5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Last time we covered the first part of this text, determining that God knows when you are lying to him and will not let you stand in the way of the proclamation of his gospel. Today we are looking at the last part of this story in verses 6-11. Sapphira’s story ends with the same epitaph as that of her husband. “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” The repetition is not by chance: it is the whole point of the story.
The church is a holy body, the realm of the Spirit. By the power of this spiritual presence in its midst, the young community worked miracles, witnessed fearlessly, and was blessed with incredible growth. The Holy Spirit was the power behind its unity, and its unity was the power behind its witness. But just as with God there is both justice and mercy, so with his Spirit there is also an underside to his blessing. There is his judgment. Ananias and Sapphira experienced this judgment. The Spirit is not to be taken lightly. As the Spirit of God he must always be viewed with fear in the best sense of that word (phobos), reverent awe and respect. It might be noted that this is the first time the word “church” (ekklēsia) occurs in Acts, which denotes the people of God gathered as a religious community.
I don’t think that it is by accident that it occurs in the context of this story. The church can only thrive as the people of God if it lives within the total trust of all its members. Where there is that unity of trust, that oneness of heart and mind, the church flourishes in the power of the Spirit. Where there is duplicity and distrust, its witness fails.
I remember a good pastor friend of mine who used to say, “If you speak to God about power, he’ll speak to you about purity.” This does not mean that power automatically comes from Christian perfectionism, but rather, the most important thing in our lives is not power, but purity. May that be our emphasis in our relationship with the Lord.