An Obituary of the Self-Centered Church Member: Acts 5

This morning I was reading Acts 5 devotionally, and couldn’t help myself but to think of Ananias and Sapphira’s Obiturary page in the “Jerusalem Times.” Maybe it read something like this, “Ananias and Sapphira were married for twenty years. They leave behind two children, four grandchildren, and a church family that grieves their untimely death. On Friday morning, around 9a.m., Ananais took a portion of the proceeds from the sale of his land to his local church to give as an offering. Witnesses say as he laid it at the pastor’s feet, he fell over and breathed his last. When the autopsy and investigation was complete, it was learned that Ananias had promised he would give the whole amount of proceeds from the sale of his land—not a portion. In addition, his wife Sapphira entered the place where the church was gathered to see if she could find her husband, for he had been away for three hours. As she came in, not knowing her husband had passed, she was asked about the sale of the property, to which she replied “Yes, we sold it for that much.” At which point, she too fell over and died. They both died from a heart attack, an attack of selfishness, greed, and sin in the heart of those who follow Christ.” 

While this is a “cheesy” (probably poor) attempt to write an primitive obituary, it is not a laughing matter of what transpired in Acts 5:1-11. Two people, who were part of the local body of believers, died. Their death did not come by martyrdom, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Their death is to be taken extremely serious, not only then, but even now. What can we learn from Ananias and Sapphira’s selfishness, greed, and sin?

1)   Selfishness originates in the heart, which is sin. We need to remember that all sin is ultimately against God. As David confessed in Psalm 51, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:3-4). In Ananias and Sapphira’s particular case, they had lied to the Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly, they had claimed they would give the whole amount, and instead at the last moment decided to give only a portion of the proceeds from the sell of their land. Lying is an attempt to cover-up. In this case, they thought they could hide from the Lord the selfishness of their embarrassing greed. In the end, their sin was open and exposed from the Lord who knows all and sees all.

2)   Selfishness hurts our Father. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira as stated above, was against God. Not only was it against him, but our selfishness and sin, particularly when we claim to know him, hurts him. It particularly hurts him for it is behavior uncharacteristic of his nature and unbefitting of his people—whom he imputed his nature in them through the substitutionary sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. We read in Ezekiel that Israel had profaned God’s name among the nations through their unholy posture (Ezk 36:22-23). In addition, we read a story very similar to Ananias and Sapphira in Joshua 7, with the sin of Achan. God had communicated to Joshua, and Joshua to Israel, that they were to devote the cities they were to conquer to utter destruction. Yet, Achan kept back some of the devoted things for himself, putting them among his own belongings (Josh 7:11). In these three passages we learn that our selfishness and our sin hurt our Father; it distorts and damages his image in us, an image that he is repairing and redeeming for the purpose of radiating his glory to the nations. It also hurts him, for it reduces his people back into a posture and lifestyle of the people God desires them to bear witness. In other words, our sin and selfishness makes us just like the people God is attempting to reach through us. This hurts God.

3)   Selfishness affects the body, and leads to severe consequences. I am sure that if Ananias and Sapphira had it to do over now, they would have just gave the entire amount—as they said they would. However, God chose not to give them a mulligan, but to make them an example. Selfishness and sin in the body is a severe indictment by God that can lead to severe consequences. In this case, the severe consequence was death. Obviously, God does not (and has not) do this with every single believer that exhibits selfishness and sin. However, let us not fool ourselves to think that sin and selfishness in local bodies of believers do not cause other forms of severe consequences and death. Sin and selfishness can cause relational deaths, missional deaths, and ecclesial (church) deaths. Paul tells the believers in Philippi to not only look to each persons’ own interests, “but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). People like Ananias and Sapphira, believers over-taken by selfishness and sin and who only look out for their own interests, affect the body and (can) cause severe consequences. Imagine a local body of believers comprised by a spirit of selfishness and sin, making life and “church” all about them and their interests. What do you think would be a severe consequence? A missional death. Selfish and sinful believers, who make life, ministry, and “church” about them, do not reach out to invite people opposite of them into the fold. Thus, a selfish church experiences the severe consequence of a missional death. A missional death, therefore, leads to an ecclesial (church) death. A church that is selfish, runs off those who are not, leaving a group of self-centered/sinful so-called believers, thus killing mission, and leaving the church to decay and eventually die. This leads me to my last point.

4)   Selfishness can prohibit the advancement of the gospel. God knew the slippery slope of Ananias and Sapphira’s behavior. If selfishness, greed, and sin was present in the church, and went unchecked, it would eventually lead to an inward church—not a church for the world. God’s people exist for the sake of God’s glory, and for the good of the world. It is an oxymoron to be part of the people of God and be selfish, self-centered, greedy, and sinful. This posture prohibits the advancement of the good-news of Jesus, rather than advancing it. Let us all pier into our heart, into the dark crevasses, and do some heart surgery confessing our selfishness, greed, and sin as we seek to be the people of God for the sake of his glory, the advancement of his gospel, for the good of the world. 

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