When I am tempted to quickly read through some part of scripture, there are some stories that stop me in my tracks. Welcome to the first paragraphs of Acts, chapter 5.
Verse 11 says:
And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
I can see why. (Maybe you can too if you remember the account.) But then, sometimes a more careful reading, a more reflective reading of scripture, helps fear to leave and faith to come into focus. That what I sense when I read and then re-read this story from Acts 5:1-11
But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. Acts 5:1-11
The first time I remember reading these words, I thought that I had to either give to God’s work everything I had – or risk having everything (including my life) taken. “And great fear seized me – the reader.” But I don’t think that threat is what this scripture is about.
Ananias and Sapphira were trying to impress God and others with their “generosity”. They acted as if they were “giving their all” for God’s work, while that just wasn’t the case. And giving it all might not have been expected at this moment. But truthfulness was. Peter flat out told them that what they had belonged to them, and that after they sold it, the proceeds were theirs to handle as they wished. But they lied. The heart of this event wasn’t about withholding money, it was about withholding the truth from God. For that, they paid dearly.
How do we handle our money, and the truth? We need to share the first one freely, live by the other regularly.
Generous God, help me to live each day in a way that truthfully follows your guidance. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.