Quenching the Spirit
Summary: Having passed the test of external opposition, the early church now faces an insider threat as God exposes a couple’s hypocrisy and brings judgment.
This morning we’re going to talk about lying to God, the reasons you might do that, and the people in your life that could keep you from that. The story involves a couple by the names of Ananias and Sapphira who sold a piece of property and pretended to give all the money to God, but actually, they held something back. So, you’re going to hear a lot about money this morning, but we need to be clear – it’s not really about the money. It’s not about giving to the church.
It’s about your heart. It’s about motives. What are you holding back from God? And why? It might be your money. Or it might be your time, you give God a little portion on Sunday and think that’s enough. Or it might your talent, some musical ability, or technical ability, or other giftedness and you’re keeping back part of it and trying to make this deal with God, trying to buy Him off by pointing to a little bit that you gave or this one thing you did.
It’s going to be uncomfortable at times for some of us, because the Holy Spirit is going to poke and nudge and say – that’s you. But listen – it’s only because He wants us to grow.
If you remember where we left off last week – Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, had a pretty big run in with the religious and political authorities in Israel. They were taken into custody, questioned, and let off with a stern warning. But then they got together with the whole church, shared what happened, prayed to God and asked for the boldness and courage to keep doing what they had been doing. So, God empowered them with the Holy Spirit, and we see this progress report:
Acts 4:32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
So things are going well. God is on the move. The Spirit is being poured out. These are exciting times; people are encouraged by what’s going on. There’s a buzz in the air. There’s story after story about what people are doing and what God is doing through them. It’s like ‘Hey, did you hear about Barnabas, did you hear what he did?’
‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!’
‘Yeah, I know! I wonder if we should do something like that?’
And so you have this early Christian community that must have been exciting to be involved with. Maybe you’ve experienced a little of it yourself – maybe you’ve been there in a church or ministry – maybe a youth group, or college ministry, or a missions trip – a time when God was really pouring out His Spirit, and you know what this is like. It’s attractive, it’s compelling, it’s something people want to be around and be part of.
But, it can also create problems. You see, whenever God does something genuine and amazing, there will also be some people there who want to be around, but for whatever reason, they don’t want to push all the way in. They want to be there, but they don’t want to fully surrender. They struggle with some things they don’t want to let go of.
Well, that’s this couple Ananias and Sapphira. They were part of the early church. They heard the apostles preach. They heard Peter tell stories about being with Jesus. They saw miracles happen. They took communion with John who was there in the Upper Room the night Jesus instituted communion during a Passover meal the night before He was crucified. They saw people meeting each other’s needs. They saw or heard about the giving that was going on. They saw or heard about what Barnabas and others had done.
And I want to assume the best of them. Because, I’ve been them. I know some of you have too. In fact, some of us are still like Ananias and Sapphira right now, this morning. We see things God is doing in the lives of other people. We see the things He is doing in our church or in other ministries and we think – that’s amazing, that’s encouraging, I want to be a part of that.
But then, there’s this thing that holds us back. Talks us out of it. Says, it’s not for us. Says what we felt was just the emotion of the moment. Says, don’t get too carried away here. Or says, what if you do that and it doesn’t go so well?
And so we’re torn – we see the good, and we want to be a part of it, in fact the Holy Spirit is prompting us to take the action, do the thing, step forward, come out of the cage, take the leap. But we also feel the need to be real, to be sensible, to make sure we can control the outcome to some degree in case we were wrong or overly enthusiastic.
After all, doing something like Barnabas – selling your property and writing a big check to the church – I mean, that’s a big deal and there’s no going back once it’s done. And so you think ‘I’ve got an idea! What if we work out a compromise – we’ll do the big thing, the God thing, we’ll jump in and be like the others, but we’ll make sure we also keep a little safety cushion off to the side, we’ll leave an escape hatch in case things go bad. We don’t have to let go of everything, we don’t have to be extreme, right? It’s the best of both worlds.’
Well, let’s see how it turned out:
Acts 5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
And you can picture it right? He walks in in front of everyone and lays down the money. ‘Look guys, we’re doing that big, bold, generous Christian thing just like Barnabas and the others! Isn’t God amazing! Isn’t serving Him great! Shouldn’t we all be willing to serve? You know, me and Sapphira, we’re a part of what’s happening too.’
3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
Can you image the look on Ananias’s face? He’s busted, publicly exposed. And here’s the deal – Peter’s about to tell him, you didn’t have to do it this way. You didn’t have to pretend, you didn’t have to lie. God is no where near as concerned about the amount you give or what you do as He is about why you’re giving or serving or doing what you’re doing in the first place.
So Peter asks him:
4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Friends, Christians, this should terrify us. It should really and truly cause this moment of anxiety for us because it reminds us: God sees right through our charades, right through our masks, right through our cover story and explanation. God sees right into our thoughts and our motives, He knows exactly what we were thinking, what we’ve been up to, what we’re still involved with – there’s no shielding or hiding it from Him.
And that could be really heavy, really bad news. But actually it’s not, if you’re open and honest. If you can say, man, I really struggle with wanting to be seen in a good light as I do this. There’s a part of me that hopes someone catches me doing this and says, ‘Oh what a great person you are.’ There’s a part of me that wants to snap a quick selfie here and do a little humble-brag on my Instagram.
Friends, that’s in all of us. There are very, very few of us, who don’t struggle with the desire to be noticed, to be appreciated. Perhaps none of us escape that struggle. And those who don’t, they struggle with other things. So, it’s not bad, there’s nothing wrong with you for simply having the struggle. What’s wrong is trying to hide it, ignore it, or make a deal with it so you can get a little bit of recognition and still look like you’re the awesome, super-caring, super-concerned, boss, or servant, or spouse, or ministry hero.
But if you recognize it and talk to God about it, He’ll work with you.
Now, I don’t have this from Scripture, so I’m taking a little license here, I’m letting you know this comes from Jeff and not some chapter and verse in the Bible. But nowhere does it say that Ananias had to sell the land and had to give the proceeds to the church. In fact, Peter asks him – While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? But I think he saw other people doing stuff like making big donations and he said, hey, we’ve got some land, we could do that too. Or, maybe the Holy Spirit spoke to him and said, hey look what they’re doing, you should do that too.
And then, as he thought about it, he had this pause. Well, maybe I shouldn’t give all the money… and that’s when he should have taken the issue to God in prayer. And he should have been honest instead of trying to hide it. And he should have said, ‘God I have this sense that this is what I’m supposed to do or this is what I could do, but I’ve got these doubts, I have these concerns, I have these questions.’ And he should have worked it out with God in prayer.
And if he didn’t feel like he was getting a solid answer – because that happens sometimes in prayer, we want to know God’s will but we don’t seem to get a solid, clear, answer at least not as quickly and directly as we might hope. So, if he didn’t get a solid answer in prayer, he could have gone to people like Barnabas and asked: ‘how did you know you were supposed to this?’ And then they could have talked and prayed about it. Barnabas could have shared lessons he had learned along the way, there could have been a little discipleship and bonding, some mentoring that occurred as two people, facing similar issues, connected with each other.
Or, he could have turned to the apostles themselves and said ‘Hey, we’ve got this property, and I was thinking about selling it off and giving some of the funds to the church, but I’ve got this concern and I’m not sure – should I give all of it, or should I keep some off to the side, what do you think?’
And I almost guarantee they would have told him – ‘Dude, just give whatever you’re comfortable giving. God loves a cheerful giver. He wants your heart, not your wallet. (Though, as a side note, there’s this really thick chain that runs straight from your heart to your wallet so where you find one, you often find the other.) But, give whatever you want – it’s God’s ministry and He’s going to take care of it no matter what.’
I can imagine Peter telling Ananias – ‘This ministry isn’t going to fold if you don’t give all your shekels. I mean, God just healed a man over there who couldn’t walk for forty years. He multiplied loaves and fish. He’s brought people back from the dead. He’s going to take care of us. So, don’t feel this pressure like you’ve got to give.’
Unless, that pressure is coming from the Holy Spirit and He’s telling you to give and to trust Him to take care of everything else. If God is telling you to give and walk by faith then you need to do that.
Now, like I said, I’m imagining all of that – but it’s historical fiction, it’s based in reality.
I don’t read anywhere that Ananias and Sapphira had to give everything. So, he could have prayed, he could have talked to others and gotten some counsel and guidance, and then, I think, it’s possible he could have concluded, ‘you know what? We’re going to sell the property, keep some of the money off to the side just in case that thing we’re thinking about happens – but we’re going to give the rest.’ And just be honest about it. Honest with yourself, honest with your spouse, honest with others, and most importantly honest with God, walking with integrity before Him.
Because look, you know what it’s like to try to be shady with God. You know what if feels like in your heart when you try to scheme and maneuver and be crafty – you know when you’re trying to get away with something. And, hopefully, you also know what it feels like to be able to stand before God with confidence and conviction and honest faith – to say ‘Lord, I’m not sure, I’m not 100%, but I’ve sought You, I’ve sought counsel, I’ve prayed about it and now I’m going to go ahead and try this. And if I’m wrong, in any way, please correct me and protect me.’
I think that’s the route Ananias could have gone. But he didn’t.
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
God sends an important signal here to the early church: purity is important. Human beings can defile the work of God, stain His reputation, set damaging examples and precedents, and give ammunition to the enemies of the church when we do things our way instead of His. And so, God moved swiftly to condemn this sort of selfish hypocrisy.
Acts 5:7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
Most of the time we say it’s admirable when a woman stands by her man. But not always. Remember we said earlier that this morning we would talk about lying to God, the reasons you might do that, and the people in your life that could keep you from that. Ananias and Sapphira could have, and should have, kept one another from doing this.
Here’s the deal – in the very first pages of the Bible we read that God made man and gave him a job, to tend and keep the Garden. So think about this, because it’s super, super important – Adam had a relationship with God, and he had a job – he had work to do, but it wasn’t enough. God said:
“It is not good that man should be alone, I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18).
And then God brought all the animals to Adam and told him to name them. So he did that –he named them. But he also noticed something – all of these have pairs: there’s a male lion and a female lion, a male dog and female dog, a male chinchilla and a female chinchilla, but none of them were like him.
And then God put the man to sleep, and took one of Adam’s ribs and made the woman. And Adam woke up and saw her and said
Genesis 2:23 … “This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Finally, he had someone comparable to himself. Someone like him, but also different, and pay attention to this: TOGETHER they were supposed to be something better than Adam had been on his own. She was created to help Adam because GOD SAID he wasn’t good enough on his own. (Quick word to all you singles: keep this in mind when you’re looking for a mate – neither one of you is perfect, because you need each other. When you see a flaw, ask God if that’s something you’re supposed to help with.)
But here’s the point: Adam already had a personal relationship with God, and already had a good job. He had meaningful, fulfilling, employment. And it wasn’t enough. He needed a wife. So God brought him one.
They were meant to go together, to help one another, to boost, encourage, strengthen, and complete each other. Now, marriage doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s what it’s meant to be, and that’s what it can be if both he and she are seeking the Lord – loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving their neighbor, including their spouse, their closest neighbor, as themselves.
Ideally, Sapphira would have told him – honey, this isn’t a good idea. I think we should pray about it or talk to some other people and get their input. And ideally, he would have trusted her – he would know that she didn’t have her own agenda, she didn’t have her own motives, but she was truly seeking what was best for their family. And ideally she would have a long history of doing that, so he would know he could and should trust her and listen to her, and she would know she had an obligation to speak up.
But you know what, sometimes it happens the other way too, doesn’t it? Where it’s the wife that wants her way – she gets her mind set on something and the husband doesn’t really see it, doesn’t think it’s best, but she’s so driven and he doesn’t really feel like fighting, so he goes along with it, but he’s literally just along for the ride, or he totally disengages and says, well why don’t you go do your thing and I’ll be here when you get back. I’m not onboard, but I’m not going to stop you either.
So, maybe it was all her idea and Ananias didn’t have the courage to stand up to his own wife.
We don’t know whose fault it was, we just know that they both went along with it instead of keeping each other from it. And as a result, they both suffered judgment.
There’s a pretty serious warning here for us married couples. We can lift each other up, or we can pull each other down. What about you: are you making your spouse a better man or a better woman? Are they growing in the image of Christ because of the role you play in their lives? Or, are you a weight to them? Are you leading them in the wrong direction? God wants to use us to complete each other, encourage each other, and upgrade each other. Is that happening?
We finish with this – another summary of what is happening in the church after sin is dealt with. A picture of the unstoppable advance of the church and a picture of what God can do through us when we’re increasingly available to Him and our motives are as pure as possible, or at least we’re honest about our struggles and desiring to grow:
Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. 14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
In other words, after the purge, there’s progress. The counterfeit was exposed. It was a shock, it was disappointing, no doubt there were people who were stunned and disappointed, people who knew Ananias and Sapphira and maybe even felt that God had been a little harsh, or were disappointed when the people they thought were so spiritual were exposed. But the gospel marches on.
And here’s the thing – if they were true believers, if they were really born again in Christ, then yes, God took them out, but where did they go? They took their last breath and before their bodies hit the floor, they fell into the arms of a merciful God.
You see, even though we know them for their sin and their flaws, if they had been saved by the gospel, they immediately entered heaven with God who forgave them and welcomed them. He called them out on their sin, used it as a teaching point for us all, and then put it all behind them and the church keeps marching on.
Friends, grace is offered to you this morning in the name of Jesus Christ – if you’ve been messing up, if you’re involved in some things you shouldn’t be, stop. Confess. God loves you and will forgive you.
If you’re wearing a mask and playing pretend, stop. Take it off. You don’t have to play a role to win God’s approval and you shouldn’t have to pretend in order to be accepted or applauded by His people either.
If you’re holding things back from God, stop. Let go. Sacrifice whatever He asks because you trust Him.
If you’ve got questions, doubts, concerns – pray or ask – be honest with Him.
It’s always going to require some faith. But you’re either going to turn from your sin and grow in your faith or you’re going to be exposed and face the consequences. You can’t hide anything from God. You cannot lie to Him or explain things way. He sees all, knows all.
But He also loves all, calls all, welcomes all who will repent – who will turn from living my life my way and start saying me life, Your way, God.