Saturday, 1 November 2014

Conniving with Ananias and Sapphira

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37; NIV)

Todd Agnew has a song he calls “My Jesus.” In the lyrics he asks a couple of disturbing but valid questions: “Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you serve? If Ephesians says to imitate Christ, then why do you look so much like the world?

Since I first heard that song, those probing questions have always resonated with me. Perhaps they have with you too. When I think of those lyrics, I’m often reminded of a certain event recorded for us in Acts and wonder if the lesson the early church received has somehow slipped away into the pages of folklore, as it were, and perhaps needs to be re-taught. I also wonder how we today would receive that lesson if God were to re-teach it to us modern Christians in a similar fashion to the way He taught it to the early church. Certainly it isn't beyond the realm of possibility. God hasn't changed. I'm sure that what mattered to Him then, still matters to Him today.

However, I think the question still gets even more complex than that. If God were to do that, would we even recognize the thing as being of God? Or would we miss the lesson altogether because it would clash with some of our adopted understanding of things, such as "God's love," the "Fear of the Lord," and perhaps a few other doctrinal opinions? Have we really understood them correctly? Perhaps the lesson would even clash with our traditions, denominations, and last Sunday's sermon. Sometimes I wonder about such things.

Divine Execution: The Church’s Lesson?

But a man named Ananias – his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him – sold a piece of land, secretly kept a part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.

Peter said, “Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got you to pull a trick like this? You didn’t lie to men but to God.”

Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, “Tell me, were you given this price for your field?”

“Yes,” she said, “that price.”

Peter responded, “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you’re next.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with. (Acts 5: 1-11; The Message).

That’s the biblical event that I always think of when I hear those lyrics by Todd Agnew. Have you ever been troubled by that story? Do Christians today look a little too much like the world? Have we "trifled" with God? Sometimes I’ve caught myself wondering about the Ananias and Sapphira story, thinking, what was the big deal? Even Peter said that it was his land to do with as he pleased. The more I think about it, however, the more I am beginning to wonder if any problems we have with the story aren’t directly related to a sort of lethargy that has somewhere and somehow crept into the modern church. (A caveat: by “church” I do not mean some institution, but rather the Body of Christ, and specifically, the average Christian). How have we become lethargic? I wonder if, perhaps ironically, we haven’t done so by not truthfully walking in the Light that we profess to be walking in. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the modern church shares the same urgency to truthfulness that the early church did. Too many of us seem to go about our lives with our fingers crossed behind our back, as if to suggest that such an action excuses our untruthfulness.

Light: Walk in It/Him

Ananias and Sapphira’s sin, what ever else it may have been, I believe was primarily a lack of truthfulness in the body of Christ. They were not really walking in the Light as Christians are time and again called to do in the pages of the Bible. I believe that God took their conniving lack of truthfulness seriously enough to make an example of them and teach the early church a lesson. Furthermore, I think that lesson spread far and wide, even beyond the church itself. Consider this verse:

"And none of those who were not of their number dared to join and associate with them, but the people held them in high regard and praised and made much of them." (Acts 5:13; Amplified).

Why did people not dare to join them? Was it because of their honesty and truthfulness? Was it because a few verses back Ananias and his wife Sapphira had dared to join them and they both lost their lives for being dishonest? Word of what had happened traveled fast, even outside the church (v.11). Were they frightened, knowing that they themselves were also prone to less than truthful lives, and thought that maybe God would kill them too if they got too close to those Christians? Let’s take this one step further. Does the world hold the modern church “in high regard” and make “much” of us? Let’s be honest; No, they don’t. And the only “much” that they often seem to make today is “much” of our shortcomings. How sad, and yet, I suspect that in many ways we've brought that upon ourselves.

Again, if we call ourselves Christians, then we are called to walk in the Light. This is not just a mere suggestion; it is a command. There are no loop-holes; it is non-negotiable, and there is no "Plan B." God was serious enough about this that He taught the early church a hard lesson, a lesson called “Ananias and Sapphira.” Consider these verses:

“And this is the message [the message of promise] which we have heard from Him and now are reporting to you: God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him at all [no, not in any way].

“[So] if we say we are partakers together and enjoy fellowship with Him when we live and move and are walking about in darkness, we are [both] speaking falsely and do not live and practice the Truth [which the Gospel presents].

“But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt [keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]” (1 John 1: 5-7; Amplified).

Do we claim that "Jesus is Lord?" Do we claim to "walk in the Light?" That's great, but let's be careful with those professions, because we might just be kidding ourselves. As I've written in a previous post, the profession "Jesus is Lord" might be a lie. Our personal and business relationships, ethics and integrity (or rather lack there of) might betray us.

Truth: The Great Non-Negotiable

Light is associated with truth. John called Jesus the “true light” (John 1:9). We can’t really walk in the Light, that is, walk in Jesus, if we aren’t truthful. I am tempted to even go so far as to suggest that a “lying Christian” is a contradiction in terms, and especially when we add any “conniving” into the mix as Ananias and Sapphira did. How can we secretly pretend something is so, when deep down inside we know that it isn’t so? How can we conspire against the Light by being dishonest? Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3), and not just to man. When we talk of “walking in the Light,” that’s the same thing as “walking in the Truth.” These are not separate concepts; they are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said,

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3: 19-21; NIV. Emphasis mine).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but if we do “evil,” that is, if we are liars, does that mean we hate Jesus? Ouch! Or are the proverbial “little white lies,” with fingers crossed behind our back, an exception to the rule? How much honesty and truthfulness do we really see in the body of Christ today? How much honesty and truthfulness do we see in each other, in you and me? Are we also guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit? Have some of us become like Ananias and Sapphira, guilty of conniving (Amplified actually uses the word "connivance") our way through our own twisted form of pseudo-Christianity? Does it even matter? Does God still care about such things?

In our abhorrence of being made to feel guilty and judging others, and in our quest for freedom to walk and practice our faith as we choose, have we gone a little overboard and presumed too much? Does holiness, in the sense of being set apart, mean that there should be something noticeably different in you and me from the rest of the non-believing world? Did it ever really mean that?

What if God were to re-kindle that lesson that He taught the early church and make an example of us to the church today by divinely executing us for a "little thing" (in the world's eyes) as our connivance and dishonesty? Hmm, wouldn't that raise an eyebrow or two! Or would today’s church even make the connection?

God help us!

Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ,
then why do you look so much like the world?

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