Let me tell you the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
The early church were living in God’s grace. Everyone was being selfless and generous. It was all going swimmingly.
Ananias and Sapphira didn’t really get it, though. They figured they could look the part; they could appear to be selfless and generous in their community – but they didn’t have it in them to go the whole hog and keep up with the Joneses, or the Josephs, as it was.
They conspired to compromise. They figured they would give over a big wodge of cash, and give the impression it was everything they had received for a particular sale of property. Ananias came and presented it to the Apostles.
Peter pointed out that this was a deception – an unnecessary deception. If God is omniscient, he would be able to see through this false display of generosity.
Ananias fell down dead when faced with his hypocrisy.
Then, with dramatic irony hanging heavily over the gathering, Sapphira, his wife turns up and compounds the lie. She claimed that the donated money was the price paid for the land. They told her that her husband had died and that she was about to die too.
“At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.”
So, the question for the modern Christian is, eh…. where’s the grace in that?
This story reminds me of Genesis, where we have the first couple, Adam and Eve, who bring about a curse.
They too were living in a time of grace:
“You are free to eat of any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”
They too conspire and attempt to cover up the truth.
However, instead of the immediate conclusion of the death curse – “when you eat of it you will certainly die” – Adam and Eve are shown grace. They are removed from the garden so that there is no possibility of them eating from the tree of life and living forever; they are mortal – and their earthly life is grace.
Both our couples were living in a time of grace, but did not live as if they lived in a time of grace. Both couples were sinful – and “the wages of sin is death”.
So, is grace missing from the story of Ananias and Sapphira?
They sinned and they died. This should not surprise us. But it does. Surely they should have had a chance to repent of their hypocrisy and to live in grace?
That was the opportunity they had already had – and that they missed.
It was all going so well: devotion to the apostles teaching, prayer, signs and wonders, sharing. The people had “glad and sincere” hearts. “and God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them”.
This glad sincerity was lacking in our unfortunate couple. They must have felt inadequate, unable to give, unable to live up to the generosity on all sides. What they missed was the grace. They didn’t have to give their money away:
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”
Ananias and Sapphira could have lived freely – they could have received from others if they were in need; they could have given freely if they had wanted to.
There was grace there – but they decided to spurn the grace offered and construct their own safety net – keeping a little back for themselves and kidding on they were better people than they were.
The difference between Adam and Eve and Ananias and Sapphira is the delay or otherwise between the sinful act and physical death. Ananias and Sapphira are cast out of the place of grace as they had not accepted it, as Adam and Eve did not accept the grace afforded to them in Eden.
The truth is, sin brings death – be that immediate physical death, metaphorical death, spiritual death, death of relationships, death of what is right…
We just get so used to living in grace that we don’t appreciate it – we forget that we live on a gift of time. We try to concoct our own plans to ensure that our futures and those of our children are secure in our own strength – be that by affiliating ourselves with churches and charities, getting good jobs and pensions, protecting our own resources, our own reputations – our egoism has no bounds.
Ananias and Sapphira are a very familiar couple, trying to appear well meaning – and actually being well meaning in some respects – but they were ultimately self-serving.
Their fundamental problem was that they missed the grace that was theirs.
You don’t have to do anything to appear great in front of God.
You can’t, in fact.
You are not great, in front of God.
You can do things to appear great in front of people. God sees straight through that.
We need to accept his grace and live in it.
(I should do a line by line on Romans 6 now as that is where all the answers are to this one. Another time perhaps.)