There are a number of puzzling stories in the Bible, but for me Acts 5:1-11 has to be up there.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
What gets me about this account is WHEN it takes place. This isn't Old Testament, pre-Jesus times. This was post-Jesus early church times. In fact, this was close to the birth of the church. They weren't even called "Christians" yet. This event would NOT have helped the early church. If God had a marketing team, I don't think a single person would have thought that this is a good move.
I can just imagine it, one of these marketers saying, "God, you're really not pushing through the grace message by allowing such an event to happen! Remember we're trying to get people to associate you with 'GRACE' now."
I'm not gonna get into the debate of whether God was the one who struck Ananias and Sapphira down... mainly because I don't know exactly how it all happened. What I do know is that at the least God allowed or DIDN'T STOP then from dying. Without going into the debate about how could God allow that, it demonstrates something about God's heart for the church.
The church is NOT a community for people to further personal agendas. It is not about status or recognition. It is not a place for personal politics. This event would have caused anyone who was harbouring such intentions to have a good hard look at themselves. I believe that God was protecting His church from such actions at its formative stage.
Fast-forward 2000 years and here we are, the modern-day church with our history and strength. I have not personally heard of any accounts similar to the one in Acts 5 happening in my lifetime. And I have also seen how "politicking" has seeped into the church. At a less intense level though, I wonder whether the community we build in local churches carry the same purity and strength of the early church. Maybe we are not fighting for positions of authority and recognition, but maybe we still fight to be seen in a certain light. To be affirmed, praised, accepted by others.
Someone who had grown up in a Christian home and had been attending church their whole life said recently that they have always had a mask on when they were at church. This isn't lying to the level of Ananias and Sapphira, but still we have to wonder what effect it has on the church.
Just the chapter before that event, we read one of the most beautiful passages about the early church.
Acts 4:32-35: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
They were one in heart and mind. There was no competition. There was no need to fight for affirmation or position. There was no need to do any of that because there was great TRUST among them. That kind of trust can only be fostered when people all come without any hidden agendas. When people are REAL.
I believe with all of my heart that this kind of church can still exist in today's world, mainly because I believe this is the kind of church God has in His heart. At Lift we boil this down to one of our Core Values: "Where your name matters". Your story is worth hearing. Your journey is worth following. Your name matters.
I pray that we can all make the commitment necessary to see such a church exist in our world.