Ananias and Saphira told a lie. The account of this in Acts chapter 5, is one of the most unsettling stories in the Bible. Ananias and his wife Saphira were struck dead for what most people would view as a trivial matter. They told a lie. It wasn't a lie that hurt or disadvantaged anybody as far as I can tell. It seems that Ananias and Saphira wanted to gain a reputation for being generous, whilst minimising the sacrifice necessary to gain that reputation. So they tinkered with the truth and made themselves out to be more generous than they really were.
There were some very generous people in the church of Christ in Jerusalem --people who made very big sacrifices to ensure that the many poor people in their number were not in any need. Barnabas for example (his name means "Son of Encouragement" ) sold a tract of land and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet as a gift to the poor. Ananias and Saphira wanted to be counted among these philanthropists, so they sold a piece of property they owned. However, instead of bringing all the money, they brought only a portion, yet represented their gift as the whole proceeds of the sale. Whilst this kind of deception and hypocrisy should not be condoned, one might be forgiven for thinking that worse lies have been told, yet Ananias and Saphira were punished by death on the spot.
This is a good example of how God sees things differently to the way man sees them. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord" (Isa 55:8-9). Let’s examine what the apostle Peter said to Ananias and Saphira seconds before they dropped dead, and see if we can gain some insight into why this lie was taken so seriously by God.
A Lie as Big as the Grace it Dishonoured
In Acts 4:33 we read, "Abundant grace was upon them all". This refers to the genuine largesse and altruism which God’s church was demonstrating. People’s generous sacrifice reflected their gratitude for the grace God had bestowed upon them. He had sacrificed his only begotten Son so that they might have everlasting life. They were more than willing to sacrifice their worldly possessions so that others might have the needs of everyday life. This was a lovely, blessed, and sanctified thing. It brought glory to God and respect for the church. Ananias and Saphira, however, were trying to gain respect and glory for themselves whilst trying to hold back on the sacrifice. They had "trampled under foot the Son of God" and "insulted the Spirit of Grace" (Heb 10:29).
So we see that this lie was no small matter at all. It was in fact a declaration of war upon the abundant grace of God. Their lie was as big as the insult felt by God’s Spirit.
A Lie as Big as the Effort Satan gave it
In Acts 5:3 we have Peter’s question to Ananias, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie..." Peter was not questioning Satan’s purpose, because he already knew that Satan was out to destroy the work of God. Peter was questioning Ananias and Saphira’s motive for allowing Satan into their hearts. What did they want that was worth opening their heart’s door to Satan?
When we make room in our hearts for Satan, he is not satisfied to occupy some small corner. He wants our whole heart. That’s what he did to Ananias and Saphira. He "filled" their hearts. Obviously the heart that Satan fills has no room for God. Satan put in the greatest possible effort to make Ananias and Saphira tell that lie. He was not throwing in one or two shovels of dirt. He was not going to rest till he'd "filled" their hearts full. And they foolishly sacrificed their souls to gain a little money and a little glory.
Again we see this lie was much bigger than we might have imagined. God was being squeezed right out of Ananias and Saphira’s heart. If they thought they were making a minor compromise, that was just part of Satan’s deception. Their lie was as big as Satan’s effort to win them, and as big as what they lost when he did.
A Lie as Big as the Test it Put God to
In Acts 5:9 Peter asks Saphira, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Lord to the test?" Whenever we cross the line that God has drawn, we challenge him to respond. Instead of keeping well back from that line, people like to stand astride it and say to God, "What are you going to do about this? How about you move the line a bit?" I'm not sure what Ananias and Saphira were thinking of, but perhaps they were saying, "Well, after all we are giving a substantial contribution and surely God owes us credit for that. Does it really matter if people think we've given the whole price? What harm can it do? They are still getting the money aren't they?"
God’s problem with Ananias and Saphira was not that they kept back part of the price. Peter makes it quite clear that they didn't have to sell the property. If they chose to sell it, they didn't have to give the money. If they chose to give, they didn't have to give it all. God’s problem was that Ananias and Saphira were not open and up-front about what they were doing. Their hypocrisy and dishonesty was testing him. God cannot compromise with evil, and his response on this occasion was certainly a statement of that. What people don't realise is that God is absolutely perfectly pure. He is light "and in him there is no darkness at all" (1Jn 1:5).
So we see yet again that this lie was bigger than it seemed. It challenged and tested the very perfection of God, and that is a very big test. Therefore the lie was a very big lie.
The principles of this lesson apply not only to telling lies, but many kinds of sin. Any sin generally seen by mortals as trivial, can be much more serious in God’s eyes, because of the different light in which he views things.