But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” . . . Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. (Acts 5:3-5)
It is good to celebrate and publish the glory that was manifest in the early church; the miracles and signs, the manifestations of the Spirit, and the teeming generosity of the saints. They overflowed with joy! These things continue to be guideposts for our prayers and expectations for our own time.
Luke’s account of those days would not have been credible however, if there was no accounting of the misdeeds within the church. The brief encounter between the Apostle Peter and one married couple highlights for us a starkly different atmosphere also working among the growing band of believers.
“So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” (Acts 5:11)
The account of Ananias and Sapphira, and their ill-conceived plan to misrepresent their contribution to the common store of the church is short and compelling. There was no discussion, no plea or opportunity for repentance, no pronouncing of judgment. “You’ve not lied to men but to God!” Ananias’ abrupt collapse, and his wife’s similar demise a couple hours later, may be attributed to heart failure, or to the hand of God . . . either way, the message was brutally plain; lies, half-truths, deceit, nor manipulated perceptions will be confronted in this congregation. As Paul later put it in a different context; “Our words to you mean exactly what they seem; there are no hidden meanings.” (2 Cor 1:17, my wording)
It is difficult for First-world Christians in the modern era to wrap their heads around this event, though it is obviously ‘biblical.’ It suggests both the magnitude of Apostolic authority and the early church’s view of individual accountability. It is the church functioning in a way quite unfamiliar to most of us. The modern church is vastly more tolerant of this kind of behavior.
The most salient example of this is the enduring lie about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Forty million or more citizens, the majority of whom are professing Christians, continue to spread what is patently false; that the loser was actually the winner. Why? Because the loser ‘prophesied’ it almost a year before the election. However one views the electoral outcome, this sad business is bringing a craziness to the political process (a cancer we will be most fortunate to recover from) and of greater concern to me is the inevitable impact on the church.
To allow a lie to be harbored, nurtured within the church is an introduction of death into the entire community. Immediately vision will begin to diminish, aspects of faith will be upended, and distrust will begin to germinate. For believers to willfully and with premeditation agree with another, or with a multitude, to support and promote a lie is to grieve and offend the agent of grace within the church, the Holy Spirit.
“We recognize and acknowledge truth by the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and when we slip into falsehood it is a sin against the guidance of the Spirit among us.” – William Barclay
It is not the magnitude of the lie that dictates its potential for corruption, but how committed its hearers are to its expansion. When one recognizes a lie it is a blessing to many, even millions, when he or she greets it with contempt. Conversely, when Christian people are content with half-truths or truth just some of the time, they have become like the woman before Solomon who would be content with half a child! We disgrace ourselves with such a gruesome compromise. (1 Kings 3:26)
Parts of the modern church are like ancient Israel who presumed to ask, “Well, is the Lord among us or is He not?” In other words, since there seems to be no judgment coming against our compromises with the truth, God must not really see or care. Delay of the consequences for our transgressions should be no comfort for any of us. Sometimes God makes quick work of dealing with lies, and other times the transgressors pay slowly as the lie eats holes in the fabric of one’s life and soul.
A lie on a job application, an exaggeration of the size of one’s church congregation, or even the amusing assertion that we are much younger than we are . . . . . these are all adversarial to the precious flow of the Spirit within us and among us. Many people simply don’t appreciate the profoundly chaotic life cycle of a lie. Brother James called the tongue “an unruly evil . . . set on fire by hell,” and given the right conditions one lie can topple nations, undo great alliances, and compromise commerce of every kind.
Let me step aside from these thoughts and walk with you for a moment down a private pathway . . . I hesitate to write some of the words in this piece for fear I might easily stand under their judgment as much as anyone. We are so blind to our own errors, so uncomfortable with self examination.
“When one member (of the body) suffers, we all suffer with it.” (1Cor 12:26) When a great portion of our community disregards the plain scriptural warning, “The devil is a liar, and the father of lies,” their dalliance with darkness has put us all in the line of fire. The church’s credibility, and the validity of everything we say comes in question.
We should all be concerned that our lives are not impaired or shortened by trafficking in falsehoods. “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (James 3:11)