesus Christ and heal the sick in His name. "The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people." (Acts 5:12-13) Even the unbelievers respect these men. They admire men who stand up for their convictions and who are doing good deeds in the community. Would this have been the case if the deception of Ananias and Sapphira had been glossed over or ignored? No, because most people, believers and unbelievers alike, place a high value on integrity. If the community saw sin flourishing in the early church it could not be said that the apostles were "highly regarded by the people". It's so important that we who proclaim the name of Christ maintain a high level of integrity in every area of our lives. The world is watching us to see whether we are the real deal or not. Sin in our lives or in the church has the capability of turning people off from the gospel message. They will say, "These Christians aren't any better than we are! They are hypocrites! I've never stolen anything from anyone, yet I know some church members who've cheated people in the community. I've never been unfaithful to my spouse, but I could name you several people in the church who are now divorced because of adultery. I've never done drugs or been an alcoholic, but several people at the neighborhood church have fallen into destructive addictions. Why should I listen to the message they're preaching when they aren't being obedient to it themselves?"

This is why the Lord had to remove Ananias and Sapphira from the assembly of believers. The world watches the church, and in its formative years it was of the utmost importance that the church and its members be highly respected. Luke tells us that some who admire the church don't dare join it, even though they respect it, because they aren't going to be hypocrites who join it without being fully committed. They've heard what happened to Ananias and Sapphira and they know that if their hearts aren't completely devoted to Christ they are in danger of meeting the same fate. They can't be part-time Christians. They can't be wishy washy about their faith. They are either all in or all out. So those who aren't yet persuaded by the gospel message continue observing the church and its members but they don't dare join until they've made up their minds to follow Christ.

A great deal of the hearers of the gospel do commit their hearts and lives to Christ. "Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed." (Acts 5:14-16)

Perhaps the reason we don't see more people today delivered from illnesses and addictions is because the church has compromised with the world. We have allowed things to creep in that were not allowed to creep into the early church. The early church was so obedient and so holy that even the shadow of an apostle had the power to heal! This is because sin was rooted out and dealt with as soon as it sprang up. I'm glad no one is struck dead in the church today for doing wrong, but I do think we ought to follow the instructions of the Apostle Paul who said, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1) Paul advocates dealing with sin in the church lovingly and with a spirit of humility, always keeping in mind that each of us is equally capable of falling into sin. We are doing our brother or sister in Christ a disservice if we never go to him or her privately and say, "I love you and I'm worried about you. The path you're on is taking you in the wrong direction. The Lord Jesus has a better plan for your life. How can I and the church help you?"

It hurts when someone we admire and respect comes to us and talks to us about our sin, but if it's done lovingly and in the right spirit it can be very effective in getting us back on the right track. There have been times when people close to me have pointed out a bad attitude I've had about something, or they've pinpointed an area of hypocrisy in my life, or they've chastised me for pride, or they've caught me in a lie. My first reaction was to feel angry and offended, but because these were people who loved me and had my best interests at heart, I couldn't help pondering their words in my heart and coming to the realization that they were right. If I continue to live on this earth, no doubt I'll need my attitude checked many more times, and I hope someone loves me enough to come to me privately and say, "I'm concerned about you. I don't think this is the right direction for your life. I think you're doing harm to yourself. What can I do to help you?"

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