Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Conversely then, the absence of the fear of the Lord is the heart of folly. Acts 5 tells the story of how a lack of the fear of the Lord led to ruin, and it is a hard passage. But any time God endeavors to instill in His people a reverential fear of His holiness, it is a gift, because God is and always shall be holy.
What exactly did Ananias and Sapphira do wrong? As members of the church, they did what others were doing. They sold possessions and gave the proceeds to the apostles, who used those funds for the work of the church. (Barnabas had done the same thing.)
Ananias decided to keep part of the proceeds for himself. This decision was not a sin. He was free to do that if he wanted. The end of Acts 4 tells us people were giving “what they had decided in their hearts to give.” This means that before God, people were thinking through what their contributions to the church should be, and giving accordingly. The apostles didn’t decide for them. Ananias was free to give what he wanted. He gave, and it was probably a lot of money.
So what was the sin? What Ananias and his wife had decided in their hearts to do was to deceive people and represent their gift as being larger than it truly was. When Ananias gave his offering, he led everyone to believe it was everything he had gained from the sale. As one pastor I know said, “Ananias wanted to look like an especially good Christian without actually having to be one.” It was this deception, not the amount he gave, which led to God’s judgment.
Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of their sin. They are the only two we hear of this happening to in Acts, although no doubt countless others had committed and continue to commit very similar sins. But the writer of Acts tells us that as each one died, all who heard of it were filled with fear.
We, too, should listen.
If God is Holy, if God is all-powerful, if God’s demand for righteousness could be satisfied only by the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, then we should fear Him.
And if we are prone to forget that God is Holy, then it is gracious of God to call our hearts to fear Him. If we are prone to seek glory for ourselves, though God alone is to be glorified in our lives, it is grace that teaches our hearts to fear. If we are prone to live as though God isn’t really real, it is grace that He should arrest our hearts with a fear of His holy, present power.
The fear of the holiness of God is a gift because God is, in fact, holy. To regard Him as anything less is to miss who He really is.
The sober story of Ananias and Sapphira invites us to commune with God as He is—the holy One who created the heavens and Who knows our names—the Lover of our souls. May He give us the gift of a holy fear.
Written By Russ Ramsey