What Went Wrong?
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11) knew they were deceiving the church when they sold some property and agreed to act as if they were giving all of the proceeds when they were giving only part. But the story does not give the impression that they thought what they were doing lacked integrity. After all, they were doing something good and generous.
If it happened today, Ananias would wait until the organ was playing “I Surrender All” and then humbly come forward, laying his check at Peter’s feet and mumbling, “I wish I had more to give, Peter, but this is all I have.”
Imagine the scene in the early church: Ananias’s heart was thumping rapidly under the thrill of his public display, but Peter was not smiling. Somehow he knew!
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:3–4)
Poor Ananias. His racing heart stopped, and he could not breathe. Peter’s grim visage gave way to darkness as Ananias’s life ended, and the young men came and carried Ananias out—as they later did his dead widow.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira shocks us because they suffered death for such a “small” infraction. So they misrepresented the percentage of their profits that they gave—why death? After all, they did give—which is more than many people do!
A Great Need
The answer is, the church cannot prosper with deception among its members—and God wanted to make this clear for all time. Deception wounds the body of Christ—makes it dysfunctional—and is a sin against God! This is why Peter cried to Ananias at the moment of his death, “You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:4).
The church’s great need for integrity is directly linked to the needs of our lost world.
Integrity is one of the greatest needs of the church today. The church needs people who not only refrain from blatant lying, but are free from hypocrisy. Paul says, in fact, that honesty is necessary for growth in the church: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Literally, the divine medium for authentic church growth is truthing in love—speaking and doing truth to one another.
The church’s great need for integrity is directly linked to the needs of our lost world, for the world longs for liberation from dishonesty. Sure, it cultivates and promotes deception, but deep down inside, many people long to escape the pretense. A substantial number of people outside the four walls of the church will eagerly embrace the faith of believers who model the honesty and integrity for which they long.
Helmut Thielicke, the great German theologian and pastor who maintained his integrity all through Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, said, “The avoidance of one small fib . . . may be a stronger confession of faith than a whole ‘Christian philosophy’ championed in lengthy, forceful discussion.”1
A truthful spirit is a great evangelistic tool. I have known people who were magnetized to Christ because they saw this quality in a church or individual. Integrity, for some, is a tantalizing cool drink in the secular desert of delusion.
Men, the experience of Ananias and Sapphira tells us that our integrity matters to God. We need to declare with Job, “Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me” (Job 27:5).
- Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 55.
This article is adapted from Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes.
God is not counting our failures against us, and we are not building a treasury of merit with our successes. We are simply trying to live a disciplined life that pleases our loving Father.
Godliness requires discipline. Here are four categories to commit to growing in.
Paul hated legalism but he enjoined discipline upon all of his followers for the purpose of godliness.