Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 5
Acts 5 begins with the story of Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit about the proceeds of the land sale. The Holy Spirit punished them severely for keeping some of the proceeds for themselves, while claiming they had given it all. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin doesn’t seem very serious, so why was the punishment so severe? Many modern-day Christians do not even tithe, let alone give the entire proceeds of a sale or business deal. So why doesn’t the Holy Spirit punish modern-day believers?
As we consider this question, let’s put aside the lens of punishment and fear for a moment. This lens can limit our understanding of this issue.
Being closer to God is like being closer to the sun
First, we can understand this issue using the analogy of “light.” We often hear others say that God judges us not because of the sin and darkness that is in us, but rather for how much we reject the “light.” Before salvation, we lived in darkness and ignorance. The sins we committed before we came to Christ were committed in ignorance.
However, after we come to know Jesus, the “light of the world,” it is another matter altogether. God holds us accountable for rejecting the clear presence of the Holy Spirit. In vs. 15, we see that the Holy Spirit was powerfully working all around Ananias and Saphira. Even Peter’s shadow could heal people of their diseases! Despite all this, Ananias and Saphira still sinned blatantly against the Holy Spirit. Hence, it is only natural for them to be punished severely.
The closer you are to the sun, the more you are at risk of being burned. In the same way, the closer we are to God’s light and the Holy Spirit’s powerful working, the less our darkness is tolerated. However, if the Holy Spirit is not as active in the world, and an individual is farther away from God, the punishment will not be as harsh.
This does not mean that God excuses sin. God hates all sin. However, as we draw closer to God, God’s expectations for our holiness increase. As we serve God, we need to be holy. As mentioned previously in our study of Acts 4, the Holy Spirit was specifically at work during this time, choosing the apostles and working powerfully among the people. Despite this, Ananias deliberately lied to the Holy Spirit. For this reason, he was severely punished.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the capacity of the vessel
Second, we can consider this topic using the concept of “capacity.” Humans are like vessels, or containers, that hold God’s power and glory. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is like a powerful current of electricity. Only the strongest of wires can handle such high voltage.
God wants to strengthen us so we can handle his “high voltage.” Peter and the other disciples had been prepared during Jesus’ three and a half years of ministry on earth. Without this preparation, they would not have been able to handle the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Modern-day Christians also need to undergo many trials and tests to prepare us to handle the weight of God’s powerful working. We need to grow our capacity.
Consider the analogy of a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers can withstand higher pressure than normal non-pressure cookers. If a regular pot is placed under high pressure, it will explode. Even a pressure cooker has a limit to the amount that it can withstand.
Similarly, each of us has a different capacity to withstand pressure. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:13 that he would not boast beyond limit, but would only boast about the area of influence God had assigned to him. We each have our own area of influence. We must not reach beyond the measure or capacity that God has assigned to us. Each of us has a limit to the amount of pressure we can take, but we are often greedy for more than we can handle. Then we are unable to manage this pressure.
So, to a certain extent, it was not God who killed Ananias, but rather Ananias’ own lack of capacity to cope with the pressures of such holiness. Jesus explained that when you put new wine in old wineskins, the wineskins will burst. On the one hand, the new wine caused the wineskins to burst; on the other hand, the old wineskin was unable to manage the pressures of the new wine. During the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Ananias tried to receive and contain God’s glory within his flesh. But since he was not a clean and pure vessel, he self-destructed, just like a normal pot disintegrates under high pressure.
Ever since the ascension of Christ to heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit has always been with us. If the Holy Spirit is present with us, why do we lack the manifestation and movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church? One reason could be the lack of capacity of our own vessels.
Jesus Christ molded and empowered the disciples as vessels for His use. This process of preparation is essential to prepare us (his vessels) to receive the Holy Spirit. It only takes a second for the Holy Spirit to fill you, but it takes more than 20 years to prepare a vessel.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is like a heavy downpour, and we are the containers that are used to collect the rainwater. If we are not prepared to receive the Holy Spirit—in the areas of holiness, character, personality etc.–we are an ill-prepared vessel. When the rain comes, we are unable to manage the rainwater. Instead, we will leak.
In the Old Testament, Elisha performed the miracle of providing olive oil to the widow. Elishaa asked the widow to borrow vessels from her neighbors. When all the vessels were filled, there was no more oil. This is a wonderful image which illustrates that our vessel’s capacity limits the amount of oil we can receive (2 Kings 4:1-7). We need to ensure that we allow God to prepare us to be vessels for him, so that we can manage the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we will run into trouble.
Many Christians desire revival but have not made themselves ready as vessels. For this reason, many spiritual revivals die a premature death due to lack of preparation of the vessels. God wants to grant us our desire. He wants to send a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But he wants us to be willing, prepared vessels. He is using the waiting time to prepare us as his vessels.
The process of obtaining God’s glory
The third lens through which we can approach this subject is the importance of God’s glory. Although Ananias and Sapphira’s sin may seem inconsequential, it was significant because it was an affront to God’s glory. The couple wanted access to God’s glory without sacrificing their money to God. This is a very serious matter. The couple sinned in the same way as Satan did: exalting themselves against God and wanting to steal his glory.
Jesus was different. He humbled Himself, never desiring to obtain glory for himself. He sacrificed himself because of God’s love, and in return he received glory and honor. If we want to receive God’s glory, we must take the path of self-sacrifice. If we desire glory without sacrificing our own interests, we will be punished. God will not share His glory with such people. God punished Ananias as a warning to us. We must not attempt to steal God’s glory.
America experienced a healing revival in the 1950s, where God blessed many with the gift of healing. However, this revival ended prematurely. Many healers refused to train other assistants, hoarding the gift of healing for themselves. They wanted glory for themselves instead of giving the glory to God. Because they tried to steal God’s glory, God withdrew his presence and cut short the great revival.
God’s severe punishment of hypocrisy
Fourth, we must consider this question through the lens of hidden sin and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy must be exposed. Those who live double lives bring great harm to the church. Servants of God who sin morally while pretending to be godly cause great destruction. In the scripture, Jesus also points out the hypocritical pharisees, who seem morally flawless but have hidden sins. They may be able to deceive many people, but they cannot deceive God. God exposed them for all to see.
Some sins are obvious to all. Even non-Christians who abide by worldly moral standards will disapprove of these sins. These sins are condemned by the conscience and by the law. However, other sins are hidden in the heart. Only God, who sees the heart, can perceive these sins. Therefore, God alone can expose these sins. If Ananias had become an apostle without his hypocrisy being exposed, he might have brought great harm to the work of God. No one would have ever known about his sins.
Even today, God continues to expose hidden sins of church leaders and lay leaders. He does this so that the church can become a pure, holy community.
Where did Ananias’ wife go?
Acts 5:7 says, “after an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.” Where was Ananias’ wife during those three hours? The Bible doesn’t tell us, so we don’t know the answer to this question. However, my guess is that she went to settle the fortune, the money they had decided to keep. Due to the powerful presence and working of the Holy Spirit, everyone in the Christian community was sharing the money they had with the Christian community. But this couple wanted to keep half the money for their own use.
Ananias and Sapphira both sinned. They fell into sin as a couple, just like Adam and Eve did. In Genesis, Eve was deceived, and Adam consciously chose to sin. Both husband and wife faced temptation at the same time. This story reminds us that Christian couples need to help and support each other. When one spouse is weak, the other spouse needs to be strong. If both are weak at the same time, it is a recipe for disaster. Many believers can attest to the value of mutual support. The husband can support the wife when she is weak, and vice versa.
If either Ananias or Sapphira had been spiritually strong, they would have been able to have avoided falling into sin. The strong one could have supported the weak one and keep them faithful to God. Unfortunately, both were weak and sinned at the same time, which led to this tragic outcome.
Positive and Negative Examples
Often, when the Bible gives a positive example, it follows up with a negative example of the same concept. For instance, the positive example of Barnabas’ generosity is given in Acts 4. Barnabas ‘sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet.’ Then in Acts 5, God gives a negative example about the lack of generosity: Ananias and his wife. The Bible often places a positive and negative example together to illustrate a point. The point God illustrates in this passage is that we need to sacrificially give to God, and not lie to Him.
Your enemy could be God’s messenger
Because Peter preached about Jesus and performed signs and wonders, there were some who wanted to kill him and his fellow apostles (Acts 5:33). However, a pharisee named Gamaliel interfered. He said, “Keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39 ESV). Because of Gamaliel’s wisdom, a disaster was averted.
This story illustrates that the very people whom we view as enemies could be God’s angels in disguise. Even though Jesus had criticized the Pharisees, Gamaliel the Pharisee actually helped Peter and the apostles at this critical juncture. Some people whom we treat as enemies or do not consider as friends, could all be angels in disguise. God can make everything work together for the benefit of those who love God.
Here is an example to illustrate this point. There was a Taiwanese Christian couple who often performed charitable acts and took care of children with cancer. However, due to their status as celebrities, they were criticized by those who did not believe them. People began to spread rumors that the couple were profiting financially off of their acts of charity. This was completely untrue, and the couple felt deeply betrayed. However, because of the rumors, many people learned about their charitable work and donated to their cause. They gained a lot of publicity, which meant they received many more donations and were able to help many more children.
To be free from punishment and fear
Nobody knows if Ananias and his wife went to heaven or hell, as it is not recorded in the Bible. However, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:5 regarding Christians who have sinned, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” In the Old Testament, Aaron’s two sons and Uzzah were both killed by the Lord. What happened to Aaron’s sons, Uzzah, Ananias, and Sapphira after death? God is the one who judges; only He knows the answer to this question. According to Paul’s principle, there is a possibility that God struck them down to prevent them from committing a greater sin. Although their bodies died, their spirits may have been saved.
When we read the Bible, our understanding is often clouded by our own perception. Our perspective of fear and punishment makes us think that God is easily angered. We imagine he will punish us for every little mistake. Many Christians say that God is love, but are unable to truly grasp God’s love in their minds and hearts. Many Christians feel like God is intentionally punishing or hurting them, just like he punished Ananias. Even though Ananias’ story is an extreme example and many do not have the same experience in their lives, Christians can become fearful and expect God to punish them like he punished Ananias. Understanding God’s love helps us understand difficult stories, such as the story presented in this chapter.
We need to change our perspective about trials and difficulties. The hard times we go through were not created by God. God allows them to happen in order to increase our capacity and prepare us as vessels for His glory. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives inside us (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit wants us to exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
At the same time, God’s discipline is real. Even though the killing of Ananias is an extreme example, we often encounter God’s discipline in our lives today. God disciplines us in order to put our flesh to death. He trains us for our own good. Galatians 5:17 states that, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Our flesh often tempts us to indulge in greed, sinning against the Holy Spirit. However, God does not kill us. The killing of Ananias is an extreme example and should not be used to negate God’s love for us. God is love. His love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). More often than not, God treats us with great kindness and patience, even when run away from Him. God loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). However, if we want to be united with God and partake of His love, we need to flee from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:4).
God’s love and holiness are two sides of the same coin. God loves us, but He is also holy and just. Because God loves us, He sent His son to redeem us. On the other hand, God is also holy. If we want to draw close to Him, we need to live in holiness.