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Monday, January 24, 2011

Appear righteous without actually being righteous

I know that a lot of people like mystery novels, like crime stories, so I'm going to present a lesson today that could fit in either of those categories if our story had been written by man. But, since it wasn't, it is neither a mystery nor a novel. It is a true story, a reporting of an event that included some crimes (IE: sins) being committed and the consequences realized by the perpetrators. No, there's no mystery as to what occurred, but I guess one could be envisioned as to "why" it happened. I think that we'll solve that mystery as we delve into our true crime story as we search for a spiritual lesson.

We find this event being reported in the last part of Acts 4 and the first 11 verses of chapter 5. As a short intro, let me set the scene for you. In the last part of chapter 4 we see the Apostles preaching the word with "boldness." We see the disciples being "united" in their "hearts and minds" by this preaching & teaching. And we see the disciples sharing all that they had with each other so that no one was in need. We see that they were not concerned with "self" nor were they concerned about "possessions." They were concerned with being righteous.

But then, in chapter 5 we see a different attitude come into the scene. Two people who were not possessed of the same spirit as the other disciples. Of course we're talking about the husband and wife team of Ananias and Sapphira. Now we've all heard the story about how they sold some property and came and gave part of the proceeds to the Apostles, sort of like the other disciples were doing only not quite like the rest as their thinking was, shall we say, a bit off of plumb.

Ananias came first with their contribution and, after a short conversation with Peter, dropped dead. The report says that three hours later along comes his wife (now widow, only she doesn't know that) and meets with Peter. He asks her a simple question and upon her answer to that question, she drops dead. What in the world happened here?

Now I just briefly reported the facts, the "WHAT" of the case, but to really understand the "WHY" we need to investigate a little further. Legally speaking, what we have here is a "compounded crime." First off, we have a "conspiracy." A conspiracy is, by judicial code (and the dictionary,) two or more people agreeing to commit a wrongful act. Plus, to be charged with "conspiracy," an overt act by one or more of the conspirators must occur. Ok, back to our first offense, the "conspiracy."

We see in verse 4 that our conspirators, Ananias and Sapphira, "conceived in their hearts" to do what they did. It also tells us in verse 2 that they made an agreement, or a plan, to keep back a portion of the proceeds of the sale. Now, remembering our definition, that an overt act is required, takes us to our second crime or sin.

Offense #2 is the "overt act." The "act": they lied to the Apostles about their gift. But, in reality, who did they lie to? To God, of course. We read that in verse 4: (Peter speaking) "You weren't lying to us but to God." (NLT) It was at this point that the death of our first conspirator occurred.

Then Ananias' co-conspirator, his wife Sapphira, came in. Peter asks her, did you sell the property for so much, and she said, "Yes, that was the amount." That answer, in continuance of the conspiracy, also brought about her immediate death. Think about this though, she had her chance to be truthful, to not continue the lying and deceiving, but she didn't take it, did she? For both their conspiring and their overt acts, they paid the price for their sins. Doesn't it kind of make you wonder what she would have done had she known about the fate of her husband? If she knew the consequences of their sin? I can only say, "perhaps so" and we'll touch on this thought later.

Now, was their sin "not giving enough?" No. If that were the case I'm afraid that many of us would be in dire jeopardy. As we just saw, their sin was compounded in this way: One, they deliberately and with intent to do so - lied to God. We can see how it was "compounded" by looking at verse 9 where it shows us the motive, the purpose, of the conspiracy. To "tempt, to test" (to deceive) the "Spirit of God."

Ok, that's the gist of the case against Ananias and Sapphira. That, in their way of thinking, they could conspire, to "conceive in their hearts," to keep part of the proceeds of the sale of their property, and then by lying about it, convince God that they were giving "all of it."

You know what's sad about this whole episode? That it didn't have to happen. The Apostles weren't requiring the disciples to give everything they owned to them. If you read verse 4 again you'll see that Peter even told Ananias (and I paraphrase) "the property was yours before you sold it (IE: you could have kept it) and even after you sold it the proceeds were yours (IE: you could have kept them or given them away, whatever you desired). SO WHY DID YOU LIE ABOUT IT?

In wrapping up our investigation, here's my summation of the case against Ananias and Sapphira as to why they entered into a conspiracy, why they did what they did in furtherance of that conspiracy, plus unveil our "envisioned mystery." Unreservedly speaking, they did so in order to appear righteous without actually being righteous.

With them serving as examples for us, let me ask a couple of questions. Do you think that there may be many in the world today doing exactly the same thing? I do. Do you think there are many people today who believe that they are deceiving God by their appearance of being righteous? I do. I believe the evidence will show that, in spirit, there are many Ananias and Sapphiras among us today. And another sad part is, that they will still commit the same sins, the same offences towards God, as did our convicted conspirators even while knowing the consequences!

Basically, Ananias and Sapphira thought they could deceive God, could cheat God and get away with it. They didn't and neither will their imitators. Court's adjourned.

Ron Covey



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