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In this series we’re looking at Five Epic Worship Fails from scripture,  what we can learn from them, and how we can apply their lessons in our lives and ministry. Make sure you read the Introduction first!

Epic Fail Number Three: Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:1- 11)

Background.

Here’s the scene. The book of Acts is all about the birth of the church. Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. Then the Holy Spirit falls upon the disciples at Pentecost. (Acts 2) The church is set on fire. Jesus followers are going out and healing people, signs wonders and miracles are happening. All heaven is breaking loose, and the church is growing exponentially. It is an exciting time.

A spirit of unity and generosity had become part of their spiritual DNA. The end of Acts 4 describes the culture of early Christian community and it’s a beautiful thing.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

There were no needy person’s among them for from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” Acts 4:32-35

The last verse of chapter 4 introduces Barnabas who sold a piece of land and gave it to the apostles. I imagine this must have been a pretty significant donation since it’s mentioned in scripture.

In this context of heightened excitement within a community embracing a radical lifestyle, Ananias and Sapphira decide to imitate the saints and join the philanthropic parade. Their agenda was most likely recognition and inclusion within the ranks of the “super saints”.

Let’s read the rest of the story in Acts 5:1-11.

1-2 But a man named Ananias—his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him—sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.

3-4 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 into you to pull a trick like this? You didn’t lie to men but to God.”

5-6 Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard of it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

7-8 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.”

9-10 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.

11 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.

Woo … I guess they did gain a healthy respect for God !

So what are the lessons here?

First, Ananias and Sapphira tried to lie to the Holy Spirit, representing themselves as something they were not. And guys, here’s the thing – you cannot fake out God.

The point is that in this story, God was not pleased with deception and pretense.

The Lord knows what is true. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:2-3:

“But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” Luke 12:2-3

Do the consequences of their attempted “con scheme” seem harsh to you? Well consider what the NIV Commentary has to say:

“If no dire consequences had followed this act of sin, the results among the believers would have been serious when the deceit became known. Not only would dishonesty appear profitable, but the conclusion that the Spirit could be deceived would follow. It was important to set the course properly at the outset in order to leave no doubt that God will not tolerate such hypocrisy and deceit.”

Now let’s consider some take-aways.

The first is that for those of us who are leaders, the highest degree of integrity, honesty and character is the standard we are to aspire to.
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Of course, none of us are perfect, and we’re all probably guilty of hypocrisy of some kind at some point in time. I know I am.

Hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” It’s saying one thing and doing another.

Now sometimes you might be able to fake out people, but you can never fake out God.

Or, as Abraham Lincoln is attributed as saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

Yes and –  you can’t fool God any of the time!

This issue of deception – not being who you present yourself to be – can be a real problem in the church.

Application:
What does this passage mean to you?

• What does it say to you about giving as an act of worship?
• What does it say to you about transparency?
• What does it say to you about ambition?

There was a type of ambition at work here, poor Ananias and Sapphira wanted people to think highly of them.

I also found Matthew Henry’s commentary enlightening:

“But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting …. This punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech. “

Also consider and reflect on these other “Responses to Scripture”

1. Is there a Sin to avoid, forsake or confess?
2. Is there a Promise to believe or condition to meet in order to receive the promise?
3. Is there an Attitude to change or guard against or an Action I need to take?
4. Is there a Command to keep?
5. Is there an Example to follow?
6. Is there a Prayer to pray or a Priority to change?
7. Is there an Error to avoid?
8. Is there a Truth to memorize and meditate upon ?
9. Is there Something to thank or praise God for?

Conclusion:

The message from the Epic Fail of Ananias and Sapphira is that integrity matters. You cannot deceive God and He does not like it. Though it seems obvious –  take this to heart worship leaders – there’s too much fakery going on in the church world. Resolve in your heart not to fall into the trap of pretending.

The Lord be with you!


[Note: This is a 6 part blog series based on a webinar workshop I taught for WorshipTeamCoach.com entitled “Five Epic Worship Fails and we can learn from them.” It is intended to be used as a biblical training resource for your worship team. These are offered as a series of short videos (5 to 10 minutes each) with a study guide and questions you can use to facilitate conversations for growth. You can find that a replay of the original webinar and a link the resource here: Five Epic Worship Fails Replay. ]