(If you would like to read these posts in order, here’s the link to the “Intro to the Women of Acts.“ The Bible references are linked so you can read them online if you choose.)
Early in the life of the new Church, we learn that they shared their possessions and supplied each other’s needs. Acts 5:1-11 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira and how they sold their land, but only gave part of the profit to the others. Although this was originally Ananias’ idea, his wife Sapphira was fully aware of the plan and went along with it. When confronted by Peter, it was clear that the problem was not that they held some back, but that they lied about it, wanting to appear as though they were giving everything. When Sapphira was later asked about it, she maintained the lie.
What led Sapphira to tell the lie that led to her death? Was it the desire for approval from her husband or her peers? Was it greed? Was she not totally convinced that the believers deserved all that they could have given? Sapphira, as an Israelite growing up under the law, could have and should have known that lying was breaking that law. Sapphira, as a wife, could have and should have counseled her husband to be truthful. Sapphira, as a believer, could have and should have realized that approval from people means little, but approval from God means everything.
In verse 4, Peter tells Ananias that he lied to God, not just to men. In verse 9, Peter asks Sapphira why she agreed to test the Spirit of the Lord. The sin here wasn’t simply that they lied, I think every human who ever lived probably lied at some point. God obviously doesn’t strike everyone dead for lying. The problem was that these young Christians, who lived through the day of Pentecost and knew about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, had the audacity to lie to omniscient God.
As a twenty-first century Christian, I find these verses about Sapphira both an encouragement and a warning. We hear so much about women being treated as chattel, subservient to their husbands, and doomed to whatever fate befalls them. Here it is clear that Sapphira had the option not to go along with her husband’s lie. She could have told the truth. She was questioned independently, and judged by God for her own sins. Even though she made the wrong choice, it’s encouraging to know she had the freedom to make that choice on her own.
Sadly, men and women today still have to make that same choice. Do we give in to the temptation? Do we lie to ourselves, our communities, God? I haven’t heard of God striking anyone dead for lying lately, but I do know that lies still hurt. They cause emotional and psychological pain when we lie to ourselves. Lies destroy marriages and families. They cause distrust and separation when we lie to others. And, like all sin, they separate us from the love of God (Isaiah 59:1-3).
The good news is that God provides a way out. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (I John 1:9).
If you have questions about forgiveness, or see other lessons we can learn from Sapphira, please e-mail me at KathrynMcClatchy@gmail.com or leave a comment below.