We have arrived at the disturbing story of Ananias and Sapphira, who were both struck dead after withholding money from the church and lying about it. That consequence may seem drastic to us; after all, who among us has hasn't gotten away with worse? Why was their punishment so harsh? And what was their sin, really?
Ananias and Sapphira's deaths are not unprecedented.
Similar situations occurred in the Old Testament. Think of Korah and his followers. They rebelled against Moses, and the earth opened under their feet. Soon after, God sent a plague that killed thousands. (Numbers 16) Think of Achan, who took spoils of war against God's command. He, his family, and everything he owned ended up buried in rocks in the Valley of Trouble. (Joshua 7) The results of rebellion against God are drastic in Israel's early history.
Note that Ananias and Sephira are struck down in the infancy of the church. In either case, if corruption were to be tolerated, it could set the tone for generations to come. In order to keep Israel or the church holy from the start, God was willing to go to great lengths.
Furthermore, as Dr. Ravi Zacharias notes, the time of the Exodus was thick with miracles, proofs of God's presence. The early church was similarly surrounded by supernatural displays. There was no excuse for them to doubt; thus, the consequences of their sins were appropriate.
Are we wise enough to learn from others' mistakes? As in the rest of life, some of the most valuable lessons in the Bible can be learned from those who set a bad example.
Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of hypocrisy.
In John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. (14:17, 15:26, 16:13) Thus far, the church has been humble, honest, bold, and generous to the point of self-sacrifice (Acts 2:45, 4:34), in keeping with the character of God. Ananias and Sephira's action ran counter to the holiness that the Spirit was cultivating in the church. If they wanted to look more holy and generous than they were willing to act, they were at the least prideful and self-centered. If they were directed by the Spirit to donate the funds, but didn't and lied about it, they were rebellious and greedy. Whatever their motive, they exemplified what Jesus railed against the Pharisees for doing: having a false outer appearance while neglecting true holiness (Matt. 23:25-26).
The Holy Spirit desires us to grow in holiness (2 Cor. 7:1, Eph. 4:22-24). God's goal is not for us to merely appear holy, but to truly be holy, as He is (Lev. 19:2, 1 Peter 1:15-16). Honesty is an essential part of that. Honesty with Him, with ourselves, and with each other. It is crucial for the life of the church. Accountability only works when we are genuine and open. Much-needed conviction can only take hold when we recognize what we have done. And our prayer life loses strength when we hide from God.
How honest are we with God, ourselves, and one another? Is there something left unsaid in prayer, accountability, or within ourselves?