When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. (Acts 5:5 ESV)
We continue our study in Acts, as Luke moves us along in his inspired account and gives us a bit of a spotlight into the inner workings of the church gatherings. We have seen so far the church’s influence upon the outside world, and then in our last study, the outside world’s opposition to the church. But here, Luke zooms in to show us some problems that arise within the church.
If our last narrative shows us the first taste of persecution that church would experience, this narrative reveals the first inner conflict the church would experience. And like persecution and opposition, intra-church struggles will not completely cease until Jesus returns.
This thought is quite sobering. But it should not rob us of our joy. Just as Jesus predicted to his disciples that persecution and tribulation will come, so he warned of tares among wheat, goats among sheep, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. While God promises protection around his church, and that the church will ultimately prevail, he also warns us to keep the unity within, to confess our faults to one another, to love one another and pursue truth together, so that our local churches will not be victimized by Satan, and our lamps snuffed out by the Lord. These kinds of dire warnings are necessary to keep us awake and vigilant against sin.
The story that Luke gives us contrasts the generosity of Barnabas, who represents the overall sacrificial giving present in this new community, with the deception of Ananias and Sapphira, who hold back a portion of the sale of their property and lie to the Apostles and the church.
Their lie, which is attributed to Satan’s influence but ultimately their united responsibility, results in sudden judgment from God: the two of them each drop dead, in front of the Apostles, before the whole church, within hours from one another. Most of us have never witnessed anything like that, but if we did, we could probably resonate with verse 5:11, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”
The same church that experienced miracles and blessings and love also experienced judgment, death, sin, deception, and fear. And this judgment can boggle the mind. Why didn’t God strike dead the authorities who tried to silence Peter and John, but he struck down this couple so quickly? We’ll examine this question more in depth on Sunday but suffice it to say that God takes the holiness of his people very, very seriously.
Let us continue to praise God for his protection and promises to his church. However let us be vigilant, realizing that oftentimes, the greatest threats to the local church do not come from outside, but from within.