The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) and that God’s word is truth. (John 17:17) Jesus is described as being ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14) and promised He would send the Spirit of truth to His disciples (John 15:26). Truth is of paramount importance to God, as John makes clear in his letters; John’s greatest pastoral joy was when he heard of people ‘walking in the truth.’ (3 John 1:4)
The opposite of truth is a lie. Jesus described Satan as the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44) whose native language was lies. Elsewhere, Satan is described as a deceiver (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9-10). Clearly, truth over lies matters enormously to God, and it was this act of lying through pretence for which Ananias and Sapphira were judged. (Acts 5:1-11)
Peter accused Ananias of ‘lying to the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 5:3) and lying to God (Acts 5:4, thereby equating the Holy Spirit with God.) It’s easy to be distracted by the details of the story, wondering if this means private ownership of property is automatically condemned by God, but Peter makes it clear that the property was theirs to do with as they wished. What was so abhorrent were their lies and pretence, trying to appear holier and more virtuous than they actually were. They were effectively putting God to the test (Acts 5:9), as the Israelites so often did in the wilderness (see Ex 16 as one example of this.) When we doubt God’s ability to provide for us and wander from the paths of truth, we are on dangerous ground.
Some may ask why this kind of judgment is not seen so frequently nowadays, given that we are just as prone to sin, lying and hypocrisy as Ananias and Sapphira were. In all honesty, I do not know, but I do know this story has a preventative twist to it. God’s reasons for bringing about the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira involve His abhorrence of sin, the hypocrisy of the couple, and the lesson for the rest of the church, both then and now. It can be easy today to gloss over the holiness of God, to forget that He is righteous and pure and that He hates sin wholeheartedly. This particular sin of hypocrisy in the church was dealt with swiftly and decisively at the time and the sudden, dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served to purify and warn the church. (Acts 5:11) May they continue to do the same for us today, reminding us to ‘worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”’ (Heb 12:28-29)