What were seeing in this remarkable event is God disciplining His church. Hes revealing His standard of holiness and showing us the danger of hypocrisy. What may seem to us to be a small, insignificant sin, a lie told about an amount of money being given as a gift, we discover was viewed by God as an alarming spiritual danger which had to be removed immediately. Clearly, in His mind, there was no room in the church for this level of hypocrisy, for hearts that only pretended to love Him, for people willing to lie to the Holy Spirit.
In this dramatic encounter God reveals the need for church discipline. He shows us what to discipline, and that discipline ought to be done quickly, which, of course, doesnt mean hypocrites must die. This particular couples death was a divine act which God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to perform in order to protect this young church, and to teach succeeding generations a lesson that wouldnt be forgotten.
What happened (Ac 4:36-5:11)
DBS (Sun, Mon, Weds-Sat)
This passage is troubling and raises numerous questions, so lets ask some of those questions and answer them as directly as we can. Our goal is to recognize the eternal truth at work here, and then to apply it to our lives.
Whats going on here?
Church discipline. God is showing us that He wants to protect His church from the corrupting influence of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is pretending to believe in God. The Greek word primarily meant an actor, and Jesus used this term more than anyone else in the New Testament. He warned about the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt 16:6, 11, 12; Mk 8:15; Lk 12:1-5) and said it is hypocrisy (Lk 12:1). He went on to explain that hypocrisy is the absence of a proper fear of God. People dont fear God for various reasons: Some dont believe He exists; some think He lives so far away (in heaven) He doesnt really know whats happening here on earth, or at least, doesnt care; some think Hes powerless to stop things He doesnt like; and some have been convinced His love means He will tolerate anything a person does without disciplining or judging.
Whatever the cause, this fearlessness toward God produces, in those who choose to be religious, a fake form of religion. Oddly enough, some people prefer to be religious even though there is no heart-changing faith inside. Jesus warns that this condition is contagious, its like leaven (yeast). It spreads from one person to another like yeast spreads through bread dough. Hypocrisy doesnt remain one persons problem, it infects other people and damages their relationship with God as well. So it must be stopped when it is recognized.
We must be careful to note here that God didnt discipline Ananias and Sapphira because they were struggling with some form of sin in their lives. He disciplined them because Satan filled (their) hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit. This statement reminds us of what was said about Judas,
the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot
to betray Him (Jn 13:2; Lk 22:3; Jn 13:27). They didnt just misspeak or exaggerate in the moment, they planned this lie for a calculated reason, and then fearlessly told it in the midst of a church gathering where the power of the Spirit was strongly at work.
Why did God act so aggressively?
In a surprisingly short period of time hypocrisy can corrupt the hearts of many and lift the presence of Gods power out of a church. Jesus teaches that Satan will actually send such people into a church to damage the harvest (Mt 13:24-30). They are, unknowingly, soldiers in a spiritual war. By living a lie, leading a divided life, behaving in church one way and at home another, they introduce doubt and lure others to follow in their footsteps. No church is filled with perfect people, and thats not what God requires. All believers are at various stages of learning to deal with their own flesh. But God does require honesty, first of all with Him, and second, with each other. Those who fearlessly live two lives mustnt be allowed to stay long enough to corrupt others.
Why did they die?
1) There was much power present. The same power that was healing and delivering people exposed what was hidden in the heart, and took the lives of two people who dared to lie in such an atmosphere. A church thats full of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous place for someone who tries to live a lie. They will soon be exposed (1 Co 11:29, 30).
2) To show what will happen to hypocrites at the judgment. Peter is modeling how the Lord will deal with hypocrites in the judgment.
Where is your wedding garment (Mt 22:11-13)
Angels gather up the tares from among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30)
Lord, Lord did we not
depart from Me you who practice lawlessness. (Mt 7:22, 23)
3) The process for removing someone from the fellowship of the church (Mt 18:15-18) apparently had not yet been put into practice. The only person who had been removed was Judas Iscariot.
Why didnt God keep killing off hypocrites?
He gave the responsibility for discipline to the elders of the church. Disfellowshipping replaced dying (1 Co 5:1-13; 6:9, 10).
How should church discipline be practiced today?
It should be done much sooner, hopefully long before hypocrisy becomes a settled way of life, and at a much more relational level. If we learn to care for one another in small groups (Life Groups) and accountability meetings (LTGs) few people will ever get to that condition where formal disfellowship is needed. If we live in an atmosphere where we are honest with one another, well find our sins are confronted gently, with much love and prayer. Those who stubbornly refuse to repent at this level will tend to disfellowship themselves long before that formal stage is reached.
The best way to be disciplined
Paul tells us that the best way for discipline to take place in our lives is for us to watch for attitudes or behaviors in ourselves that violate the clear teaching of Gods Word or grieve the Holy Spirit who lives within us, and then when we find those things to confess them and repent quickly. In other words, the best way to be disciplined is to discipline ourselves. Listen to Paul:
But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Co 11:31, 32).
1) Has God ever disciplined you? What did He do? Did it change you?
2) Has God ever called you to speak to someone about their sin? Did they listen or not?