By Russ Ramsey
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” This proverb helps us frame the difficult story of Ananias and Sapphira.
What exactly did Ananias and Sapphira do? As members of the church, they did what other people were doing; they sold their 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 of his sale for himself. Peter’s questioning of Ananias and Sapphira indicates they were free to give what portion of the proceeds they wanted; the group didn’t decide that for them. Anasias’s gift was probably a lot of money.
What, then, was the sin? What Ananias and his wife decided to do was deceive people by representing 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 of his contribution, that led to God’s judgment.
Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of their sin. They’re the only two in Acts that this happened to, though countless others continue to commit very similar sins. But the writer of Acts tells us that as each of them died, all who heard of it were filled with fear.
What do we do with this? For starters, we should consider again the holiness of God. If God is holy, if He is all-powerful, if His 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 to teach our hearts to fear. If we are prone to live as though God isn’t 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 and 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. May He give us the freedom of a holy fear.