Only Ananias and Sapphira didn’t bring all of the money from the land they sold. They held some back for themselves. They apparently told the apostles that they were giving them all of the money from the sale . . . in other words, they lied. And the consequence for this? They were each suddenly and miraculously struck down dead the moment their deception was revealed.
Yep, dead. Pretty harsh. If you were reading the Bible to decide if you want to try out this Christianity thing or not, this story would likely give you a good excuse to chuck the idea. But if you’re someone like me who comes to the story having already concluded that genuine Christianity is the only game in town that makes any sense, then you read this and try to figure out what’s going on here.
Yes, they lied, which was wrong, but all sorts of people lied in the Bible and lie today and don’t get struck down dead. Plenty of people are selfish with their money, too, and don’t get struck down dead. I’ve heard it taught that the early church days were a time of precedent-setting, so some things happened then that don’t happen now because the early Christians needed important lessons pounded into their heads clearly to get off on the right foot. I don’t know that a case can be made for that. And so the story troubles me . . .
Enter my old buddy Jack – that is, C.S. Lewis. In his classic Mere Christianity, he writes about Christ’s instructions to us to “Be perfect”:
Some people seem to think this means ‘Unless you are perfect, I will not help you’; and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’
We often want something less. We don’t want to be saints; we just want to be nice, decent folks. We don’t want to be great; we just want to be comfortable and happy. We (like Ananias and Sapphira) don’t want to be generous, self-sacrificing, and completely dependent on the Lord; we just want other people to think we are. The fact is, Jesus is an all-or-nothing kind of King. Partial submission is no submission at all. So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I will spit you out of my mouth.
We should remember, too, that scripture doesn’t say Ananias and Sapphira were eternally condemned for their deception – just that their earthly life ended. As my mother was known to say, there are worse fates than death for a Christian. For all we know, God may have been sparing them a worse fate if they continued to live in their lukewarmness. Perhaps God decided that, if these two didn’t want any more of Him than this, then there was no point in their continuing on earth any longer, since our life on earth is all about growing closer to Him and drawing others closer to Him. Again, if you come to the story assuming that God is loving and just, you assume that God sees something we don't in their hearts . . . or in their future.
The sudden death business aside, what I take away from the Ananias and Sapphira story is that I need to pee or get off the pot. Either I’m a bondservant of Christ or I’m not. There’s no half-way – no part-time servanthood. If I'm dissatisfied with my Christian walk, perhaps it's because straddling the line doesn't cut it.