Sapphira – Bad for a moment
As in our previous sessions, we will take some direction from our feature book, “Bad Girls of the Bible,” by Liz Curtis Higgs, so if you want to join in the discussion, please pick up a copy of her book. Don’t worry about missing the other sessions. They do not link to each other, so you can go back and read those at any time. The links are below.
Also note, that video teaching of these lessons can all be found on my YouTube channel, ‘The Teaching Lady.’ Subscribe and like the page so you can view all the lessons as well as other studies I have recorded. There are 197 videos to date on my YouTube channel.
Sapphira was very generous with her monetary giving. Alas, she was also very generous with her monetary fibbing.
Acts 2:44 – 45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.“
No one was more philanthropic than a certain fella from Cyprus: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles call Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet.” Acts 4:36-37
“Now I man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property.“ Acts 5:1
The “also “in this passage is a dead giveaway pun intended. Ananias and Sapphira were clearly well-known among the believers. Perhaps they served in some leadership capacity for the young church, side-by-side as husband and wife, or had a thriving business that provided plenty of disposable income to support the cause.
Whatever the scenario, two truths stand out: 1) They were followers of Christ, and 2) They have the means to further his kingdom in a significant way. At first blush, Sapphira was a good girl, not a bad girl.
But while others were filled with the Holy Spirit, these two were drained of the Spirit’s power, emptied by their own jealousy and need for prestige and recognition. By selling their land exactly as Barnabas had, they hoped to get the spotlight off him and onto them.
2000 years later we foster such poorly motivated giving in the church when we offer brass plaques mounted on favorite pews or names leaded into stained glass windows or hymnals with the donors’ names printed on the flyleaf. The sales pitch is obvious: Give in a big way so all will know how generous you are.
It reminds me of a church I once visited that for years tolerated a sanctuary decorated with screaming green carpet. It was donated by one person under one condition: the donor got to pick the color. (Why be cleansed by the spirit when you can be awash in limeade?) The carpet has since been replaced with a lovely shade more conducive to worship, and I imagine if such an offer is made in years to come, the building committee will wisely raise a red flag. Not a green one. In the last verse and this one, it’s clear that the twosome were working in tandem.
“With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet.” Acts 5:2
What’s so bad about keeping some of the money? Wasn’t it their money? If I sell a set of tires through Bargain Mart, am I supposed to put every dime in the offering plate?
The issue was honesty, not money. If I sell my tires for $100 but I say I got $80 for them and put that in the plate as if it were the whole amount, quietly pocketing the $20 difference and taking a bow for being completely altruistic…well, even with my limited math skills, I know that adds up to 100% deceit. The apostle Peter knew it too.
“Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?“ Acts 5:3
Wait a minute. How did Peter know Ananias had held some of the proceeds back? In today’s real estate world, the selling price is a matter of public record, printed in the newspaper after closing. But in those days, unless the buyer bandied his purchase price about, how could Peter have found out? One commentator surmised, “Through the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter received a prophetic insight enabling him to read the thoughts and intents of Ananias and Sapphira.”
That’s certainly within the realm of possibility. Maybe Ananias wore a guilty expression, had clammy hands, or couldn’t look Peter in the eye when he handed over the money. Maybe the selling price did get around, such that Peter was expecting to receive a particular sum and was shocked when he didn’t.
What Ananias and Sapphira did was “the first open venture of deliberate wickedness “in the infant church. In that sense, they were very much like the first couple of the Old Testament, deceived as Peter pointed out by the wiley serpent once again, and quick to lie to cover their sins. Greed was not their only sin. Nor was it just the ugly fruit of that greed – a false witness. They lacked sufficient faith that God would provide for their needs and so hoarded some “just in case.“
They lacked trust in their brothers and sisters to share fairly and so kept a portion “just in case.” They lacked the willingness to live with less and place their hope in a spiritually rich future rather than a financially rich present, so they put some wealth aside “just in case.“
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?“ Acts 5:4
“What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” Acts 5:4
1000 years earlier David confessed before the Lord, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” If Ananias had made such an admission, even at this late hour, he might have been spared. We’ll never know.
“When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.” Acts 5:5
Splat! That was that. Notice that Peter didn’t strike him dead. We’re not even told that God smote him. Perhaps his own guilt took him out. Whatever the case, Ananias wasn’t mostly dead. He was history.
“And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.” Acts 5:5
“Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.“ Acts 5:6
It’s certain they wasted no time in putting him in the ground because the day was still young when the little woman showed up.
“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.” Acts 5:7
Where has she been? For God’s purposes it was important that she come alone and without forewarning just as these two were judged for their sin separately, so will we stand alone before God someday. No amount of “my husband made me do this” will cut the mustard, dear ones.
When it comes to sin and judgment, God is exceedingly fair and frighteningly just, which Sapphira soon discovered.
“Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?“ Acts 5:8
Peter offered her a chance to be saved from certain death. He was neither accusing nor judging her here. Her choice was clear: tell the truth or tell a lie.
“Yes,” she said, “That is the price.“ Acts 5:8
Ananias held the money back as well, but we’re not told he lied to Peter outright, Sapphira did. Why did she sin even more grievously?
Sapphira chose to sin and flaunted her sin before Peter, before her fellow Christians, and before God.
“Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?“ Acts 5:9
She and Ananias not only agreed to keep some of the money. They must have also agreed that the Holy Spirit, newly abroad in the land, was not powerful enough to know of their deception. As such they tested God‘s strength against their own… and lost.
Sapphira’s name was as beautiful as a jewel, but her heart was as hard as stone. Before long the rest of her would follow suit. In that, she reminds us of Lot’s wife who also made one wrong move and paid for it with her life.
Peter delivered her sentence like the bang of a gavel.
“Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” Acts 5:9
“At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.“ Acts 5:10
One might chalk up such a death as a heart attack if it happened once in a blue moon. This occurred twice in one spot, in one day. Two such divine judgments tell the tale. When Peter said it would happen, and “at that moment “it did, a promise from Proverbs must have run through the minds of the onlookers: “The lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.”
“Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.“ Acts 5:10
Their sad story was recorded in Scripture as a lesson and as a warning.
“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.“ Acts 5:11
This is the earliest use of the word “church “in the Book of Acts. Note the other keyword of the sentence: “fear.”
During that season of signs and wonders and miracles, it was necessary for the Lord to strike fear in their hearts, the sort of fear that would ultimately keep them safely in the kingdom.
Fear, when it is justified, is healthy. Fear keeps a toddler from running into the street – the second time. The first time, it’s a parent’s wrath and promises of hasty punishment if the action is repeated that gets his or her attention.
So what lessons can we learn from our bad girl Sapphira?
1) Pride and generosity don’t mix. God delights in seeing us share our time, money, and resources for no reason other than the joy of giving. When our motives are pure, then giving is not only easy; it’s downright fun. When we give with an expectation of receiving accolades or seeing our names carved in stone, though, the joy is gone, chased away by fear and a hunger for approval that can never be satisfied. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.“ 2 Corinthians 9:7
2) Learn to give when nobody’s looking.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that you’re giving may be in secret.“ Matthew 6:3-4
3) Honesty isn’t the best policy; it’s the only policy.
Sapphira could have saved her life and learned her lesson if she’d only reconsidered and told the truth. There might have been a penalty to pay and she still would have been a widow – but she would’ve been alive. When we have a choice (and we always do), let’s tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the long run, it’s easy; nothing ugly to cover up or worry about. In the short run, it’s the right thing to do. Always. “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” Psalms 34:13
4) You pay your money you make your choice.
Sapphia made the wrong choice because she was pursuing temporal riches instead of eternal ones. Before we donate our resources, let’s figure out what’s in it for us. If the answer is nothing, then we can proceed with joy! The wise woman makes giving a priority, knowing that when she goes to glory, it’s all left behind anyway. Let’s choose carefully those recipients for whom our gifts could make the difference between a meaningless death versus a meaningful life in Christ. “The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death.“ Proverbs 11:19
Please read Acts 5 a few times. Ask yourself questions like – who, what, where, when, how.
Who are the main characters?
What are they doing?
Where are they?
How can I apply what I am reading to my life?
Is there a sin for me to avoid?
Is there a promise for me to believe?
Is there an example for me to follow?
Is there a command for me to obey?
Thank you again Liz Curtis Higgs for the material today from your book titled, “Bad Girls of the Bible.” You are a wonderful and talented writer.
#badgirlsofthebible #biblestudy #womensbiblestudy #honor #deceit #sapphira