The Expository Files


The Account of Ananias & Sapphira

(What does God want us to know?)

Acts 5:1-11


When you read and study the book of Acts these accounts we have of Christians acting together are a great pleasure to read: “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (2:42). “And all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need,” (2:44-45). The next verse says, “…they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

In the third chapter, the healing of the lame man, followed by Peter’s sermon delivered from Solomon’s portico. In the fourth chapter there is the sad account of Peter and John being arrested and told not to preach . . . but, there is the commendable boldness of Peter and John; and, what could well be called “a prayer meeting.” Acts 4:31 says, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of god with boldness.”

Then – this account of benevolence, in Acts 4:32-37.

“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet.”

It is a pleasure to read about God’s people involved in sincere sacrifice, to help each other, to the glory of God. No wonder it says in verse 33 that “great grace was upon them all.”

Then, after reading about this unprecedented liberality of good people working together and helping each other (in response to God’s grace), something happens.

Acts 5:1-11

1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

Why did the Holy Spirit tell us about this? The gospel is “good news” - why not just tell us the good news? People today seem to agree – It is important to have a positive attitude; to feel good and be happy. This doesn’t make me feel very good!

We know this is not a good example given for our imitation. Why not just tell us the good things? Just give us the good examples!! What does God want us to know?

There is a verse right in the middle of this passage that answers these questions. Verse 11: “And great fear came on all the church, and on all who heard these things!”

One of the great dangers to our spiritual existence is a failure to fear God! It has become very easy, almost routine, to adopt a very casual attitude toward God that has no component of “fear and trembling” at all. The world calls us every day to fall in line with the culture around us; to develop a lazy ritualistic approach to religion, not take spiritual things seriously (until right before you die if there is time) and to dismiss the possibility of suffering consequences from our sin. Passages like this should move us in the other direction.

If this account does not strengthen my reverence for God, and sober me – to the bone – I have missed the point! The courage to pursue God with singleness of purpose cannot be effectively applied, in the absence of this fear. Our hearts should be so well trained, we are able to sincerely and consistently say, “teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

It is a serious thing to lie to God! It should strike us with the deepest kind of fear to even consider any plan that would offend God in any way.

In this reference to the event here in Acts 5, I want to take us in these four directions of application:

Peace in Marriage may be Enmity Against God!

Based on the account given by Luke it is clear, Ananias and Sapphira were in agreement; this is something they did together.

Together, they “sold a possession.” Ananias “kept back part of the proceeds,” but it says his wife was aware of it. So far, everything reflects husband and wife in agreement; working as a team.

More directly to this point let me ask you to look at verse 9, where Peter said to her: “…you have agreed together …” In the Knox translation, Peter is saying: “What is this conspiracy between you?” It reminds me of the modern legal term: Complicity. So this is something they did together – united; together in this deception.

NOW: This was voluntary benevolence. No specific amount or percentage was demanded. These needs were to be filled by the generosity of Christians like Barnabas. Ananias and Sapphira took this occasion to give, to help others but let Satan intrude, resulting in an agreement to lie. Essentially, it was the acting of a lie - acting to imply more generosity than they really had in their hearts.

Though it may be considered a secondary lesson, this illustrates how peace in a marriage can be enmity against God.

Common wisdom is – it is good for husband and wife to be agreed, and do things together! Virtually every book on the subject of marriage, and all the advice you may hear from all the experts say – WORK TOGETHER, BE AT PEACE, BE A TEAM. The message is – husband and wife need to be agreed and work together.

My point is – Before husband and wife agree to do anything together, they should first consult God! Subject every decision to the test of the Scriptures. Be certain – when you agree with your spouse to do something, it is right in the first place; it has God’s approval.

Sin cannot be dismissed by virtue of any agreement or unity with anyone! This is so simple, it is profound. The fact that you have a friend, and your friend agrees to do something with you – does not mean the joint activity is approved by God!

People come together in local churches, and may agree together to do things the Scriptures teach against! Human agreement in joint activity is not a sign or proof that the behavior is right.

It is a good thing for husband and wife to be agreed, but the thing they agree upon needs to have God’s approval.

As a general rule – it is good for husband and wife to act together, as a team – but first, all decisions and plans should be objectively submitted to the test of the Scriptures. “There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord,” (Prov. 21:30).

Deception Is Always Detected By God

You are familiar with The Polygraph Machine. I don’t know if you have any personal experience. But we all know about the concept, of detecting the strong possibility of deception – with a Polygraph Machine – by measuring a variety of demonstrable responses.

The Polygraph Machine is confirming testimony – proving that humans do not enjoy the power to read the minds of other humans!

In 1 Cor. 2:11 you will find this rhetorical question: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” You cannot know my thoughts unless my spirit wills to reveal them. (Granted, my behavior may reveal my thoughts, but that is indirect and subjective in most cases). Mind-reading is a power men and women may claim – but in fact, do not have. We cannot objectively and absolutely detect lies!

The Polygraph Machine is an attempt to monitor certain measurable human responses, in an effort to discover when there is the strong possibility of deception. They are not infallible.

God has no use for a Polygraph Machine. One aspect of God’s Godness is – the perfect ability to detect deception. I may tell a lie, and live a lie and you may never know. God knows and He knows from the earliest commencement of a lie!

Ananias and Sapphira were free moral agents – they agreed together to deceive; at the earliest formation of that lie – God knew it.
God didn’t have to wait for them to say anything – to each other, or to Peter. God wasn’t depending upon the apostles to investigate. In fact – God knew and told Peter! McGarvey was right; he said: “Peter’s knowledge of the deception was the result not of human information, but of the insight imparted to him by the Holy Spirit.”

Can you imagine? You and your wife agree to carry out this deception. You are careful not to show your hand. But Peter already knows what you’ve done - - you have not lied to men but to God. And after you hear these words you go to room temperature: He fell down and breathed his last! He fell down and died. I heard an old black preacher talk about this one time and he said - - When Peter got done talking, Ananias got done living!

You cannot keep a lie from God! You may keep a lie from your parents. You may lie to your spouse, and it is never discovered. You may lie to brethren; you may lie at work; you may lie to yourself. You may live a lie. But you cannot conceal anything from God!

Whoever you are, whatever your age, regardless of your beliefs – God knows everything about you at the moment you are reading this. What you think, say, do – all of it. Nothing is left out. This account in Acts 5 should cause us to remember this very practical truth about God’s perfection.

The Agency Of Satan Is Part Of This Story, And Part Of Every Sin

If you just had this story in Acts 5, without the rest of the Bible – without everything else God tells us about sin, about temptation, about man ~ It might seem to be unjust: Ananias is rebuked for what Satan did!

Look at verse 3, and notice – Peter is directing the question to Ananias, but it is about what Satan did! “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?”

If we had no over-all Biblical context, we might be justified in asking – Why did the apostle Peter ask Ananias about what Satan did? If you rebuke me, about something someone else has done ~ my response might be, “go ask them!”

But we have – not just this account – but the total revelation of God to man about temptation, and how temptation works. So the justice in this is answered by the fact that Satan had no power to fill his heart, without his consent; without his cooperation!

The agency and power of Satan in this case depended upon the man letting Satan into his heart. So it was Satan’s work – wrought
in the heart of a man, who was not determined the keep Satan out of
the matter.

Every sin, in whatever form – can be attributed to both Satan and the sinner. Satan is the deceiver but it is not unavoidable to be deceived. Satan sets up the trap but there is no force compelling us to be trapped.

Satan offers mental suggestions to move us away from God – but we have the capacity to reject those thoughts and not act on them. Satan approaches us through a variety of circumstances, thoughts, attitudes, people and false doctrines - - - but there is no work of Satan against man that reduces or eliminates human responsibility!

There is no situation Satan can set up against you that God cannot take you through clean, if you’ll trust and obey God!!

This truth is empowered by the gospel of Christ. Forgiveness is offered to sinners, then instruction, motivation and strength to say “no” to Satan moment by moment. The gospel supplies redemption, but also – the drive, the discipline and desire to refuse Satan any entrance into our hearts.

And I hope we all realize the battlefield is the human heart. The tempter seeks a home within us; he wants us to let him in our hearts to do his work of corruption. To the extent we allow our hearts to be turned from God toward Satan, we allow evil to gain victory. This is why God said to Cain: “Sin lies at the door,” and this is why Peter’s rebuke to Ananias about the work of Satan – was justified.

Every Biblical Account Of God Reacting To Evil Should Help Us, By Christ, Check The Influence of Satan

We are back where we started: “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon all who had heard these things.” This doesn’t mean nobody in the Jerusalem church had any fear or reverence for God before this happened. It means this got their attention, put them on alert and shook them up. This should be the result every time we
read anywhere in the Bible, of God reacting to evil. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The banishment of Cain. The flood and the tower of Babel. The history referred to in 1 Cor.10 - - written in Exodus 32, where “in one day 23,000 fell” because of their lust for evil things and involvement in idolatry. The reaction of God against His people – in the time when the Judges ruled. The expressions of God’s displeasure against Saul, David and Solomon, when they fell. Israel falling to Assyria; the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem; the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, the effect of this should be no less, than if you had witnessed it. The failure of dishonesty and greed is clear. The result of one wrong choice, one lie is a lesson we easily get. Our personal response to this ought to be – as expressed by David who wrote one time: “Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me,” (Psa.139:23,24).


Every time this account in Acts chapter five is brought up in preaching and teaching: Someone wants to know, if God would take such action today. I could give you my opinion, and the reasons for my opinion, but I’m not going to do that now. Because I want to text to stand as it is, with the impact it was intended to have.

You see - whether God would take such action today or not, the impact of the text should be exactly the same! If God would take such action today, or if God would not do so in the post-apostolic era – the answer to that question should not change, one way or the other, the personal impact of the text.

Whatever interests we may have in such questions, there is this objective truth we have to admit: We can fear God and keep His commandments, and we must. So many questions of curiosity, so many of our issues and debates tend to overshadow the simple matters of individual practice, in response to God.

We need to take responsibility for what we know. We know what the Lord requires of us - - - as written in Deut. 10:12 - - - to fear Him, to walk in His ways, to love Him, serve Him - - obeying Him moment by moment. We can fear God and keep His commandments, and we must.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 17.9; September 2010