It is hard to read the story of Ananias and Sapphira without your eyes becoming wide open with astonishment.
In Acts 5:1-11, we read how the couple sells a piece of land and gives a portion of the proceeds to the church, while claiming to give the entire proceeds. Both the husband and the wife are killed by God in the church after they presented the gift.
To say the least, the story is sobering.
The Bible says that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, what does the story teach us. Let’s look at three lessons from Ananias and Sapphira.
1. God sees everything.
There is no tricking God. God is omniscient—He knows every thought and every action. This reality should humble each of us. Undoubtedly, there are words we said, thoughts upon which we dwelled, and actions we’ve taken that we know do not align with God’s design and desire for us. And He is very aware of each of them, including how we think about and use financial resources.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is not the first time we see God demonstrating He knows what transpires in our checking accounts. In Luke 21:1-4, we find Jesus and the disciples outside the temple treasury. Jesus watches the rich hand over numerically large gifts to the temple. Yet, it is the widow who gave two coins who Jesus said provided the largest gift. He knew the financial details of the rich and the widow. He recognized that the widow’s gift was everything while the rich’s gifts were proportionally small to their resources.
God does not just see the money we give. He also sees the money we hold and use for other purposes. He knows about both the tithe and the other ninety percent. God sees everything.
2. Giving should not be done for earthly praise.
Why did Ananias and Sapphira act as if they were giving the entirety of the sale proceeds? God had not commanded them to do this. They may have been desirous of the recognition received by Barnabus for a similar gift. They may have watched the praise and attention he garnered and longed for the same attention.
In Matthew 6, Jesus warns about generosity motivated by earthly praise—“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others” (Matthew 6:2). God does not find pleasure in this type of giving because it is driven by a love for self rather than a love for God and others.
Ananias and Sapphira may have been driven by earthly praise. Their gift may have not represented a sacrifice but a transaction. They simply exchanged money for the praise and admiration of others. And it is from this story we learn your giving should not be done for earthly praise.
3. It’s all about the heart.
Ananias and Sapphira did not die because they took a portion of the sale proceeds for themselves. Peter makes this clear—"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4, ESV). The problem was not about possession, before or after the sale. Ananias and Sapphira were not obligated to give all or even a portion of the proceeds.
And God will not kill if you decide to sale your home and give most of the proceeds to the church and keep a portion for yourself. In fact, such a decision could be considered an example of sacrificial generosity. Likewise, God does not kill those who keep a portion of their paycheck for themselves to pay bills and save for the future. The Scripture teaches that such a decision can be wise.
So, why did they die? Peter’s words to the couple tell us. First, Peter told Ananias, “You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:4, ESV). Next, we read Peter’s question to Sapphira, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9, ESV).
The issue was not about finances. The finances were merely a symptom of something far more significant. Ananias and Sapphira’s problem was found deep in their hearts. They were attempting to deceive God in a likely attempt to gain man’s praise. God saw the desire to deceive in their hearts and deemed death as the rightful punishment.
The issue was not about finances. The finances were merely a symptom of something far more significant.
Now, does this mean that every time a person tries to deceive God, the result is immediate death? No. But it does teach us that God cares about our hearts. The disposition of our heart is of far more consequence to God than the amount of money placed in an offering plate. He desires a trust in Him with all areas of our lives, including our money, and seeks His praise alone.
So, what do we do with these lessons learned from Ananias and Sapphira? First, we recognize that we cannot hide anything from God. We cannot fool Him; we cannot make Him think we are somebody we are not. We should approach Him with unrestrained honesty.
Second, generosity should be driven by a desire to receive praise from God rather than man. The pursuit of man’s praise can corrupt the heart and lead a person to give in a manner that does not please God. The pursuit of God’s praise will mold the heart to look more like Christ and cause a person to give in a manner that pleases Him.
Finally, we should recognize that our God does not desire our checkbook but our heart. God does not tell us to give because He needs resources. He tells us to give because biblical generosity is indicative of heart devoted and trusting in Him. We give, not out of an obligation, but an opportunity to demonstrate our trust in Him and be a part of His mission.
Ananias and Sapphira is not a fun, uplifting story. But we should pay close attention to it nonetheless and learn from its lessons.